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Barack Obama Served As This Dad’s ‘Hype Man’

Let's talk about that time magician Justin Willman performed at the White House.


It’s hard to find that sweet spot where you’re edgy enough to be interesting, while still having broad family appeal. Magician Justin Willman has figured out that formula, and it’s why he performed for President Barack Obama at the White House Halloween party in 2011. 

“It was the most nervous I’d ever been in my life. What was trippy was that I was trying to pretend that I wasn’t performing for him, but he kept chiming in,” says Willman. “He’s the only person who can heckle and help. He was hype-man heckling me, saying stuff like, ‘Are you guys seeing this? How are you doing this?’ It made it so I could not forget I was performing for him. I’ll never be as nervous as I was then. “

That day, recalls Willman, “Everyone was in a costume. Except for him. He was dressed as Obama in a fleece. It was very surreal.”

Now, on the eve of another Democratic inauguration, Willman finds himself in a very different place. Like most Americans, he’s homebound due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And Willman, the star of Magic for Humans on Netflix, has gone the Zoom route for his sleights of hand.

“I have been performing on stage since I was 13. I didn’t realize how important it was to my mental health to perform. I was getting so restlessness from not being on stage,” he says. “Part of is being a needy performer. I felt very itchy. My wife told me to figure out something out. I figured out how to connect with humans by creating this show on Zoom.”

Shooting Magic for Humans from home has been pretty much a win-win for everyone. He gets to do what he loves. His audience gets an escape from doom-scrolling. “It’s like I’m in their house talking to them,” says Willman. I wrote a brand new show for Thanksgiving and a brand new show for Christmas. It’s felt cathartic.”

He’s at home with his wife and mother in law. And his social media feed is full of cute photos of his son, who turned 2 in December. With Obama not around, Jackson serves as his dad’s new hype man. 

“He knows daddy has a room of cool toys to mess with. He’s obsessed with daddy’s weird props. I’m allowed to have weird stuff that normal people can’t have. I’m trying to raise a normal kid and let him do what he wants,” says Willman.