One thing I’m still working on is learning how to not take compliments too seriously and how to not take negative feedback too hard. I know that a lot of people, especially adults, will tell me that I’m talented and that I’m really great, and it’s easy to start getting lazy and not improve my tricks at all. Most people will always tell you that you’re doing a good job, even if you’re not really, so it’s important to not get a big head and to always keep trying to improve your work. Similarly, you can’t take negative feedback too hard. I really don’t like having my mom or dad tell me that I’m doing something wrong and I take it really personally, especially when I know I made a mistake during a performance. Both good and bad feedback are important to listen to, but don’t let them affect so much that they stop you from growing.
As a part of our series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing James Chan, a 12-year old magician who started training with his father, Master Magician Daniel Chan, at the age of 4. Growing up in the Bay Area, James has performed for many major companies and elite in the Silicon Valley including Google, Facebook, Oracle, Airbnb, HP, the San Francisco Giants, and the Golden State Warriors, just to name a few. In addition to performing magic, Chan is also an accomplished juggler who started juggling 3 balls by the age of 5, 5 balls by the age of 8, 3 flaming torches and pick-pockets by the time he turned 10.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me! I was born and raised in Fremont, CA and live with my mom, dad, and younger sister. Because I’m still a kid, I can say I live a pretty average life. I go to school and recently started homeschooling. I love playing video games, reading books, biking around town, and eating out with my family. The only thing that really stands out as being different is that my parents are both entertainers, and instead of going to parties to hang out on the weekends, I’m going to parties all the time to perform!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I got into performing really early in life because my dad wanted to spend time with me and wanted to teach me everything he knew. Even before I could walk, dad started working with me by getting me to hold things like juggling balls, magic wands, and other props. I remember accompanying him to events and just handing stuff to him during his shows. According to him, it was to get me used to performing in front of an audience, but I think it was because he just didn’t like bending over to get stuff out of the box. I learned how to juggle first, then later dad started teaching me magic. By the time I turned 4, he started teaching me juggling and some simple magic tricks. By the time I turned 9, I was performing at kids shows by myself. Performing was a huge part of my life…I’m probably the only kid whose dad would holler “stop reading and start juggling!”.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I was 6, even though I was proud of myself for being able to juggle 3 balls, I really hated practicing. Dad was trying to get me to work on juggling 4 balls, and I used to argue with him because I thought it was boring. One day, mom had a balloon twisting gig for the SPCA at Union Square in San Francisco. Dad and I went along, and instead of looking at all the booths or going shopping, dad told me I had to practice my juggling for at least 10 minutes. I really didn’t want to practice at all and started whining, but then he told me that when I was done that we’d get lunch. Because there was no arguing with him, and because I really like eating out, I said “fine” and started juggling near one of the concrete planters. A few minutes after I started, someone walked by me and put down some money on the ledge near me. This was really confusing as more and more people started walking by and putting money next to me. I asked dad what was going on and he told me “I think they’re tipping you because you’re doing a good job”. I was shocked. I thought, “I can juggle…and people will pay me money?” That day I think I made about 120 dollars in the two hours we were there waiting for mom. In that moment, the dynamic changed — I argued with my dad a lot less and started pestering him to bring me to Palo Alto and San Francisco to practice juggling and magic. Dad taught me how to budget what I earned and that I could take that money and buy better juggling and magic props, in addition to a couple of treats as well. I learned the value of a dollar by the age of 6, and finally understood why he wanted me to learn how to perform.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can honestly say that I was not a great magician when I first started because I was not very good at lying, or as my dad likes to say, “omitting the truth”. Magicians need to have some level of deception, and unfortunately (fortunately?) my parents really pushed me to always tell the truth and I apparently really listened. When I was doing a gig with my dad when I was in second or third grade, I did a card trick for a lady and her friends and she started asking me questions in front of everyone like “are there duplicate cards?” and “does that card have two sides?”. I couldn’t bring myself to say “no” with a straight face because that would be lying, and I couldn’t think of anything to say and just kind of babbled myself into the ground until my dad came over and rescued me. I think the lady figured out how the trick worked, and from that day on I learned to start analyzing what people could possibly ask me after performing a trick and to come up with some witty lines to tell them afterwards. Most people will say the same things and come up with the same hypotheses on how tricks work, so I’ve come up with a good number of lines I can tell them afterward. I also thought of answers for random questions I think they might ask. While I’m still not always successful with improv, I’m getting better.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, my dad and I are trying to get onto more television appearances and perform more shows for people we haven’t performed for, but who we’d really like to meet. Performances have allowed me to meet some really cool people like the founder of Android, Yahoo, Tiffany Haddish, and some of the Golden State Warriors like Zaza Pachulia, Shaun Livingston, and Draymond Green! Last year I was featured on Kids Say the Darndest Things with Tiffany Haddish, and last week, I got to meet and get interviewed by Kit Hoover and Scott Evans for the show, Daily Access. It was so cool, and I even got to meet and perform a trick for Penn & Teller on the show!!! I’m working hard and trying to come up with routines to perform on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us and possibly America’s Got Talent. I can’t tell you what I’ve come up with so far, so you’ll just have to wait and hopefully see it in a future episode!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Representation and diversity affects our culture because those are the next generations role models. There weren’t many magicians that were Asian for me to look up to, there’s Shimada & Jade and those names aren’t even known to laymen. To have diverse representation means to have a more diverse and healthy society.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. You might not have to have everything perfect when you are performing a new trick, but you should have backup plans in case something goes wrong. When I first started performing magic tricks, I worked so hard at getting my performance perfect that I didn’t think about what to do when things went wrong. One time I forgot to reset a card trick that involves 4 aces that need to be in a specific order. When I discovered the cards were not there mid-performance, I didn’t know what to do and just ended the trick. Dad taught me later that I could’ve just performed another trick that worked with what I had done so far, and the audience wouldn’t have known the difference. Always have an out.
2. Don’t buy everything just because they look cool and research what you’re getting before you buy it. There’s a lot of magic tricks that have great advertising and look super cool to perform, but sometimes they’re not practical or they just don’t fit the character right. I went to a magic convention once and got really mad at my dad because I wanted to buy five-card tricks from one of the dealers. My dad kept telling me that they weren’t practical to perform for the events that we were doing, and that they were essentially the same trick. I got really mad and bought them anyway, without asking anyone else at the convention what they thought of it and how they liked the handling, nor looking online for reviews on the tricks. Turns out dad was right and I blew money on five tricks that I don’t use at all. Ask around, talk to others, and listen to your dad.
3. This goes to lesson 3 — don’t always listen to your dad…or least try to get feedback from as many people as you can. While dad does give me the most honest feedback and he’s had a lot of experience in performances, his methods in performing certain effects are not always the best for me. It wasn’t until I got older and started experimenting more with variations of certain tricks did I find ways to perform that were better suited for me. The way I handle cards is slightly different from the way he handles them, and the way I present tricks — while our styles are similar — is also different in that I like throwing in random movie and video game references which he has no idea about. Also, after going to a lot of conventions, I started getting a lot of feedback from other people, and I found that sessions with a lot of people helped me learn a lot of different things. While I will always listen to dad as a mentor, I think it’s important to learn from everyone you can to make a magic style of your own.
4. One thing I’m still working on is learning how to not take compliments too seriously and how to not take negative feedback too hard. I know that a lot of people, especially adults, will tell me that I’m talented and that I’m really great, and it’s easy to start getting lazy and not improve my tricks at all. Most people will always tell you that you’re doing a good job, even if you’re not really, so it’s important to not get a big head and to always keep trying to improve your work. Similarly, you can’t take negative feedback too hard. I really don’t like having my mom or dad tell me that I’m doing something wrong and I take it really personally, especially when I know I made a mistake during a performance. Both good and bad feedback are important to listen to, but don’t let them affect so much that they stop you from growing.
5. This is the most important one — always remember to wear black socks with black dress shoes. While they feel more comfortable, white socks really stand out when you’re wearing black shoes and black slacks! I have a couple of photos I look so cool, but all you can see are those stupid white socks poking out! I guess the bigger lesson is to be nice to yourself and laugh when you look at your bad photos and videos. I’m only 12 and can only imagine how some of you older people feel when you look at your old photos.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think the most important thing you can do is to do what you actually like doing and stick with a job you are passionate about. If you hate what you’re doing, you’re not going to be able to make your audience happy because they’ll see how much you don’t care about your job. That’s one of the hardest things about performing — people can tell when you’re faking being happy, so it’s really important to keep learning, trying new things and even watching other performers to help get you excited about performing again. It’s also really important to take time off of work and spend time with your family, doing hobbies you enjoy, and having a life outside of work. It’s so easy in this industry to go to gigs and then come home to practice magic, research magic, watch more magic, and just get overwhelmed with all the stuff involved with selling your magic. If you have kids, spend time with them every day and learn their hobbies and interests so you can have a strong relationship with them — it’s a good feeling for everyone. Take breaks whenever you feel tired of work, and don’t do anything that’s mindless or addictive like watching a bunch of YouTube videos or browsing social media. Instead, play some music, go to the beach, ride a bike, talk to friends — you never know what might inspire you. After getting some rest, don’t forget to get back to work!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m currently working with non-profits to bring my magic via Zoom into hospitals.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
While dad obviously had a lot to do with where I’ve gotten in my career, I really couldn’t have gotten to where I’m at without my mom. Mom is the person who really encouraged me and my dad to have good “work/life balance”. She’s there to give feedback when I practice, to get me to take breaks when I’m getting frustrated, and to listen to me when I’m angry and just want to vent. She cooks all our meals and makes sure we have a lot of yummy stuff to eat, homeschools my sister and me, and even plays video games with us. Mom is also the one who drives me to my events, and we often perform together with her twisting balloons and assisting me with my magic show. She always helps me to get where I need to be in life — and always has time to make ice cream stops along the way!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” -Dr Erskine from Captain America: The First Avenger.
I love this quote because no matter how strong or famous you get in life, you should always stay humble and try to be a good person first. If I become super famous, I don’t want to become someone who is demanding and full of myself — I want people to not only like me for my accomplishments, but to just like me for being a good guy.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to meet Hisashi Nogami, a video game designer, director and producer of some of my favorite Nintendo games like Splatoon, Super Smash Brothers, and Animal Crossing! I can finally ask him: “Is there going to be a Splatoon 3?”
However, since there probably will be a language barrier, I wouldn’t mind meeting some actors from the Marvel franchise such as Robert Downey Jr., Tom Holland, Dave Bautista, and the three C’s — Chris Evens, Chris Pratt, and Chris Hemsworth. They portray their characters so well that you can’t help but admire them!
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on my Facebook Fan Page: James Chan — Magician and Juggler, Instagram @kidmagician, and on my website at https://www.danchanmagic.com/jameschan.html
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!