Joseph Tran started his incredible journey as a 10-year-old with a deck of cards. He's since become a student of theater and psychology, an actor and a theater set-builder. He's worked in film post-production, toured the country as a performer and graduated from college.
Through it all, this shy Asian kid clung to his passion for magic, a passion that's propelled him to be one of the top college and corporate performers, and perhaps the top Asian magician working in the United States.
But if you go to this week's Moments of Magic, you'll simply see him as the easygoing guy who will entertain and amaze you, all while making you laugh.
In addition to sleight of hand, mentalism and other types of magic, he'll also use audience participation.
"Not just audience members participating in magic I'm performing, but also making them the magician," Tran said by phone while promoting himself at the National Association of Campus Activities in Boston on Tuesday. "They can actually do it on stage. It works amazingly, because the show takes on new level when you can invite audience members to the stage and have the magic happen in their hands."
Tran's parents moved from South Vietnam to Hollywood, Calif., about the time of the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Tran lived on a street without many kids, so he practiced card tricks and learned that magic opened the doors to meeting people, especially girls.
By the age of 16, he was being trained at the prestigious Magic Castle, where he also performed and learned the art at an accelerated level. "It really opened a lot of doors to me," he said.
He used his talent to pay for much of his tuition in college, where he studied theater and psychology. "A lot of my friends were partying all weekend, and I was (touring) in some other city," he said. "On Monday, I would drop off my props and be in class an hour later."
After college, he pursued several of his passions, including filmmaking, until deciding to focus full time on his magic performing. One of the shows he landed after that was at First Night, Columbia's New Year's Eve festival.
He's proud of his Vietnamese heritage, and uses it as not only a means to promote himself but also as a way to share his culture to his audience, often through humor. "I know what some of you are thinking," he said in a past performance, "and no, I am not that character from "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.'" He then impersonates the kid in the movie.
"To take my magic to another level and add Asian comedy, an Asian spin to it at times, it goes down to that mental thing about making people laugh and making people gasp, and that feeling is amazing," he said. "That's why I endure so many flights and miles ... and the grind is difficult some days, just getting from city to city so quickly." But once he's back on stage, "it makes every moment worth it."
Tran now maintains residences on both the East Coast and West Coast to ease his traveling, while his team in California makes sure his equipment and props get to the proper cities at the proper times.
Tran's friend and fellow magician Justin Kredible performed at the 2010 Moments of Magic, and has since branched out to hosting Food Network's "Cupcake Wars." Likewise, Tran said he might eventually branch out again into more acting and filmmaking. But right now, he's exactly where he wants to be.
"Magic took me by surprise, so I'm sort of letting what comes next be a surprise as well," he said.