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‘Is this your eighth?’: Reflections from NYC’s Smokus Pocus magic show

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Nowadays, if you live in a legal state, you can find all kinds of activities in which cannabis is involved, even centric to the experience. Like yoga? You can cannabis-ify it. Like painting, standup comedy, book club? That too.

As America’s epicenter of entertainment, New York City, which is on the precipice of rolling out its legal recreational cannabis market in the coming weeks (or months), is a seemingly intuitive spot for artists and performers to weave weed into their shows. So, when I got an invitation to a cannabis-themed magic show, I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Mere minutes before the magician Ben Zabin’s touring show, Smokus Pocus, was set to start in Brooklyn, guests were passing joints and blunts on the corner outside. The sound of someone playing “Pass the Dutchie” from their phone floated through the air as clouds of pungent smoke lingered between conversations.

New York City allows public cannabis consumption just about anywhere tobacco smoking is allowed, and my fellow patrons and I were taking full advantage. How else to prepare for a marijuana magic show on a Saturday night?

Once inside, the stage seemed appropriately set. There was a bong on stage, crates decked out with 4/20 slang, and colorful lighting. Then Ben Zabin took the stage. For 70 minutes, the audience was at his mercy.

A magician is nothing without his assistant. (Courtesy Ben Zabin)

The NYC production of Smokus Pocus had all the tenets you’d expect of a marijuana magic show, and thankfully, it’s slated to hit the stage again in Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA, on December 9 and 10, respectively, in addition to future tour dates across the US. I mean, a bong lit itself, an audience member guessed a strain that appeared on a jar of weed Ben hadn’t touched, and his assistant’s name is Mary Jane. Bags of weed appeared and disappeared: What more could one ask for?

As it turns out, there’s so much more: Mary Jane was an erotic blow-up doll, and someone’s phone ended up in a box of mac and cheese.. I would go on, but I don’t want to spoil anything. Let’s just say that my expectations went up in smoke when 50 or so people in the audience, including myself, found ourselves laughing, crying, and gasping.

Though I can’t speak for the other attendees, I can say with conviction that the laughter did not just result from smoking a fat bowl beforehand.

It’s 2022, and in theory, when you’re in New York City, anything goes. Then how is it that no one else has thought to put these two together? I caught up with Zabin after the show to learn just how he’s made it work. While he wouldn’t reveal his secrets, he was adamant that a penchant for magic and a passion for pot make for great inspiration.


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