He wears a rope belt and overalls, a goofy smile and an Appalachian drawl. Hill Bill, The Psychic Hillbilly and self-proclaimed “mind noodler,” is a far cry from your usual debonair Strip magicians—unless you count a Bowie knife as a typical choice for a magic wand. But then again, Bill isn’t your usual magician. In fact, he’s not a magician at all—he’s a character created by actor and podcaster Matt Donnelly.
Donnelly himself is no magician. He’s the head writer for television’s Penn & Teller: Fool Us and co-host of the podcast Penn’s Sunday School. As a jack of all jokes, Donnelly saw an opportunity in the association. All it took was a dare from Penn Jillette to “actually learn some damn magic,” and Hill Bill was born.
“I am embarrassed by how many connections I have to the titans of the magic world,” Donnelly said in his show’s Indiegogo campaign, which has raised $16,601 dollars (180 percent of its goal). “Respectfully, I approached Penn, Teller, Johnny Thompson, Piff and more, and asked them, ‘Will you teach me one trick?’ They all said yes.”
The result is a wacky comedy magic show with a down-home twist. Expect roadkill jokes, a chorus of dancing kinfolk and baseball cards in place of the usual playing cards. While Donnelly isn’t actually Appalachian (he’s from New Jersey), the show is indeed a family affair. The show choreographer is Donnelly’s wife, Sarah Lowe, whose choreography credits include TV’s Crazy-Ex Girlfriend. Donnelly’s longtime comedy partner Paul Mattingly performs as a sock puppet named The Sock-ic Heel Billy. Together, they host the podcast Matt & Mattingly’s Ice Cream Social, which Donnelly says tallies more than 100,000 downloads each month. In fact, Donnelly chose a hillbilly persona to make fun of the Kentucky-bred Mattingly.
At a recent dress rehearsal, Donnelly was busy adapting the trick bestowed upon him by the famously mute magician Teller. He had to create words to go along with the routine, which wasn’t too hard for the improv performer and consummate talker.
This show never goes the same way twice,” director RJ Owens says. “That’s the best thing about working with Matt. His improv skills are the best.”
The Psychic Hillbilly December 7-10, 10 p.m., $25-$50. The Space, 702-903-1070.