Thoughts on products, performance, and doublethink in the magic community.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

An Observation

I noticed that a majority of my favorite magicians are seriously involved in comedy. Many of them do comedy performance or writing full-time, or did at some point in the past. They are:

David Regal, Greg Wilson, Jay Sankey, and David Acer

I guess being in comedy gives you a better understanding of how laypeople think and what they appreciate in entertainment. Pagliacci has an excellent exploration of the subject here. On a related note, thanks to Pagliacci for his advice on magic blogging and originality.

If you know the site, please comment and post a link. Thanks.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

With it being Memorial Day, I figured a story that had something to do with magic, soldiers, and war would be in order. Not an easy combination. However, I did find something in "52 Amazing Card Tricks," by Rufus Steele, published 1949. I think you'll enjoy it. The story appears below exactly as in the book.

In 1917, a company of soldiers was attending a church service in France. One soldier took out of his pocket what most of those present thought to be a prayer book. The Captain, however, observed that it was a deck of cards. He ordered the soldier to put the cards away. The soldier refused to do so, was arrested, and taken before a Major. When the Major asked him why he disobeyed orders, the soldier explained that the deck of cards to him was the same as a prayer book:

The Aces represent the One true God.
The two spots represent the two beings, Man and Beast.
The threes spots: the Holy Trinity.
The four spots: the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
The five spots: the five wounds in the Savior's body.
The six spots: God created the heavens and earth in six days.
The seven spots: He rested on the seventh day.
The eight spots: the eight persons kept alive on the ark, Noah, his wife, and his three sons and
their wives.
The nine spots: the Nine lepers who were cleansed but did not return thanks.
The ten spots: not only the Tenth Leper, who did return thanks, but the Ten Commandments written on two tablets of stone at Mt. Sinai.
The Jack of clubs was cast aside by the soldier, as he remarked that the three other Jacks represent the three men who crucified Christ.
The four Queens: the four women who anointed Christ after death, the Queen of Hearts being his mother Mary.
The four kings: three represent the Three Wise Men who came to worship Him at His birth. The King of Spades represents the one Church He founded.
There are 365 spots on a deck of cards and 365 days in the year; 52 cards in a deck and 52 weeks in a year.
The diamonds represent the pillars of the Church.
The 13 cards in a suit are the 13 lunar months.
The 12 royal cards in the deck are the months of a year.
Then the soldier picked up the Jack of Clubs and said, “He represents Judas who betrayed Christ, and also the Captain who betrayed me to you.”

The major reached into his pocket and pulled out a few dollars and gave them to the soldier, telling him to go out and drink his health, for he was the cleverest rascal who had ever appeared before him.

I’m not a Christian, but I still get a kick out of the story. I’d also like to mention that I’ll only consider myself to have “made it” as a working magician when I perform at a USO show.

Hope all of you had a meaningful Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Ricky Jay

I just returned from the final engagement of “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants.” I can say in no uncertain terms that it was the best performance of magic that I have ever, and probably will ever see. I will remember it for the rest of my life.

Ricky Jay’s technique was flawless, but that wasn’t what made the performance. Any moron can do a multiple selection routine. It's difficult to describe what made the performance so compelling, but I'll do my best.

There was something mysterious and poetic about everything Ricky Jay said and did. More than anything, I remember the sense of drama that he created around each effect. Every action was framed perfectly, every word was unusual and captivating.

He also had an uncanny ability to tell stories about the history of magic and con games. I never thought any magician could make a lay audience give a damn about Malini or Hofsinszer. Ricky Jay did it just as naturally and easily as he stacked poker hands. When Ricky Jay talked, people cared.

His performance showed how powerful a simple card trick can become when the person performing is just as exciting as the the pasteboards they use. Frankly, Ricky Jay provided just as much entertainment by simply being there and talking as he did by throwing cards into a watermelon.

I was disappointed that he declined to sign my copy of "Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women." However, I did get to meet David Roth (“the 53rd assistant”) after the show. We talked for a while, and Roth signed one of his books. He is a friendly and generous person.

For those of you who don’t know much about Ricky Jay, the man has completely insulated himself from other magicians and ‘the magic community.’ He refuses to lecture, perform at conventions, or publish anything directed at other magicians.

I can understand his course of action, but I disagree with it. The man is understandably reluctant to offer up his valuable secrets and ideas to be diluted, imitated, or outright stolen.

But he has so much knowledge to share and he declines. He’s a wonderful performer, and although I don’t consider his choice elitist or snobbish, it still disappoints me. Ricky Jay doesn’t have to expose any of his secrets or publish revolutionary sleights. That stuff is simply unimportant to me. But I would give up so much just to be able to talk and interact with my audience like Ricky Jay does.

The guy is an extraordinary performer who has the ability to be another Vernon. I can only hope that someday he changes his mind.

In the meantime, I consider him the only magician I’ve seen who can convince people that magic can be art.

Xtreme Idiocy

There's nothing I can say to make this seem dumber than it really is. Superhandz is descending into self parody.

Click on "Extreme Digits" and weep for the future.

I bet girls love this.

Paradigm Shift

Some serious brain re-wiring happens to people after they get into magic. The kind of brain scrambling that, for instance, leads previously sane people to believe that it makes sense to spend $1750 on an outhouse.

With non-magicians, this kind of thinking is usually induced by prolonged usage of heavy drugs. And yet magicians manage it without any chemical assistance.

I admit that I presented extreme examples. But it is undeniable that the overwhelming majority of magicians are unable to think like sane people when it comes to performing. They believe that if a trick entertains them, then logically, it entertains their audience. Which is complete and utter nonsense. George Orwell would call it doublethink, or the simultaneous belief of two irreconcilably contradictory ideas.

I'm reminded of a scene in the Wizard of Oz, where everyone in the Emerald City is forced to wear special glasses night and day. Their city seems beautiful, built of green marble and studded with emeralds. But in reality, the city is plain. The city's leader makes people wear tinted glasses to convince them that their city is fantastic and exciting. (Yeah, I read a lot)

Magicians don't wear tinted glasses, but we have other, more efficient things to cloud our judgment and convince us that mediocre magic is entertaining and worth watching. Things like bad jokes. Expensive, ridiculous props. Limp, lifeless patter. Presentations that are forced and unnatural.

These things have no place in magic. Actually, they have no place anywhere. Yet magic seems to be the only type of performance where the substandard is not only accepted, but often encouraged.

People want fun. They want to be entertained. And yet magicians constantly deny their audiences this privilege, while insisting that they aren't "doing magic for themselves." Doublethink again.

Denny, of the magic shop Denny & Lee's, gave me some great advice about this. As I remember it, Denny named several great magicians and said that they could come to a single table and perform a card trick. And Denny would follow with the sponge bunnies, and that's what the people would remember.

Call me insane, but I believe that he's right. Magicians need a paradigm shift in the way they think. Stop thinking of your spectators as spectators and start thinking of them as normal people, which is to say, not like us magicians.

That's a start. Throwing out your gimmicked outhouses would probably help also.

And so it began...

My name is Nathan and this blog will be my outlet to discuss what's hopelessly, irredeemably bad about magic and magicians. Maybe I'll throw some upbeat things into the mix. We'll see.

I don't claim to be a genius or have years of performing experience. I'm just a young guy who loves magic, but is not so hopelessly dorky about to the exclusion of a normal existence. I think.