Magic Man: One Client Paid Him A 5-Figure Sum To Perform For 15 Minutes
STORY: Sim Ding En
18 August 2021
Cassidy Lee's parents expected him to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, a researcher at Harvard University. Little did they know that when young Cassidy came across a man demonstrating and vending magic tricks in a shopping mall that their son (who begged them to purchase a magic coin trick from the man) would be hooked and walk a completely different path of his own.
The 29-year-old Indonesian moved to Singapore when he was in primary school (he will eventually apply for Singapore citizenship - "I'm not against the idea of NS!" he says), and it wasn't until things got serious with magic.
And he got so good at his craft that in 2017, at the age of 25, he was the Merlin Award winner for Most Enterprising and Outstanding Magician of the year - an accolade presented to magicians who have achieved the highest level in their craft, both on the national and international stage. Past recipients include David Copperfield, and Penn & Teller.
We invited this Magic Man to wow us with a couple of tricks in person, and to tell us about the ups (highly-paid gigs!) and downs (injuries and messy schedules!) of being a full-time illusionist and magic effects designer.
When did you start doing magic tricks?
In 2008 - I remember that it was shortly after the Beijing Olympics. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years, but it was a late start. But the advantage was that I was a bit more mature, so I looked at magic a little differently. If you learn magic at a young age, you see it as something just to impress people. But when you’re older, you see it as something fun, and as a form of creation that really impresses people, especially girls!
Wah seh, is that how you got girlfriends? Using magic?
No, no - in fact, that’s how I broke up! I focused too much on magic. It’s a lot of work, so your partner will feel like “oh, magic is your life”.
What inspired you to pursue magic full-time?
It all started when I was in Singapore Polytechnic. I had learnt some tricks and started a magic club with about 35 to 40 full-time members. And because of this club, we were able to get some engagements through the school. And I thought, “wow, people pay for this!” Then I started to get to know some professional magicians and realised there were quite a number of them in Singapore who did this full-time.
What is the most challenging trick you’ve ever performed?
I would say the Russian roulette - there are four very sharp spikes concealed by bags, which the spectator would mix up. The magician has to crush the bags without spikes. The aim of the trick is to “survive”. That’s very difficult, you really need to focus a lot. Once something is wrong - that’s it! And it did happen to me - I miscalculated and the spike went halfway through my hand, and I was hospitalised because of it. Accidents always happen during performances, but the show must go on.
You designed the magic tricks for Jay Chou’s Netflix travelogue series, "J-Style Trip". How did you get that job?
So, Jay had a concert in Singapore and somebody DM-ed me through Instagram at 1am. They said in Mandarin, Jay Chou wants to use your magic tricks, can we meet? I receive a lot of random DMs every now and then, and most of the time I reply with “are you joking?” So I replied, “don’t joke”. But the person who reached out to me was very persistent, and said they would pay for a cab to take me to his hotel. Well, it turned out to be real.
They didn’t tell me what it was about. Only after the whole project (which took many months of me flying in and out of Singapore) was completed, did they reveal that this was all part of a Netflix series. They would ask me, “We want to put a Rubik’s Cube in a jar - can you do that?” So I had to work it out - it took a lot of engineering, conceptualisation and testing, and find manufacturers to do proof of concept. It was almost like doing scientific research with a tight deadline! But I wasn’t the only magician involved in this, there were magicians all over Asia putting our ideas together for this project.
I’ve also designed magic effects for “America’s Got Talent” and the magic competition TV show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us”.
Who are some of your clients?
A lot of Fortune 500 companies, because only these kinds of companies have the budget for it and to be able to think ridiculously big like that! The biggest trick I’ve ever done was for a car dealer that wanted me to make a limited-edition Porsche appear on stage for its launch.
My most highly-paid gig was to perform privately for one or two individuals - the complete opposite of big shows. Usually, these individuals will ask me to attend a party and perform for 20, 30 minutes.
There was once I declined, because I wasn’t free and the client (a big China businessman) said “whatever amount you ask for, we will pay”. It was a 5-figure sum. I remember it was 15 minutes of performing and the rest of the time, I was sitting down and having dinner with them!
What advice do you have for those who are interested in pursuing this as a career? What's the upside and downside?
The worst part of my job: My day-to-day is very messy. When designing effects, ideas come at weird timings. For instance, I might be sleeping, then suddenly at 2.30am, in my dream, I think of the solution, and I’d have to wake up and write it down. And then out of curiosity, I’d have to try it out - and in the end, I would not have slept the entire night! Plus, a lot of my clients are overseas, so my time zone is reversed. And that’s just the off-stage work. For on-stage work, there’s so much preparation and risk.
The most difficult part about my journey in magic is how to keep going. In 2015, I was hired by the World Tennis Association to entertain VIPs with tennis ball-related magic during the finals in Singapore. It was a week-long event and I had signed a contract. Halfway through, my grandma (in Indonesia) passed away. I couldn’t terminate the contract - it would have been a lot of money to compensate for it. So I flew back to attend the funeral for 2 hours, and then returned to Singapore. That moment really shook me - is it really worth it?
You’re entertaining others, but sacrificing so much because the show must go on. I almost gave up - this was one of the lowest periods of my life. I took a long break after this and finally found the reason to continue: my grandma was really happy watching me perform magic and she would not have wanted me to stop. So I decided to give it a shot.
COVID-19 has completely wiped out "live" performances. So I’ve doubled down on creating magic and illusions, or even ads, like the video I did for the National Library Board about the Malayan Magic Circle (shown above), where I was the hand model doing the trick. We also created some tricks online to spread some happiness and cheer people up.
The best part: I get to travel; and I only travel when it’s paid for. (Magicians are a tight group of people, so even if I travel to a place I’ve never been to, I will have a magician friend there, who will take care of me.) I also love problem solving; there’s always a sense of accomplishment.
And of course, people’s reactions, and making their day, or helping to create small, special moments (like during wedding proposals). One of the most memorable moments for me was performing for patients at a hospice.
Right now, money is the last priority for me - not because I have a lot of money! That's a disclaimer! 🤣 But to help people create these kinds of moments - for me, that's the most important aspect of my life.