Big Stone Gap magician shoots for stars with latest show

Mike Still • Jan 15, 2020 at 2:45 PM

BIG STONE GAP — A $100 bill. A washing machine and a shredder. A chance to appear in a Penn and Teller production. What can go wrong?

Big Stone Gap illusionist Joseph Young is counting on everything going to plan after a quarter-century of practice as a professional magician and entertainer with plenty of regional and international acclaim under his belt.

Young, whose combination of sleight-of-hand and comedy has earned him several awards across the U.S. and recognition from the Society of American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians, has gone to Las Vegas to perform a routine centered on his Wash-o-Matic $100 Bill illusion.

Think of that decades-old trick where a magician takes a person’s watch, wraps it in a handkerchief and smashes it with a hammer before returning it to the owner intact and running. Young says that does not begin to describe how he takes a $100 bill for a terrifying — for the bill’s owner — journey through a wash cycle gone awry.

Young’s routine at the Golden Nugget will be scrutinized by producers for “Penn & Teller: Fool Us,” a showcasing of magic talent across the country and world hosted by world-renowned illusionist duo Penn Jillette and Teller.

“Teller is a master,” Young said. “This doesn’t guarantee I’ll be on their show, but it’s exciting.”

Young started his interest in magic at age 6 when his family went to Silver Dollar City in Pigeon Forge and he got picked from the audience to be on stage during a magic show there.

“My mother bought me a magic set after that, and we’d go to KayBee Toys in Kingsport and I’d buy magic tricks from there,” Young said. “By eighth grade, I’d kind of forgotten about performing magic, but I always loved magic and still watched David Copperfield on TV.”

Young said he got back into performing illusions when attending Bluefield College and he saw a friend had a deck of cards. From showing people some card tricks that day, he started performing at parties as a hobby. By 2000, he had begun shifting from magic as a hobby to a business as he developed an act that went beyond just doing magic tricks.

When asked if there was a movie that helped inspire his career, Young said two movies that came out in 2006 fitted perfectly with what it means to do illusions. In “The Illusionist,” Edward Norton as a 19th-century Austrian magician uses sleight of hand to reunite with his childhood love.

Young said “The Prestige” with Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman also showed to what lengths two competing 19th-century magicians would go to outdo each other with the ultimate illusion

“ ‘The Illusionist’ was great,” Young said. “Ronnie Ball at Ball’s TV called me one day and said he had the movie poster for it at the store and asked if I wanted it. I still have it hanging in my house.”

Developing original illusions is one of the toughest parts of being a successful illusionist, Young said, and one of his first successes was his Rubik’s cube illusion in 1999.

While a good magician will not reveal the secrets of their tricks, Young said many illusionists can certainly buy equipment for certain illusions. That can make those particular tricks old-hat.

“If you want to spend $1,500, anyone can do the floating table trick,” Young said, “and you see a lot of magicians doing the same trick.”

Young’s Rubik’s cube illusion, however, was not among other magicians’ bags of tricks.

“By 2004, it had changed my life forever,” Young said. “I entered seven regional competitions and won every one. My 15 minutes of fame lasted two years That trick paid for my house.”

Young said he then realized he could use his skill for motivational and spiritual purposes, and he centered his performances around a Christian message.

“Probably 80% of my events are at churches, Upward Sports and business functions and 20% are at schools,” Young said.

“There’s a difference between a trick and a presentation,” Young said. “You don’t watch one scene in a movie and then leave. A trick is just one part of a good presentation. You have the opening, personality, comedy, the illusion and the message.”