For the most part, that magic is what you’d see on a Vegas stage or read about in a Harry Potter book. When it comes to YouTube, it’s that thin line of creating content without making it feel too contrived or scripted. Despite how many thousands or millions of people watch, you have to be authentic. Actual magic videos, in the forms that we know, have probably been around YouTube for years, but we never really paid much attention to them.
At least that was until we were thrown into the world of magical YouTube when it came to Warped Tour last year.
YouTube success is all luck of the draw, and it’s no different for Chris Mitchell (who goes by Christopher James on YouTube), who’s been blowing the minds of people he performs for and his subscribers for months now, after he went viral with a little help from Reddit.
“It was just the most surreal thing in the world,” he told the Daily Dot.
By the time James had arrived at Warped Tour with his friends and fellow YouTube magicians Calen Morelli and Evan Cloyd of Disturb Reality, he had already dabbled in YouTube by posting a few magic videos, something he hadn’t really considered doing until recently. They all went with the idea of doing magic for the crowd, but nobody could’ve predicted what happened.
After connecting with a couple of reporters from Substream Magazine to get past security, where they did some magic tricks for some of the bands, Substream then gave them tickets for another show, where they got backstage to do more magic tricks. Once Reddit discovered it (along with an earlier video in Compton), the rest was history.
James had always been interested in magic as a kid, but his budding career came to a halt after attempting a trick for his class as part of a book report on Harry Houdini during which he accidentally got pantsed by his second-grade teacher—a story in which he goes into detail in one of his vlogs.
“He’s like, ‘Try to get out of this one!’” he said. “So I was dangling in front of my classroom in my whitey tighties, and I was so embarrassed I was like, ‘I’m never doing magic again!’ He put me down, I tried to run away but I fell because my pants were still up my ankles.”
That changed close to a decade later after meeting Shawn McMaster, a magician who performed at a restaurant James’s family frequented. He had just moved to Simi Valley, Calif. with his family, so he didn’t know that many people yet. After watching McMaster perform for the customers, James went straight to YouTube; he knew he wanted to perform magic.
After only a few months, he started to perform at the restaurant himself, and his list of tricks grew by using a mix of tricks from other people and making some up on his own. Soon enough, he applied to the Magic Castle and got in on the first try, which he described as feeling a bit “like Harry Potter.”
He’s cut off from the magic community, which is largely in Las Vegas, but he’s close in proximity to Los Angeles, where much of the YouTube community is located. James says he prefers close-up magic over stage magic, as he’s able to connect with people on a smaller level, but how does that translate to YouTube—a platform that’s not really made for magic of any scale?
With the participatory nature of magic today, it can be a lot harder for it for people passively watching on a screen, but for him, that’s a challenge he relishes.
“Online it’s a little bit different because you lose that personal one-on-one connection,” James said. “So I think that’s the biggest obstacle that I’ve come across with magic on videos, but it’s a fun obstacle to come around because I’ve never had to come around it before. That’s one thing about magic: getting around it and making the impossible possible.”
He loves magic, but he doesn’t want to be defined by it. He’s expressed an interest in acting and has started making vlogs. There, he’s able to answer subscriber and fan questions, tell stories, and talk to the audience without having to rely on a pack of cards, something he usually has on hand. He’s full of stories, which his manager Andrew Graham joked usually start with “I did magic, and then I got free stuff.”
But now he’s expanding his horizons. Starting today, James will be hosting Strange But True News on DreamWorksTV starting Jan. 30, a YouTube show which will feature different oddities in the world; one episode will focus on all the different ways children have pulled out their teeth.
It has nothing to do with magic, but DreamWorksTV and AwesomenessTV are excited to have him on board in this new capacity.
“There’s something about Chris that felt like he jumps out of the screen and you connect to him,” AwesomenessTV Creative Executive Judy Meyers told the Daily Dot.
It’s not something James’s fans are used to, but despite branching out, magic will always be a part of his life and his channel—and the reactions make it worth it.
“Being able to do magic and bringing someone back to that same feeling as when they were a kid is the coolest art form to perform,” he said.
Screengrab via Christopher James/YouTube