Alive and joking
He’s supposed to be dead by now, but comedy magician The Amazing Johnathan has defied the doctors — with a little help from a friend of a friend — to take the stage again
Early on in The Amazing Johnathan’s current stage show, his wife Anastasia Synn appears onstage disguised as the Grim Reaper. The comedy magician, whom doctors predicted would be dead by mid-2015, whips out a prop doll and sucks heartily through the red straw jammed into its small plastic skull. “Stem cells!” he enthuses between mock gulps. “They’re workin’ for me!”
The 58-year old Vegas resident, who long headlined around the Strip and in the Golden Nugget, officially retired in 2014. Diabetes and a decade of cardiomyopathy, a chronic weakening of the heart, had reduced his strength to the point where he couldn’t climb stairs. Poor circulation led to infection in his feet and even the partial loss of two toes.
But Johnathan returned to the stage this January, performing one night each at Connecticut’s Foxwoods Casino, Boston’s Wilbur Theater and the Hu Ke Lau Theater in Chicopee, Massachusetts. February saw the Detroit native celebrate a homecoming run at the Comedy Castle in Royal Oak, Michigan.
“I’m just back at it,” Johnathan admits onstage. “But I’m still the funniest motherf**ker you’ve ever seen!”
Following the second of five March shows at California’s Ventura Harbor Comedy Club, Johnathan retraced the challenges he’s faced and detailed the new projects he still hopes to explore.
The last time we spoke, your heart was failing, your toes were starting to lose their flesh due to poor circulation and the prognosis was grim. Where are you now, health-wise?
My toes are not falling off anymore, thanks to stem cells in my feet. Everything that was damaged by my circulation from my heart has been temporarily halted. Everything has stopped. My deterioration in my feet was so bad. I actually grew part of a toe back. It’s pretty amazing stuff.
The last time I went to the doctor’s my infraction rate was still lowering, but I feel all right. I guess I’m just used to it; used to having no energy. I sleep a lot. I take naps a lot. I feel like I’m on heroin. I’ll just be dozing off. It’s kind of nice.
Yeah, I feel okay unless I have stairs to do or something. I generally stay in bed when I’m not working. I’m in bed painting and drawing, and I don’t do much exertion. But I’m still here, for better or worse.
What does the stem-cell process entail?
The stem-cell process is my doctor knows somebody who knows somebody who can get black-market stem cells. They come in a little test tube and are a thousand dollars each. You need about three of them to do anything. For $3,000 — cash only — my doctor, in an appointment that’s after hours of his business, he’ll inject them in me where they should go.
I was to the point where I couldn’t walk anymore, and now I can pretty much walk anywhere. I still need a wheelchair for airports and stuff, but it’s healed the incision in the bottom of my foot. They (previously) cut my foot open from top to bottom, and I couldn’t walk for six months. It wouldn’t heal. But I had to walk; I couldn’t be off my feet for six months. I thought I could be, but I just couldn’t do it. So I would walk on it, it would split back open, walk, split back open. Finally the stem cells just healed it up, and healed it up fast.
What is the science behind that?
You put stem cells in a damaged area, and they find their way to where they need to go — most of the time. They’re cells, and cells know where they go. It’s pretty amazing. I haven’t done them in my heart yet, but people are shooting them in their heart in Mexico and other places like that, which I don’t really feel comfortable with.
Most all the other countries are doing it except for us. We’re the only ones where you have to go black market to get them. But they’re so expensive, and they’re not easy to get because the doctors are using them for everything: impotency, anything that’s wrong. They’re clinging to that real fast; they just go that way. So … f**k the law. I’ve got outlaw medicine!
You recently began performing again. Was there a specific moment or realization that brought you out of retirement?
Well, I was just sitting there waiting to die, and it wasn’t happening. It was like, “What am I doing? I’ve got to go back to work.” For one reason, I needed money. I had to stop money hemorrhaging out of my accounts. My expenses are about $30,000 a month. I saved a couple million dollars, and half of it was gone within the first two years.
So I went out on the road, and I can pay my bills now. I don’t have to take a huge withdrawal out every month. I can live off of doing one weekend a month fairly happily.
And how does it feel? You’re doing mostly classic material, but there’s also some new material, nodding to your health situations.
There are some new nods in there, but I didn’t write a lot of new material because I don’t have the concentration for it. There’s not a second that goes by where I don’t think about it happening at some time. So it’s hard to concentrate on writing stuff. I just went out with the old stuff and put some new stuff in, and everybody seems to be happy with it … except for me. I wish I had all-new stuff. I’d like to do a one-man play on this whole ordeal, but I don’t want to plan on it, you know? It seems kind of cheesy to keep planning on that. I’d just rather people forgot about it and let me get on with my life. And when it happens, it happens.
But that’s the reality of the situation, and people know this.
But I don’t want to have to deal with it. People know it, so why do I have to go hop on it again? They know what’s happening with me, but I don’t want people to come up and go, “Well why aren’t you dead yet?” and I say, “They gave me a date, and it didn’t work!” I just want to live enough to dance on my doctor’s grave.
I got rid of an awful lot of stuff thinking I was going in a year in a half. Now I’m trying to get all my stuff back from my friends. (Laughs) “Hey, remember that stereo? Remember that car?”
Where does that put you in terms of your headspace?
It puts me in a weird space. I don’t really like it, but a lot of people who are being told they have two years to live, I’d say probably half of them go beyond that. There’s a lot of people who are in the same boat. ... “How come you’re not dead?” is one question everybody’s got, you know, “I was told by you. …” Well that’s what I was told, so I was telling everybody what I was told. I feel guilty for being a liar; does that make sense? (Laughs) I’m letting people down. The bets are all off.
The upside is that I’m not dead! I can continue on with my life, which I love.
You mentioned starting to regularly perform once a month.
I only want to work one weekend a month. I like not working — I like retiring — but I don’t want to do it permanently. I booked the show at Improvs and Funny Bones one weekend a month until the end of the year. And then add-on dates, like casino dates as well. I did Foxwoods Casino, and there are a few other casinos I’m doing in the future. So if I get one weekend a month and put a casino date in there as well, usually it’s around $50,000 for a weekend. That’s all I need. Fifty thousand a month would be great; then I can live like I used to live, in the style I’m accustomed to: like a king!
They’re trying to get me to play in Vegas again. I’ve been offered a few rooms, like the D Downtown and Hooters, and all these little cheesy places. The D is a nice casino, but I just don’t want to work in Vegas anymore. It would be nice to drive to work again for a couple nights a week, but I’m not going to.
What else is coming up next? What are the new goals you are looking to achieve?
This guy Ben Berman, who is a director for Comedy Central (Tim and Eric, Jon Benjamin Has a Van, Comedy Bang! Bang!) has been doing a documentary for a year on me. And then this other company came along and said, “Hey, we want to do a documentary about you. We’ve won two Academy Awards!” (Simon Chinn’s Red Box Films produced Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man.)
They were so interested in me that I said, “Yeah,” so now they’re competing with each other. They made me sign a thing that said Ben has to wait two years. I feel bad that the other company kind of cut in, but like I said, they won two Academy Awards …
Outside the upcoming shows and documentaries, what about your personal goals?
I don’t have any goals. I really don’t. There are projects I want to do, but I can’t concentrate on anything right now. I think heroin’s going to be the next project. I had a chance to do it, too, but I turned it down like an idiot. ... I was so tempted. ... It looked really good. But I didn’t do it.
I can be as creative as I want. If I want to do something, I can do it, but I don’t really want to do anything. I don’t want to write a whole new act — I do, but I can’t. I’m not capable of doing it right now. My mind’s not in the right place for it.
I’m really good at writing stuff for other comics, though. I’ve been doing a lot of that. All these acts in Vegas, these young guys coming up who aren’t funny, I give them ideas. They come over to my house, and I sit there and rewrite their acts for them for free, give them new punch lines for bits they have and give them new bits. For some of them, sometimes I sell my old bits.
I’ve been doing some of that, and Criss Angel, I wrote all the comedy in his show. He paid me for that stuff. He’s the only one who paid me. And a lot of other shows. I do that a lot, but I’m not taking money for it. They don’t offer it. And these guys are broke, so I don’t want to charge them for it. Maybe someday when they make it big I’ll ask them for money.
I’m happy just drawing and painting in bed. And I’m making a board game, a card and dice game. Some of these games like Cards Against Humanity, I could do that. I could kick something out like that, but I’ve got an even better idea than that. I can’t tell you what it is. There’s no ETA; I’m just working on it when I feel like it. I’ll get my friends together to help me finish it up. I guess that is the one project I’m actually working on.
I got rid of my Drive In (an indoor replica of an old Detroit outdoor drive-in theater). Now I just have two warehouses full of crap. And I still go to auctions every weekend and spend money. As I get rid of my stuff, I’m bringing in new stuff. Every weekend I go out. I just can’t stay away from auctions. I love auctions and garage sales. You get five nice towels for a dollar when you go to a flea market? I love that shit! I don’t pay full price for anything!
Anything else you want people to know?
I don’t know. I don’t care anymore, I really don’t. The thing is that I’m just trying to forget about it. I think that if I forget about it and keep busy doing shows and stuff that I probably won’t die. As soon as I stop being the Amazing Johnathan, I’ll die. Although I don’t mind dying. It’s not a big deal to me. I’ve had a great life. It won’t be me being bitter and yelling and screaming about it. I’ll thank whoever’s responsible and go quietly into the night.
Hopefully I won’t have a stroke and live like a retard for the rest of my life. That’s the only thing I hope doesn’t happen to me. I don’t want to be crippled. Nothing funny about that. It really hurts your timing.
For more about his performing schedule, visit AmazingJ.com.