CARRBORO - The idea was to do a Q-and-A with the worlds most famous mentalist, The Amazing Kreskin, who will bring his mind-reading show to The ArtsCenter on Friday.
Hes a trip, said the performers manager, Chris MacNeill. Youll love talking to him. Just wind him up and let him go.
Fair warning. At the appointed hour for the interview, 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, Kreskin picked up the phone.
Good news! he announced. Im sober.
And with that, he was off. So much for the Q-and-A; Kreskin didnt wait around for many Qs. Maybe he already knew what they were.
He told stories and commented on events past and present for a half hour without pause and without a prompt, and he left the impression that he would have happily kept going all day if his assistant hadnt interrupted to remind him that he had another appointment.
The crack about being sober for a change was a joke, of course.
For years Ive attempted to start a rumor that I have a drinking problem, he said. I dont. At my age, though, they do say short-term memory starts to go. Mine actually started going at about 12 and a half.
Kreskin, 77, has been performing since he was in his teens. He became a household name in the 1970s, when he was on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, a record 88 times and was the inspiration for Carsons spoof character Carnac the Magnificent.
Kreskin is enjoying something of a renaissance these days. In 2008 Tom Hanks produced and co-starred with John Malkovich in The Great Buck Howard, which was based on Kreskins career, and he has been a guest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon four times now.
He performs constantly; he made 261 appearances last year, he said, and hes home for only an average of four days per month.
Even with the economy as tough as it is, my career is unbelievable, he said. Demand is as high as ever. Coming to see my show isnt like going to see a play or a dance or an illusionist, because the audience is part of it. Without the audience there is no show.
Al Jolson, the great vaudeville star, had a gangplank that extended out into the sixteenth row, and he would walk out there into the audience and kneel down and sing Mammy. The only other performers who go out into the audience are strippers. So Im in good company: Al Jolson, stripteasers and Kreskin.
Kreskins performances, liberally dosed with a showmans flair and comic wit, feature him performing various acts of mental wizardry, such as telling members of his audience facts about them that he theoretically, at least couldnt possibly know, and finding objects whose locations he isnt privy to.
A month and a half ago I was doing a show in the state of Washington, he said. I told one woman in the audience, It seems to me youre thinking of a name I dont remember now what it was and I told her the name, he said. She gave a quiet little sort of a yelp. I said, Are you all right? And she said, Kreskin, Im expecting. I have told nobody what Im planning to name my baby. And now youve just told the whole world my babys name.
Among the hidden items Kreskin plans to find at The ArtsCenter is his paycheck. Its a signature part of his act: he is escorted from the room by a couple of audience members while rest of the audience hides his check somewhere in the theater, and when he returns he tries to discern where it is. If he fails to find it, he forfeits his fee.
Hell of a way to make a living, isnt it? he said.
By his own count, he has failed to find the check nine times out of some 2,000 attempts. In one case, he said, he found it hidden inside the mouth of a man in the audience, underneath his dental plate (whether Kreskin still wanted that one seems doubtful).
How does he do what he does? He has offered $1 million to anyone who can prove that he uses paid assistants or confederates, and he challenges anyone to show that he has ever used any sort of technological or electronic aids.
Theres no supernatural element to what I do, he said. I think of it as a highly sensitized form of thought transference.
He first became aware of his ability, he says, when he was 9 years old and showed an uncanny aptitude for the game Hot and Cold, in which one player tries to find objects hidden by the other. By the time he was in the sixth grade, he said, his teacher was having him display his amazing knack during Show and Tell, and by high school he was doing full-length performances.
My career has been an adventure, he said. All my life, I never wanted to do anything else.
Last summer when the Republican presidential nomination was still up for grabs among a host of hopefuls Kreskin wrote a note which no one has ever seen, in which he predicted the winner and the loser of the upcoming presidential election. Four copies of the prediction are hidden in widely diverse locations, including a safe at NBC Studios and above the bar at Patsys Irish pub in New York.
Two days after the election, he said, all four copies will be opened and his prediction will be shown to the world. It will be, he promised, a dramatic moment.
In the meantime, Kreskin said hes looking forward to the show in Carrboro.
Lets not say goodbye, he said, after his assistant told him time was up. Lets just say, To Be Continued, and Ill see you very soon.
Sounds like a prediction.