Keeping the magic alive: Q&A with legend Lance Burton

Lance Burton

By Jackie Moe

After performing over 15,000 live Vegas shows for millions of fans, and countless television appearances, Burton left the theater named after him at the Monte Carlo in Sept. 2010. He now resides in Columbia, Kent. in a home he had built on his grandparents’ farm where he was raised.  

His childhood Kentucky farm is a long way from the neon-washed lights of Las Vegas, but renowned magician Lance Burton — who headlined “Sin City” for three decades — says he is loving the retired life.  

Burton made his first TV appearance on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” in 1981. Over the years he was featured on a variety of late night and TV shows, including “David Letterman,” “Jay Leno,” “The View,” “Craig Ferguson,” “The World’s Greatest Magic,” “Hollywood Squares,” and even acted in guest starring roles on “Knight Rider” and “Las Vegas.”

Burton’s first TV special, “Lance Burton Master Magician; The Legend Begins” aired in 1996 on NBC. This was followed by a series of annual TV specials for The History Channel, Discovery, Animal Planet, The Family Channel, and many more.

The magic continues even in retirement, however, as he performs shows throughout the country – basically whenever he feels like it. One of those special shows, “Lance Burton Master Magician and Friends,” is coming to Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on March 24.  

A star amongst the stars, Burton has a lifetime of interesting stories and experiences. He chats about life on the farm, stories with Louie Anderson and Jerry Lewis, and his passion for helping animals and children.

How is the post-retirement farm life going?

Oh, I love it. I love it. I retired in 2010 and then I just didn’t do any shows for like seven years. I shot a movie, which I released on Amazon. You could get it as a digital download or DVD. It’s called “Billy Topit Master Magician.” It’s a family comedy, and it has a lot of magic in it.

And then a few years ago, I went out and did a show with some of my friends, we call it Lance Burton and Friends. The first year we did like one show, and then the next year we did like two or three. And then the next year we did, oh, I don’t know, five or six. And then so on, then in 2020 we were on track, probably doing about 20 or 30 shows, and then Covid hit and everything stopped. But now things are starting to open back up.

So, are you developing your show from your farm?

Yeah, I probably should try to work some cows into the show. And I have a trick with a chicken. I’m thinking of bringing the chicken trick back one of these days. (laughs), that would fit in.

I moved back to the farm a couple of years ago. This is a farm where my dad grew up. And my grandfather bought this farm in the 1930s, so it’s been in the family almost a hundred years.

I built a house here about 25 years ago for my mom and dad, but they’re gone now. So I’d always planned on moving back here in retirement. So I finally made the move. I built a big building, like a warehouse. So I’ve got all my illusions and costumes and stuff there. I’ve also bought a tour bus, so now every now and then when I feel like it, we get in the bus and we can take off and go wherever we want.

Wow, having your own tour bus must be nice!  

(Laughs) Oh yeah. See, I did my career backwards. Most entertainers will spend the first 20 years traveling around, and then they get the gig in Las Vegas, and they get the residency. Well, I only really had three jobs in my entire career. I went to Las Vegas when I was 22 years old, and I worked at the Tropicana Hotel in “Folies Bergere.” I was in that show for nine years. And then I opened my own show at the Hacienda Hotel, and I was there for five years. And then we moved over when they built the Monte Carlo. And I was there 14 years. So I didn’t really get to travel around that much, the country or all of these places. Cerritos is one of the few places I did travel to.

So, it was a little difficult to tour back then, because I had the full-time job there in Las Vegas. But now, in retirement, now I can just go, and I love going back. I love going back to places like Cerritos that I have played. But I also like going to new places where I’ve never heard been before. So it’s fun.

You’re so young to have such a long, iconic career. You’re still be able to live a whole second part of your life of touring and doing what you want.

(Laughs) Yeah. Well, you know, my favorite part of the show now is after the show, the meet-and-greets. We go out into the lobby, me and my friends who are also in the show, Fielding West, Keith West, and Michael Goudeau. So people come by and I get to meet people that had followed me since they were kids.

I remember a few months ago we were doing a show and a guy comes up and he says, “Lance, when I was eight years old, my mom brought me to see you in Las Vegas. And I went up on the stage and I put my hand on top of the cage when it disappeared.” Then he said, “Here’s my daughter. She’s eight years old. She came up tonight for that same trick.” And he goes, “And here’s my mom, who brought me to your show 30 years ago.” (laughs)

So, it’s amazing to meet people, you know, 20 years later, 30 years later. And they remember that moment of seeing the show back then, and it meant enough to them that they decided, “Hey, I’m coming. I’m bringing my kids, so they can experience the same thing.” So those are the best parts of it now; reconnecting with people and hearing those stories.

Amazing. So now that you are able to pick and choose where you want to go and when you want to go; how often do you do that?   

We’re just starting to kind of do this now. It seems like the country’s starting to just now starting to open up. The last time we went out has been last year. It was, oh shoot, I’m trying to remember. I’ve reached the age now where I can’t remember if something happened a week ago or 10 years ago. (laughs)

I feel like we’re all like that since the pandemic. (laughs)

(Laughs) Yeah, I know. Well, last year was different, because I spent a month in Las Vegas. I was one of the judges on the TV show “Chriss Angel’s Magic With the Stars,” so we spent basically three weeks there in Las Vegas shooting 10 episodes.  Then I’m trying to remember if we did anything, but maybe that’s the last time we went out.

Do you have any hidden talents or hobbies that have you taken on since retiring?

Well, let’s see. Hidden talents. I don’t really know if I have any other hidden talents. I’ve got a lot of animals. I’ve got my dog, Rocky, and I think he’s coming with us to Cerritos. I’ve got seven rescue cats here that I adopted years ago. And I’m fostering another cat right now. This is my third foster cat in the last few months.

So, the first two I fostered and then found homes for them, and now I’ve got another one. I was without a foster cat for about two days, and then a cat showed up at my sister’s house, and they couldn’t keep the cat because their dog was chasing the cat away. So I went down and got the cat. Now I’ve got him here and he’s been fixed and gotten all his shots. So as soon as he’s recuperated from the surgery, then I’ll find him a home. So that’s kind of my hobby; like a pet rescue adoption.

That’s wonderful. So as one of the top magicians in history, you have influenced so many. Do you follow any of the newer magicians?

Oh, yeah. I’m friends with most of the people now that are out there that I’ve have a chance to meet and hang out with them. Of course, Chriss Angel. We’ve been friends for 25-30 years. Mat Franco, who’s in Las Vegas. I think he just celebrated five years on his show in Las Vegas. I met him when he came to see me in Atlantic City years ago. He was like 12 years old and came to the show, and came up after to get an autographed. He always reminds me every time I see him (laughs), he’s really talented and a nice, nice kid, and I love his show. Let’s see. Of course, my buddy Mac King is still there in Las Vegas. If you haven’t seen him, go to see him, he’s at the Excalibur now. He’s been doing shows for over 20 years there in Las Vegas. Mac and I, we’ve been friends since we were 14 years old.

Oh wow! How did you guys meet?

We met at the Louisville Magic Club. We both grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and they have a magic club that still meets once a month. And that’s where I met Mac. We were both kids at the Magic Club and became friends because of our love for magic. And we started doing shows together when we were little. Once I got my driver’s license. I think when I turned 16, we started hanging out more cause I could drive over; he lived on the other side of town.

That’s incredible. The magic world seems very small.

Yeah. It’s a small world. Everybody kind of knows each other. Of course, we’ve lost several people the last few years. You know, we lost course Siegfried and Roy and Ricky Jay. Oh man. Harry Anderson. Max Maven. We just lost my friend Max Maven last year. Max was a terrific mind reader mentalist and a good friend of mine.

I feel like every magician I’ve talked to, honestly, always names you as their influence.  

That just means I’m the old guy now. (laughs)

What advice would you give aspiring magicians?

Well, you know, for the last 20, 25 years, I’ve sponsored the youth program, called Lance Burton Teen Seminar. It takes place at the annual convention for the International Brotherhood of Magicians. We’re having our convention in July. It’ll be in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this year. It goes to a different city each year. So I’m kind of the figurehead of the youth program. And we have a three day seminar just for the young magicians, like 13 to 19 years old. It’s me and Jeff McBride and a terrific magician named Larry Hosh. And we have a workshop and classes, and guest lectures.

And what I always tell the kids is this, I say, you study your magic, practice your magic, and that’s great. But in order to really get good and to learn what you’re doing, you have to get up in front of people and do your magic. You have to perform in front of strangers. And I encourage them always to go and perform as much as possible. Don’t worry about how much you’re getting paid for your gigs. Just go out and volunteer your time. Perform at nursing homes or hospitals or camps or daycare centers, wherever you can find an audience.

I say it takes approximately a thousand performances in order to create a professional act. I did the math. I added up all of my performances. The first show that launched my career was my first appearance on ‘The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.’ And that was back, over 40 years ago. And people who followed my career, they always point to that night, which was October 28th, 1981. And they say, oh, that’s when Lance’s career started. And that’s true. That’s when it got launched. But what they don’t realize is leading up to that, I had performed that act a thousand times. Yes, in front of strangers, and even though I was young, I was only 21 years old at the time, I had a thousand shows under my belt.

And every time I meet a really great magician who’s really prolific, I always ask them that. I say, how did you learn to do your act? And they all tell the exact same story. You know, it’ll be a different place or a different circumstance, like oh I worked at this little club in New York doing $20 a show. And that’s how I broke my act in. But that’s what it takes. And that’s what I always tell the young people; try to go out and get a thousand shows under your belt, and that’s how you learn. You’ll go out and you’ll make mistakes. But each time you do a show, you’ll learn a little something.

Great advice. And I’ve seen you working with so many different charities which you seem to be very passionate about. How has charity become an important component to your career?

Well, I just think it’s important to give back. If you’ve lived a life where you’ve been blessed, I think it is important to give back. And I enjoyed doing that. I always liked doing things for charities and different organizations. Anything, especially anything to do with animals or children’s charities, I love doing.

You know something I really miss is the Jerry Lewis telethon. I used to love that. And for 25 years, I appeared on the telethon, not just the national telethon but the local telethon too in Las Vegas. And it was just such a great effort that everybody came together for.

I miss Jerry. The last time I saw Jerry Lewis was a couple years ago, just a few weeks before he passed away. Chriss Angel put on a big benefit show for children’s cancer. You know, his son had cancer, and had to go through chemo and cancer treatment. And, you know, knock on wood, he’s healthy now. But Chriss started a foundation for children’s cancer. So anyway, he held a big fundraiser over at, I think it was at the Luxor. And he asked me to come over and do a little thing on the show. I was backstage. And once I retired, I kind of grew a beard. Well, it’s not that I grew a beard, I just quit shaving, (laughs), cause after, you know, having to shave every day to do the show, it was nice. So anyway, we’re backstage and Jerry’s there and he’s in a wheelchair. And I think, oh, I gotta go over and say hi to Jerry. So I go over and I reach down and I shake his hand. I say, ‘Jerry, how are you? It’s me, Lance Burton.’ And he looks up at me and I said, ‘I have to introduce myself now. No one recognizes me with the beard.’ And he looks at me, he says, ‘Oh, you look better this way.’ (laughs) Oh, what a funny man he was.

Wow Lance. You have been around so many icons in your decades-long career. You must have so many stories!

Oh yeah. You know who else I miss? Louie Anderson. Louie and I met back in the ‘80s.

We both got our start on the ‘Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.’ I was on in ‘81, and Louie was on a couple years later. But I remember seeing his first ‘Tonight Show’ thinking oh man, this guy is funny. Then a few years later, Louie and I were on a show in Washington DC called ‘Salute to the Ford Theater.’

It was all at the Ford Theater where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. And in the front row is the President of the United States Ronald Reagan and his wife. It was a television special. And Louie and I were on that show, and that’s where we met. We had been friends all this time and performed on many shows together and fundraisers and things. Before I retired, I guess now 15 years or so ago, Louie and I had been talking about doing something together.

And it was actually Louie’s idea. He called me up one day and said, ‘Hey, what would you think about us doing something together? Like a co-headline?’ I said that’d be a great idea. Anyway, after I retired, we started talking again cause once I started coming out and doing some shows.

The last time I saw him, we got together and had lunch in Las Vegas and we were talking about going out to some venues and doing like a double bill; like the two of comedy and magic together. I was so excited about that. And I think Louie was excited too. I think it would’ve been a really fun show. But it would’ve been fun to go on the road with Louie and do that. And then, next thing you know, well, COVID hit and put everything on hold. And then just about the time, you know, things were opening, Louis passed away.

Wow, now all my stories are ending now with my friends dying (laughs). That’s a sign you’re getting old.

(Laughs) No. I’m sorry for your loss. And I’m sorry for the world’s loss. Because it sounded like it would’ve been a great show. You should write a book about all of your iconic stories and career moments. You’ve had quite the life, and quite the career so far, and it sounds like you’re just getting started.

Yeah, it’s like starting over, going out and doing these shows. I like getting in the bus and traveling. It’s a great way to see the country, because you can see the scenery. And then – and here’s the great part – every night is opening night.


Lance Burton & Friends

Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts
Fri., March 24, 8 p.m.

18000 Park Plaza Dr, Cerritos, CA 90703

More info:


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Jackie Moe is a professional entertainment reporter and editor who lives for live music, spaghetti, beef ribs, long distance running, and good stories. Working as a features reporter for major newspaper publications Orange County Register, Press-Enterprise and Los Angeles Times, and as an editor for a variety of magazines including OC Business Journal, Inland Empire Magazine and Parenting OC, she recognized the need for quality digital coverage for all of the truly fascinating people and events in and around Orange County. She created Backstage SoCal in 2017 to provide unique entertainment content beyond the general calendar items. You may contact her directly on her social media or email:


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