RACINE — Rajon Lynch, who goes by RJ, admitted that he was the “class clown” while attending Park High School.
“In my friend group I was always talking,” he said. “But I wasn’t funny enough to be a comedian and I couldn’t sing or dance.”
What he could do was magic. Lynch said he got into magic when he was 8 years old, after watching a Disney Channel show from which he learned to create the illusion of putting a salt shaker through a table. But he said he was only casually interested in magic until he was 19.
He started taking magic more seriously when French Woods, a performing arts camp in New York, hired him to teach magic. Larry Denburg, head of the magic department at French Woods, said Lynch taught the children of such celebrities as Ben Stiller and Debra Messing.
At first, Lynch said he was too nervous to perform and was known as the “balloon guy” who taught kids how to make animal balloons. But he gradually learned how to be a better performer and entertainer and discovered it suited his personality.
“They really taught me how to take the tricks and turn them into acts that people want to watch,” he said. “I can be the loudest person in the room or the funniest person in the room, and people pay me for it now.”
The legacy of black magicians
In addition to teaching magic, Lynch, a University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh student, performs professionally as RJ the Magician. Last year he joined the International Association of Black Magical Artists, an organization that collects and archives the history of black magicians.
It was through IABMA that Lynch began to learn about the history of black magicians, particularly those that inspired famed Appleton native, Harry Houdini.
One was Richard Potter, an American-born magician, ventriloquist and showman who died in 1835 in New Hampshire. Not much is saved from Potter’s shows but a plaque commemorates his home in Andover, N.H.
“He was America’s first big celebrity — especially the first black celebrity,” said Lynch.
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Another is Benjamin Rucker, who performed under the stage name Black Herman. Rucker, born in the late 1800s, allegedly would bury himself three days before he was scheduled to perform, then just before the performance, he’d unbury himself and walk into the show.
“That’s something that’s actually written,” said Lynch.
Quite a bit of the history of black magicians is based on oral history passed down over the years, corroborated by a smattering or artifacts.
“We have a lot of history that’s not documented,” said Lynch. “If you could see it in examples from magic, you could see it anywhere.”
Lynch is writing a play about four black magicians that he hopes to have finished in time for Black History Month in 2019.
“They were the first black entertainers that paved the way for me,” he said.
Lynch also has a lot of respect for Houdini who, as a Jewish person, also was a minority.
“He took what was popular and took them to the next level,” said Lynch. “He helped push the culture forward.”
In addition to honoring magic’s history, Lynch continues to build his career as a performer. He said now, probably more than any other time, people need a little mystery in their lives.
“There is so much in the world that as adult we know already or have seen already. I think magic interests us because we don’t know how it’s done and we don’t have a lot of that left in the world,” he said. “It’s a little mystery at a time where we don’t have a lot of that.”
Lynch is organizing a three-course dinner with magic performances by him and two other magicians in between courses. Called “Now Serving Magic,” the event is scheduled for 7 p.m. on April 5 at Reefpoint Brewhouse, 2 Christopher Columbus Causeway, where Lynch got his first job at age 16.