UT alumnus Brian Brushwood closes his eyes, leans his head back and lowers a flaming metal skewer down his throat. A few seconds later, he pulls it out, ready for his next trick.
Brushwood is an entertainer known for his “punk-rock-blood-and-guts magic show” in which viewers watch him eat fire, hammer nails into his nose, read minds and stick skewers through his tongue.
“Some of [my stunts] are totally real, and some are totally fake,” Brushwood said. “But my favorite part is that middle ground when you’re not really sure what’s what. I want people constantly guessing what’s real.”
Matt Robertson | Daily Texan Staff
Until 2014, Brushwood toured colleges across the country with his magic show and has since settled down in Austin, producing three podcasts, running a YouTube series and occasionally performing live. Last month he starred in “Dance Showdown,” a YouTube spin-off of “Dancing With The Stars.”
“I did it because it terrified me,” Brushwood said. “There is something great about the abject terror of stepping outside your comfort zone.”
His YouTube series “Scam School,” which has gained over 1.3 million subscribers since its 2008 premiere, teaches street cons and bar tricks that anyone can try at home. Brushwood said most of the tricks he teaches are reinvented versions of stunts he found in 100-year-old magic books.
The familiar adage “a magician never reveals his tricks” has never sat well with Brushwood. Instead, he said, anyone willing to sit through his explanation on “Scam School” is worthy of knowing the secrets behind his tricks.
“To me, if you love an art, you want more people doing it,” Brushwood said. “The more people we have doing magic, the better magic does as an art.”
Matt Robertson | Daily Texan Staff
Brushwood’s career in magic began with a simple card trick that a friend taught him before he left for college. When his friend wouldn’t share how it was done, Brushwood became determined to learn the trick himself, diving headfirst into the world of magic.
After years of busking on Sixth Street and opening for a local magician in college, Brushwood graduated in 1997, performing a 30-minute magic show as his Plan II thesis. He drudged through a series of day jobs while performing magic on the side before deciding to pursue magic full-time in 1999.
“I would work all week, but I was really living for those Wednesday nights [when I performed],” Brushwood said.
After quitting, Brushwood went on tour with the magician he opened for in college and made no money for the first year. By the third year, he was performing at over 150 colleges per year, booking gigs on the Tonight Show and touring with Brooks & Dunn for their Neon Circus tour.
Physics professor Rory Coker was Brushwood’s Plan II thesis advisor.
Although he does not call himself a magician, Coker said he understands the art and gave Brushwood suggestions that he still uses in his shows today.
“I’ve had several students who wanted to do magic, but [Brushwood] was one of two who I thought would succeed,” Coker said. “He thought about [magic] constantly. Too many magicians will just do any trick they see in a catalog, but he always carefully chose things that fit with his act.”
Almost every trick in Brushwood’s repertoire has given him a minor injury. He said he gave himself a concussion attempting to break a 30-pound brick with his head and stripped the sealants off his teeth eating glass lightbulbs. Brushwood said he is open to anything as long as it doesn’t run the risk of killing him.
“I’m scared of everything,” Brushwood said. “I’m terrified constantly. But I do it anyway. The best thing you can do for yourself is become comfortable being uncomfortable.”