GEORGE TOWN: If you ever happen to bump into Jeffrey Ch’ng on a George Town street, you might want to keep an eye on your belongings. There’s a high chance that the watch wrapped tightly around your wrist, for example, will end up in his pocket.
No, he’s not a pickpocket. He makes an entirely honest living as one of Malaysia’s best magicians. You may have heard of him as Jefferado, the stage name he has used for about 20 years.
He’s a fascinating person even when he’s not pulling rabbits out of hats, and he gave an equally fascinating account of his career when FMT Lifestyle caught up with him recently.
“When I was six, my dad brought our family to a hotel to watch a magic show,” he said. “That was the first time I had ever watched a magic show.”
That magical moment inspired both he and his elder brother, Bernard, to pick up some magic tricks of their own.
Their resources were limited, but they did what they could with what they had, using playing cards and referring to second-hand guides. “Everything was DIY,” he recalled.
Jeffrey had his first taste of stage life when he was 13, when he performed as a magician’s assistant to Bernard.
Bernard decided to leave the stage for a more sustainable career when he finished his schooling. But Jeffrey continued as a magician after graduation.
“I never did think this would be my full-time job,” he said. “I thought this was just a hobby, something to do for fun.
“At that time, it was hard to survive. I did consider a career in tourism, but magic was and is my passion. I love to perform, to entertain people and to make them laugh.”
Now 42 years old, he is still fully embracing his beloved career, still bringing smiles to people’s faces.
Where did the stage name of Jefferado come from? He chuckled and laid the blame on his brother again.
“When he first started out in magic, Bernard started a company called Bernardo Entertainment. Bernard to Bernardo. It does sound very canggih, doesn’t it?”
The Italian sound of the name seemed to make it memorable. So Jeffrey kept it in mind when picking his own stage name.
Using his initials “JC” as a stage name was considered but was thrown out when it turned out that many magicians already adopted the name.
So, taking a page out of Bernard’s book, he decided on Jefferado, a name that has proven to be memorable.
“I was in my twenties and wanted something with style. Could you blame me?”
Nowadays, he prefers to perform at shows where he gets to interact directly with the audience.
“I perform close-ups,” he said. “But it must be said that in Malaysia, it is not advisable to focus only on one school of magic if you want to make a living.”
He advised aspiring local magicians to be all-rounders because this would give them a level of career versatility and flexibility.
When it comes to learning tricks, it is not as easy as one may think, Ch’ng said. “Not all skills can be learnt. It’s down to your talents as well. Some tricks are easy to pick up, others not so.”
He said some tricks required a lifetime of learning, with a high chance one would never succeed at performing them properly. “You can learn, but you can’t be a master at everything.
“There are two types of people. The first learn magic to learn its secrets, the other type learn it simply to perform onstage.”
He advised adult learners against aspiring to be professional performers because “magic is something you must learn from an early age.”
Ch’ng has a five-year-old son with his wife, sand artist Bernice Wong. Asked if he would want his child to follow in his footsteps, he gave a firm “No.”
He added: “Dancers often perform in a troupe. If one makes a mistake, the others will cover for him or her. As for magicians, you are often a solo act. All eyes are on you. It’s a stressful job.”
Check out Jefferado’s personal website here.