Intro: Whether it’s appearing in The Undatables or performing magic tricks on stage or in his local shopping mall, David Munns is equally at home, as he told Seán Kelly
“Oh, he‘s marvellous! I’ve seen him before. I saw him on the TV. I’m always happy when I see him here doing his magic. He is so good at it.”
The security officer at the shopping mall is speaking to me as I photograph David Munns walking around doing small magic tricks for the customers. It’s a pretty good response to an unauthorised magician in the mall, almost a busker, but David is quite used to getting positive responses. He does not ask for money and people are so surprised at his magic tricks no-one seems to think of giving him any. He just seems happy to practise his tricks in front of an instant audience and to see the delight on the faces of children and adults.
David Munns is an articulate man who says he has learning disabilities. “Well, I was categorised as that but I don’t like boxes or categories”. He is also a magician and a great performer. After his performance the security guard asks for a selfie with him. That surprised me – I was expecting him to be asked to leave.
Earlier David and I had met to talk about his recent appearance on The Undateables the Channel 4 show about dating featuring disabled people. David says he enjoyed being on the programme. His first date was at the café in the local park. “I’m going to let you into a little secret. There were two dates but the first didn’t go according to plan. There were two ladies, different ladies each time. The first wasn’t really my type. She wasn’t very articulate, like I’m articulate, and somehow we didn’t really engage. I was feeling a bit ill at the time because it was a particularly grotty day in the park. A particularly grotty day in the park!”. David often repeats a phrase or sentence several times as if rolling it around to see how it sounds. Sometimes he gradually improves and elaborates on the sentence as he does so, his thinking process becoming visible in the process. Sometimes he just seems to enjoy saying the same thing in a more dramatic way. It is an engaging trait and one which makes me warm to him.
He tells me he knew straightaway the date wasn’t working but he stuck with it for the full hour and a half. “It didn’t really work out. They didn’t use that footage. My date with Claire worked out much better”. The date with Claire is the one shown on the programme. I ask if he has seen her since and he says, yes, at a reunion for the people featured in the show. “It was good to see her. She lives in Manchester. That’s the problem with a long distance relationship, you never get to see each other. Although I do keep her abreast of what’s going on around here. I email her regularly to keep her up to speed. I’m like that. I am considerate like that”.
Are they now boyfriend and girlfriend then? “Well no, not really, not yet. I think you should take time to get to know someone before that sort of thing. I am not a rushing-into-things type of guy. I always try to think things out and consider them”.
Some people would find it off-putting to have a camera crew along with them on a first date but David didn’t mind. “I didn’t really think too much about it”. Since the programme was aired David has got used to being stopped on the street. He says the reactions have all been positive. “When I was walking in the street strangers recognised me. They were nice. People took selfies with me. I was never really bothered by it because it was like performing. I am comfortable performing”.
David says he may have built his confidence from performing magic shows to the public. “But I have always had a little bit of that confidence”, he says. He thinks that may stem from when he was young and doing readings in church. “I was nervous as heck but I did them”. I wonder if audiences at magic shows are always as respectful as church congregations? “Well, there are some people who just ignore me but when I get an audience, if things go well, then I feel good about it. I think I have gained confidence over the years.”
David says he got into magic at a pretty young age. Originally he wanted to work on ‘big illusions’ like the American magician David Copperfield. What sort of thing? “When I was little I used to saw my teddy bear in half. But I am not really interested in the big illusions anymore. I tend to do more close-up these days”. This means smaller tricks carried out right in front of the person’s eyes. He gives me some demonstrations, changing plain paper into money and making coins disappear. There is no way at all that I can work out how he is doing it. He says that ‘close-up’ is more powerful because it happens right in front of you. He uses some close-up work on stage. “For example, I tore up a valentine’s card. I say, ‘Well, I went speed dating but nothing ever came of it’ and then I tear up the card. But then I say, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll soon get over it’, and then the whole card is restored”.
The patter is based on real life experience. David did try speed dating at the Beautiful Octopus Club and another club called the Groovy Cat but says,“Speed dating didn’t really work out for me. They didn’t really stick round long enough”.
For more than 12 years David has been a staunch member of the Spare Tyre Theatre Company, a participatory charity that works with ‘voiceless communities and individuals’. David says, “When they make a script it’s usually out of a collaborative process. They like to use improvisation and then take out ideas and develop them”. David is not short of ideas himself. “I sometimes have to pull back because I feel I might dominate the group. But I have learned how to ease back”.
David also writes his own scripts. He reads me part of a radio script he wrote a few years ago called The Further Adventures of Professor Jekyll the Essex Vampire. Professor Jekyll is the grandson of the original Dr Jekyll (of ‘Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde’ fame) and despite being a sceptic he has teamed up with a para-psychologist called Dr Helen Fenton. David reads me a section and invests the script with great character as he does so “…Dr Fenton and her telepathy experiments and psychic nonsense”.
David says he previously wrote “a spooky radio play” called ‘Morgan’s Lake’ which was actually broadcast as part of a BBC project called Audio-Tech. He also tells me about a comedy sketch show he wrote which was called “The DM Squad” (ie David Munns Squad). “Basically it was a zany sketch show with bad puns and topical references”. The show featured a private eye who introduced himself with the line “the name’s Hanger, Cliff Hanger”. David says he started writing comedy by imagining the helpers at his Wednesday group were actors in a play.
I wonder if David would consider going on TV again? “Yes, I would if I was offered…. actually I think it would be even better if I had my own show. I wouldn’t mind doing a talk show.” David has obviously already put some thought into this. He describes the title sequence to me: he would be walking down the street in the style of the sixties TV programme Danger Man. The theme music would be a song I Am A Man by Suggs of Madness. To give me the flavour David sings me the song for a while. The programme would be a chat show with guests but would also feature music and David doing magic and comedy sketches. I tell him it sounds perfect for a prime time Saturday night slot!
I suggest that when this interview is published I could put a note in saying that he has not got a current girlfriend and that if there are any women out there who like the look of him he is still open to love. David agrees but without great enthusiasm. “Yes, I am still open to love… but I would actually like to see Claire again”. So there is still a possibility there? “Yes, we keep in touch”. I tell him that I thought she seemed to be a kindred spirit. He is comfortable with the word. “Yes, we were pretty kindred,” he says. “Not exactly two peas in a pod. But pretty kindred”.