Matt Donnelly, The Mind Noodler, likens his show to a kid playing with matches onstage. He wears overalls and work boots, sniffs Whiteboard Markers and wields a long knife while blindfolded and surprises audiences by succeeding his trick.
Donnelly is a mentalist. A magician. And’s he’s, you know, funny.
The Mind Noodler & Friends, R.J. Owens and Steve Branham will perform Wednesday at the Valhalla Boathouse Theatre in South Lake Tahoe.
“The show I’m bringing up there is a silly, fun, crazy show,” Donnelly said. “It is not meant to be an astounding, mysterious show. The magic is going to be great, but I am a comedy-first guy.”
Head writer for “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” on the CW Network and co-host of “Penn’s Sunday School” podcast, Donnelly was encouraged by his boss to try onstage magic.
“Penn (Jillette) busted my chops for mouthing off,” said Donnelly, who had interviewed guests to prep them for appearances with Penn & Teller.
“Every person I talk to is a working, full-time magician,” Donnelly said. “I told Penn , I’d just learned four tricks and I can make a living like these other people. Basically, he shoved it back in my face. He said, ‘It’s harder than you think, but you might be better than you think.’”
Doing comedy onstage is nothing new to Donnelly. He performed when he was in high school on weekends at an improv club in his hometown in New Jersey. When he attended Montclair State University, would visit New York City to watch and study comedians, and he attended Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. He began working with Jillette as an intern and now he’s been the podcast co-host for eight years.
“Penn is a tremendous thinker,” Donnelly said. “He’s a big-hearted guy. I just think he’s a big hippie. He’s gotten more openly caring.”
Penn told Donnelly the tricks of the trade, including a memorable occasion when Donnelly’s father was present.
“My father said, ‘You just got basketball advice from Michael Jordan. Are you going to take it?’ I guess I have to. It was like a weight. He kept helping me, so I had to do it.”
Donnelly toured two years with British magician Piff The Magic Dragon. Opening acts don’t make the marquee.
“Winning over those crowds was really good practice for me,” he said. “I got confidence with that.”
Valhalla will not be a stop on a tour. It’s a special one-time performance.
The 6-foot-5-inch tall Owens had a successful magician’s career in San Francisco before shackled with “golden handcuffs” with a full-time roll as a giant baby at Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas.
“I brought R.J. out of retirement,” Donnelly said. “He’s this giant baby clown that squirts a milk bottle into the audience 10 times a week. Wednesday is his off night for his show. He’s a compelling figure. I am so happy I’ve shaken him loose again.”
Steve Branham heads a venue in Folsom, Mystique Dining, where Donnelly will perform Nov. 7-13. After Branham said he will attend Wednesday’s Tahoe show, Donnelly insisted he step onstage, too.
“Steve’s been a professional magician since he was a kid,” Donnelly said. “He has encyclopedic knowledge of magic and he can do it all.
“We’re thrilled to be playing this show. We spontaneously put together one special show on one night for the people of South Lake Tahoe.”
Matt Donnelly – The Mind Noodler
& Friends R.J. Owens and Steve Branham
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28
Where: Valhalla Boathouse Theatre, South Lake Tahoe
Tickets: $15 and $25
Artist’s site: www.mindnoodler.com