They don’t call Milwaukee the “Hollywood of Southeastern Wisconsin” for nothing [citation needed]. We’ve got our fair share of locally born, bred, or based celebrities, and The Squeaky Curd is sitting down with them at local watering holes to talk magic, Liberace, dirty martinis, and Milwaukee.

Today, when everyone has a smart phone and easy access to the world’s information, it’s still nice to see a little mystery and entertainment. No one in the Milwaukee area has been doing it better, or for longer, than local magician David Seebach. We took some time with David at Wauwatosa’s new ABV Social to find out more about why such a preeminent magician still calls Milwaukee home.

ABV Social in Wauwatosa, WI. All photos by Joe Powell for The Squeaky Curd.

The Squeaky Curd: As a Milwaukeean, where do I probably know you from?

David Seebach: I’ve been doing magic shows at Summerfest for 38 consecutive years. There’s second-generation audience members coming now. 

TSC: In your opinion, what would you like me to know you for?

DS: I’m a magician, but there’s more to it than that: it’s a performance. I don’t like just making the rabbit disappear; I like the theatrics of it. It’s matching the music and the costumes. It’s what sets me apart. I’d like to keep bringing that to people.

TSC: What’s your connection to Milwaukee?

DS: Born and raised. My dad was a German immigrant, my mom a local girl. I started at UW-Milwaukee in pre-Business because I was told magic was just a hobby, but quickly moved to Theater. 

My roots here as a magician kind of established two ways. First, I worked at a resort up north playing 5 nights per week for the same audience. I was forced to come up with new material and try things out constantly. Second, due to a cancellation I volunteered to play a free show for an audience at UWM. It went so well they asked me to do more – for each one I did I got some college credit. While still in school, I had a lot of doors start opening for me locally. Though I did start out my career selling industrial CCTV equipment, I quickly got back into magic.

TSC: What makes Milwaukee a desirable place for you to live and work?

DS: I think a long time ago you had to go elsewhere to be successful. But you don’t have to live in Las Vegas to perform in Las Vegas. You can live somewhere comfortable and work wherever. It’s comfortable in Milwaukee.

TSC: What’s the furthest you’ve traveled to do magic?

DS: I did a tour around US military installations. From Chicago I traveled to Singapore, Diego Garcia where you’re not even allowed unless the military invites you, Bahrain, then the UK before coming back. Magic literally took me around the world.

I got invited once to do a show in Antwerp (Belgium) for a medical supply company’s conference. The called me up and said “We want you to make an MRI appear on stage.” It’s fun to get calls like that.

TSC: What’s your favorite thing to do in Milwaukee?

DS: Watching films, catching up on Netflix. I also really like hanging out with my friends. I love to cook for my friends, and they love coming over because of that, and because of my big liquor cabinet. All the time, they’ll just be like “Hey let’s just go over to Seebach’s tonight”.

TSC: What are you drinking?

DS: Gin and tonic, it’s the perfect summer drink and gets me in that mood. But I’m eclectic, I’ll have different things. One of my old colleagues got me hooked on them, and now every Friday it’s dirty martinis.

TSC: If you could have a drink with one other local celebrity, who would it be?

DS: Gene Wilder and I went to the same high school, we’re both on their “wall of fame.” I didn’t know him, but I knew his films and I always felt that he was a nice man in real life too.

I almost said Liberace, you know, he’s local too. Supposedly he’d worked at the same camp I got my start at back in the day, playing piano in their lounge under the name Walter Busterkeys. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but there you go.

TSC: Do you have a favorite magic trick? Do they ever go wrong?

DS: Dogs do tricks, I do magic. I feel what I do can’t be replicated easily; you can’t just turn around to the person next to you and do it again. But there’s no real difference between a “magician” and an “illusionist”, illusions are just bigger. If I can do it with cards, it’s magic. If I can do it with you, it’s an illusion.

There’s certainly magic I enjoy doing more than others, and it also depends on the audience and setting. My favorite kids performance won’t work at an adults-only Halloween show. 

Things will always go wrong, though hopefully less often the longer you do this. If a dancer messes up, the audience will notice immediately. If I mess up, I usually can tell a split second before my audience and can misdirect attention while I fix the issue.

TSC: If you could say one thing to someone just moving to Milwaukee today…

DS: Go to the Safe House. I don’t care where you’ve been, you haven’t been there. It’s similar to the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

The Streets of Old Milwaukee (at the Milwaukee Public Museum) are like nothing else too, and of course Summerfest. We have the largest music festival in the world just sitting on our lakefront every year. That’s crazy.

David told us, “I didn’t set out to be a magician; I wanted to be a performer. I just wanted to put on a show.” You can keep up to date on his performances on his Facebook page, or make sure to come see him multiple times at Summerfest this year. As someone who saw his magic up close and personal during this interview, I can assure you these are no tricks.

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