Glossy Looks

I know Tuesdays/Thursdays are usually ad posts where I encourage you to subscribe to the JAMM monthly magazine if you like this site, but it's hard to write about that when we all only have one thing on our mind... the 13th year anniversary of the special T.H.E.M (Totally Hidden Extreme Magic) on NBC!

In honor of that momentous occasion, here is my review from the old site...

Prepare to Have Your Mind Blown

from The Magic Circle Jerk, June 24th 2004 

Check this shit out.

Think of any number between 1 and 100.

Add 7.

Subtract your original number.

Now concentrate on that new number in your head.

Is it 7?

How did I do that incredible feat? I'm one of T.H.E.M.


So, the show last night, I thought it was pretty sweet. I hope there is more to come.

The way every segment ended was kind of weak. I understand the idea of having a catchphrase, but the catchphrase seemed to go on for a minute every time. It was like the least funny Abbott and Costello bit ever:

How did you do that?

I'm one of THEM.

One of who?

One of THEM.

Them who?

You know, THEM.

What are you talking about?

I'm one of THEM.

Right, I know you said that but what do you mean?

I'm one of THEM.

Whatever, asshole. 


But besides that, I thought it was fun. The magic was cool and the magicians were not completely uncool. And there's certainly something to be said for giving magic a context (which Blaine did in many of his effects as well). 

Some people are up in arms because they feel the magicians dressed poorly and the show was full of "MTV editing," whatever the fuck that means. To them I say, listen, Grandpa, if you want to see some douche in tails pulling cards out of the air and tossing them in a top hat go to any magic convention, you'll have a blast.

Speaking of douches, my god, check out this site created by Brad Christian of Ellusionist. Now, it's certainly a wise business move for Christian to tie Ellusionist to this special (just as he piggy-backed on Blaine). But look at what a fucking lame-oid he is as he tries to use this site to hit on the girl, Lisa, from the show. He's a total tool. 

"the rest of the cast is excellent, but Lisa de la Vega outshines even...er...them."

"Lisa has charisma to burn and her glossy looks into the camera give the show a vital lift..." 

"She's the best female magician I've ever seen..."

"the vivacious Lisa de la Vega."

"Magicians around the world saying 'Why couldn't I have married her?'"


And so on. All the tricks have generic titles in his review, "Man Walking Through Window," etc. But her tricks are "Lisa Bends A Spoon," "Lisa Performs Hummer Card." What a homo.

(Here's a tip for the fellas from me. Being overly-complimentary makes you look A) disingenuous B) desperate and C) fucking stupid. Let's say you have a date for the evening, you go to her door to pick her up, she opens the door, you say hi, give her a quick glance up and down then say, "Wow. You look amazing." Boom. That's great, incredible. She'll be flattered. If you then spend the rest of the night saying things like, "I hope this restaurant is good enough for such a pretty girl," and "You're the best looking woman in this place," and "There's nothing I like more than Putt-Putt with a sexy woman." You look like a total ass. Compliment her sense of humor or intelligence or something substantial, but shelve the "you're so beautiful" shit. You got that out of the way at a meaningful and appropriate time (when you first laid eyes on her that evening). Then the next day when you call her or write her you can reiterate what a great time you had and how wonderful she looked, and so on. But again, don't overdo it.) The preceding paragraph is an excerpt from my new book "Using Wonder Words and a Breakaway Wand to get Mad Pussy."

The dumbest thing he writes is in the description of The Vanishing Lady, "...the piece is effective and we realize one thing we hadn't thought of before... women can do magic and it doesn't have to be the Egg on Fan or a freaking silk production." In attempting to flatter her, he ends up sounding like a total dipshit. Considering this trick has been done for a 100 years with a woman, I'm surprised he just came to this realization now. He might also be shocked to find out that women are also lawyers and scientists, and thanks to a recent act of Congress, a woman can even be a doctor now! 

In summation, I enjoyed the special quite a bit, and I'd like to see more, however it will be hard to watch further episodes and see Lisa and not think of Brad Christian involved in a session of Totally Heinous Extreme Masturbation.

Smear Campaign

This is how an amateur magic performance often feels to me. You have this path or stream that is the audience member's life and then you have this object set right down in the middle of the stream.

The distinction between their life and the magic trick is completely clear. The trick is this totally well-defined, outside "thing" that's just been plopped in the middle there. 

The person you're performing for is going through their day and then you say, "Hey, I'm going to show you the cups and balls." And you show them the cups and balls. And then they go on with their day.

As I've talked about before, I find the strongest performances are ones where the edges are blurred in regards to how this trick fits into their world. Where it doesn't feel like this arbitrary experience that you forcefully inserted. 

This is advice that, to a very minimal extent, has been offered previously in magic texts. "Bring the subject around to ESP," they say, "and then lead into this trick." I think this, most often, is completely transparent. "How about this Trump, right? You don't need ESP to see how that's going to turn out.... It's funny that we're talking about ESP. Do you guys believe in that? I happen to have some cards here that were created by JB Rhine at Duke university." The goal of this technique is to soften that edge between performance and real life, but done poorly it's pretty obvious, and potentially pathetic.

In this case, what you're trying to do is blur their life into your effect. You're trying to take something they were saying or doing and let it lead to the magic. You're trying to create an experience more like this.

You're smearing their life into the presentation. I think this is great when it works, and much of The Amateur at the Kitchen Table is about ways to put yourself in a position where you can make this happen more often. The idea behind the 100 trick repertoire is to allow you to give yourself a number of potential pathways to more seamlessly transition into effects from what is happening around you. 

But this "inward smear" is only one half of the equation. 

The other technique for creating performances that are more enmeshed in people's lives is to smear outward. That is, to push your presentation into their life, rather than to pull their life into your presentation.

How do you do this? Well, there are a bunch of ways. The ways I'm exploring are: Imps, Reps, Hooks & Cues. Only one of these (Imps) is something I've mentioned before, but I will get to the others in time.  

The nice thing about the outward smear is that you don't have to wait for the right moment to make something seem organic. Instead, you make something seem organic by giving it a greater context in the world

Let's use a comedy analogy. The image at the top, the plain black box, which is the way magic is so often presented, is like telling a joke from a joke-book. It might be funny, but it's kind of impersonal and devoid of any connection to the listener or the world around them.

The inward smear is like being someone who always has a funny response to what someone has to say or things that are happening. You're not directing the conversation, you're just sliding in where you can.

The outward smear is like saying, "I have such a funny story for you." And then giving them something that is personal and feels relevant and like it's connected to the world they live in.

You can see this a lot in some of my previous ideas, although I wan't really thinking of them in this way. The Peek Backstage, The Engagement Ceremony, The Distracted Artist, pretty much every trick I've ever written up here or in the JAMM, they're all about finding meaning and context in a trick beyond just that moment of inexplicable surprise and pushing outwards on the boundaries of the trick.

On Friday I'll introduce a concept called Reps which is kind of the opposite of Imps. Imps are a way of blurring the start of a trick, Reps are a way of blurring the end. 

Gardyloo #26

Congratulations to my pal Toby and his new bride Annell, who were married in Dallas this weekend. It was a beautiful ceremony that I may or may not have attended disguised as a caterer.

Toby is a friend I made through this site. He's a filmmaker now but was once the theremin player for The Polyphonic Spree. That detail sounds like a specific that would come out of a writer's meeting as they define the background of some ne'er-do-well loafer.

Writer A: Let's put him in a band... you know... typical slacker gig.
Writer B: Yeah, but one of those bands with, like, 20 people in it, so it's not like he even carries much of a burden of being in a band.
Writer C: Yeah, and his instrument is one you play just by being in the general vicinity of it.

Actually it sounds like a yiddish curse. It's like the opposite of being a doctor or lawyer. "What do you mean you're not going to pay for the damage your tree limb did to my fence?! Ah... may your son be the theremin player for the Polyphonic Spree!" 

At any rate, my sincere best wishes to the new couple. I hope you have many happy years ahead of you.

And I'd like to say, straight from my heart (and from this website of "funny wedding toasts"):

May your marriage be so solid it could last through being on a reality show.

hahahahahahahahahhaha... I mean... right?!?!?!...good one, weddings.lovetoknow.com, good one!


I've had some people interact with me over email and tell me that I put too much emphasis on presentation. That magic tricks themselves are inherently entertaining because of the impossibility of the trick. 

If you believe that, I would point out that there is a not insignificant audience that watches card magic videos so they can fall asleep.

To put that in perspective, this guy uploaded this video a few weeks ago and it's been watched almost 600,000 times. On the other hand, if you look at something like Murray Sawchuck's youtube channel, the videos he uploaded three weeks ago have about 10,000 views. And Murray is trying to entertain people with magic. More people would rather fall asleep to it than watch what Murray is doing.

But this ASMR guy is whispering and soothing and trying to make people fall asleep, that doesn't mean magic is inherently boring. 

I didn't say it was. You're making my point. And by "you" I mean "me, pretending to be you."

Presentation trumps effect, 99 times out of 100.


In this post, in 2015, I discussed my organization habit for keeping track of tricks I'm working on. At that time I mentioned Vesper, as the app I used for note taking on my iphone. And that was true, up until recently when friend-of-the-site, David Kaplan, wrote to tell me it wasn't being supported any longer. He mentioned the Bear app and I've been using that recently and I like it, so if you need a note-taking app, there you go. That's the only significant change to my organizational structure since that post was made.


This tiny little picture is my favorite ad of all time. It's true Don Draper-level genius. It's been halfway down on the Cafe's homepage for years. 

It goes to a now defunct link on Diamond Jim Tyler's website [Update: They fixed it]. I like his work, but there are certain words I probably wouldn't use to describe him.

"Cool."


Micro-Sites

Here's are a couple niche magic sites which you may enjoy.

The first is called Magic Transcribed, and it's a twitter account where the person behind the account transcribes moments of "magic."

You may think it's cruel to document every stutter, stammer, and moronic utterance by people who were potentially drawn to this hobby because they're not great at talking in the first place... and yeah, you're probably right. I think that's the point.

Another site is You're Thinking of My Prediction which documents these cases (as per the Tumblr description):

Magicians often seem to read a spectator's mind before showing that they predicted the outcome from the very beginning.

Given they predicted what was going to be thought of from the start, clearly the "mind-reading" process was fake and unnecessary; the magician proved that he already knew the information.

Here's a compilation of magicians making (or getting close to) this mistake.

This is one of those things that magicians/mentalists don't really think about. Then someone points it out to them and they think, "Oh, right. That doesn't make much sense.... aw fuck it, who gives a shit." Which is kind of the prevailing way of handling any issues that arise in magic.

I like narrowly focused micro-sites like these and I encourage you all to start one.

If you need some ideas, here are ones I'd like to see:

I Have Two of These - One of my favorite things is in the Magic Cafe's for sale section, where someone buys something and they don't want it so they decide to sell it. The problem is, selling a magic trick suggests it's not very good, so people come up with these fun stories to justify why they actually have two of these products, and they're just selling the extra one they have. Sometimes it's like, "I bought one to have as a backup, but it's so well made I won't need it!" Oh really? You just bought a backup without judging the quality of the first one? Ok. Sometimes they lost one, bought a second, then found the original. One guy bought a lot, sight unseen, at a magic auction and that lot just happened to have some new trick that he already has so... yeah... do you want the extra one? You can collect these stories and put them in a Tumblr.

I Don't Know Why You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello - This used to happen a lot on the Magic Cafe, sadly I think many of the threads where it happened were subsequently edited or deleted altogether. I remember it happening with Richard Osterlind, Devin Knight and others. There would be some argument about something, they would be on the wrong side of it, and then they would write some final mawkish post about how they won't be coming back to the Cafe anymore. "This was supposed to be a place for magicians to help magicians. But apparently it's now a place to berate those who offer their help. I won't be back." Then, three months later, they have a product to sell so they slink back onto the site. I'd like a site devoted to their "last post" and their return post.

Abracabadboys - I'd like a blog that collects examples of those badass boys of magic. Magicians don't have magical powers, but they like to pretend they do. In fact, most magicians don't have any power—they're genuine frail little pussies—that's why I like it so much when they pretend, "No, actually, I'm a bad ass tough guy!" The greatest example of this ever—and quite possibly the greatest story ever told (sorry Bible)— is this post by Jaxon at the Magic Cafe.

Here I am. Performing for a private party of about 50 people. There is one guy there who's being a jerk to everyone. 

Of course, during my show the guy tries to heckle me. He comes up with an attitude like "I dare you to use me" when I ask for a volunteer". Normally I handle hecklers by kind of winning them over. To make them laugh. 

Anyway, during my performance he grabs one of the decks of cards I had on the table. Throws it across the room and it hits an old white haired lady right in the face. Then he's actually laughing about it. he's sitting on a chair a few feet from me. 

When I saw what he did. The deck hitting the lady in the face and him laughing. I just exploded. I punched him right in the jaw and knocked him out. 

Being the "entertainers" mode. I just looked at him on the floor. looked at the audience and said, "Anyway. on with the show" and went into my next trick with him laying on the ground. 

How should I feel about this? I hate to get in a fight. Especially when I'm performing because that's very unprofessional. I regret it happened but I have to admit. After seeing that poor lady being hit in the face by a full, boxed deck and the guy laughing. I can't help but be glad I did it. When it happened it actually got an applaud too. 

Just wanted to share this unfortunate experience and see what you all think. 

Fire Non-Starter - I'd like to see a website of people whose fire wallets don't ignite immediately. This may be my favorite thing in the world. It's certainly something I cherish more than my family and friends or anything like that. Usually people have some "funny" line right before they open the wallet so it really doubles the sense of failure when it doesn't light. "Hey, this money is really burning a hole in my pocket!" they say. Then they open the wallet. *flick* *flick* *flick* The 100% distinctive sound of one of those lighter wheels turning. Literally nothing magical about the moment at all. That's my favorite. *flick* *flick*

 

Paco

One of the things I've been considering a lot lately is trying to perform more magic outside the confines of sitting with someone at a table. What can I do when I'm cooking dinner with someone? What can i do when I'm on a walk with someone? What can I do when I'm in a kayak with someone?

This is not just because I think it's more interesting for the other person if something takes place in this type of setting (although I do think that). It's also because different settings afford us different opportunities. In certain settings we can pull off a miracle that wouldn't be possible in other settings. So if your mindset is always only "What can I do seated at a table" then you're overlooking opportunities for some real miracles elsewhere.

I want to talk about a trick I performed just earlier this evening (and this post will be late because of that). This is weird for me because usually these posts marinate for a long time. But in this instance I want to write this up soon after it happened, Tuesday night, the 13th of June, 2017.

I've been seeing someone new recently and we're in that stage where laying around in bed together is a perfectly reasonable activity to schedule a full night around. 

At one point tonight we were doing the thing where you write or draw something on someone's back and they have to guess what it is. I'm just assuming that's a common thing. Is this not a common thing? I'm just going to assume it is.

You might be saying:

"Andy aren't you fucking 40 or something? You're rolling around in bed with people and drawing on their back?" 

That's right, bitch. Don't be jealous.

So we're talking, listening to music, and aimlessly writing on each other's skin. 

"Try to guess what I'm drawing," I said, and I drew a fire hydrant (so romantic). She didn't get it. 

We flipped around and she told me to guess what she drew on my back. I didn't get it either.

"It's a teddy bear," she said.

"Did you have a teddy bear as a kid?" I asked. "What was it's name? Draw it on my back in cursive and I'll see if I can get it."

She scribbled something on my back. I genuinely had no clue what it was. 

"Paco," she said.

I froze. Then I propped myself up on my elbows.

"You had a teddy bear named Paco?" I said.

"Uhm... yeah...?" she said, wondering why this should be such an issue.

"Turn on the light and open the nightstand drawer."

She did, and I told her to pull out a little plastic box that was in there, under a bunch of other stuff. The box is the kind that has a clear plastic top with a little hinge on one side and snaps shut. You might see safety pins or something like that sold in a box like this. This one had a blank piece of stiff card, about the size of a business card inside.

"I found this box when I moved in here," I told her. "I thought what was in it was weird, but I also thought maybe it was important to someone because they had kept it in this box, so I held onto it."

I took the box, opened it, and dumped the folded card in her hand. 

She opened it and found this:

The method is, in part, Mark Southworth's, The Box. This is a favorite utility item of mine. I don't know if it ever got hyped as much as other similar items but I like it a lot. First of all, I like that it's small. And secondly, I like that it's examinable. Not that I've ever had anyone express much interest in the box itself, but just for my peace of mind and feeling no need to hide it away, I like that aspect. Some could argue that the box itself is a little different than what such a box would normally look like. And that's true. But the great thing about doing magic in the real world and not taking credit for it is you don't need to justify everything. "I found this box," covers all sorts of sins. If I said that at the beginning of a magic trick, you might still be suspicious. But if I say that at the climax of a trick that you didn't even know was occurring, you don't have time to question the box. When you perform magic like this, there is no beginning of the trick, because it's integrated into their normal life.

The other part of the method is taking advantage of the situation. I recognized that there were times when we were in bed together where her back was towards me or mine was towards her (no, not when she was wearing a strap-on, you sicko). My back is towards her, and it's mostly dark, and yet we're still engaged in a close interaction, I thought. There's almost no other situation where you get that set of circumstances, so that means it offers opportunities no other situation does.

So I put The Box in the nightstand on her side of the bed, and I had a folded piece of card and a little pencil on my side of the bed. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew I had a rare opportunity to write a "prediction" in real time with my "audience" right next to me and not have her ever know it. This is something you don't get when you're sitting at a table together. 

And the drawing on each other's back was, serendipitously, just the perfect moment for it. I didn't have to ask her to think of something random or think of something personal in the context of a trick. It's something that came up naturally in the situation we were in. She drew the teddy bear and I immediately knew what it was (but pretended I didn't) and drew it along with her, almost simultaneously, on the card. Then I asked for the name of the bear and I didn't know what she wrote but it only took a second to add the name after she told me what it was. 

How did she react? Well, how do you think you'd react if a message from your old teddy bear popped into your life 20 years later? She flipped out. Her eyes got big, she opened her mouth as if to say something, then covered it wither hands. She looked back and forth between me and the card. Said, "What... is... going... on...." And then threw her head back and laughted.

Did she think of it as a trick or something else? Well, fundamentally I guess she probably knew it was a magic trick. She knows I do magic. But—and this is a thing I have a hard time explaining here—you can do magic that is so interesting/fun/entertaining, magic that feels relevant and perfect to the moment, that people just want to live with the experience, not break it down and search for a method or whatever. The question of "is it a trick or not" is not really a thing people concern themselves with after this type of effect. 

If I had said, "And I predicted that you would draw a bear and say the word Paco!" then the whole thing has a different feeling to it. And then trying to "figure it out" becomes a priority.

This is the—perhaps counterintuitive—truth about performing magic in this style. You might think, "Oh, if you do something really personal or powerful it's going to face greater scrutiny." But I've found just the opposite. It's the meaningless, magician-centric, tricks that people tear apart. Because what else are they supposed to do with them?