Bay Area/ San Francisco
Published on February 06, 2015
Misdirections Magic Shop: The Inner Sunset's Wizard SchoolPhotos: Stephen Jackson/Hoodline

Having mastered his first magic trick at the age of five, San Francisco native Joe Pon has devoted his entire life to the art of illusion. After opening Misdirections Magic Shop in the Inner Sunset nearly two decades ago, Pon and his store have become a cornerstone of the Bay Area's magic community. 

Misdirections carries everything a magician needs, including props, DVDs and how-to books, and Pon goes the extra step, teaching customers how to do the tricks themselves. Hoodline interviewed him at his store to learn more about one of the city's two remaining magic shops (the other is Houdini’s Magic Shop at Pier 39).

Why did you decide to open a magic shop?

"It’s my first love, I’ve been doing it since I was five. When I got married, my wife didn’t want to travel, so I opened up a magic shop, so instead of being a performer, I became a teacher and a mentor. I’ve actually taught some of the biggest names in magic nationwide and in the Bay Area."

Really? Like who?

"David Copperfield, David Blaine, Criss Angel. From scratch I taught Alex Ramon, who’s probably the top from the Bay Area guys, and now he’s one of the larger names in magic. As far as other Bay Area magicians, I’ve taught Jay Alexander, Christian Cagigal and Big Alcatraz."

(At this point in the interview, Pon pauses to sell a magic trick to a boy and his father, doing a quick demonstration before resuming our conversation.)

Whoa! So does that happen all the time?

"This is not just a regular magic shop. I care about the magic, I’m not just trying to sell you stuff. People always come in and say they want to learn. But I say, ‘you have to practice!' Magic isn’t about secrets only. It’s like learning how to play piano, learning how to juggle, learning martial arts. You must practice to be good."

What was that you told him after you sold him the trick?

"I told him the three points of magic: One, you must practice. Two, you've got to keep it a secret. Three, you can never repeat a trick. It’s like watching a movie. First time is magic, second time is education. Magic is all about the surprise element, too."

Is there really a “magician’s code?”

"The code is that we don’t tell anybody how to do tricks, but then there’s the question, ‘Well how can you sell magic?’ The reason I can is that there is a code. When you are a magician, you can reveal certain things, but there’s an ethics to it. First you buy it, and then you invest the time and you practice it ... and then you’re gonna just give it away? You don’t want to do that. Even among magicians we don’t reveal everything. But I’m the guy who knows everything. Most people perform for lay people, or muggles, as they are called. I perform for magicians, which is much harder."

So there is a sort of conflict between being a magic salesman and a magician at the same time?

"Yes, there’s a fine line. Because I’m a dealer, I’m here to protect the tricks too. I find what level you’re on before I sell you a trick. Just like if you are into martial arts, if you are a white belt, I’m not going to just tell you how to break a board right away."

Would you ever not sell a trick or a DVD if you didn’t think someone was ready?

"Yes, I have done that, many, many times. In fact, some people have gotten mad at me. But I care about the magic."

What's the relationship between magic secrets and the performance itself?

"Magic is not about the secret. The real magic is about the performer. These are instruments, I sell instruments. If you are a great performer, you can use the magic and be great. If you’re just okay, then they are just props."

How do those huge, large-scale illusions work?

"Well first off, I can’t tell you that. From the largest to the smallest trick, I can’t tell you. But I have all the secrets here. So, if you are willing to study and practice, I have it and I will direct you to the right things."

Tell us more about your services here at Misdirections.

"Anything you buy from me, I will teach you for free. I also have lectures where I bring in famous magicians, where they come and teach. These range from $30 to $40. This place is the magic scene in San Francisco. I built a community. It’s a small but big group, so anything that happens in magic, you can always find it here. From shows to lectures, workshops, anything. Anything about magic is always here."

What’s the most amazing trick you’ve ever seen?

"You know what? I still get fooled. People come in all the time and try to fool me. But the most amazing trick I’ve ever seen was a vanishing silk handkerchief when I was five, and that’s what got me into it. After all, magic is like Santa Claus. People don’t really want to know the secret to magic. Once people know the secret, once you learn magic, you can never go back."

Can magic be used for evil?

"Yeah. In some parts of the world, magic can be seen as a special power. In America, it’s a show, but in other parts, it’s voodoo and you can make people believe you have a special power. You just hope people will use their powers for good."

Why do you like magic so much?

"I love the entertainment value. Magic, if you took the entertainment value out, why then it’s just a puzzle. But that’s not what magic’s about. It’s about making people feel good. I want to amuse and confuse you, all at the same time."

Misdirections Magic Shop is located at 1326 9th Ave. and is open Tuesday - Saturday from 11am - 6pm and from noon to 5pm on Sundays (closed Mondays). If you'd like to attend an instructional lecture by magician Jeff McBride on February 22nd, stop by Misdirections to purchase tickets.