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The Good Liar

Alumnus, ‘D.C.’s most honest con man,’ weaves web of deception


by Jim Heffernan (’96, ’17M)

 
brian curry lead image

SUMMARY: Brian Curry (’03), a full-time magician and mentalist, has been dazzling audiences for 20 years. His one-man show in Washington, D.C., "The Good Liar," is a lesson in the art of deception. "Can I make people feel like they know me," he wonders, "and then make them question me as they leave?” 


Brian Curry (’03) might be a con man, but he’s no liar. 

Or is he? 

“Tonight, I’m going to lie to you,” Curry says flatly at the outset of his one-man show, The Good Liar, at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. “Your job is to decide whether what I’m telling you is true, whether it is partially true or whether it is absolutely false.” 

No small task, given that over the course of the next hour, Curry demonstrates an uncanny ability to read audience members’ minds, reveal intimate details about their lives, guess words they’re thinking of and even unlock their phones. 

Then, about halfway through the show, Curry admits his psychic powers are a ruse. That missing playing card? He memorized the deck. The young woman whom he correctly pegged as “the type of person who tells their friends what they need to hear, not what they want to hear”? A technique known as cold reading — analyzing someone and then offering specific information that applies to most people. The man whom he picked out of a lineup as the secret liar? A study in body language. 

Still, not every trick in The Good Liar can be explained, and by the end of the show, observers can’t help but wonder: How did he know the woman in the front row was thinking of a three-armed man? How did random page numbers in a Harry Potter book end up on a slip of paper inside a fortune cookie? 

Curry, a professional magician and mentalist, has dazzled audiences with the art of deception for 20 years, performing on all seven continents. Indeed, one of the only truths in The Good Liar is his story about how, as a young magician working in the mall at Tyson’s Corner in Northern Virginia, he became good friends with his boss. “I learned an awful lot about the craft from him,” he said. A year later, the two men moved their show to Disney World, Florida, on the boardwalk. “Our first day there, some guys walked up and pushed him to the ground, put him in handcuffs and took him away. He was a con man who had been on the run for five years.” 

After getting over the initial shock of being duped by his mentor, Curry began studying the art — and science — of lying, and he wondered if he might one day recreate that sense of deception in a show. “Can I make people feel like they know me and then make them question me as they leave?” 

The making of a magician 
Curry, whose real name is Brian Kloske, was introduced to magic when he was 13. “I grew up overseas, and it was always a struggle to make friends outside of my American schools,” he said.

When his family returned to the U.S., Curry entered the sixth grade as a shy, introverted kid trying to find his place in the world. One day, the family had a house guest from Germany who was taking a magic class, and he taught Curry and his brother a trick. 

“I showed my neighbor, John, and he’s like, ‘Hey, that was cool! Bobby, come watch this.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the greatest moment of my life! I’ve got to learn another trick.’” 

Curry started reading magic books and learning the tricks of the trade. It wasn’t long before he landed his first gig at Cox Farms in Centreville, Virginia. At 15, he began performing during Sunday brunches at Clyde’s, a popular local restaurant. In high school, he traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, once a week to study sleight of hand in the back of an old magic shop that reeked of cigarettes. He later studied with a professional card cheater, a mind reader and a comedian. 

“I figured I would do this until I failed,” he said. “I guess I’m still waiting for that shoe to drop.” 

brian curry table
As a young magician, Curry performed during Sunday brunches at Clyde’s, a popular Northern Virginia restaurant. 

Curry came to JMU as a Psychology major, but he was also interested in Theatre. He knew he was skilled at close-up magic — performing tricks for small groups of people, mostly from his pockets — but he also knew if he wanted to make a career of magic, he would have to learn how to perform on stage. He was drawn to JMU’s Black Box Theatre, a venue that allows lesser actors a place to learn. A General Education Theatre class further piqued his interest and convinced him to switch majors. 

His stage credits at JMU included Dodge in Sam Shepherd’s Buried Child as well as several one-act plays and a bit part in the 2002 main-stage production of the musical Carnival. “One of the main characters was a magician, so my job was to teach the guy, who was a good singer, how to do magic tricks,” he said. 

For his senior thesis in the theatre program, Curry staged a variety show, Magic and Mischief, that included elements of dance — “I was a big fan of the Swing Dance Club” — and comedy. “It was a lot of fun.” 

Curry said JMU, and the theatre department, in particular, which is known for educating students in all aspects of production, prepared him well for his chosen career. 

“It has helped me on all sorts of fronts — acting, set design, writing. I use those all the time,” he said. A playwriting course with professor Roger Hall proved especially useful. “I write all my own shows,” he said. “One of the things I discovered later in my career is that being on stage as a magician, you’re still playing a character, so you have to write for that character.” 

Acting coach Tom Arthur was instrumental in Curry’s growth as a performer, and the department head at the time, Bill Buck, offered a wealth of information about the business side of show business. “I remember he was the first person who talked to us about health insurance, like, ‘Hey, what are you going to do? You can only be on your parents’ health insurance for so long.’ 

“I also remember [Buck] telling us, ‘You’re gonna hate 95% of what you do, but you’ll love the [other] 5% so much that you can’t do anything else,’” Curry said. “And he was absolutely right. So much of our business isn’t performing; it’s contracts, liability insurance, driving to and from a show, setting it up, breaking it down. The performing part is the smallest part.” 

After graduating from JMU, Curry returned to Northern Virginia, where he continued to perform at Clyde’s — which featured a wealthy clientele from which he was able to book a steady stream of corporate gigs — and on the streets of Old Town Alexandria. In 2012, he landed the first in a series of jobs on cruise ships, which took him and his wife all over the world. “I had guest status,” he said. “I barely worked.” 

Curry also began doing magic shows focused on math, science and reading at elementary schools in Virginia. Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in March 2020, he was logging more than 100 of these shows a year. 

One day he was reading a book on playwriting, and an idea came to him: What if two magicians hated each other? “I sat down and wrote a show called The Magic Duel, in which two magicians compete for a made-up title and the audience votes for the winner,” he said. The show, which Curry described as a passion project, ran for more than five years in D.C. and was successful enough that he passed it down to his partner in crime.  

brian curry stage
Curry appears regularly at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C., a block from the White House.

Pulling back the curtain
The Good Liar, which Curry hosts a block from the White House, was born in the era of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” “Who would have thought something like the truth would become subjective?” he said. 

For the first half of the show, Curry pretends to be psychic and tries to convert skeptics in the audience. Then in the second half, he pulls back the curtain to expose some of the techniques that mentalists use. 

“It’s a lot easier to lie to an audience and get them to believe you,” Curry said, “than it is to convince that same audience that they’ve been lied to. So, I go to great lengths at the end of the show to make sure that I can prove to them that what I was saying was true.” 

Even though the show is called The Good Liar and Curry tells the audience from the start that he’s going to lie to them, “my goal is to get them to believe me,” he said. 

“Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, they’re entertained, and they don’t know how I did it anyway.” 

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Published: Friday, July 29, 2022

Last Updated: Monday, August 1, 2022

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