By Kaitlin FUSCHILLO
Much like his magic tricks, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to Eric Thompson.
The Newton Falls resident has been sharing his magic act with Mahoning Valley residents for years. But lately, he’s been taking it on the road to some faraway places to help the less fortunate.
After seeing a magician perform around the age of 9, Thompson was swept away by the idea.
“I think every little boy at that age wants to be a magician,” he said. “Many grow out of it, but apparently I never did.”
Thompson worked in various comedy clubs throughout his life, and started the Warren Comedy Club a couple of years ago. It has monthly shows at Cafe 422.
With the comedy club thriving, Thompson found a new project that means even more to him.
During a Caribbean cruise, he began doing street magic for the children of the island, and stumbled upon a connection that changed his life.
Thompson’s magic touched the children’s hearts and enabled him to break the language barrier with laughter.
One of the cruise workers said to Thompson, “These people don’t have much, and they don’t laugh much, so when you got them to laugh, that was a real gift.” The experience encouraged Thompson to begin his Million Miles, Million Smiles Tour, which has taken him to 25 countries on five continents thus far.
Thompson works with several organizations to make these trips possible, including Hope 4 Africa, Hearts in Action Peru and Believers Church, to name a few.
“I get to see things that tourists don’t ever see, and the experiences I have are hard to even put into words,” he said.
Thompson has baked bread in the mountains with village women, slept on the dirt floor of an ancient church and drove for hours across a field in Africa to reach villages.
Most recently, he spent several hours in a leper colony, surrounded by 60 elderly people, all of whom looked like victims of a horrific fire.
“If there are any people on the planet that don’t have anything to smile about, it’s these guys,” he said. “But we laughed and transcended that language barrier.”
Thompson said the most important part of each trip is connecting with people in a deprived place and bringing a little hope to their lives.
These people, in turn, also leave their mark on Thompson.
“Every place has something that’s amazing, every country has its unique set of experiences that have changed me,” he said.
There was a little Guatemalan girl that would not let go of Thompson during the entire trip and even nicknamed him “Senor Mago Loco,” or “Mr. Crazy Magician.”
And Thompson’s reputation precedes him. Upon arriving in Peru a couple years later, he was greeted by a billboard welcoming “Senor Mago Loco.”
Seeing the impact his performances have on the villagers has become special to Thompson.
In between the many mission trips, Thompson keeps up with the comedy club, does local performances, participates in nonprofit work and hosts his annual Christmas party at the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, where he and his friends put on a show and give away presents and baked goods.
He also rallies friends to raise enough money to provide the countries he visits with chickens, goats and cattle so they have fresh food.
Despite his packed schedule and need for recovery, Thompson can’t help but look forward to the next trip, which will be to Israel and Egypt.
“Now I feel challenged to go everywhere,” he said.