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Justin Willman's Meltdown Variety Show at the Nerdist Theater is Magic

One of the many Meltdown shows at the Nerdist Theater. Photo courtesy Liezl Estipona.
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It seems there’s not much room for magic these days. “Oohs” and “Aahs” have been replaced with narrow-eyed skepticism, while the lovely darkness of simply not knowing something is little more than a Siri answer away. Thankfully, there are guys like Justin Willman out there, trying not to let us ruin all the fun for ourselves.

Willman’s new live show Magic Meltdown is a monthly return to the true theater of staged illusion with a back-of-the-classroom comedy twist. (Or, perhaps, back-of-the-comic book store.) The show, which takes place at the Nerdist Theater inside Meltdown Comics on Sunset Blvd., is an engaging combination of sleight of hand, mind-reading and the occasional big trick that sees an end table float over the front row. Everything is prefaced with a smile and kept lively with some built-in jokes and a few polite jabs at this or that audience volunteer. Willman is a personality built for an audience (as his more famous role as the host of Food Network’s "Cupcake Wars" can attest), a man wrangling with the crowd and the trick itself.

Luckily, Willman doesn't come alone. Magic Meltdown is a true variety show, with comedians, musical guests and other magicians rounding out the nearly two-hour event. On this night, the adorable Owl & The Pussycat musical duo permeated the room with folk covers of former hits like Ice, Ice Baby. Comic Nick Thune, a little rattled by a couple of young children in the front row, slowly crafted his set from atop his wooden stool, occasionally flipping punchlines for the sake of more sensitive ears. The results, of course, were fantastic. Thune’s dry wit and tempered delivery kept the audience on the edge of their folding chairs until he could cleanly pay off a bit with a smile and nod to the kids up front.

Jon Armstrong, another practicing magician, worked tirelessly (if a bit self-deprecatingly) to make sure the true magic of the evening wasn’t lost in the variety of it all. His close-up deceptions may not have always reached the edges of the room, but that’s all right. This is, after all, the back of a comic book shop.

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In L.A.’s DIY comedy landscape, throwing a show in a funky space and inviting some comics to come along is no great invention. But for Willman and the Nerdist Theater, packing the house with $10 ticketholders looking to see comedy and chimera without a two-drink minimum is a bit of magic in itself.

Magic Meltdown
January 17th, 8p
Nerdist Theatre at Meltdown Comics (map)