The Dirty Secret of the Live Demo

I'm going to tell you a secret about advertising a magic trick. If your trick is really terrible, you absolutely want to go out and shoot a demo of live performances.

This may seem counterintuitive. You may think you'd want to have a demo shot in studio directly to the camera. Or maybe no demo at all. But in reality you want to put it out in front of real people. 

Yeah, but what if they don't like the trick?

That's the beauty... it doesn't matter! First, the spectators in demos are coached up a little bit to give bigger reactions. But that's barely even necessary. Here is something you need to keep in mind when watching online demos: With a camera pointed at you, it's much easier to give a fake positive reaction than a genuine negative or neutral one. 

This isn't just true for magic demos. Go buy yourself the cheapest frozen lasagna you can find. Heat it up. Dish it up on little plates. Then set up a display somewhere with a sign that says "Mamita Brooks' Old Country Lasagna." Tell everyone it's made from your grandma's original recipe. Then shoot video of them tasting it for the first time. They will be mmm'ing and oh'ing and oh-my-god'ing like they're swallowing angel ejaculate. 

This is exactly what is going on in magic demos. The magic companies want you to think they're being helpful. "Here's how it plays for real people." No. That's how it plays for people who won't question anything you do, will overlook any flaw because it would be awkward to mention it,  and will automatically give you a positive response because they're on the spot in front of a camera.

Thats why, in a sense, live demos are completely useless. They're shot from different cameras in a way that always hides the week angle. And the reactions are always going to be somewhat artificial (unless you're using a hidden camera or something like that).

In fact, if you're super thin-skinned and always need positive feedback, a presentational style you could adopt is that you have a freelance gig recording magic demos for a Ukranian magic site. Then, whenever you want to perform, you set up your tripod and pull up a black backdrop and show people tricks. They will automatically smile and laugh and you'll barely have to do anything at all. 

I do have a tip for you to help you get slightly better insight into how an effect will actually play. Instead of watching the people who are directly interacting with the magician, watch the people around those people. 

First, I'll show you a good example. Here's Jon Dorenbos performing Torn and Restored Transpo.

You see everyone is on board, not just the one guy being performed for. The whole room is at least somewhat engaged and smiling and reacting. His performance isn't particularly original, or even that interesting to someone who is familiar with the trick, but the trick is strong enough to keep everyone's attention.

Now look at something like this new release ID7. I review it in full in the next issue of the JAMM. I don't want to give too much away, but it ain't good. It's a complete trifle of an effect, and even Rick himself doesn't try that hard to make it very interesting. 

But it gets good reactions! Look at the demo.

Yeah, that's the point I'm trying to make. Those reactions are essentially trick independent. Show someone anything with a camera in their face and you'll get something similar. But we can get a sense for how the trick really plays by observing the people just one step beyond the main spectators. These people don't feel that social pressure to act amazed. And there you see the real level of interest the effect engenders.

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Beck and Card

Coming in the JAMM #3

Beck and Card

This is the best version of the ambitious card I've ever seen. I can say that because it's not my trick. 

This is definitely a more traditional performance piece and would fit perfectly into any walk-around/table-hopping situation where the normal ambitious card would work. 

Except it's not a normal ambitious card. In fact, while it's the structure of an ambitious card, the trick is not really about a card rising to the top of the deck over and over. 

Not only that, but incorporated in the trick is an almost unlimited potential for humor. With a table of four or more people you will often have to actively make sure things don't fly off the rails. 

And it leaves them with a uniquely signed card that literally every table will take and keep as a souvenir. 

Created 15 years ago by a friend of mine, and honed over 1000s of real-world performances by another, the details of this routine will be released here for the first time anywhere. 

Support this Site

The readers of this site are a little community. A little community that just happens to be widely spread out all over the globe. I spare you having to deal with an actual online community and just absorb everyone's feedback myself and filter it back out to everyone. It may seem like a one-man operation, but it's not. It's a little village. A village in our minds. is the village newspaper. Support it so the village can stay around (it's the village's only industry). You support it by subscribing to The JAMM (the village's monthly magazine). 20 pages a month of tricks and reviews.

"That's okay, Andy. I'm content just reading the village newspaper."

Uhhhhhh... know that newspaper doesn't just spring from the ground, right? There's a dude working on it all the time. So if you like the site and you have $10/month to help keep it around, please consider supporting the village paper even if you're not someone who need's the JAMM, the Jerx Deck, and other bonuses to come.

(A shot from this winter in the village of Little Jerx Valley.)

The Wonder-Room

The Wonder-Room is a new performance style I've been working on. The performance styles I've described in the past have required you to initiate the interaction, to be sociable and outgoing, and to sometimes put in considerable work. The Wonder-Room, however, is perfect for the anti-social, the lazy, the socially-awkward, the agoraphobic. You know, that guy you see in the bathroom mirror every morning. Or you would if you ever took a shower or brushed your teeth.

The Wonder-Room is a "cabinet of curiosities" concept (the names are synonymous). Don't get confused by the terminology.

This is what you think of when you think of a cabinet.

But the word "cabinet" used to mean "room."

And while I'm using the word "Room," that's just because I like to think big. In reality we're probably talking something more... well.... like a cabinet? Actually something like this would be ideal.

But your wife won't let you co-opt that piece of furniture, so we're probably talking something closer to a single shelf on a bookshelf somewhere in your home. That works too.

The idea behind the Wonder-Room presentation style is to curate a collection of effects that use objects that you permanently leave on display in some area of your house. Objects that can be freely handled and looked at by anyone in the house or anyone visiting. 

Yeah, great idea. "Behold, my shelf of rubber bands, coins, and string. Prepare to be mesmerized."

That's not what I'm talking about, ya fucking blockhead. 

Well then clarify, dummy.

You're pushing it, pal.

The idea behind this presentation style—the idea behind all the ones I've suggested—is to disturb that traditional magician/spectator dynamic of, "Hello. I'm a magician! And I'm going to fool you with my magic trick!" It's mind-boggling to me that, for the most part, everyone has pretty much been on board with that being what we're stuck with when performing magic. Especially given the fact that it obviously causes a certain amount of the audience to pull away because they're defensive against being fooled, and a certain percent of the audience to almost baby the performer because they sense your ego is on the line, and a certain percent to feel uncomfortable about whether you want them to actually believe you possess these powers. 

Performance styles are designed to upset that dynamic by removing the traditional "magician" role.

With the Wonder-Room you're not a magician so much. You're a guy who collects unusual, strange, and fascinating objects. You don't present these things to people. They sit on that shelf, or in that curio cabinet, or—if you're lucky—in the room you have devoted just to magical objects. And maybe you sort of nudge visitors that way, but you always follow their lead. Let them pick up the objects they find interesting. It's a Cabinet of Their Curiosities.

"What's this thing?" they ask, picking up one of the objects. Maybe you have some story you heard about the object, or maybe you're just like, "I don't really know. I have a few different guys who look out for these sorts of things for me and one of them was searching through a barn on the property of this guy who had recently passed and found this. Actually, he sent me an email about what you're supposed to do with it, hold on let me get it." You don't "perform" the tricks. You demonstrate this interesting trait of this odd object.

And part of the work behind this style is developing a story for each piece. Not a story in the "bizarre magick" sense. If that works for you, great. But for me, those types of stories like, "These are the gold coins a wizard paid a mermaid to bring him the moon's reflection from the sea!" It's like, whaddafug you talkin 'bout? I find that stuff more distancing than engaging for an adult audience. 

But stories about how you came across these objects, where you found them, the people you interacted with along the way, the subculture of people who buy and trade these odd things; that can all be very interesting.

You could limit yourself to a certain type of artifact. Maybe you only collect haunted objects. And everything you has vanishes or floats or possesses you in some way. Maybe your display is of things collected from suspected alien crash sites. Maybe you collect scientific anomalies. Or gambling paraphernalia. Or odd toys. 

When I build mine, it will have things from all manner of categories. Some old crusty books from the Outlaw Effects/Gemini Artifacts world. Some examinable Tenyo effects. Some interesting old decks of cards (each set and stacked for very specific tricks). A spirit bell. A Dean's Box. Any effect or prop that is somewhat visually interesting and can be fairly examined, I will come up with a story regarding where it came from and it will live in my Wonder-Room. 

I'm sure other people have had similar ideas, but it came up pretty organically for me. I was staying at a friend's place for a week and I had a bunch of tricks I'd had people order for me so I could review them (or consider reviewing them) for the JAMM, and I had some other tricks with me a well. So I had more than I would usually carry with me when visiting someone and while I had some tucked away from prying eyes, others I had out on the dresser near my bed. These were ones that could be looked over by someone else. (Perhaps there was part that couldn't be looked over, but I would just have that individual part hidden away.)

At one point his sister visited us and she was talking to me in my room that night and she was asking me about some of the objects that were laid out on the dresser. And I just started making up stories about them and where they came from, then I'd demonstrate whatever weird property they have. She really enjoyed it. She burned through everything and it was a nice inverse of a potentially awkward situation where you are forcing trick after trick on someone.

Did she believe everything? That's not the question. Performance styles aren't about getting people to believe them. Distracted Artist isn't about getting them to believe tricks can inadvertently happen. Engagement Ceremony isn't about getting them to believe you really know a Viking virility ritual. And the Wonder-Room isn't about getting them to believe this bookcase is full of genuinely incredible relics. It's simply about blurring the lines between what part of this is a trick and what isn't. Certainty makes for dull magic.

But it's bigger than that too. In magic we are constantly asking people to play along with us. The purpose of coming up with new performance styles is to make it easier and more fun to play along by giving them something to play along with other than, "Hey, let's all pretend I'm a super incredible guy with amazing skills, okay?" Get that through your skull, because that is amateur magic's biggest issue.

In a theater we can all pretend David Copperfield is a warlock or whatever the shit we want because that's how a "show" works. "We went to the off-broadway show and pretended that hollow wooden box was King Lear's throne." No problem. Copperfield is to wizard as hollow box is to royal throne. But you're not performing in a theater. You're in a Wendy's.

That's why it's so odious when people try to come off as having real powers of some nature. You're asking people to invest in the least likable part of this craft: the phony bullshit part that serves the magician's ego. And then all these magicians sit around like, "Errrr... why don't people like magic more? People just don't wanna believe in wonder these days, I guess." Uh, they do. You're doing it wrong, dummy. Remove the role of "magician" from the interaction, blur the lines of what is real and what isn't, and you will be shocked how much people are willing to let themselves believe.

But with the traditional magician-centric way... why would they bother indulging that? Here's a thought experiment. Imagine you went to a friend's house and sat around a table and one of them said, "Hey, I have a fun idea. Let's engage in an activity that's predicated on all of us playing along with the idea that I'm the most handsomest boy in the whole-wide world!" What would your enthusiasm for that activity be? Well, I hate to break it to you, BUT THAT'S BARELY FUCKING DIFFERENT ENOUGH FROM WHAT MAGICIANS DO TO QUALIFY AS AN ANALOGY!

The False Constraint

One of the easiest things you can do for a more powerful presentation is to add a false constraint into your performance.

For example, the other night I was hanging out with my friend and at one point I just "happened to notice" that it was the Spring equinox. Not only that, but we were approaching the exact midpoint of the night between sunset and sunrise. I got all excited and told my friend to get a jacket and shoes on and meet me out front. "There's something I've always wanted to try on the equinox," I said. 

Once we were out front I oriented our bodies so we were facing each other and so a line running north and south would run between us.

We each had half a deck resting on our fingers in our palm-up hands. Mine had a face-up card on top, his had a single card face-down next to the rest of the stock. 

I told him about the equinox. How night and day were the same length and how we were approaching the point where we were equidistant from sunset and sunrise. And how, if you split up the earth into two hemispheres based on a line drawn between us, at any moment, on the other side of the earth, the sun was going from mostly in my hemisphere to mostly in his hemisphere. 

As I talked, I would occasionally flick the wrist of my hand holding the deck, but nothing would happen. At one point I flicked it and the top card begin to spin. "Hold still," I said, "It's about to happen."

We waited a few moments. And just as I was about to suggest that maybe this thing didn't actually work, the card on the palm of his hand flipped over onto the cards on his fingers and began to spin.

The trick, if you're not familiar with it, is Butterfly by Bruno Copin.

Am I saying this trick gets a better reaction if you drag someone outside in the middle of the night on one specific night a year?

Uhm, yeah, that's 100% what I'm saying.

Putting in constraints about when you perform a trick, where you perform it, for whom you perform it, etc., all of these make for a richer experience for your spectators. It prevents them from immediately resorting to the Non-Explanation.

I am more and more convinced that one of the issues with the perception of magic is that we perform it as if it was completely inconsequential and so that's how people view it. "I'm going to change five $1 bills into five $100 bills." And then we do it. If your only goal is to do some visually interesting things for people, I think that's fine (and I think that's a fine goal). But if your goal is to give people an experience, then there needs to be some element of a story there. A story that they're a part of.

Diane, You Beautiful Asshole

Today's commercial message will be short because I'm a bit under the weather. And because I very rarely get sick, I'm a gigantic baby about it when I do.

Support the site by subscribing to The JAMM. I'm really excited about the next issue and I have no doubt getting an email saying I have a new subscriber will boost my immune system too. So if you don't subscribe and I end up dying, I hope you can live with that on your conscience.

I've been sitting around all day watching some of my favorite youtube videos. That's how I handle being sick. Here's a video some friends of mine made almost ten years ago. I was just recently reminded of it and it always makes me laugh. The language isn't work appropriate. But neither is this site for that matter. 

Gardyloo #20

In December 2015 I put most of my belongings in storage and left my apartment in Brooklyn and I've been living a somewhat vagabond lifestyle ever since. Well... vagabond... may not be the right word. I'm not exactly picking strawberries and living in a lean-to (I don't think I even know what that means), but I've been traveling for work and staying in short term rentals across mostly the northeast US, settling in upstate NY for large chunks of time because two of the people who help with this site are located there and that's where we operate the mailings from. Soon I will be making a semi-permanent move to a bed & breakfast somewhere near the US/Canadian border. After spending time these past 15 months in all sorts of different living situations (like cabins, houseboats, hotels, etc), I thought a bed & breakfast would make a good temporary situation because there is a constant influx of new people to perform for. Am I making my living decisions based on some dopey magic blog? Yeah, kind of. The thing is, I can do my normal day-job (writing/consulting) from anywhere, so I might as well optimize my living location for this site. 

My next plan, after the B&B? I want to get an artist residency on Amtrak trains. It's a legit program they have and it would be perfect for me (lots of new people all the time, many of whom are looking for ways to pass the time). Unfortunately I think the program might be suspended (Oh, and they'd never accept me.)

What was my point here? Right... so I've been traveling a lot and in some locations I find that I am completely incompetent with a deck of cards. An Erdnase color change seems damn near impossible. I just sit there rubbing the deck back and forth like some weird pervert. Then I'll try certain moves and the cards will just shoot out of my hands onto the floor.

It's all climate related, of course, and the way humidity or whatever affects your skin. In some places my skin is really dry and everything just seems impossible. And I was thinking that if I grew up in one of these environments and had never really left, I would just assume I was incapable of performing these sleights and I probably would have given up on them a long time ago and resigned myself to the fact that I "wasn't a sleight-guy."

So if you've always lived in the same place, and there's no natural tackiness to your hands, maybe you just think sleight of hand isn't in your skill set when, in reality, a little glycerin and you're good to go.

What I use in these situations is Vagisil moisturizing lotion. No, I'm not kidding. No, this whole post isn't a goof to get you to squirt Vagisil in your hands. And no, I didn't start this blog almost two years ago with the sole purpose of leading up to this post.

Seriously, you can see it recommended on the Cafe as well. And no, I didn't create all those accounts many years ago in anticipation of this post and getting you to douse yourself in Vagisil. (As far as you know.) I know it weirds some guys out... but it's just lotion guys. It's not made of dry vaginas. 

The only problem is, for some reason, it's selling for $62 for two ounces on Amazon when I use to get it for, like, $6. I'm not sure what's going on there. Apparently there's been an epidemic of feminine dryness sweeping the globe. (Is this tied to Joshua Jay's recent world travels? Seems possible.). So you may want to go with one of the different options in the Cafe threads linked above. Or you might find it cheaper in a drugstore. Just be sure you get the lotion. Don't be squirting anti-itch gel or douche all over yourself. (Unless that's your thing.)

Always good to see people representing the Jerx family in the wild. 

Here's our pal, Stasia in her GLOMM shirt. (And check out her soon-to-be-released full Tarot deck here.)

Proud, card-carrying member. #GLOMM #thejerx #thejerxvolumeone

A post shared by Stasia Burrington (@stasiaburrington) on

And here's friend of the site, Leja, in her self-made AATKT shirt.

Bad Equivoque Pt. 2

Because nothing says "choosing" one of two objects quite like touching the other object.

Hey, remember that resolution to recognize magic as an art form? Well, great news! It's really getting a lot of traction now!