How an Ex-Clown Got Magic Bill Introduced in Congress
He's got a background in laughs, but is getting straight-faced consideration.
By Steven Nelson, March 16, 2016Eric Hogue began dressing as a clown as a shy 15-year-old and kept at it through college, working birthday parties and corporate events to pay tuition. Now, he's coordinating legislation with federal officials and celebrities.
By day, Hogue is mayor of Wylie, Texas, a sizable Dallas suburb. But he's also a member of the 120-strong Dallas Magic Clubs, and years ago learned magicians had for decades pined for Congress to declare magic an art.
The long-sought declaration is a step closer to realty this week after Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, and seven colleagues attached their names to a resolution declaring magic a “rare and valuable art form” and a “national treasure.”
The head-turning legislation would not change any laws, but would endorse “efforts to make certain that magic is preserved, understood, and promulgated.”
Hogue says he first raised the matter with Sessions in 2014, and the congressman gladly inserted a statement into the Congressional Record declaring his opinion that magic is an art.
Things got more serious, Hogue says, after he had a backstage chat with illusionist David Copperfield in Las Vegas.
Copperfield followed up with him, Hogue says, and the mayor told Sessions the nationally famous performer was interested in legislation.
"He was like, 'You mean the magician David Copperfield?'" Hogue recalls an impressed Sessions asking. The congressman set up a conference call and his staff got to work.
A half-dozen drafts later, the resolution was introduced Monday.
Magicians believe they would be better able to acquire nonprofit grants if their profession is acclaimed to be an art, and they believe the resolution is a step toward protecting their intellectual property rights over tricks and illusions.
Sessions' office said the congressman was unavailable for an interview Wednesday but that he hopes the resolution will begin a discussion about the rights of performers like Copperfield, who along with others has struggled to keep competitors from stealing acts.
Copperfield tells U.S. News the federal government's stamp of approval on magic could influence decisions in foundation boardrooms where funds are appropriated and in courtrooms adjudicating civil claims about intellectual property.
"This is a bipartisan good thing," he says. "We've been working on this for decades now and it's finally got some attention, and I think it's overdue."
Congress approved a similar resolution about jazz music in 1987, and Copperfield says magic also is important to society.
"Magic is one of the great transporters of our emotion because it takes Mother Nature and turns it upside down – it’s a profound way of making us dream," he says.
"My goal is not to fool people or misdirect people ... the real goal is to show people infinite possibilities and inspire the next generation of dreamers."
The proposed resolution has been referred to the House oversight committee. M.J. Henshaw, a spokesman for committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, says "we are still reviewing the bill" and was unable to immediately comment on whether it will be scheduled for a vote.
Sessions' original co-sponsors on the bill are Republican Reps. Steve Stivers of Ohio, Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania Dan Donovan of New York, Charlie Den on Pennsylvania, Mike Simpson of Idaho and Ken Buck of Colorado.
One Democrat, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, later signed on. Pocan is a magic enthusiast who last year launched a "Magic Mondays" YouTube video series.
Hogue says he spoke with Sessions on Tuesday evening, after a gush of media attention and a smattering of criticism, and that "he's very positive about it, very excited to get it done."
“If there was no clown, there would be no Mayor Hogue,” he says. "It's not the dark arts, it's about something that makes you feel the impossible is possible, that's magic."