The Emilie K Asplundh Concert Hall was quiet and nearly empty an hour before the doors opened to the waiting students on Friday night as Jim Karol, “The Psychic Madman,” meticulously arranged his props and illusions in preparation for the night’s performance of dramatic mind-bending mixed with a healthy dosage of comic relief. Wearing his trademark bright red sneakers and black sport coat, Karol took the stage in an unassuming manner and had the audience in a state of near frenzy and disbelief after just several minutes of his show. Volunteers for each part of his act certainly did not require Karol to ask twice, as some students were at the point of running to the front of the concert hall in hopes of being chosen to be a part of whatever Karol’s next stunning illusion or mental leap would consist of.
“I have no freaking idea how I do this,” Karol said to the audience after he completed several feats.
Whether he knows exactly how his mental powers work or not, the least that can be said is that his performance is, for the majority, very real. Karol does not attempt to fool the audience with an excess of visual illusions, and if he uses a prop of dubious nature, he makes sure to explain it to the audience. This is what sets him in a different league from other notable “psychics” or “magicians” of our day, such as Kriss Angel and his questionable television series.
Originally a Pennsylvania man, Karol claims to have predicted a state lottery in 1990, and therefore, learned of what mental abilities he might possess.
“Risen from the steel mills of PA,” according to his website, Karol has an extraordinary memory of a photographic nature.
“I’m banned from every casino in Atlantic City,” Karol told the audience as he proved his ability to know what card a paticular volunteer was holding or even thinking about.
He also explained that he is not allowed to play poker at all except for charity and recalled a recent charity tournament he participated in with actors Matt Damon and Ben Afleck.
“Jim has memorized over 80,000 zip codes, the Scrabble dictionary, the sports almanac, thousands of digits of Pi, every country and capital on the planet, and thousands and thousands of other facts,” according to his online biography. He reportedly told WCU co-curricular director Steve McKiernan prior to the show that he had memorized an entire non-fiction book on his drive to West Chester on Friday evening.
After the lottery prediction in 1990, Karol explained to the audience how he had to “go underground” due to threats to himself and his family if he did not predict a lottery for a Vietnam veteran. Four years later, Karol “went public” with his act and abilities and has been attempting to make a career of it ever since. He has appeared on various television shows and played a small part in Jackass Number Two.
“You’ll be hearing a lot about me in the next few months,” Karol said.
He has an upcoming Thanksgiving Day two-hour television special that will air after the holiday’s yearly football games.
Some of the more suspenseful or frightful parts of the show included Karol closing a fox trap around his fingers and being unharmed and threatening to shock the entire audience with 3,000 volts of electricity with the power of his mind. The audience was completely enthralled with Karol’s feats and a sense of relief swept the room every time Karol or a volunteer remained unharmed.
Friday night marked Karol’s fourth year performing at WCU. Each year his audience and hype have grown, and this year was Karol’s first appearance in the Asplundh Concert Hall which size was necessary this year. While Karol did not include any new material in this year’s performance, one notable difference was the absence of his assistants. Karol, a Penn State Alumnus, was previously accompanied by two assistants who provided a pre-show for Karol by juggling machetes and walking on glass, for example. They would also aid Karol in choosing volunteers and playing small roles in each of his routines. Karol did not make any mention of why they were not present this year.
Karol’s visit to WCU was certainly memorable this year as students filed out of the concert hall in conversation about how Karol had achieved his various feats, including an escape from two pairs of handcuffs and knowing what words that students had chosen out of a book.
For all the awe that Karol’s act inspires, he makes sure to keep the show entertaining, funny and relaxed through his use of humor and sexual puns. There is no question that Karol has an extraordinary mind and a unique personality for showmanship.