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

Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Obligatory Post

Lately, as soon as I've mentioned magic or started performing, nearly everybody has asked me about Criss Angel.

"Do you know how he does his levitation?"
"What do you think of him?"
"Have you seen the show?"

I'm impressed that Angel has captured the public's interest not only in his show, but in magic in general. People never asked me questions about T.H.E.M. or Mondo Magic.

Even though I can't tell laypeople how the levitation works, I do tell them about how I met Angel last summer. They seem genuinely interested.

And laypeople generally seem more receptive when I take out my cards or coins. I don't know whether I'm getting lucky or whether there really is an 'Angel-effect.' Whichever it is, I'm enjoying it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Den of Evil

I've got into magic almost 7 years ago. Since then, I've been to many magic stores. None of them were perfect. One store was cramped, another had a tiny inventory, and one was reluctant to 'demo' tricks for me. But I have never been in a magic store that I despised.

Until today, that is.

I was in Chicago, visiting Navy Pier. The Pier is an all-purpose tourist attraction with food, shopping, rides, mini-golf, and live entertainment. They also have a magic store, which is called "Magic Masters."

I walked in and asked the guy behind the counter if any of the old books on the shelves were for sale.

"No," he said gruffly.

After some brief conversation, I asked if I could show him a trick.

"No. The only tricks that can be performed in this store are the ones we sell."

I set my hands down on the close up mat, and leaned against the counter. Without saying anything, he yanked the close-up mat out from under my hands.

I left. I don't think I've ever been more disgusted with a magician or magic store in my entire life.

If you don't allow magicians to perform in your magic store, then you, and your company, are morons. It's like barring carpenters from Home Depot. Why the hell do you think customers come in? Not all of them are there to buy shit. They want to learn, talk with other people, and get advice. That's what magic stores are for.

I frequently have people decline to my tricks. I think they're missing out, but I don't really care. What angered me this time was that company policy forbids performing in the store. I never get this angry when someone at a party (or elsewhere) declines to see a trick. So please don't think I'm some obsessive magic nut who's complaining about the store to soothe my fragile ego. That's not the situation.

Magic Masters' entire pricing system is also ridiculous. Everything is twice as expensive as it would be from any other magic store, and about three times as much as any online store. $15 for Nickles to Dimes. $25 for a folding quarter. $20 for a mental photography deck and $15 for sponge bunnies.

It's extortion. And most of the people who come into the store don't know how badly they're being ripped off.

The quality of their products is non-existent. A friend of mine bought me a gimmicked quarter as a present a while ago. It's fallen apart more times than I can count.

Magic Masters is offensive to everything magic and magicians are about. They deserve neither your time or your money. Spread the word.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Hooray!

Happy 18th Birthday to Me!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Restaurants - 13 Magican - 0

Well, my restaurant job search was remarkably unsucessful. I made my pitch to 13 separate restaurants, and none of them accepted. Explanations included:

* We're a new restaurant and aren't ready to hire entertainment yet.
* We don't have the funds.
* Call back tomorrow (repeat 7X).
* It's not the direction we want to take the restaurant.
* People who come here just want to sit down and eat.
* We're part of a franchise, and providing entertainment at one location, but not others, would clash with our business model.
* We just aren't interested.
* We used to do that, but we're just not interested anymore.
* We're definately aren't interested.

I'm disappointed, to say the least. I had five places express genuine interest, only to be shot down by the final decision maker. One general manager said he was "jazzed" about having me, and that he had seen magicians work sucessfully at restaurants before. Unfortunately, this was the franchise establishment where I was incompatible with their business model.

It took more than a week for most places to explain why they didn't need me. In the future, I plan to skip the managers entirely, and make my sales pitch to the real bosses. It should save me a lot of time and trouble.

I don't give up easily, and would gladly continue searching until I get a job. But I can't. Here's why.

I recently moved from from a big city, with hundreds of potential prospects, to a small college town that has far fewer. I've already visited most restaurants in the area, so the numbers are working against me from the start.

Also, as you may know, college towns are empty and boring places during the summer. My parental overlords, tired of having me sit around the house, want me to find a job. I told them I wanted to do magic in restaurants, and my dad gave me a week to look, after which point I would have to find another (boring minimum wage) job. That week is now up. Negotiating for more time is not an option. And I need something to do other than sit around and shuffle cards.

So this marks the end of my search. For now. I'm going to resume next summer and I'm not gonna stop until I'm turning away offers. You don't want to have me, Mr. Manager? Your loss.

Monday, July 18, 2005

A Whole New Level!

Maybe you'll think I'm beating the subject to death, but I found the latest Penguin e-mail amusing.

At one point during a sold-out show, part of the crowd surged forward to get a better look at the magic. Hundreds of people were instantly put in danger of being crushed. Luckily, Morgan was able to calm the crowd and get the people back in their seats.

Now that's taking audience management to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL!


Give us your cash, and you too can experience the thrill of saving your spectators from toTaLy extREme instant death!

Actually, I added that last part. Just wanted to make sure, since it sounds like the kind of thing Penguin would write.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Ripoff Alert

Do you hear those sirens? It appears that we've got an overhyped ripoff alert! Sensors indicate that it's coming from over here.

Twenty dollars is not an astonishing sum of money, but for what's being offered, it is downright dishonest.

And what is being offered? Basically, you stick a chopstick into a jar filled with rice, and when you lift the chopstick, the jar is suspended. It's mildly clever, nothing mind-blowing.

"You can use virtually any jar and grain," the ad brags. They don't even give you a jar or rice, despite what the deceptive picture would indicate.

I could get a jar and some rice from the grocery store for four dollars. That's the retail price. Hank Lee could buy both wholesale for less than a dollar. But he wants twenty dollars for a chopstick and some instructions! Maybe if the chopstick wood was taken from Admiral Nelson's warship, I would consider it, but it's just a friggin stick.

It's not even a trick. There are no secrets or gimmicks involved. If you stick a chopstick into a jar filled with rice, the jar will be suspended from the chopstick."How can this be?" the ad asks. How about PHYSICS.

There's nothing special about this dignified science experiment, which appears in many beginner's magic books. I have it in Walter B. Gibson's "The New Magician's Manual," which sells on Ebay for less than a dollar. In bookstores, it sells for ten bucks. Still that's half the price that Hank Lee is asking.

If you're interested in this 'trick,' go with a friend and get dinner at a Chinese restaurant. You'll get a chopstick and a nice meal too. They even toss in a fortune cookie.

Like Hank Lee would ever do that.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Cold-Calling

I made a bunch of cold calls to local restaurants today. One place, which opened up last week, said they weren't interested in having live entertainment yet. But the manager asked me if I could do happy hours at some point in the future. I gave him my business card.

Another place said they didn't have the funds to hire an entertainer on a regular basis. But they said they'd be interested in having me for special events.

The last place I went to, an upscale Steakhouse chain, expressed interest. The manager told me he'd talk to his boss, and get back to me in a week. I showed him and a hostess a quick trick, just a visual 2 card transposition. I felt like he was impressed, but he didn't express it openly. I got more of a 'stunned silence' reaction from him. I could see his brain try to rationalize or explain what happened, only to crack under the realization that there was no explanation. It's not as satisfying and as an openly expressed reaction, but still satisfying nonetheless. Then again, it'll be most satisfying if I get the job.

I plan to keep cold-calling to have a few 'back-ups' in case the steak-house gig doesn't work out.

Nonetheless, it was an exciting day.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Milestone

There are two milestones that I'd like to mention. First, this blog just had its 2000th hit. I'm impressed, surprised, and excited all at the same time. I never expected this blog to reach as many people as it now does. I enjoy writing my thoughts here, and I expect to do so into the foreseeable future.

The other milestone occurred this week in Chicago's Millenium Park. It was a sunny, relatively windy day. I had with me a deck of Aviator cards, some loose change, and a thumbtip with a mismade bill. The latter, I conveniently found in my car on the way over.

I sat on a bench with cards in hand, just shuffling and taking in the view. An older couple, probably in their 60s, and a woman in her late 30s sat down beside me. The older lady was clearly very sociable; before she even sat down, she struck up a conversation and asked me if I played poker. The other two people were friendly as well.

We made some small talk for a minute or two, and then I asked if I could show them something. I did a short ace cutting routine. I could tell that I had their full attention.

What started as a simple card trick turned into a 25 minute long mini-performance. I could go into the specific tricks I did, but I think it's irrelevant. What really mattered to me was that
a) I did magic with a variety of different objects, several of them borrowed

b) The order of the tricks was totally improvised. I decided based on their reactions, how they were seated, my desire for variety, etc.

c) A few mistakes happened and I handled them well. When I did Triumph, an extra card somehow got turned the same way as the selection. I had never had it happen before, but I simply kept my cool and told them the other card was one they'd pick at some point in the future. One classic force later, I felt ready to handle anything.

But what really topped it off was that the older lady insisted on giving me $5 when I finished. She was a total stranger and it was totally unsolicited! Five dollars may not seem like much money, but to me, it represents my first reward in my journey towards paid performances.

Oh, and she also asked for my contact information for a private party she might be having.

Hoo Rah!

Monday, July 04, 2005

Penguicide - Part Deux

I'm reluctant to make another post about Penguin, but in this case, their idiocy is so egregiously extreme that I just can't resist.

Case in point: "The Generation Extreme Challenge."

I don't want to stoop to Penguin's level by trying to explain the Challenge. So, read about it here and when you're done, return for yet another of my famously brutal and violent beatdowns.

Okay, welcome back. I trust that you're still fully conscious, and aren't vomiting all over the place in sheer disgust. Allow me to voice my objections. And they are bountiful.

Let's begin with the "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 3rd, 2005" heading. I guess this is supposed to lend an atmosphere of faux-importance to the sad and debauched body of text. Kind of like a press release, except that press releases are about interesting and memorable events. In other words, nothing that ever happens on Penguin. I've got news for Penguin - you're not a news agency or a P.R. firm. You're a magic website, and a poor one at that.

Fighting off the urge to avert our eyes, we somehow continue, and read...

One of the most prolific visual card magicians in the world sharpens the cutting edge once more with the release of his latest DVD - Generation eXtreme.

Let us deconstruct this bold-faced lie. Brian Tudor is anything but prolific. To my knowledge, he's put out four DVDs. I have seen three, and all of them were crap. They were poorly filmed and poorly explained. Nothing more than mere juggling. In the rare case that he showed an actual trick, it was sloppy, complicated, confusing, and downright unentertaining. He had no discernable personality and seemed more interested in the cards than anything else.

Also, the word "visual" is unnecessary. It serves only to entice Penguin's young, gullible customers, who, as I've explained before, don't know any better.

"Sharpens the cutting edge." Adding another packet to your eXtrEme cut is about as un- cutting-edge as you get. This is typical Penguin hyperbole. When something 'revolutionary' comes along, it's introduced by thinking, professional performers who've been at their craft for years. Like Michael Ammar with his Topit work. Or Paul Harris and his approach to close-up. Not some expressionless, talent-less hack.

PenguIdiots are making the same mistake about Brian Tudor that they made about Oz Pearlman. Oz was a young professional who partnered with Penguin to promote their products and make demo videos. As part of the package, he got to sell his own instant downloads and made three DVDs. Many of Penguin's customers became convinced that he was a big, innovative figure in close-up magic. In reality, he was just another magician who happened to be near Penguin's store in Las Vegas. This is not to denigrate Oz, much of whom's work I enjoy. But the fact remains that Penguin is 'manufacturing' Brian Tudor just like they manufactured Oz Pearlman.

The page also mentions "the release of his latest DVD.' This is totally inaccurate, as the Generation Extreme DVD was released months ago. Just check the reviews section on the bottom of the DVD page. They go back to November of last year. Facts are so inconvient.

The card work on this DVD is so difficult, producer Penguin Magic is actually WARNING customers not to buy it.

(Let’s explore this warning, which is listed on a separate page.)

Don't buy this DVD. Almost no one can actually do the stuff you're about to see. It's aggressive, showy, complex, impossibly fast, and freakish. Once you master it, your spectators may notice only one tenth of what they're supposed to see... and only one one-hundredth of what is actually happening.

Then why the hell should I waste my bloody valuable time?

That's no way to live... pick up a svengali deck and be happy.

I will. One twelfth the price and a hundred times the entertainment value.

Prepare yourself. You're going to have to watch each explanation hundreds of times before you start to get it. You'll have to practice even more before it looks good in your hands. In the process you'll drop tens of thousands of cards. Throughout your training you'll destroy five or more decks per day.

Hypety-hype-hype-bullshit. If you have to watch anything a hundred times, it’s not being explained right. "200 decks of cards?" You’ll drop one, the moment you realize such drivel is not worth your time. “Destroy five or more decks per day.” Assuming you have no employment, no friends, and no life.

You have to earn this DVD. It's not for everyone. It's probably not for him, and it's probably not for you.

Finally Penguin offers some sensible advice. If only they would put this disclaimer in front of every product they offer.

But if you are one of the few who MUST be at the cutting edge in the development of visual card magic, there is nothing we can say to keep you away from this DVD. And that being said, this is probably your best resource for what's new with cards.

Wait a minute?! I thought you just said ‘it's probably not for you.’

And once again we have the ‘cutting edge’ nonsense. A copy of Hugard’s “Card Manipulations” provides almost all of the stuff that Penguin hypes as ‘visual card magic.’

Unfortunately, the PenguIdiots don’t understand. Just read the reviews for the DVD. Every single one raves about it, with the requisite absence of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
---
(Now back to the actual contest)

Perform the "Showoff" routine exactly as taught in Generation eXtreme from start to finish without mistakes AND do it faster than Tudor does it on the DVD and the money is yours!

I cannot think of a bigger waste of time and energy. Despite my views, I am sure that dozens of people are, at this moment, scrambling to hook up their web-cams, brushing their cards with fanning powder, and reviewing the DVD step by step. It’s sad and pathetic.

Tudor has long been considered the premier XCM artist on the planet. He's SO confident that his skill and speed cannot be matched that he's put $500 of HIS OWN MONEY on the line for this contest. Penguin Magic has matched Tudor's $500 to make the total cash prize $1000.

This description couldn’t be further from reality. Tudor doesn’t give a crap about his ‘skill and speed.’ He doesn’t have either, but that’s irrelevant. The contest is just a cheap excuse to get people to buy the DVD.

There are dozens of people who can demonstrate their lack of a social life faster than Tudor. But that’s not the point. This is Penguin we’re dealing with. And, surprise, surprise, it’s all about money. Brian Tudor is going to be laughing all the way to the bank.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Penguicide

I am sick of Penguin Magic in so many ways. I am sick of the idiotic twelve year olds who make unintelligible posts on the forums about how "toTAly xtreme" they are. I am sick of the slashed prices that put real, knowledgeable magic stores out of business. I am sick of the overpriced Magic Makers knock-off crap that discourages innovation and takes money out of creators' pockets.

But I am most sick of the overly slick, disingenuous promotions from the home of idiot magic and idiot magicians. Case in point: the new "SPUN Starring Morgan Strebler" video. Allow me to voice my objections. And they are bountiful.

"Starring Morgan Strebler"?! I'm glad they make it clear who's in charge on the DVD. On all my other magic videos, its impossible to distinguish the 'star magician,' the supporting female lead, the stunt-man, and the extras.

Seriously. what the hell?! "Starring" is an adjective you apply to actors in professional public performances. Not some obscure DVD that a bunch of pre-pubescent 12 year olds will drool over in their bedrooms.

I'm also sick of the hyped up B.S. that Penguin is trying to manufacture. SPUN "is as precise and breathtaking as an olympic figure skating routine... [and as] as earth-shattering as an Indy car crashing into the wall at 220 miles per hour."

Precise? Breath-taking? Earth-shattering? B.S. It's a bunch of thread and good acting. Not something out of Mission Impossible.

I'm sick of the people in the demo videos, half of whom are drunk off their asses. I could take the sponge-bunnies to Vegas and get the same 'precise, breath-taking' reactions. Does no one realize that the morons sought out by the film crew are too liquored up to react any differently?

I'm sick of the dishonest editing that prevents you from seeing how the trick is really performed. I'm not talking about wanting to discover secrets, but simply purging the ''ugly' parts of reality that detract from Penguin's bottom line.

Nothing on Penguin is new or cutting edge. The company dresses up old secrets in new clothes, adds a slick marketing effort, and sells the product to gullible idiots who don't know any better. Most of their customers don't even realize that what they're buying existed before they were even born.

I am sick of Penguin Magic. And I hope you are too.