MIAMI, Okla. —
Michael Kent didn't know how to react to "Wrecking Ball," the latest music video from Miley Cyrus. In the video she appears naked, making strange gestures on a large wrecking ball.
He had two thoughts. The first: "Ew."
The second: "I can't stop watching this."
"And I don't know if that's good or bad," Kent said. "It was awful and wonderful."
The self-billed "comic, magician, smartass" Kent has performed around the world, including theaters, bars and private clubs. He's entertained top audiences, from exclusive engagements for corporate clients to performances for U.S. troops in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and other places.
But the locations at which he lands the most work have dorms, cafeterias and buildings full of classrooms. Kent performs about 80 shows a year at college campuses across the country.
And that's perfect for him, because a college audience is most likely to get his blend of magic and comedy -- meaning all the jokes he might tell about Cyrus will be immediately understood.
"These audiences are so savvy," Kent said. "I can talk about things I saw on the Internet that day, and they know what I'm talking about. That's a wonderful thing, for everyone to be at the same speed."
Kent has earned rave reviews from audiences and nominations for Entertainer of the Year from Campus Activities Magazine for his unique blend of comedy and magic. Both were influenced separately, however.
His love of magic was inspired by the legendary David Copperfield. But he was also drawn to the comedy of '80s-era "Saturday Night Live" and David Letterman. The two influences remained separate at the beginning of Kent's performance career, he said.
"Everyone wanted to be (David Copperfield) when I was growing up," Kent said. "When I grew up performing, I thought that was my performance style. I had also done a little bit of stand-up in college. But it wasn't for a while until I realized that combining the two would work."
Kent's show features none of the large set pieces, dance numbers, tigers in cages or other trappings of a Copperfield show. Instead, his show features simple, streamlined effects without dancing distractions or complicated cabinets. The effects are things that everyone can see, yet no one can believe they just saw.
As he performs, he said he invites audiences to laugh at the absurdity they are seeing. Each show is filled with amazing illusions and sarcastic humor.
His style fit perfectly with a special show he performed in his home state of Ohio. Called "Illusions, Michael," it paired Kent's magic with episodes of "Arrested Development," the sitcom that featured fictional bad magician Gob Bluth.
Every town has a Gob Bluth -- that magician who takes himself way too seriously -- and that taps into what fuels Kent's shows.
"Things like reality TV also influenced that," Kent said. "I'm performing for students who have grown up without canned laughter, watching entertainment that reflects real life. To make something as surreal as a magic show seem real, I present it as bare bones as possible."
Kent is part of a wave of magicians performing similar streamlined shows, such as Mike Super, Nate Staniforth, Peter Boie and Daniel Martin -- all of whom have performed at local campuses over the past few years.
Though travel necessities are part of the reason for his presentation, Kent said the audiences at college shows are sharper and more appreciative of the streamlined style.
"It's like the difference between watching a well-written sitcom and 'Jersey Shore,'" Kent said. "They are savvy to pop culture, and they don't let you get away with performing to the lowest common denominator. You have to perform in a way that uses their minds, and you want them to listen to what you have to say, rather than going on autopilot."
Want to go?
Michael Kent will perform at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Corley Auditorium, located inside Webster Hall at Missouri Southern State University. The appearance is sponsored by the Campus Activities Board. Details: 417-625-9669.