This month, the Comedy & Magic Society returns to the Gaithersburg Arts Barn with its mix of mystery and hilarity.
Despite demanding schedules that keep them on the road, Mark Phillips, Bob Sheets, Barry Wood and Brian Curry will hold their weekly “society meetings” at the Arts Barn for the sixth year in a row.
Although all four producers rarely are in town at the same time to perform together, they supplement their own acts by booking a mixture of comedy, magic and other variety performers for their three act Comedy & Magic shows.
The foursomes started performing at the Arts Barn as a way for hometown fans to see their acts.
“Ninety percent of our work is out of town,” says Phillips, who lives in North Bethesda. “We wanted to find a place where we could perform for all of our friends and family and all of those people who wanted to see us but couldn’t.”
In addition to its convenience, the Arts Barn stage also is an ideal setting for the close-up, sleight of hand style of magic the society is known for.
“The type of performing we do just lends itself to people coming up on stage to help out,” says Wood. “[The Barn] is an intimate space and every seat feels like it’s right up front.”
But audiences at the Arts Barn shouldn’t expect pull-a-rabbit-out-of-a-hat hokeyness. These guys are professionals.
“None of us ever had a real job,” says Phillips, who became interested in magic during high school and hasn’t looked back since. “At some point I discovered magic was a great tool.”
Phillips started using the money he made from performing in local magic shows to pay his way through college and has continued to use his talent to pay the bills. Now, when he’s not busy booking acts for the society’s shows, Phillips travels the country performing at corporate events.
On the rare occasion the four producers are all in the same state at the same time and take to the Arts Barn stage on the same night, their individual acts reveal four very distinct personality.
“I’m everybody’s favorite uncle,” says Sheets. “The one who gives you noogies.”
While Sheets, like Phillips, spends most days performing at company events, he’s far from all business. An award-winning magician, Sheets started performing as a teenager in California. After a successful four-year run at the Brooke Farm Inn of Magic in Chevy Chase during the 1980s, Sheets has gone on to establish himself as a well-respected magician in high demand. He’s performed in major magic shows including Boston’s Mystery Lounge and Monday Night Magic in New York.
Although Phillips says the four producers of the Comedy & Magic Society are all, to some degree, comedy entertainers, no one has more professional experience in making people laugh than Wood. He was one of the founding members of “Dropping the Cow”, a sketch comedy troupe that performed in and around Georgetown in the late 80s and early to mid-90s, and brings his 10 years of experience in the troupe on the road with his fittingly titled bit, “Comedy Magic Show.”
Unlike his society member counterparts, Curry spends a lot of his time catering to a slightly different crowd. He tours the elementary school circuit as a part of the “Magical Math Tour.” He uses world-class magic to teach math concepts to students.
While their day jobs may differ, and their hectic schedules may keep them apart, when the foursome get together to produce Comedy & Magic Society shows, they take the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company.
“We all love to perform,” says Phillips. “It’s not about the money; it’s a great time for all of us.”
“For us, it’s like our bowling night,” agrees Sheets.
But that doesn’t mean the group doesn’t put on a quality show. In fact, they’ve developed quite a following since they did their first show at the Barn more than six years ago.
“We’ve won people over,” says Sheets. “They think this is going to be some little punk thing and then they go, ‘Oh, wow, these guys are really good.’”