The Untold Truth Of Baking Impossible's Justin Willman

Hosting a food competition show must be easy work for a comedian-slash-magician. If you've watched "Magic for Humans" on Netflix, then you know what the show's host and creator is capable of. Justin Willman continually amazes with the tricks he performs for real people on the street and for viewers at home. In one bit, he messes with children's minds with a magic version of the old shell game. Willman somehow manages to get the kids to pick the cup with the broccoli under it when they were expecting chocolate (via YouTube). Willman messes with adults, too. In a "Magic for Humans" segment available on a separate YouTube video, he tosses a woman's phone in the water and fishes it out with a sealed jug on a rope.

You have to see it to believe it. Even his subjects, standing right next to him, can't figure out how Willman pulls off that trick. "Watching magic on TV only works because there's a human being there," Willman told Uproxx, because the TV audience is "living vicariously through this person whose mind is being blown."

Willman was the host but not the star of Food Network's "Cupcake Wars" (via IMDb). On that show, Willman didn't have to do much besides stay out of the way of the bakers and their beautiful little cakes. He's back in the food game with the new Netflix show "Baking Impossible," which premieres on Netflix October 6 (via Pressparty).

Early in his career, Willman performed as Justin Kredible

If you want to encourage someone in show business to have success, you say, "Break a leg!" Justin Willman probably didn't know it at the time, but his path to stage success started when he broke not one but both arms, in what by all accounts was a freak accident at age 12 (via All About Magicians). Attempting to ride a bicycle while wearing rollerblades, Willman fell and broke his arms. A doctor suggested he learn card tricks as physical therapy, which jump-started Willman's budding interest in magic.

Willman honed his own stage persona after gaining inspiration from comics who started out as magicians in Steve Martin and Johnny Carson, and from magicians who incorporated comedy into their acts, such as Harry Anderson and Penn and Teller (via Uproxx). Early in his career, he took on a stage name suggested by his mother: Justin Kredible. Willman appeared on the "Rachael Ray" show several times under that name, starting in 2006 (via YouTube). In 2011, Willman performed for Barack Obama and guests at a White House Halloween party. Not only was it memorable to entertain the president of the United States, but Willman told the Dayton Daily News that Obama was the perfect audience. "President Obama started a standing ovation, which was awesome, and was kind of like a positive heckler throughout the show," Willman said.

Willman apparently let someone from Ellen DeGeneres' audience choose his son's name

Justin Willman learned in 2014 that he would have his own comedy and magic show called "Sleight of Mouth" on Comedy Central, per Deadline. The network only aired the pilot episode, in 2015. On the show, available on YouTube, Willman bemoaned technology's impact on magic. The second worst thing you could say to a magician after they showed you a trick, Willman said, is "I'm going to google that." (The worst thing? "Hello, I'm from PETA.") Willman decided if you can't beat them, join them. He made a video for Delish where he gives away the secret to five basic party tricks. He has plenty of other material that's still meant to keep you guessing.

Willman built his comedy/magic career on the talk show circuit, with appearances on "The Tonight Show" (both Leno and Fallon), "Today," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," and others (via IMDb). Willman appeared on "Ellen" in 2018 when his wife was pregnant with their first child (via YouTube). As part of a magic act, a random audience member chose the boy's name, Jackson, and Willman proceeded to pull a baby onesie out of a box with the name "Jackson" already stitched on it. This trick may have been among the most significant in Willman's life. He and wife Jillian Sipkins did, in fact, name their firstborn Jackson, per Distractify.

From Cupcake Wars to Magic for Humans

Food show fans got to know Justin Willman on the popular "Cupcake Wars," which rode the cupcake craze of the century's first decade. That craze peaked in mid-2011, according to The Wall Street Journal, which coincided with the midpoint of "Cupcake Wars'" initial nine-season run. By spring 2013, again per The Wall Street Journal, the cupcake business was in serious trouble. Perhaps seeing the direction the trend was taking, Food Network iced "Cupcake Wars" at the end of 2013 (via IMDb). The network tried to revive cupcakes in 2016 with a new season of "Cupcake Wars" featuring celebrity contestants, and a new host in Jonathan Bennett (via The Futon Critic).

Willman is a full-blown TV star today, thanks to "Magic for Humans," a show that allows him to do much more than tell bakers how much time they have to make their cakes. The hit show, which debuted in 2018 and has run for three seasons so far (via Netflix), has enabled Willman to bring magic to the masses. The magic on the Netflix show is real, Willman assured us in an interview with Emerson Today — no tricks based on CGI or editing. The show's formula, good old-fashioned magic blended with human themes such as love and fatherhood, has proven to be a winner. "It's nice making a show that gives escapism, but makes them think about their life," Willman told Emerson Today.

Magic for Humans at Home via Zoom was Justin Willman's therapy

The year 2020 was bad for pretty much everyone, except maybe Jeff Bezos. But it was especially bad for Justin Willman. Sure, he was thrilled to see Netflix drop a new season of "Magic for Humans" on May 15, 2020, and he said three seasons was "surreal" and "a huge win" (via Chicago Tribune). But as Willman reported to his Instagram followers, his mother died unexpectedly just two days before Season 3's release. In July, Willman and his family lost the first dog he had ever owned. "I didn't deserve her. She made me a better person," Willman said in a moving Instagram post about his dog.

In normal times, getting on stage to do a live show was Willman's therapy. "Here I am in the biggest funk of my life, and I can't leave the house," he said in an Instagram video. His wife had an idea: Do a show on Zoom called "Magic for Humans at Home." 

"The silver lining of not being on tour was that I got to spend so much quality time with my wife and my son," Willman said. "But the ironic thing is over the course of five months, I performed live for like half a million people, which is way more than I could have ever performed for in person."

Willman is trading Zoom for the real thing, starting October 2. That's when Willman's website says "Magic for Humans in Person," the live tour, kicks off.

Food shows are a good side gig for magician Justin Willman

It's hard to blame Justin Willman for taking food show gigs. The genre has proven enduringly popular, and hosting "Cupcake Wars" or "Baking Impossible" no doubt comes with a decent regular paycheck. Willman is a dynamic, engaging host who's likely to bring some "Magic for Humans" fans over to his upcoming Netflix project, "Baking Impossible." But we can't help but think Willman's funny/amazing talent as a comedian/magician is wasted on shows where the focus is almost always on the contestants and their creations.

There's a third dimension to Willman's body of work that makes him worth watching, whatever show he's on. To funny and amazing, add human — just like in his show's title. There's a segment in "Magic for Humans" (via YouTube) where Willman does a magic trick for his mom, who had Alzheimer's. He makes holes appear in two tickets from a Jason Mraz show, attaches the tickets together, and puts them through a music box his mom would play lullabies on when he was a child. The tickets, when run through the music box, played Mraz's song "I'm Yours" — the very song Willman and his mother had danced to at his wedding.

"Time is a fickle thing," WIllman says, after viewers had watched his mother struggle to remember details from her life. "It can be your friend, or it can be your enemy. I used to spend so much of it obsessing about the past or worrying about the future. But the only time that matters is right now."