For Jeff and Kimberly Bornstein, first came love. Then came marriage. Then came a spellbinding, mouth-agape mind-reading show.
In 2005, Jeff, who was doing road gigs as a comedian, wasn’t having any luck finding a girlfriend on Match.com. He sent out an e-mail on the site, telling people he was headlining the Loony Bin in Oklahoma. To his surprise, he received 50 replies, one of which was from Kimberly, who lived in the state. “We talked for about two weeks on the phone every single day,” Jeff said. “The conversations were so intense, and after going back and forth, I flew her out to see me,” in Los Angeles.
For two years, the couple dated long-distance. Kimberly asked Jeff if he wanted to move to Oklahoma, but the opportunities to perform there were, well, scarce. Instead, he bought a ticket to see her without her knowledge, knocked on her door at 11 p.m., and told her to pack. “I basically adult-napped her,” he said. “We drove from Oklahoma to Los Angeles, and we’ve been together ever since. That was over seven years ago.”
Today, Jeff and Kimberly perform their two-person show, “The Bornstein Experiment,” all over Los Angeles and the world. In it, Jeff does stand-up comedy, while Kimberly reads audience members’ minds. She’ll tell them what streets they live on and how much money is in their pockets. The official story is that she gained her psychic ability when she was 10, when she fell off a tractor and hit her head. The two don’t reveal in the show whether the mind reading is real, either. “We let you decide,” Jeff said. “We don’t claim to have supernatural powers. She just takes her sixth sense to the 10th power. And then we leave it up to you.”
They will perform their new show, “Mind Meld,” which also focuses on mind reading, at the invitation-only Magic Castle on Jan. 22 and Feb. 5, 12 and 19, and at the ACME Comedy Theatre on Jan. 23 and 30, and Feb. 6 and 13. The show will be hosted by Fritz Coleman, the performer and NBC4 News weathercaster.
In the traditional act, Jeff does stand-up at the top, and he and his wife talk about the ways Kimberly reads body language. “Our show is about communication, and we draw the differences between what it’s like when you have communication and when you don’t,” Jeff said.
Geared toward adults over 25, the show was an idea Jeff came up with after Kimberly suggested they do an act together. She had never performed, but after their initial 10-minute show, the audience adored her. Jeff said, “I thought she would see that it’s too tough and too much work to be on stage. Our first one we did, she was a hit. She was the star, and to this day, she is still the star and steals the show.”
Aside from performing at the Magic Castle and ACME, the two also produce “Operation Magic,” a comedy and variety show for the military. They’ve taken “The Bornstein Experiment” to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. One of the most touching moments in her performing career, Kimberly said, happened at a base when “a mom came up to me and said her husband just got deployed. She said ‘I don’t know if my husband is coming back, but this one hour you guys performed, you made me not think about that.’ That meant so much. That brought tears to my eyes. I was beside myself.”
The two also juggle day jobs in addition to their stage work: Kimberly is an executive assistant, while Jeff does stunt work. He’s appeared in “The Specialist,” “Lethal Weapon 3” and “Star Trek VI.”
Joe Monti, a friend and magic producer and senior consultant on A&E’s “Mindfreak,” said their chemistry is apparent. “They are husband and wife, and that really shows on stage. Although people who are not performers wouldn’t notice, their technique is flawless.”
Creative consultant Bruce Gold said that keeping the audience doubting is what makes Jeff and Kimberly’s act so good. “I don’t think it needs to be real. As long as there is doubt, it makes it entertaining. If you wonder how they are doing it, then you are engaged, involved and entertained. Whether or not it’s real is immaterial. The thing that’s important is the possibility of it being real.”
Kimberly said that working 12-hour days and rushing to perform on stage at night is worth it. “It seems that every show I do, it’s almost like I get to do it for the first time, every time.”
Although Jeff and Kimberly are still striving to make it, doing their act together only makes them stronger. “Especially now, times are tough, and families are working three jobs to make ends meet,” he said. “We get to struggle together on stage and laugh and joke about it, which really makes it a lot more fruitful. When one person is down, the other lifts the other person up. When we are together, wherever we are, we’re home.”
ACME Theatre, 8 p.m. Jan. 23 and 30, Feb. 6 and 13, 135 N. La Brea Ave. Advance tickets $10 online, $15 at the door. A drink discount with your ticket will be good for $1 off a beverage at the adjoining Amalfi bar. Shows at the Magic Castle are by invitation only.