Nowadays, if you live in a legal state, you can find all kinds of activities in which cannabis is involved, even centric to the experience. Like yoga? You can cannabis-ify it. Like painting, standup comedy, book club? That too.
As America’s epicenter of entertainment, New York City, which is on the precipice of rolling out its legal recreational cannabis market in the coming weeks (or months), is a seemingly intuitive spot for artists and performers to weave weed into their shows. So, when I got an invitation to a cannabis-themed magic show, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Mere minutes before the magician Ben Zabin’s touring show, Smokus Pocus, was set to start in Brooklyn, guests were passing joints and blunts on the corner outside. The sound of someone playing “Pass the Dutchie” from their phone floated through the air as clouds of pungent smoke lingered between conversations.
New York City allows public cannabis consumption just about anywhere tobacco smoking is allowed, and my fellow patrons and I were taking full advantage. How else to prepare for a marijuana magic show on a Saturday night?
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Once inside, the stage seemed appropriately set. There was a bong on stage, crates decked out with 4/20 slang, and colorful lighting. Then Ben Zabin took the stage. For 70 minutes, the audience was at his mercy.
The NYC production of Smokus Pocus had all the tenets you’d expect of a marijuana magic show, and thankfully, it’s slated to hit the stage again in Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA, on December 9 and 10, respectively, in addition to future tour dates across the US. I mean, a bong lit itself, an audience member guessed a strain that appeared on a jar of weed Ben hadn’t touched, and his assistant’s name is Mary Jane. Bags of weed appeared and disappeared: What more could one ask for?
As it turns out, there’s so much more: Mary Jane was an erotic blow-up doll, and someone’s phone ended up in a box of mac and cheese.. I would go on, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Let’s just say that my expectations went up in smoke when 50 or so people in the audience, including myself, found ourselves laughing, crying, and gasping.
Though I can’t speak for the other attendees, I can say with conviction that the laughter did not just result from smoking a fat bowl beforehand.
It’s 2022, and in theory, when you’re in New York City, anything goes. Then how is it that no one else has thought to put these two together? I caught up with Zabin after the show to learn just how he’s made it work. While he wouldn’t reveal his secrets, he was adamant that a penchant for magic and a passion for pot make for great inspiration.
Seedlings of stardom
Zabin grew up in the tri-state area and did his first magic trick at the age of six after receiving a kit for the holidays. It was love at first sleight of hand. A decade later, he fell in love again, with cannabis. Within a couple of years, he’d left college to do magic full-time.
But not everyone can be Cris Angel, so he started selling weed on the side. He eventually started doing regular gigs on cruise ships and even toured with the US Navy (he says stoners are a much easier crowd).
“I was really shy growing up, and I was terrible at sports. Magic was one thing that I was good at. It was a passion—my whole life,” he tells Leafly. “I started doing birthday parties and then moved on to adult private events and the competition circuit. It kind of just grew [into a] career.”
Within a couple of years, he’d left college to do magic full-time. But not everyone can be Cris Angel, so he started selling weed on the side. He eventually started doing regular gigs on cruise ships and even toured with the US Navy (he says stoners are a much easier crowd).
It was during the pandemic that, with nowhere to perform, Zabin moved to Portland, Oregon, and started working on a weed-centric magic show, something that has been on the back burner. He launched it in May of 2021 and began performing weekly.
As pandemic restrictions lifted, he started touring in medical and recreational states, including Oklahoma, Montana, Alaska, and, soon, even Canada.
“People have no idea what to expect! I really love that it appeals to so many different demographics,” he says, not unlike a 21st-century Woodstock.
A grass act
There were classic tricks, like “Is this your card?” and plenty of audience engagement. I myself got corralled into a bit involving picking a gift card from a stack, which would magically appear in the drawing Zabin made onstage in real-time. (It was H&M)
But beyond all the personal touches, Zabin has clearly been in the game long enough to anticipate and subvert magic show clichés. On numerous occasions, the item in question appears to be the wrong one. But as we quickly learned, this turns into another layer of the trick with Zabin emerging victorious.
With performances in Brooklyn every weekend over the course of October, Zabin’s goal is to give Smokus Pocus a permanent home in the Empire state. New York’s imminent adult-use market means he could pull all kinds of possibilities from a pocket, ear, or mystery bag. In the meantime, be sure to check out the list of dates and cities he’s got lined up for December.
“It’s an exciting forefront of this emerging industry—an intersection between entertainment, cannabis, community, and culture. Everyone comes together at a magic show!”