When comedian and magician Judy Carter was eight years old, she started doing magic to try to escape her life circumstances. She had a speech impediment, her father was an alcoholic and her sister was disabled. In short, there was a dysfunctional family dynamic.
“The joke I do is that there was so much yelling and screaming in our house, we had a Wailing Wall in our living room,” she said. “I wanted to do real magic and levitate my sister out of her wheelchair and make my father disappear.”
Now, Carter is talking about her past and incorporating on-stage magic in her new show “A Death-Defying Escape,” which is playing April 2 to May 15 at the Hudson Guild Theatre and streaming online.
Carter started out in show business as a magician. She became the first woman to perform at the Magic Castle’s close-up gallery, and one of the first female magicians on “The Merv Griffin Show,” “The Mike Douglas Show” and Showtime.
During one tour, the airlines lost her luggage containing all her magic props in it. She called her manager, since she wasn’t sure she could go on without the props. “My manager said, ‘I don’t care. You’ve gotta go on without them,’” she said. “That’s how I instantly became a comedian. I started talking about all the magic I was going to do, and people were laughing.”
That led to a number of opportunities, including headlining for 17 years and opening up for Prince in the early ‘90s. “Oddly enough, Prince was so wild on stage, but off stage, he was the shyest guy you could meet,” she said. “He was so sweet. At first I wasn’t sure how this little Jewish girl could open for his audiences, but it went so well, he took me with him on tour.”
Carter said that where she lived, the Fairfax District in Los Angeles, “had more Jews percentage-wise than Israel. I was surrounded by Jews. I met my first gentile when I went to college.”
Raised “deeply culturally Jewish,” Carter said that where she lived, the Fairfax District in Los Angeles, “had more Jews percentage-wise than Israel. I was surrounded by Jews. I met my first gentile when I went to college.”
One of her gigs included performing for the soldiers in Israel. “I couldn’t understand anything, so I’m sure they were heckling me and saying ‘You suck,’ but I was like, ‘Todah rabah!’”
Carter, who is also an inspirational keynote speaker and author of “The Comedy Bible” — a book that landed her on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” — thought about writing “Death-Defying Escape” several years ago, when it was living in her subconscious.
“This was one idea that kept coming to me in my dreams,” she said. “I do believe creativity is from God. That’s where my better ideas come from.”
In “Death-Defying Escape,” Carter uses magic as a metaphor for “escaping” the dysfunction of the past. She created the illusions with the help of the same person who works on David Copperfield’s illusions. Tapping into her motivational teachings, she gives the audience inspirational messages as well.
“I had a burning desire to write this play to show the audience that no matter what tragedy has happened in your life, it can be turned into comedy,” she said. “There is nothing so serious that we can’t laugh at it.”
When COVID came up, that only convinced Carter that she needed to make sure audiences could see her play, which took five years to write.
“That’s another message I wanted to give to the audience: No matter what has happened to you, laughter and love are always possible.” – Judy Carter
“I felt like everyone could use magic and a great story with a lot of laughs,” she said. “It’s also a love story about how I found love at 60. That’s another message I wanted to give to the audience: No matter what has happened to you, laughter and love are always possible. It’s a play about hope. That’s why I wrote it.”
You can purchase tickets for the show at deathdefyingescape.com.