Tricks are treats with Ali in town

Magician Ali Cook
Magician Ali Cook
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The man who amazed the nation when he exchanged the heads of a live duck and chicken on TV is looking forward to baffling us all with tricks ranging from close-up magic to spectacular illusions.

Magician, comedian and actor Ali Cook performed his bird head-swapping trick on the TV show Penn and Teller: Fool Us, when magicians tried to baffle the US magic duo for the chance to appear in Las Vegas.

He is appearing on stage in Barnsley next week on his latest tour, Principles and Deceptions.

Ali said: “When I first did that trick it was more like a comedy opening for the show. They loved it, it was so ridiculous.

“I’ve taken the chicken and duck thing down off YouTube now but it had one million views. Other tricks I’ve put on there had 100,000 to 200,000 views.

“It’s almost like the internet’s brought variety back. People like to see skills performed.”

Like most magicians, Ali, who is from Harrogate, began as a boy playing with a magic set.

He added: “My mum had a New Age bookshop. She was really into that kind of stuff. The odd book on how to create tricks would come into the shop.

“I also remember just also watching people having Tarot readings and understanding what is going on there, which is a very clever form of therapy.”

He added: “I entered all the close-up magic competitions as a kid and won the British championships when I was 14.”

The comedy came later when Ali did a Channel Five show with controversial comic and magician Jerry Sadowitz. He said: “I was originally doing magic on it and ended up doing sketches and stand-up with him.”

He mainly performs in comedy clubs and said: “I’m a lot more like a stand-up into weird stuff. I don’t have a sparkly suit.

“We come from the alternative comedy scene with jeans, T-shirts and lots of magic.”

The show does feature dancers, however, so there is a bit of glamour on stage.

He points out that lots of comedians do magic, including big stars like Hollywood actor Steve Martin.

The idea for this show came from reading a book by sleight of hand expert Arthur Buckley: “He was the first to categorise deception in all its different forms. He attempted to do every type and style of magic. Basing it on that book forces me to do every type of magic that there is.”

The audience will see lots of close-up magic and card tricks but also spectacular illusions like levitating people and making them vanish, as well as the Derren Brown-style mind tricks.

Ali said: “Usually the big illusions are done in the huge theatres. I like the idea that you’re two metres away on this tour.”

He added: “It all happened by accident because in all the Edinburgh Fringe shows everybody is that close. The huge tricks in small spaces there did so well that I wanted to get a tour out of it.”

Ali says that he loves it when the audience go ‘ah!’ in amazement at some of the more spectacular tricks in the show. “We’re sacrificing the laughs for astomnishment,” he said, adding: “It changes from night to night. What amazes one person doesn’t amaze another as well.”

All his magic props are built by the same people who create the big illusions for the Las Vegas acts like David Copperfield but “a lot of the props are just borrowed from the audience, just so you know the skill doesn’t rely on that.”

Ali has the ability to transform himself into an actor, too. He has just finished shooting two films, one called Peterman, which is a crime thriller. He says he plays “a country policeman who gets in over his head”.

In The Anomaly, directed by Dr Who and Adulthood star Noel Clarke, he is a secret service agent protecting the world from mass destruction.

He also has a role in comedy crime caper Get Lucky, which is on Sky Box Office at the moment. Ali also wrote some of the script.

However, magic is his first love and he admits to being a bit of a nerd. He said: “You can’t really be a good magician and have friends and a social life. I think it’s all sad people in entertainment!

“It’s just a very good hobby and one of those things that works well as a profession and a hobby.”

And if you’re worried about the chicken and the duck, don’t be. Ali says: “They’ve retired now and they’re in a field at my mum’s house.”

Principles and Deceptions is at Barnsley Civic next Friday, September 13. Box office: go to or call 01226 327000.