Doc (Harold) Dougherty is the class clown all grown up: nervous, bearded, with a habit of turning every conversation into a punfest. A magician since the age of 3, the Alexandria resident has had a career as peripatetic as his fingers--fingers that constantly work some new sleight-of-hand while his mouth pours forth his slightly ridiculous, always distracting patter.
"Now I want you to examine this closely. Do you see any openings in the ring?" he says, handing one of the classic Chinese circles to a nervous volunteer. "No? Sure you do--it's right in the center. Otherwise we'd be doing Linking Chinese Hubcaps," he says, tossing two of the rings together and joining them in mid-air.
He came to Washington in the late '60s hoping to become a radio announcer. But somehow radio announcing never made it onto Dougherty's growing list of jobs.
Here is a condensed version: He's a photographer (for the National Museum of Natural History and New Playwrights), a director (for various groups), a technical consultant (he taught the magician-actor what to do in the Folger Theatre's "As You Like It"), a salesman (at Al's Magic Shop on Saturdays), a teacher (of magic)--and a magician at shopping malls, nightclubs, parks, conventions and picnics.
Here's what he does not do, if he can help it: "Birthday parties. I mean, the birthday-party racket is the birthday-party racket. Not that I don't like kids, but I can make more at one convention show than I do in a week of trekking around the Beltway doing birthdays."
He says he does the two "hardest parts of magic: comedy and mentalism. For the first, you have to know what's funny and how to present it, and for both of them, you have to know when to start and when to stop."
Good magic, he thinks, relies on showmanship and people's inclination to think logically. "People look, but they don't look. They go from A to B to C to D, while you're already up at E ready to trap them," he says.
In his shows, he says, he spoofs the audience with cards he's cut with a chain saw and money he's burned with a match, topping off his performance with a little hypnotism and mind reading.
Wait a minute--does he really read minds? "Sure," he says, dead serious. "In fact, I sometimes teach mind reading to the gifted and talented in high schools and colleges."
Uh-huh. He means there are tricks that appear to be mind reading, right? "Well, okay, it's all entertainment," he says, breaking into a grin, "and for $200, I'll bring back your grandmother."
For $200, in fact, he'll do quite a lot. In a town that seems to be crawling with magicians, Dougherty says he doesn't like to compete. He and a partner, Myklar the Ordinary, each perform a 45-minute magic show for about $150.
Some magicians in the Society of American Magicians local chapter, of which this year he is president, work as many as 400 performances a year, he says, and a few manage to make their living at it.
But for Dougherty, magic seems to be a way for the former class clown to perform--for applause as well as money.
Doc Dougherty's comedy and magic will be performed at Lubber Run Ampitheatre in Arlington at 8 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.