Outta Control - Tony Brent

Jun14 coverTony Brent is the star of the Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show. It has been runningat the Wonderworks amusement park for the last fourteen years. Wonderworks is a building that, as you walk up to it, looks like it was thrown from its foundation and landed upside down due to some sort of cataclysmic event. Inside is an amalgam of interactive activities and museum-like displays.

There is also a 125-seat dinner theater where Tony Brent presents his highly rated Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show. Over time, I reached out and was able to get an introduction to Tony Brent. I found him warm, intelligent, and very friendly. We have talked for hours on the phone about performing, audiences, tricks, philosophy, and the business of entertainment. There are very few magicians who can establish a running magic show. There are even fewer who can claim a ten-year-plus run. I think you will find the story of Tony Brent interesting.

Tony was born in 1961 in Camden, Tennessee, located about half way between Nashville and Memphis. It is a bit of synchronicity that this area of Tennessee is called “Magic Valley.” The first five years of Tony’s life were spent in a house with no indoor plumbing. His family had an outhouse and drew water from a well. His father was a farmer, complete with cows, pigs, corn fields, and cotton fields. Tony was an only child and spent most of his time around adults. He lived so far out in the country that there were no phone lines; he didn’t have a phone until he was twelve years old.

Tony’s first experience with magic came every other Sunday, when he and his parents visited his grandmother in the nearby town of Huntingdon. His grandmother’s television was able to pick up channels from Memphis that included a show called Dick Williams’ Magicland. Dick was a local legend in west Tennessee; his show is the longest running television magic show in the world. It ran from 1966 until he retired in 1989.

Another influence for Tony was a gentleman by the name of Cowboy Louie Mitchell. He performed at Tony’s school each year with an early “Don’t Do Drugs” program. This sparked Tony’s passion for all things magic. He devoured the public library’s inventory of magic books, and by the age of twelve he was doing birthday party shows for other children. Already showing the entrepreneurial spirit that would make him a success later in life, he convinced his parents to let him advertise in the local newspaper.

As he got older and started high school, he became fascinated by comedy. He studied the careers of Bob Hope, each member of the Rat Pack, Jonathan Winters, Steve Martin, Steve Allen, Victor Borge, and many more. Acting, theatre, and comedy began to take center stage and magic took a back seat. He was now writing comedy routines and practicing impressions of people like Clint Eastwood and Johnny Carson. (For the up-and-coming entertainer, Tony recommends Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up, The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane, The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter, Make’em Laugh by Laurence Malson and Michael Kantor, and Benson by Starlight by Todd Karr and Levent. Benson by Starlight is his favorite.)

Unfortunately, Tennessee was not a hotbed of entertainment opportunities and after high school he found work at a local factory. After a year of constructing walk-in coolers, Tony fully understood that this was not the life he wanted to live. He realized that to get ahead in life you needed an education. He enrolled in the University of Tennessee and began studying theatre and communications. For the next four years he concentrated on stagecraft, comedy, and acting. He performed in as many theatrical productions as he could. Magic was a distant memory. After four years, he graduated with a degree in theatre and communications; he also married his college sweetheart, Mitzi. They moved near Nashville and for several years he worked a variety of sales jobs. However, the call of the theatre was too strong and Tony decided that he would try his hand at stage management at the Opryland USA theme park in Nashville. With his college degree in theatre and a little bit of luck, he was hired as an entry-level producer.

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