“Where Do You Find The Time?!”
That’s one of the most common questions I get when people find out what all I do.
It seems like I’ve packed several lifetimes into a few years, so I wanted to give you a quick breakdown of how the different threads of my life have woven together to create a life worth living.
Watch Lance Burton perform the first magic trick I’ve ever seen on the Carson Show, and decide to be a magician.
Check out every book on magic from the elementary school library and keep them checked out for the next several years.
Meet my mentor Randall at a summer program who gets me out of my shell by teaching me how to juggle fire. I also learn the value of having professional guidance to minimize how much time spent trying to figure it out yourself.
This is also the time when my love for Mentalism begins. The magic tricks I had been doing were fun, but having a 13 year old kid tell you what street your grew up on? Terrifying! This is when I niched down from Magician to Mentalist.
Concurrently I was fascinated by comic books, GI Joes & Transformers, specifically. I loved the art work and constantly draw my own comic characters. Decide to go to college for art.
Learn how to hammer nails up my nose which is a sideshow stunt called “The Human Blockhead.” It is 100% real. Do not try it at home.
2001: Age 18
Learn how to eat fire and put skewers through my forearm. Start practicing stage performing at a local comedy club. Had very little stage presence, but the owner of the club thought it was hilarious to have a kid doing sideshow stunts, so he let me return.
Also at this age I go to college at Berea College in Berea Kentucky. It’s a small liberal arts college dedicated to providing educational opportunities for poor Appalachian kids who wouldn’t be able to afford to attend college, otherwise. If your parents’ income passes a certain amount, you can’t attend. I qualified easily.
They don’t have a “drawing comic books” degree, so I choose to major in fine art with an emphasis on painting.
James Randi, a legend in the magic & psychology world, is coming to campus to give a series of talks. I hound the person organizing Randi’s time on campus and convince them to let me be his on-campus guide. Randi & I get along great and I ask him if I can help manage the day-to-day paperwork at his educational foundation in Fort Lauderdale over the summers; he says I’m hired.
I spend the next four summers living a mile off the beach working side-by-side with Randi learning the old time secrets of showbiz, showmanship, and critical thinking. I also help run Randi’s science conference “The Amaz!ng Meeting” in Las Vegas for 13 years straight.
This is where I met Bill Nye, Penn & Teller, Trey Parker & Matt Stone, Ed Lu (an American astronaut that I helped levitate on stage), and more. #Heaven
Back to the spring of 2003…
Before working with Randi, a magician comes to the school as part of our weekly entertainment programming. His name is Brian Brushwood, and his show is awesome. Afterwards I introduce myself and name drop Randi to establish cred. Brushwood and I start an email correspondence.
I also enter the annual talent show on campus and do mind reading at every dorm party I could.
2005 January – August
Chosen for the 8 month Disney College Internship Program where I’m assigned to be a driver at Animal Kingdom’s “Kilimanjaro Safaris” attraction. I live in Orlando for the duration and learn the secrets of world-class customer service.
Go back to college to finish my senior year.
Graduate with a bachelor’s in painting, and move to Orlando to start a job pitching magic at a shop inside Universal Studios. Over the next year and a half I do more than 4,500 magic pitches to people from all over the world. Our shop of 5 employees were consistently the #1 third party vendor in sales dollars.
Five years after we first met and started emailing back & forth, Brian Brushwood gets booked at Universal Studios’ “Halloween Horror Nights” as the featured entertainment. This means he’s going to be in Orlando for two months, where I already live. He asks me if I want to be his tour manager that year (so he won’t have to pay for housing during his 2 month gig at Universal).
I accept immediately.
This is where I learn all the ins & outs of working the college market, designing an entertaining show, and building audiences. We tour together for the next year. During that time I help him launch “Scam School” (an online web series) as a script writer, researcher, camera person, & co-producer.
Strike out on my own as “Jonny Zavant the Mentalist” performing at colleges all over the country.
As I connect with other performers in the college market, I start a marketing & branding business “Amoeba Marketing” with a focus on helping them create a unified presence by designing websites, posters, packaging, branded promotional items, and more with a single aesthetic.
This year while helping Randi run the science conference in Vegas, Randi introduces me to a longtime friend of his who is a martial arts expert specializing in Wing Chun Kung Fu. He and I hit it off, and I start a daily practice of Wing Chun that continues to this day. I learned the Wing Chun system faster than any of his students in the past 20 years.
Do a two week tour in South Korea entertaining the troops stationed there. Involved going to Camp Bonifas in the DMZ. Recognized several times with honors by base commanders with medals & challenge coins.
Make it through three preliminary rounds for America’s Got Talent, and invited to perform in NY in front of the celebrity judges. I put a bag over Nick Cannon’s head and read his mind. I get “yes’s” from Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, and Mel B. Howie Mandel said no.
I never get a call back from the producers for another round. Welcome to showbiz.
Start a project and podcast called “A Life Well Designed” where I combine the principles of visual & product design with the psychology of decision making to create a unique approach to self help & development.
Start the business “Like A Mind Reader” where I share the secrets of applied psychology, showmanship, and moxie that I’ve learned from years on the road as a Mentalist. The focus is on employee engagement, team training, and customized marketing strategies for clients.
Performed at the “Linq Casino” in Las Vegas for my debut on the strip.
Also become an entrepreneurial coach and workshop leader at a project by State Farm called “Next Door Coffee Shop.” This is the beginning of my personal consulting and coaching.
Film a segment for “Penn & Teller Fool Us” where I shoot a paintball gun while blindfolded. It was a great experience, but the segment never made it to air. Welcome to showbiz.
Begin working with 1871, the world’s number one tech incubator, helping entrepreneurs win more investment dollars by developing more compelling pitches and being more influential public speakers.
Write and release my book “[think] Like A Mind Reader” to rave reviews. Since then companies like BP book me as a keynote speaker to talk about the ideas inside. Available on Amazon.com.
I also start a Meetup group in Chicago to share my passion for Wing Chun Kung Fu. We gather once a week to learn and practice our martial arts skills.
Write and release my book “Wing Chun: Life Physics” to rave reviews. It’s a book about how physics and the human body overlap, and how those principles apply in relationships and business.
How I Can Help You:
I’m always looking forward to helping clients solve bigger and bigger problems. If that sounds good to you, here’s a list of ways I bring this wide range of experience to help my clients.