By Diane White McNaughton • Photo By Scott Church Photography
Many a frustrated spouse has uttered this common refrain in the heat of a contentious exchange: “I’m not a mind reader!”
For local attorney, author and executive coach Joe Curcillo, that excuse just won’t fly.
When Curcillo takes the stage as The MindShark, his natural comedic talents and storytelling acumen combine with an enchanting dose of shock and awe.
Not only does he have the power to guess the number you picked between 1 and 100, the name of your favorite childhood pet, or where you plan to travel on your next vacation; he can also rekindle long-forgotten memories, raise funds for charity, help the anxious overcome fear, and inspire greatness, from entry-level employees on up to the executive suite.
Curcillo has been confounding audiences with his tricks of telepathy since 1995, attracting international acclaim as a mentalist, motivational speaker and master showman.
With his baritone voice, mane of thick black hair, and direct gaze, he clearly follows his own career advice to “talk in color.” His speech is peppered with witticisms, the names of celebrity friends, and insightful anecdotes and observations about the path to excellence.
Showmanship –whether in a courtroom or a darkened theater–has been in the cards for Curcillo since his early days as one of three boys, growing up in a two-parent Irish-Italian household in suburban Philadelphia. He began captivating small crowds as a party magician in his early 20s, working under the stage name “Joseph Anthony.” In 2010, a savvy Chicago-based branding expert quickly sized up this rare mind-reading trial lawyer, and dubbed him, “The Mind Shark.” (His website is www.theMindShark.com)
After the curtain falls on the Mind Shark’s shows, audience members usually approach the stage and offer words of praise, like, “That was freaking amazing!” “Are you in my head right now?” and “Oh my God, you must be scary to live with!”
For daughters Olivia and Kaela, and his wife, Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Deb Essis Curcillo, what he does is far from eerie. In fact, his twentysomething daughters think it’s “hysterical,” Joe says. And beyond the humor is humanity.
From Attorney to Illusionist to Author
Mentalism is a natural encore act for Curcillo, who worked as a prosecutor for 12 years and a defense attorney for 22. As an attorney, his astute powers of observation enabled him to intuitively predict what jurors were thinking, what witnesses were going to say, and what direction opposing counsel would take.
He knows there are no do-overs in trials, so you have to get it right the first time. Ditto for life.
In the past decade, the West Hanover Twp. resident, part-time county solicitor, and former president of the Dauphin County Bar Association has criss-crossed the country performing and offering trainings. He has also done charity shows locally to benefit cystic fibrosis and child abuse prevention.
Even though motivational speaking, coaching and writing are not as simple as waving a magic wand, Curcillo wants his clients to discover new answers about themselves, and carve their own path to their dreams, powered by his core belief in “a unifying vision.” No cape, top hat, or white rabbit required.
He flies out to Las Vegas frequently–seven times last year alone (“I love Vegas but despise the Strip.”) He has also penned three books, designed to be read in one sitting on a four-hour plane flight, to share his message of mind over magic with a larger audience.
A Man of Many Talents
Curcillo’s metamorphosis from magician and attorney to Vegas showman and motivational speaker is not such a curious career U-turn for this true Renaissance man, who has held more than 30 eclectic jobs in his lifetime.
He paid his way through Temple University School of Law by putting on magic shows for children’s parties. He was self-taught, entertaining children in tony mansions along the moneyed Main Line. His magic act was not inspired by a pure love of the supernatural. He did it for the money. That pathway reflects his whole approach to just “doing” the tasks you have to do.
“If I make a decision, it has to be done,” he says.
After graduating from Archbishop Ryan in suburban Philadelphia, he earned an engineering degree at Temple before enrolling in law school.
He has also worked as a construction worker, iron worker, department store clerk, carpenter, guitarist in a rock band, and burger-flipper. He even inspected structural steel, but was afraid of heights, so he drew the line at 36 stories. He was one of the original performers at Creatures of the Night at ZooAmerica and performed live magic shows in the private picnic areas at Hersheypark in the 90’s.
He is constantly reinventing himself, living out his own advice about attaining your dreams. His fast-reading books, available on Amazon, include the best-seller, “Getting to ‘Us’: Discover the Ability to Lead your Team to Any Result you Desire,” “What’s Your Freaking Point?: Maximize the Impact of Every Word You Speak” and a brief illustrated book called, “Don’t Be a Hamster: 30 Tips to Spark the Imagination of Busy People.”
Through word and deed, Curcillo encourages everyone to get off life’s hamster wheel. Inspired by his daughter’s escaped hamster, who clearly had bigger goals for himself, Curcillo urges his cleints to stop running through life, eating, sleeping, and spinning, without ever dreaming big or trying something new.
One of Curcill’s CEO clients, Annalisa Parent, CEO of Laurel Elite Books, describes Curcillo as “insightful, generous and to-the-point.” She applauds his incomparable analytical ability and knack for making everyone feel like an old friend from the minute they sit down with him.
“He is definitely not cookie-cutter,” Parent says. “He eschews ‘the hype’ and the ‘rah-ra’” type of executive coaching. “He is an incredible teacher and adviser.”
An Anti-Hamster Finds Harrisburg
Curcillo moved to Harrisburg in 1987, after launching his legal career in Clearfield County as an Assistant District Attorney. He decided to drive across the state to see where he wanted to put down permanent roots. He became spellbound by Harrisburg, thanks to current Judge John Cherry’s dad, who became his mentor.
“I picked Harrisburg. I’m here 100 percent by choice,” he says.
A friend encouraged him to become a mentalist, saying, “You know people better than anyone.”
Buoyed by his knowledge of human nature and behavior, he began studying magic books, psychology, and old carnival methods.
Marc Salem, a Philadelphia-born mentalist and mind-reader who has been featured on 60 Minutes and in the New York Times, became his mentor and remains one of his best friends.
Curcillo is modest about his success. “My show is about my audience, not me,” Curcillo says.
He enjoys witnessing how guessing an audience member’s childhood pet or dream vacation evokes vivid amemories. “That’s my favorite part,” he says.
While he does not employ mentalism in court, he demonstrated himself to be incredibly perceptive about the feelings of others in the courtroom, from the judge to the jurors.
One potential juror, for example, began crying every time Joe asked a question.
Curcillo called for a sidebar with the judge, expressing his concern that the man was an “empath,” an overly emotional person to whom facts don’t matter. He was spot-on.
“At that moment, my two worlds collided” when his legal career intersected with mind-reading.
Books to Train the Brain
His legal career inspired his second book, “What’s your Freakin’ Point?” which was originally titled “Performance on Trial.” The book was written to help professional entertainers break down a show into separate components, based upon the timeline of a jury trial. Curcillo found that making things believable in court is easily transferable to the stage.
Famed Israeli-British illusionist and psychic Uri Geller provided the book cover’s endorsement quote.
“Getting to ‘Us’” is Curcillo’s seminal work and his “attack on the business plan.” Curcillo finds ways to help entrepreneurs create a plan, unify people around it, innovate, and then execute, guided by a “unifying vision.”
He has sold 15,000 copies and received fan letters from all over the world, including Malaysia, where he just shipped 25 copies to their Board of Tourism.
Again, in creating a unified team, Curcillo emphasizes that it is not about “me,” but “us.”
Always poised and confident, he has given a TED talk on the mobilizing power of a unified vision as the final act for the Harrisburg-area TED talks in 2018, and was Master of Ceremonies in 2019.
His clients have included realtors, accountants, hotels, sports franchises and more. He has worked with famed fellow illusionists, soap opera stars and big-name TV producers.
He recalls a hotel owner-client of his who wanted to restore an aging building to its original glory.
The entire staff, from the housekeepers, front desk, and wait staff, to the bartenders, construction crew, and seamstresses, became excited about the vision.
The prior CEO “only wanted to get the hotel to tomorrow,” Curcillo recalls. The new owner had big dreams, and also gave employees the green light to implement them.
The maids, who felt like they were just changing sheets before, became spokespersons for the hotel.
With enthusiasm and top-to-bottom involvement, in two years, the hotel became a four-star resort.
Annalisa Parent is one of many people who says their life has changed dramatically because of Curcillo.
“I’ve had some major changes in my business during the last six months,” Parent says, “and Joe has stood by me, offering advice and guidance, as if it were his own business. He has been there for some major decisions and supports me with my goals. And, he has an uncanny ability to make me laugh when things go wrong.”
Curcillo is planning to translate that trademark humor into a fourth book, outlining the brass tacks of managing a unified vision.
“I don’t sleep. I’m constantly on,” he says.
When his wife and daughter travel to Paris soon, Joe will stay behind to work.
To him, his travels are not “travel,” it’s commuting to his offices across the country.
He’s too busy helping others to hop off the hamster wheel and travel outside their comfort zone.
“Whatever you’re doing, if your dreams seems attainable, they’re not big enough,” Curcillo says.