‘He Must Have Superpowers’: Asi Wind and His Sublime Card Tricks

With a new one-man show, deploying a single deck of cards, the performer’s 20-year run as magic’s best-kept secret may be nearing its end.

‘He Must Have Superpowers’: Asi Wind and His Sublime Card Tricks

With a new one-man show, deploying a single deck of cards, the performer’s 20-year run as magic’s best-kept secret may be nearing its end.

 Photo by Joan Marcus

By David Segal October 20, 2022

“Every now and then, this fails,” said Asi Wind, pausing for a suspense-maximizing moment during his new one-man magic show, “Asi Wind’s Inner Circle.” “This could fail. If it does, remember all the fun we had before.”

There is little chance anyone took this whimsical disclaimer seriously. By the time it was offered, Wind, a 43-year-old Israeli-born New Yorker with the effervescent wit of a good dinner party host and the cunning of a master jewel thief, had already pulled off so many seemingly impossible feats that only a sucker would have bet against him. If he’d told us that we were all about to start floating around the room, half of the audience would have reached for a Dramamine and braced for lift off.

Detailing what happens during this giddily mystifying 70-minute production — which opened last month and runs at the Gym at Judson, next to Washington Square Park in Manhattan, until Jan. 1 — would spoil more than a few surprises and much of the fun. Suffice to say, the entire show revolves around a single deck of playing cards, and the cards behave in ways that defy reason and, occasionally, the laws of physics.

But Wind’s niftiest trick, honed over more than 20 years and thousands of private events, is his ability to eliminate any sense that he and his audience are locked in a contest. He does it with a combination of charm and humility that peers say is just one reason he ranks among the great magicians of our time.

“When he was in his late 20s, I was describing him as one of the finest close-up performers in the country, and I think he’s been at the top of the magic world ever since,” said Jamy Ian Swiss, author of six magic books and co-producer of the long-running show Monday Night Magic at the Players Theater in Greenwich Village. “Very often a performer has a big personality onstage or he’s got great technical chops or he’s just inventive. And you can get by on any one of these qualities. Asi has all three. He’s the complete package.”

Many magicians imply that they are performing miracles and dare onlookers to divine their methods. Wind turns that approach on its head. He tells spectators that he can’t do magic and then makes any other explanation seem inconceivable.

And he does it with ease and self-deprecating humor — “C’mon,” he said at one point, faux-pleading for a big reaction, “in Israel that’s a miracle!” — that will disarm even the most ardent Card Trick Columbos, those spectators too busy trying to bust the performer to enjoy the performance.

Though a star among insiders, Wind has remained a relative unknown to the public. He had an Off Broadway show in 2013 called “Concert of the Mind,” and there was his wickedly bamboozling appearance on the competition television show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us,” in 2019, which has been viewed on YouTube nearly 14 million times. That video and a few other clips are about the only glimpses available of the man at work. He’s maintained a surprisingly low profile, earning his living at corporate shows and consulting with David Blaine, a producer of “Inner Circle” who calls Wind “my favorite magician.”

“Fame is not his goal,” Blaine said in a phone interview. “What interests him most is answering the question, ‘How can I make magic a great experience for my audience?’ That’s what he’s chasing.”

Wind’s status as magic’s best-kept secret may end with “Inner Circle,” which is built around a simple, ingenious premise. Before the action begins, ushers ask audience members to write their first and last names on blank-face playing cards that all have identical backs. The cards are then spread on a round table where Wind will sit and conjure his mischief.

So every trick is performed with a deck missing any of the standard suits, faces or numbers, and that changes every night. A card might start off as “Zach Alexander” then transform, in Zach’s hands, into “Rachel Silver.” Rachel may then open a sealed envelope she’s been guarding, only to find “Zach Alexander” inside.

“A playing card has information on it, but to most people, the six of hearts, for example, means nothing,” Wind said one recent afternoon. “But if a spectator puts his name on that card, suddenly it is significant. It’s not a card. It’s a person.”

Wind was sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park, a place that has a cameo in the show — a spectator is dispatched here to ask a stranger for a random number — and a key role in his origin story. In 2001, he flew to the United States, intending a quick visit with his brother, but fell hard for New York City and tore up his return ticket. With no job prospects, let alone a work visa, he took a regular deck of cards to this park and performed for tips for anyone who could be convinced to stand still for a few minutes.

“It was hard, and I failed,” he recalled, with a smile. “But it taught me a valuable lesson — that magic is about connecting to people. It’s about them.”

Wind was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, a go-to outfit that he augments for performances with a dark sports jacket, a look that says TED Talk more than “I do magic.” During a two-hour interview, he was animated, funny and candid about his struggles, which include a somewhat debilitating streak of perfectionism that he described as a curse.

“It’s never being satisfied, never being super happy with something,” he said. “It really takes a toll on me, emotionally.”

He pronounced himself “60 to 70 percent” pleased with the show during this talk in late September, and said he’d never stop refining it. For years, he’s kept vampiric hours in his Upper East Side apartment, spending all night practicing sleights and polishing routines. “Inner Circle” includes effects that Wind has been fine-tuning for decades. There’s no hint of methods in the show, let alone the daredevilish risks he takes through the evening, because he’s spent thousands of hours rendering his techniques invisible.

When he’s in the mood for more visible handiwork, he paints watercolors. Many are portraits of his magic heroes, several of which are projected onto the round table at the end of “Inner Circle” during a monologue about those who have influenced him.

“Harry Houdini,” he said, introducing the first image. “He understood that it’s not enough to fool people with magic. You have to make them care.”

Wind began his life as Asi Betesh in Holon, a city near Tel Aviv. An uncle showed him the first tricks he ever saw, and the owner of a magic shop later scrambled his brains with a card trick that he can still describe in detail.

He left Israel after developing a comedy-magic act inspired by Steve Martin and lived with his brother in Brooklyn while working the lowest rungs on the entertainment ladder — twisting balloon animals for tips at a Toys “R” Us in the Bronx or performing at kids’ parties dressed as SpongeBob SquarePants, in a costume that once gave him scabies.

“Oh my God, was that hard to get rid of,” he said. “I had to take so many showers and take every sheet, every fabric in my apartment to the laundromat.”

He started landing gigs at parties and, eventually, a spot at Monday Night Magic, which first let him perform during intermissions and seven years later, in 2008, as a headliner. As his reputation grew, Penn and Teller tried to coax him on to “Fool Us” and succeeded only after agreeing to let Wind perform without having to dupe the hosts.

“For all his talk about not wanting to compete,” said Penn, a bit grumpily, “he did a trick backstage that had one purpose — to fool me. So shut up, Asi.”

Today, and for the run of “Inner Circle,” Wind has a theater of his own, a bespoke and painstakingly fabricated 106-seater that is based on a venue for magicians in Munich. Judging from audience reactions, the design yields an intimacy that makes the effects astonishing from every vantage point.

“I was sitting there thinking that all the people he was calling on were shills — and then he called my name,” Wendy Rogers, a public-school teacher from Brooklyn, said after the show. “He must have superpowers or something because what he does isn’t possible on earth. And yet he does it.”

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