“It’s interesting — your whole life becomes a lie!” he said with a chuckle. “You’re always deceiving people. That’s what’s attractive (about magic).”
The career of the Carson City native has taken him from building a show in Nevada casinos to performing on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” and Comedy Central.
This weekend, he opens a family summer show, “The Magic of Eli Kerr,” at the Magic Underground Theater at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts using Vegas-style illusions and introducing new tricks conducive to a more intimate setting.
As a child, Kerr said he became enthralled with the art of deception when his grandmother and her neighbor introduced him to it with a magic book, which he still has today.
“At that age, you think magic is real, of course,” he said. “I found out it was all tricks and secrets. It was a hobby I never put down.”
The hobby turned into a career with his first paying gig in the seventh grade: $30 for a one-hour act. Just a couple of years after that, he worked his first casino show at the Gold Dust West in downtown Reno and performed at charitable events for the March of Dimes and American Heart Association.
By his late teens, he had completed high school early and was hired to entertain on a Florida cruise ship for six months. That solidified his passion for magic, particularly because his work gives him the flexibility to be his own boss and tour with other magicians.
His current shows are typically scripted, he said, but he enjoys it more when he can be spontaneous and react with the audience.
“I think I have a lot more fun when I ad-lib a little bit; it makes it more fun for me and (the audience) gets the sense that I’m real,” he said.”
Of course, magicians never reveal their secrets, but Kerr said one of his more popular illusions employs the use of a fire basket and six flaming spears. He uses video cameras to show some of his tricks up close, even though many audience members still don’t know what he does.
“It gives me the chance to connect with the audience,” he said.
Kerr performs for company events, cabarets and nightclubs and also does a Halloween show.
Beyond his live stagework, he’s gathered broadcast interest worldwide. Recently, Kerr entered into a distribution agreement to air “The Magic of Eli Kerr” live on stage for 17 European countries, including Germany, France, Austria and Denmark.
“It’’s very cool,” Kerr said. “We put together an hour-long TV special, about an hour of production of large shows. ... Everything’s kind of morphed and you can express yourself in another way. It’s a little bit different control over what you’re doing and you can reach billions of people.”
Kerr said when he did his first “America’s Got Talent” clip, his e-mail “exploded” with correspondence from both fans and other magicians, and he received more offers to perform.
Yet, even with all the international fame he’s making for himself these days, he said coming back home is always a refreshing break.
“The last time I was in Reno, I performed for the Golden Phoenix (Hotel and Casino), prior to them turning it into those condos,” he said. “It’s very cool to perform locally when I can.”
He advised those who will be attending the local show to “expect the unexpected.”
“The show is usually large, so we’ve scaled some of it down to fit the venue, but we still do bring in some of the large illusions,” he said.
“The Magic of Kerr” opens at the Magic Underground Theater Friday night and will run Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. until September. Admission is $19.95 for adults and $16.95 for kids 4 to 12 with discounts available for group rates, students, seniors and the military. Tickets are available at the Pioneer Center Box Office, online at www.elikerr.com or by calling 324-6007.