MIRAMICHI; OR, LIFE AWAY FROM VEGAS
Q&A with Magician Mark Kornhauser
There’s not much in common between Las Vegas, Nevada and 19th-century philosopher Henry David Thoreau. Especially because Thoreau died in 1862, two years before Nevada became a state in the union.
Two hundred years ago Thoreau was born—July of 1817. He became known as an essayist, poet, abolitionist, tax resister, to name a few. It was on July 4, 1845 that Thoreau embarked on a two-year experiment in simple living, and moved to a modest 10 foot x 15 foot cabin on the shores of Walden Pond.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived,” said Thoreau, which became one of his most famous quotations.
It is in this context, some 200-years later, that we catch up with magician and (former) longtime Las Vegas entertainer Mark Kornhauser. After more than 35 years performing around the world, Mark decided to leave the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas for a simpler life. His observation about Las Vegas is compelling and we eagerly wanted to find out more. It’s been nine months since he made the move back east, to a cabin on a lake, in the middle of…basically nowhere.
We contacted Mark and asked him a few “simple” questions about why. Why now? And why Lake Miramichi, Michigan?
A little history about Mark Kornhauser
Mark Kornhauser graduated with honors and distinction from the University of Michigan with a BA in psychology. Upon graduation he worked directly for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as the Midwest regional director for the International Meditation Society. He turned his lifelong hobby of magic into a professional career with the encouragement of famed magician Doug Henning. Kornhauser left the Midwest and went to the West Coast where he performed regularly at The Comedy Store and The Magic Castle before beginning a 25-year career in casino showrooms.
He became one of the most successful comedy magic acts in the world, performing as an opening act for some of the biggest celebrities in show business: Tom Jones, Elvis Costello, Lou Rawls, Tony Orlando, Dom Delouise, Terry Fator, Frankie Valli, and more. Mark has worked consistently in the most prestigious casinos and shows in Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Atlantic City, and has appeared on dozens of television shows including The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Kornhauser has invented numerous comedy and magic illusions which have become modern day standards. He is a magic consultant and has written for the likes Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Terry Fator, and other top tier professional magicians, comics, and entertainers. Additionally, Mark has served as producer for shows in casinos from Harrah’s Lake Tahoe to Knotts Berry Farm.
VR: You left Las Vegas and chose to live a simpler life in a relatively unknown place. Why did you choose Lake Miramichi, Michigan?
MK: I’m from Michigan originally and five years ago I spent two months in my brother’s cabin about 40 minutes north of here. I was able to sell my house in Nevada and buy a nice house on a clean lake with two and a half acres. Waterfront homes are remarkably inexpensive in Michigan—lots of summer homes mixed in with well-groomed farms. I found my place on Zillow while still in Nevada and had my brother check it out. He said it looked like the picture so I bought it. It was like a mail order bride. I got lucky. Here are another 10,000 words.
VR: Can we assume you are the only person there in the entertainment field?
MK: Besides my brother (cardiologist), my only friends are a couple on the other side of the lake. He’s a software engineer and works out of his house. I have casually met plenty of other people in the area. Somehow they all already know that I’m the guy from Vegas with two dogs. Everyone is friendly, but I can’t talk about politics. Anyway, I didn’t come here to run for mayor. Friends visit me occasionally, I have two dogs and two cats and I’m rarely lonely.
VEGAS REPORT: Tell us about your decision to move out of Las Vegas after 35 years.
MARK KORNHAUSER: Vegas lost its charm for me. Exorbitant ticket broker fees, four-walls, illegal kickbacks, unreasonable unions, and producers who aren’t producers, have made the cost of shows too expensive. Hidden resort fees and the new parking fees reinforce the notion that casinos have changed from generous to greedy. Corporate-owned casinos have short term goals because executives focus primarily on their Christmas bonus. They depend on—and often overpay—for headliners because they haven’t developed an adequate entertainment brand of their own.
VR: Tell us what life is like away from the lights and pace of Las Vegas?
MK: Peaceful. Less stressful. Healthier. It might get a little wild next week when the dulcimer festival comes to town. But the real excitement comes from moments that nature provides. There are the blue heron, bald eagles, foxes, deer….occasionally, during some mundane activity, I become giddy with a sense of contentment. If I never stepped in a casino again that would be fine with me. Of course, I miss my friends, the nice theaters, and the restaurants. I speak with close friends regularly. I can always get at least one bar on Verizon. I have a satellite internet connection so I don’t really feel out of touch.
VR: How do your surroundings affect your creativity?
MK: At first, it affected me in the ways I thought it would. I wrote more than I had ever written. But somewhere in the middle of my fifth short story, around the fifth month, I stopped. It might be a case of early onset laziness, but I feel like there is a mental process still going on and I’m getting ready for the next project. Last winter I spent several days trying to make the perfect cup of hot chocolate. Not really a career move, but not a waste of time. I’m very happy with my mental state. Being immersed in nature makes you think big. How productive it turns out remains to be seen.
VR: How has this change affected you as a person?
MK: I am mostly a city slicker. I’m just now piecing together a lot of basic ideas—things I feel I should have known a long time ago. Does it make sense to you that all these massive trees come from water and CO2? It doesn’t seem possible, does it?
VR: How has your perception of Las Vegas changed since your move?
MK: I go online and read the Review Journal once in awhile and it always seems to be some familiar combination of stabbings, drunk drivers, shootings and perverse scandals. I haven’t locked my door since I got here nine months ago. Also the air—every city has its distinctive smell that becomes part of a memory. In Lake Miramichi, the air is purified by millions of lush trees. In Vegas, the wind blows particles of sand into the hot air.
VR: What advice would you give your younger self or an aspiring performer.?
MK: The idea of an “act” is almost irrelevant. You are better off having an inexpensive show than an expensive act. Give yourself every commercial advantage (catchy name, powerful video, gimmicky concept, distinctive look) and focus on doing something original. It’s a competitive world, so compete, but don’t think you need to be famous in order to find fulfillment.
A Cup ‘o Cocoa
It’s a bit early to see how things will turn out for Mark. Will his deliberate choice to live in the woods turn out as expected? Will his “big ideas” become reality? One thing is for sure, on a cold winter day, we know he’ll be fine, with his perfect cup of hot chocolate.
About the cover art for VegasReport
Since we found a timely connection for Mark Kornhauser’s deliberate decision to move to a cabin on a lake, a simpler life, we thought we’d pay tribute to the artwork for Thoreau’s book, Walden; or, Life in the Woods (right)
Photo gallery: The natural beauty at Mark’s home on Lake Miramichi.