Criss Angel’s “Believe” at Luxor is widely agreed to be the worst big ticket show on the Strip. And, if you don’t know that, it may be because the erratic star of the show has generated more notice than “Believe” does. So far Angel’s highlights in Vegas include threatening to poke out the eye of one local journalist and exploding from the stage at blogger Perez Hilton. The Hilton incident resulted in an apology to the blogger from both Cirque and Luxor. But noticeably Angel did not express apology or regret.
Because of his local anti-hero status, I get sent a lot of rumors about Angel. And, most of them are too outrageous to even check out. Angel has managed to alienate most constituencies in Vegas. People love to send me negative tips about him. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost. So, I am always extra careful what I report on Angel knowing there is so much bias against him out there, and I want everything I write to be accurate.
Meanwhile, “Believe” has lumbered along for more than a year amidst Cirque’s “fixation” process. The dates for the improvements to be ready for review as well as other dates hinted at for new illusions to be added to the show keep moving. As it is now, who would pay to see Believe? Hard-core fans, those not warned, comps?
I have heard consistent rumors about poor attendance at the show. Perhaps, a tiny audience explains why it has taken weeks for this incident to leak out. But here is the first report I got– two days ago– of what happened at Believe earlier this month. This is from a past reliable source with inside knowledge of the show as well as someone who has never been wrong in information given to me:
“Did you hear about Criss using the word ‘faggot’ as the word of the day in his show and then refusing to apologize to his dancers, who were offended? I’m just surprised that story never got out seeing as it was done in front of a theater of people.”
It is out now!
From the moment I got that e-mail I have been digging.
Here is the trick in question from when I saw “Believe”: an audience member is asked by Angel to come up with any word. Angel claims that thanks to a special bond between himself and the audience member (homophobia?) he has scribbled that word in a sealed box on a whim. To prove this, Angel has the sealed box lowered, and the audience member’s spontaneously imagined word is then spooled out on paper in large hand written letters for the entire audience to read.
This is not a very original trick, by the way. Penn & Teller do a similar trick except that they use a punchline strategy to control the range of words without limiting the choices enough to ruin the illusion of mind reading. And, I would bet my cats (not that Penn or Teller would want my lovely kitties) that they don’t prep their audience at all. In fact, the audience member’s total surprise at seeing the punchline written out is part of Penn & Teller’s performance.
Angel’s version of the trick, according to one source who used to be involved in the show, from the start had a lot less grace than Penn & Teller’s take: “He [Angel] would always prep the random person by asking for ‘no bad words.’ I don’t know if he still does this.” As a side note, when you consider that a “random” person is “prepped” at all you get an idea of the limits of Angel’s skills on stage when compared to his peers. Plants are much easier when they are paid actors working in harmony with television editing.
Regardless, when the audience member, prepped or not, warned about language or not, picked a term synonymous with gay bashing, Angel could easily have improvised a way to avoid what happened. Consider: Would he have allowed a racial slur to be displayed for the audience, or a slang word that refers to a specific part of a woman’s anatomy? No way. Not a chance. This word seems not to have triggered those alarms.
So, Angel allowed this banner with that hateful slur to be unfurled displaying the insult to the entire audience. Maybe, Angel figured he could blame the audience member. But that is garbage as an explanation. Any professional Strip caliber entertainer could have avoided this situation in a variety of ways. The unexpected is always expected in a live performance on the Strip. A talented performer adapts. Angel either lacked the talent or the judgment (or both) to realize the occasion required him to improvise a solution. Certainly, other performers in “Believe” understood. According to my sources, some dancers in the show were so offended that they demanded an apology from Angel, which the magician characteristically refused to offer. I was told, the dancers even considered staging a walkout and complained to Cirque management about Angel’s behavior.
Anyway, normally you still would not be reading about this here as I had yet to speak to a direct witness. And, I was not planning to run this item unless I spoke to someone who actually attended the performance in question. But when I contacted Cirque to let them know I was working on a story regarding an incident at Believe, and to find out who to reach out to when I was ready with my questions, Cirque knew at once why I was calling. They confirmed for me that the incident indeed took place on December 10. They confirmed that “Faggot” was the word displayed to the audience by Angel. Cirque claimed Angel himself did not say the word from the stage and they suggested that the audience member was British and meant cigarettes. I find these claims dubious when placed in the context of Angel again not offering any apology either to his audience or, apparently, his colleagues. This speaks to his choices and his character. Here is Cirque’s official statement:
“On December 10, an inappropriate word was selected by an audience member as part of the premonition illusion in CRISS ANGEL Believe. It was made clear to the audience that the word is not one that is used or condoned by Criss Angel or any of the artists in the show, and the emphasis on the word was deflected during the illusion. Audience members are typically not pre-briefed as to the words they can use. Since the occurrence, a protocol has been put in place in case the situation should reoccur.”
Notice, the statement does not deny audience members are briefed into being plants. It only says audience members are not told during any such briefing what words they can or can’t use. This is different from what my former insider writes used to be the protocol. Regardless, Angel had discretion on stage that night, and he did not have to unfurl this gay bashing banner to a Vegas audience just trying to enjoy a Crique magic show.
At this point, the most magical thing about “Believe” is that Angel is still starring in this show that has soiled the Cirque and Luxor brands by tolerating Angel’s behavior that has included threats of violence, insulting invited guests from the stage and now throw in a little gay bashing to entertain the audience. Oh, and “Believe” remains an awful show.
Again, the key to perceiving Angel’s motives remains his unwillingness to personally apologize as well as attempts to switch blame to the audience member. The people in the seats are not responsible for the show or what goes onto the stage. That is why they are called the audience. In this case, Angel made the decision to display that word to all in attendance, and he apparently does not feel any need to apologize for doing so to his audience or to his fellow cast members.
Angel has once again dug a hole into the bottom where he had previously fallen to find a lower level to dwell in shame. And shame is the right word. Angel should be ashamed, And, his enablers at Cirque and Luxor should be ashamed.
(Photo: Sarah Gerke)