Jeff the Magician
By night, he’s a magician. By day? Jeffery Aaron Olds is also performing magic.
“In the Mid-Michigan area, I believe I’m the only one who does it for a living,” he said.
Jeff the Magician sometimes gigs every day. He has performed around the country and all over Michigan. Every Monday night he can be seen at Sir Pizza Grand Café in Old Town, Tuesday nights at Fazoli’s on South Cedar Street and every Thursday night at Aladdin’s in Frandor.
“So many people dread their jobs,” Olds said. “I can’t wait to get to my next show.”
Lansing schools and neighboring districts know him from motivational shows. A “Reading is Magic” program gets “kids excited about reading through magic,” Olds said. He also does a magical math show. “I’ve done every single school in the area.”
Birthday parties are another mainstay.
“People are always having birthdays,” Olds said. “I always make them the star of the show.” What he doesn’t do is make fun of or intimidate audiences. “I’m always building my audience up.”
He performs for synagogues and places wanting an Easter or Christmas show. “I’m adaptable,” Olds said. While “99 percent” of his routines could be rated “G,” he can do PG-13. “I can pull a woman’s bra off,” he said. “You don’t do that at the school show.”
Olds also teaches magic lessons to kids and adults. He sometimes practices up to five hours a day and has never missed a show.
His “close-up” shows feature dazzling, card memory tricks and clever illusions, like putting a straw through a quarter. “About half of my shows are doing my walk-around magic,” Olds said.
Up-front performances include more elaborate tricks such as a spinning head or a person levitating. His favorite type of magic is “mentalism” — when a prediction is made and it always comes true.
What thrills him the most is being able to stun teenage boys “who think they know everything” and smart executives and engineers. “That’s a natural high for me.”
The 51-year-old became interested in magic early in life. At 10, his parents hired a magician for his sister’s birthday party. “I felt like Moses looking at the Burning Bush,” he said. “I was awed.”
“I knew at that point in time, even though I was ten years old, that I would be doing magic for the rest of my life,” Olds said.
His first shows were in his Flint home.
“I started putting shows together in my neighborhood,” Olds said. “Charging the kids a quarter to come watch me do a show.”
His teacher mom and doctor dad let him take some of the money he got from the ceremony to buy magic supplies. “When I was 13, I was Bar Mitzvah-ed. My parents let me take $200, which in 1981 was a lot.”
They took him to a Detroit magic store that was “floor to ceiling with magic, magic, magic,” Olds said. “It was like someone from a small town seeing the Las Vegas Strip for the first time.” Some materials he bought then, he still uses today.
Magic skills improved his school standing. “I was very nervous and very shy, unless I was doing magic,” Olds said. “That gave me the confidence to stand in front of people.”
In high school, for book reports and class demonstrations, Olds included magic. “Not only did it give me confidence,” he said, “it made my reports and presentations stand out from everybody else’s.”
Magic helped Olds connect with the opposite sex. “I was always nervous talking to girls, unless I did magic,” he said. Olds met Shawn, his wife of 21 years, doing magic. He proposed to her using magic, making a floating paper rose turn into a real rose. They have two teenage kids and live on Lansing’s Southside.
Olds graduated from Michigan State University in 1983 with a MBA in marketing and received a psychology degree from the University of Michigan in 1993. The dual disciplines help him run and promote his business, and give him an advantage when working with adults and kids.
“Some magicians can’t do kids’ shows at all,” Olds said, citing their lack of patience and understanding of what is appropriate. “And some only do kids because their magic is not good enough to fool adults,” he said. “I am amazing at both.”
Past jobs include selling cars, insurance, roofing, and degree programs.
“I’ve always been in sales,” Olds said. “I always wanted something to fall back on. But my heart wasn’t in it.”
He does sell magic supplies — sometimes to very different customers. Churches and showgirls are his biggest buyers of flash paper.
“Within an hour I might meet with a group of strippers and a group of church people,” Olds said. “It’s hysterical.”
Correction: Due to a reporting error, Olds was described as graduating from U of M in 1990. The correct date is 1993.