Interviewed by Charl du Plessis
Published in Playboy South Africa March 2012
“I want people believing to see rather than seeing to believe. What is important is what you believe is real and how your own mind, a very powerful instrument, can help you make things real.”
South Africa’s very own mentalist, Larry Soffer is also a magician, a metal bender and a mind reader. A graduate from the Cape Town College of Magic, he received a special grant from Siegfried and Roy to pursue his talents even further. He has travelled to several countries across the world entertaining local and international celebs and notables such as Prince Harry, Mike and the Mechanics, Hootie & The Blow Fish, Luke Perry, Andy Macdowell, former SA President FW de Klerk, SA Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, SA Cricket and Rugby Team members, Premier Ebrahim Rasool and many more…
We caught up with him just after his return from Seychelles, where he had been flown by a Saudi Sheik who wanted to impress his best friend. Larry’s signature act, the flaming rose, drew a standing ovation from both men.
PLAYBOY: Larry, you managed to do what the liberation movements in South Africa could not achieve in 100 years, namely to make the Voortrekker Monument disappear. Why did you choose this as one of your acts?
LARRY SOFFER: Ha, ha. That was Darren Scott’s idea during a talk show interview on Jacaranda. The radio station set up the event and sponsorship, and Don Wayne, the Californian magic consultant who has worked with Criss Angel and Michael Jackson came over to create the illusion with me.
PLAYBOY: Why did you put it back? Could you not have replaced it with something cool, like a Tracy McGregor PLAYBOY billboard rather?
LARRY SOFFER: Yes, that would have been a great idea. You know, after that, some people asked me if I could make Jacob Zuma disappear.
PLAYBOY: How did you do it? David Copperfield did the Statue of Liberty – same technique?
LARRY SOFFER: Every illusion is different. This was quite different from how Copperfield approached the Statue of Liberty. You know, all we did here was just pull it down the hill to the side and then push it back up again (smiles mischievously.) The place is indeed a bit like a big boil begging to be turned into a small pimple, yet the structures are very impressive. And the people there are extremely friendly, as long as one does not tarnish this important symbol. I am sure they really wanted me to bring it back.
PLAYBOY: In news clips, I see you make a point of calling yourself a mentalist rather than a magician. What is the difference and why should we care?
LARRY SOFFER: There are very different styles of magic. You get the big stage illusions where things vanish and reappear, or where there are levitations, transfers of people and the sawing in half of assistants. The sleight-of-hand type is all about hand movement and manipulation with the fingers, where the hand is quicker than the eye. We mentalists work in a very specialised manner with things that touch people’s hearts. It is about what people believe to be real. I also do mind-reading, have bent forks in peoples’ hands, got light bulbs to burst and moving cars to stop when people were listening to us on the radio. I have possibly taken this further than what Uri Geller ever did. And if you were wondering, yes, people do their best not to make an enemy out of me (grins).
PLAYBOY: It seems like you all share one thing in common – you know something, a special something that the broad public does not understand and even fears. Is there a kind of secret handshake and oath when you start learning whereby you promise never to spill the beans?
LARRY SOFFER: You know, we have these voodoo rituals where we all remain connected intravenously and immediately know when someone is breaking the code (grins). More seriously, there was the one case of the Masked Magician who went on television and revealed several effects to the public. Funny thing is that even though people say they want to know, they do not really want to have the magic spoilt. They want to be mystified. In the case of the Masked Magician, the California Magic Castle group disbarred him.
PLAYBOY: Would mentalists and magicians share all their tricks with one another, or are there things that Banascheck, Geller or Copperfield do that make you sit back and say: “Shit, how’d they do that!?”
LARRY SOFFER: Sometimes I am amazed. Very seldom, unfortunately. Yes, I love to be entertained just like the next person, but I do understand most of how the others create these effects. However, when it comes to someone like David Copperfield, I just love watching him for his showmanship. He is a brilliant showman, where every movement is planned with precision and logic.
PLAYBOY: What is the most awesome act you have seen anyone ever perform? There is a videoclip of Criss Angel walking on the water across a swimming pool. That apparently has happened only once before, a very long time ago?
LARRY SOFFER: (Thinking hard and shaking his head). It’s all so cool. My favourite effect is one I saw many years ago as a kid, performed by Copperfield. I call it the “floating rose” and have made it a part of my own routine. I crumple a piece of paper in my hand, and have it bounce up and down in my hand and in an audience member’s hand without touching it. I then fold it into a rose, make it levitate between us where I set it alight, and I then stick my hand into the fire and pull out a real rose that I hand to the woman who stepped forward out of the audience. I got a standing ovation from a Saudi Sheik in the Seychelles last week when I finished my show with this act.
PLAYBOY: How would you describe that which you know and Joe Public doesn’t? Is it a different science, a special understanding of human nature, an advanced state of development?
LARRY SOFFER: It involves all of the above. The question is whether it is real or not. I want people believing to see rather than seeing to believe. What is important is what you believe is real and how your own mind, a very powerful instrument, can help you make things real. We create our own creations and are, therefore, the masters of our own destiny.
PLAYBOY: Can these powers that you and other mentalists have not be better used in the world rather than simply getting onto stage for mere entertainment?
LARRY SOFFER: There is a lot of that in which I do and I try to reach as many as I possibly can with what I do. I want people to understand what they are truly capable of doing. And it touches many lives. At the University of the Western Cape earlier this week, a student kept his bent fork from the show, saying it will remain a symbol for him of what he might achieve. I have had a woman who was planning suicide contact me and tell me how I gave her a different perspective on life.Recently at the J&B Met, a guy came up to me and explained how he was a drug addict who found the inspiration to kick his habit from what he learnt from me.
PLAYBOY: Back to Criss Angel, apparently worth $17 million. Why is he the only guy in your game looking like a rock star, even dating Holly Madison, Hef’s old girlfriend, when everyone else dresses in these stage costumes of yesteryear? I mean, what is it with David Copperfield and his space bomber jackets? Or is it easier to hide pigeons, bunnies and monuments in the sleeves of that black jacket?
LARRY SOFFER: It’s just a matter of personal style. I like the classic, elegant, smart and gentlemanly look. The black jacket also feels somewhat mysterious. A guy like David Blaine likes the civvies look, and Criss Angel is really a bit like Motley Crue, not?
[Larry allows me to inspect his jacket. No secret pockets, no hidden animals or ribbons, and very fine stitching is all I can find].
PLAYBOY: What is the ultimate act you would still like to attempt?
LARRY SOFFER: So many. (He hesitates before continuing). Well, we are planning on making Table Mountain vanish. Perhaps we will take it to Johannesburg, as there is nothing to see there (smiles). Truth is there are many more acts still to attempt. I cannot stop creating and one should not stop creating beautiful effects that make life purposeful and create enjoyment of this game we are playing.
PLAYBOY: Do you do hypnosis and if so, could you help me stop my smoking habit?
LARRY SOFFER: I would not suggest hypnosis for anyone. It taps into a deep, dark side of the mind and you render control to someone else. It is not a good thing to happen. You have the power to fix things yourself. To decide.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever have to look for your car keys?
LARRY SOFFER: Lately I seem to be able to always find them…
PLAYBOY: Looking back at your career, you got a grant to study magic from the world famous Siegfried and Roy. Please tell how that came about and what you did from there?
LARRY SOFFER: I was the top student at the College of Magic and after my 5th year, won the SARMOTI (Siegfried and Roy Masters of the Impossible) grant that allowed me to do a sixth year in stagecraft and illusions. I had this ability to learn how to do these magic things very easily. What would take other students hours and days, I would try for five minutes, then walk away, allowing my mind to visualise what should happen. When I tested my hand at it the next time, I would get it right. The mind is a very powerful thing. I have had this talent since childhood. I could see what other people could not and could even move things in the physical world without touching them.
[Here, Larry proceeds to illustrate some of his talent and we stop the interview while he blows my mind with several mind-reading acts. He correctly predicts the cards I choose, the numbers I scribble on little pieces of paper, the imaginary coin toss outcome].
PLAYBOY: You studied at the College of Magic. What are the entrance requirements and how does this program work? Is it anything like Hogwarts in Harry Potter?
LARRY SOFFER: Yeah – there are secret corridors and platforms that are not really there. Actually, it’s a mystical looking old house with ghosts I personally heard during sleepovers in my 6th year. There is even a magic shop. I started attending once a week when I was 13 years old, and David Gore is still the Director, with about 150 people attending at any one time.
PLAYBOY: Can you speak to the dead? Isn’t that way more inspiring than bending forks? After all, who needs their forks bent anyway?
LARRY SOFFER: I have communicated with passed and loved ones and even got them to write on chalk boards on stage. But, like healing, for which I have a definite gift, I do not do that anymore. This is because I believe so strongly in the power of the mind, and most often, people who are interested in these effects are looking towards me to be a crutch to fix something in their lives for which they hold the power themselves.
PLAYBOY: Call me a sceptic, but I bought my own fork. Can you bend it for me please?
LARRY SOFFER: Gladly. [Larry takes my fork. He stares at it and then puts it in my hand. Still glaring it down, I feel the fork move in my hand and it emerges bent and with the entire head twisted 360 degrees at the stem. For good measure, Larry runs his hands over my arms at about a 15-centimere distance, yet I can feel the energy from his hands pull the hairs on my arm].
PLAYBOY: What is the most dangerous act you perform? Have you sawed anyone in half accidentally in real life? What is in the first aid kit backstage at your shows?
LARRY SOFFER: There is a great show called “Magic Gone Wrong” which you must try and watch. My most daring act is where I put this sharp spike in a candle holder, and then have that and other candle holders covered with polystyrene cups. I am blindfolded and do not know where the spike is. Taking into my hand the hand of an audience member, I read her mind to determine where the spike is and slap our hands down on the other cups extremely hard. If I had to be wrong, that spike would go right through.
PLAYBOY: Do you watch The Mentalist and what do you make of Patrick Jane?
LARRY SOFFER: He is really cool. I like his attitude and his demeanour. He is intuitive and full of humour, but most of what makes his character work is that one never really knows whether he is the real thing as a mentalist, or just a very good and observant criminal investigator.
PLAYBOY: Where does the show end and when is Larry just Larry? Do you share your secrets with your girlfriend during pillow-talk?
LARRY SOFFER: There used to be a difference between my act and my real self. But over time I have managed to become the same person whether on-stage or off. I might be a bit more introverted in real life than on stage. But, if my girlfriend wanted to know I still would not tell her – I would never want to spoil the mystery. I just have no urge to share.
[With that said, Larry offers to show me a couple of other tricks. He swallows balloons to demonstrate his Winnie the Pooh kids’ trick, guesses correctly that it was the name Pamela Anderson that I wrote on a piece of paper now in my back pocket. As we walk out, he remembers one last trick and takes my ring. He puts it on the floor, makes it levitate and slips it onto his finger mid-air. He then has me believe that it could end up on my finger where I stand more than a metre away. When I look and do not have it, he laughs, saying: “Wouldn’t it have been cool if I could do that, huh?]