Bedrock: Inner Game

Next week I will be posting a step-by-step process I go through to acclimate people to the more immersive style of magic performance that I sometimes write up here.

But before I talk about getting your audience in the right mindset for that, I want to further explain my mindset regarding why long-form, immersive effects are good to have in the arsenal of the amateur magician.

Some people will write me and say, "I don't think I could get my friends to watch a trick that went on for 15 minutes, much less an hour or something." The sad truth about this is that at least one of the following things are true. 1) Your friends are a bunch of bummers and you should make new friends. 2) What you're doing is not interesting or fun. If it was, they would not want it to be over so quickly.

I should say, I rarely find someone who doesn't enjoy the more elaborate style of presentation. I don't only perform for vivacious young women. I perform for gruff old guys and no-nonsense business types, and they're into it too. It's very rare for me to find someone who isn't willing to join in on the experience as long as it's something legitimately interesting.

One thing to keep in mind about longer, immersive presentations is this: Magic tricks are not jokes. A 15 minute-long joke is 14:55 of dull set-up, and then hopefully a good punchline. A 15 minute trick should be 14:55 of interesting concepts, intrigue, mystery, new experiences, anticipation, unsettling questions, excursions, mini-adventures, absorbing rituals... and then an impossible climax which either amplifies everything that came before or puts some kind of twist on it. 

I'm not suggesting you ever drag out a trick just for the hell of it. In fact, if you can't front-load a trick with something worthwhile, then I suggest getting rid of the presentation altogether and just hitting them with the climax (that's what the Distracted Artist style is all about). 

Traditional, magician-centric, performances are so limiting because even the most needy, ego-centric person has a hard time justifying spending 10 or 20 minutes talking about their special powers. When all you have to offer is the climax of the trick, then it goes without saying that you'll just want to just get on with it, and so does your audience.

Think of a headline prediction. If the story is, "I have the powers of precognition and I predicted the headline," then of course the spectator's reaction is going to be, "Okay, just get to the part where you open the fucking envelope."

But if you shift the power to someone (or something) else and add some mystery to the premise you can give people a much richer and more resonant experience. Rest In Pieces, is essentially that. It's a headline prediction that happens in slow motion. It takes 90 minutes and in the half dozen times I've performed it, there is never a moment where people are trying to rush through it. There's certainly an anticipation that builds for the climax, but never an exasperation with the process to get there. 

And while I truly believe this provides a vastly better experience for the spectators, it's also a pragmatic approach for the amateur performer as well. Immersive presentations allow you to wring multiple different performances and experiences out of similar effects, which is important when your audience pool is small. Remember, everything you perform will be experienced through the filter of your presentation. If your presentation focuses on you and your power, then you start lumping different effects into the same experience for the spectator. Every prediction effect is the same experience. Every effect where cards change is the same experience. Every effect where something floats is the same experience.

When your audience is your social circle, you don't want to make disparate effects feel the same, or you're giving them a limited handful of experiences. It's like if you worked in a butcher shop and whatever meat you brought home to cook for your friends and family, you ground up and made hamburgers with. That's what people are doing with magic. We have 1000s of tricks at our disposal, and the quirks of the different props and methods allow us to create numerous different experiences. Yet, what we end up doing most often is putting zero seconds of thought into and then saying, "I know... I'll pretend to do it with the power of my mind!" That's just more hamburger.

As I mentioned up top, next week I'll talk outer-game and the process I use to ease people into the type of performance where they take a more active role without it feeling weird or awkward.

Coming Attractions

August 6th - JAMM #7 - The Little Issue - Featuring 8 small ideas including a Bank Nite effect that happens with your spectator handling everything and you on the other side of the room. Card on ceiling done outdoors. And six other small ideas that I've seen generate big reactions.

October 6th - JAMM #9 - The Halloween Issue - Not exactly "horror" magic, but three unsettling tricks including my favorite way to begin a mini-seance routine. 

December 6th - JAMM #11 - The Holiday Issue - Magic with gifts. Magic to do around the holiday table.

January 6th - JAMM #12 - The New Year, New You Issue - This may not be a fully themed issue, but it will include an effect that I've used a few times and has served as an impetus for the spectator to dramatically change one area of their life. 

Some of the non-themed issues to come will include the best use I've found for a peek wallet, and a presentation for Dr. Daley's Last Trick which has turned that classic effect into my favorite impromptu card trick.

You can subscribe to The JAMM here

Gardyloo #29

So, people have been trying to secretly film Derek DelGaudio's show In & Of Itself.

Was one of those people me? Yeah, it was. Gotta problem with that?

Well, boo-hoo, keep crying, Derek. 

Look, I already reviewed the show and was very positive about it. Now I'm just trying to share it with others. Geez louise. Jesus tells us not to hide our light under a bushel basket. But I guess someone knows better than Jesus.

Hey, I paid my ticket price, I'm allowed to film. That's Law 101. So yeah, sorry I filmed your precious magic show. I'm such a monster.

Oh wait, I forgot, it's not a magic show. It's, like, a meditation on the meaning of the self or some shit. Oh boy...Sounds like fun! Just what everyone was clamoring for... Rene Descartes' sponge ball routine.

Sorry, pal, I saw you do the Glide nine times during the performance... it's a magic show. I know what you are. You may have Doogie and the coastal beau monde fooled, but not me. You're magic trash, just like the rest of us. If we go back to your childhood home and open the closet in your bedroom we'd be crushed by a stack of Easy to Master Card Miracles VHS tapes.

But I get why you don't want people filming. Let's be honest, it doesn't quite hold up when you view it in the raw light of day, outside of the confines of the theater.

Judge for yourself...

The 20/20 ebook for Jerx Points collectors is being released on November 24th. This has always been a low priority for me, because it's not something anyone is paying for (at least not directly). So by announcing a date it will force me to actually get it done eventually. If you don't know what it is, don't worry. It's just a token of appreciation for this site's biggest fans.

Jeff Haas informed me of this oddly worded email regarding Curtis Kam's upcoming appearance at the Genii Convention.

Hmmm... I'm not quite sure what that means. Although it sounds more like something that would happen at an "intimate workshop" than in an open lecture setting for all attendees.

I mean, I get that it's playing off the title of this video he put out, but it's still kind of questionable.

I guess my biggest concern as a potential attendee is, if he's going to "pound me with his palms of steel" then—for the sake of my anus—does anyone know what he intends to do to me with his Fists of Fury?

For Reference

The Jerx Glossary is now linked in the sidebar. I'll try to keep it updated. Now when you're like, "What the fuck is he talking about?" there's an okay chance the phrase will be explained there. 

Not always, of course. I can't explain every dumb thing I say. Sometimes when I say something like "peak-Chachi," it's a phrase you'll have to unpack for yourself.

Bedrock: Pre-History

Like Scott Baio during peak-Chachi, I get a decent amount of fan mail. And the first time people write me it almost always includes one of the following sentiments:

  1. I like magic, but I've never really performed.
  2. I used to perform when I was younger, but stopped.
  3. I recently got into magic but I've never really performed because most of the examples I saw were cringe-worthy and corny.
  4. I'm a professional but I rarely, if ever, perform in social situations.

I would say the majority of the readers of this site—a site that spends a great deal of time talking about performance theory as it relates to the amateur magician in social situations—are people who have avoided performing for people in social situations. But they also go on to say that reading this site is changing that for them. Which is nice to hear because this site trails my own evolution of non-performer to performer by a few years, so I'm glad it's pushing others in that direction as well.

For a long time, I rarely performed magic. I would show tricks to other friends who were interested in magic (which is about as low stakes as it gets). I would maybe show a couple tricks to someone early in our friendship, but then I'd stop before I wore out my welcome. And occasionally I would have a girlfriend that I would show stuff to on a more regular basis, but it was super casual. But for the most part, the most frequent spectators to my magic were my two balls, because I was just doing stuff in my lap while watching tv, or sitting on the floor between my legs.

And the reason I didn't show people magic that frequently is because, when I did, their interest in our interaction declined. They were more interested in just a normal conversation with me than seeing a competently performed, impossible effect. To be fair, the first two or three tricks they saw me perform were generally received really well and made a good impression. But, as time passed, there were definitely diminishing returns on their engagement and reactions until, as I said, performing a trick didn't add to our interaction.

I think this is why, traditionally, some of the dullest humans have ended up performing the most. If you don't have a lick of intelligence, charisma, or a sense of humor, then magic, even poorly performed, will always be a step-up from having a genuine conversation. But for most people of even average charm, magic quickly loses its appeal as something you want to share with someone on a continuing basis. 

But why is that? Shouldn't magic be one of the most interesting and fascinating art forms for people to experience? Shouldn't experiencing the impossible be the highlight of your week, at the very least, and something you crave to see with some frequency? Why is the reputation of the magician in pop-culture so pathetic? Specifically the amateur magician. If I was an alien and I came to earth and you showed me two art forms, say, magic and tap-dancing and you said, "Which of these is more respected?" I would think, Well, in one you are giving someone an experience where the impossible seems real, and in the other you're gluing metal pieces to your shoes so you can make an extra loud racket. It seems like it shouldn't be a question. And yet magic is so often seen as this total goofball pursuit. So much so that a lot of the people who are interested in it try to avoid the word "magic" altogether. 

I started really digging into this question a few years ago and asking people about their view on magic and magicians. Especially those people who would say, "I don't like magic." 

And I was really taking in their feedback and letting it affect they way I was presenting magic. And in turn that got me performing more and testing more styles out. It became an overwhelmingly positive feedback loop. Now I was performing more than ever and people were enjoying it more than ever. 

And what I learned is that there are two critical issues that turn people off from magic. And those issues can be summarize with these two questions to ask when deciding how you're going to present your magic.

1. Do I want the audience to think it's real?

2. Am I causing the magic (in the presentation, or is something else responsible for it)?

Question number one is something magicians/mentalists have thought about for a long time. Question number two is not something I think people have considered much.

There are four combinations of answers to these two questions, and I think it's important enough to look at them individually.

Do I want the audience to think it's real? YES
Am I causing the magic? YES

This may be the most common combination of answers and I think it's probably the one that gives magicians the reputation of being delusional dingbats. And while a professional magician can get away with it, for an amateur magician it's totally unsustainable.

Here's what I mean... This is the typical progression of a spectator's belief in the amateur magician's abilities. Imagine an amateur magician. She meets someone and they start dating. One night she brings up that she's into magic and she shows him a couple tricks and he's blown away. And he's thinking to himself, "Holy shit! That's incredible. She read my mind! That's not normal. There's no way she could know what I was thinking. She has some strange abilities." As time passes, she shows him more and more tricks. But each trick doesn't build her reputation, each trick diminishes it, in a way. First, because her "abilities" become more commonplace. And second because her abilities in the performance world don't match her abilities in the real world. "Sure, she can read my mind when I think of a word from her special notebook, but then she gets me this thoughtless birthday gift?" Eventually, people in her life know the "real" her well enough that there's no mistaking the tricks for anything other than tricks. And those tricks go from the magical to the mundane.

Now, if after that progression, the performer still sticks with this YES/YES style, they are going to look totally disconnected from reality and like a needy loser. 

Do I want the audience to think it's real? NO
Am I causing the magic? YES

This is usually the next evolution of thought past the YES/YES answer above. They're no longer really trying to convince people they have special powers. This is all just some fun entertainment.

This is definitely a 5000% more mature attitude than the previous one and it won't have people laughing at you behind your back. 

But I don't think it's great for magic and for your audience's experience. By saying that you're responsible for the magic, you're essentially asking people, with every trick you do, to play along with a little production where the conceit behind everything is how clever you are. "I'm going to read your mind." "I'm going to memorize the deck." "I'm going to vanish this coin." No, you're not asking them to truly believe it, but in the moment you're asking them to play along with the idea that you're all-powerful. This all but guarantees a very surface level experience for the spectator because no one is going to really allow themselves to get wrapped up in an experience that boils down to you being really great. 

I don't think people really quite grasp how unattractive this style can be for an audience. You might think, "Hey, I'm not asking them to really believe this, so what difference does it make if the presentation is about me possessing these powers?" Well, what if I gave you a book of short stories I wrote, and every short story was about me doing something amazing. I'm not asking you to believe these short stories really happened. But would you really be able to get caught up in a book I wrote about how great I am?

I still do effects that are technically in this NO/YES style but I always hobble myself in some way. For example, the Peek Backstage style is one where you're asking for their help/feedback. This undercuts the idea that they're playing along with you being an almighty god. 

Do I want the audience to think it's real? YES
Am I causing the magic? NO

This is another one that is not sustainable for the amateur performer. 

You can certainly perform effects that seem real, and that you don't seem to be responsible for, but that's not a long term game. Maybe the first time you set up some crazy coincidence to take place, and then another time you set up some ghostly encounter. You might be able to get away with people thinking what happened is real and that you weren't responsible for it. But eventually, if you want to perform frequently, people are going to realize you're the one common thread between all these mysterious happenings. And if you're like, "No, it wasn't me. I have no idea how that happened," you're going to look like a weird-o.

For the amateur magician any of these combinations of responses produce styles that would work in the short term, but only one is viable as something you can "live in" for the rest of your life without changing your friends and family frequently like in the Stepfather movies. And that is...

Do I want the audience to think it's real? NO
Am I causing the magic? NO

NO, you're never asking the audience to think it's real. And NO your presentation isn't about you and your powers.

Once you acclimate people to this combination of ideas (and that's a process in itself (which I'll talk about soon) because this is a new type of experience for people) you'll find that this solves a lot of the problems of traditional magic performances. 

You're never asking your audience to truly believe anything that's not true. That whole "delusional" element is off the table. 

And you're shifting the focus off yourself so the pathetic, egocentric, self-indulgent element is gone as well. 

I'm telling you, these are the two big issues that turn people off from magic. 

Let me clarify both of these things...

Do I want the audience to think it's real? NO
No, I don't want them to think it's real. (And I want them to know I don't want them to think that.) But, as I've said often on this site, I want the experience to feel real. That's why I'll put a lot of effort into the experience, and ask them to invest in it, even though I'm not asking them to walk away believing it's real.

I do like to blur the edges of what is real and what isn't, but that's just to make them have to chew over the whole experience a little more, not to make them believe any aspects of it.

Ultimately I leave it up to them to take away from the performance whatever they want and I will go along with whatever interpretation of the encounter they choose. A surprising majority of people prefer to kind of keep the fantasy going and keep playing along. If they want to keep referring to it as a matchmaking ceremony instead of a card trick, then I'll go along with them But if, on the other hand, when it's over they're like, "That's a great trick," I don't fight them. I'm not like, "NO! It wasn't a trick it was a matchmaking ceremony that I found in this old book of spells. I swear!"

Am I causing the magic? NO
We're talking about presentation here. In the real world the spectator knows (more often than not) that I'm causing the trick to happen. But if my presentation is about some old Nostradamus prediction that is coming true here today then it feels like the effort I put into this is for their benefit, not mine. (And that's a good thing.)

Bedrock: Suspension of Disbelief

Today I want to go over a fundamental idea behind the style of amateur performance I write about on this blog. 

I got this email from reader ML after the release of the JAMM #6 which included the effect Panther Across the Sky.

So when does suspension of disbelief tip you over?

I can see how Panther Across the Sky can be exactly the mind fuck you describe but the context of the back story is important.  So if a "civilian" did this: Mind Fuck.  A "magician": Wow.  "Andy": I've no idea.  That's my question; and it broader than PATS. It's about the styles you advocate.

The people you perform for must be sensitized to your style by now.  That is, how many times can you produce exact change, or start some expository back story before they realize you're doing a schtick?  I imagine it's a direct ratio to how well they know you or how often they have seen you perform?

Don't get me wrong I think your stuff is brilliant.  I just wonder how you deal with what I imagine must be diminishing impact through repetition.  Not repetition of tricks but the style itself.

Oh look, Andy has exact change.

Oh look, Andy has a nosebleed.

Oh look, Andy has an old diary his crazy aunt left him.

At some point people cotton on to this, right?  There might even by a cry wolf effect:

Oh look, Andy has projectile vomiting.  Awesome!  When does it coagulate into a written message from the extra terrestrial that anally probed him?

I've read your stuff about picking audiences who are agreeable to the style and I get that.  But even spectators who are good sports about it all catch on after a while.

Don't they?


So the question is, do spectators catch on after a while?

And the answer is, no, they don't.

And the reason they don't catch on after a while is because... they catch on immediately

Because of my attitude, personality, and my reputation, when I bring up some unusual subject, people know that they are about to take part in a short bit of interactive fiction. (And I'll discuss next week how to acclimate someone to this sort of experience because it's not something people are used to.)

So when I say, "Check out this weird box I picked up at a garage sale last weekend," everyone I perform for understands that I'm establishing a premise and we're about to go on a journey. And they trust me based on past experience that this is going to be something fun and potentially amazing. Do they really believe I got this box from a garage sale? Some do, some don't. It doesn't really matter. No one is 100% sure either way. 

Then I add some layers to this in a push and pull with reality. I give more of a backstory to the box. I say the garage sale was conducted by the children of an elderly man who recently passed away. But before he died he went slowly insane and started carrying this box everywhere he went for the last 18 months of his life, talking into it when no one is looking. Okay... now this feels like we're getting into some kind of ghost story territory. So this is totally fiction and I'm setting you up for something right? But then maybe the box just sits on a shelf for the next six weeks. I let the back story fester in your mind. This creepy old box. Then maybe some day I tell you I can't find my watch. "I put it in this box last night and today it was gone. You didn't take it, did you?" And the box now smells really strange. You take a whiff and it's got a decrepit rotting smell to it. That night you clearly see me put something in the box. Moments later I open it and the thing is gone. "What the fuck?" I say. Aha, you think, that was definitely some kind of magic trick. It must have been. Did he decide to do a trick with this weird old box? Or is this not even a weird old box at all? Maybe he got it at Pier 1 Imports. "Nice trick," you say. "Oh, I wish it was a trick," I say. "Then I'd still have my goddamn watch." I place the box on the kitchen table. The next morning the flowers on the kitchen table have shriveled up and died. "This box is freaking me out," I say. That night we burn it in the fireplace. The next morning you wake up and the box is back on the shelf, unburnt, and with something sticky oozing from it.

This is an extreme example of the immersive style of magic and the Smear Technique. (And an example of me starting a trick before I had any idea what I was going to do with it. In truth it went on a little longer. It all started when I found two identical boxes at a Hobby Lobby that looked genuinely old. Any time you can get a duplicate of an item that is seemingly unique, jump on that. The day the box started reeking was due to this stuff. The flowers shriveled up and died because I baked them in the oven for a few minutes in the middle of the night.)

The point being, during the whole time that "trick" unfolded, I never once concerned myself with whether or not my friend believed the story behind any of it. The "suspension of disbelief" is a non issue.

I said this a long time ago on this site: I want to perform magic with fantastic, unbelievable premises and then have the effects be so strong that the spectators almost have to fight themselves not to believe this unbelievable premise. For me, that's the whole goal, to make the impossible and unbelievable feel real even when they know it's not. 

With that in mind, you can see that having spectators who are skeptical or dubious isn't something I'm trying to avoid. That's the attitude I want them to come in with. You can only get that dichotomy of belief when they come in as unbelievers. If they somewhat believe what you're telling them at the start—if you say you're going to tell them what number is face-up on the die based on vocal cues as they count 1 to 6, for example—they may find the experience interesting and thought-provoking, but they're not going to find the experience genuinely thrilling.

I'm courting disbelief with these premises. And when people "play along" with me, it's not because they believe the story I'm telling, or even that they're suspending their disbelief. They're playing along because they don't believe it and they want to see if I can find some way to make it feel real. 

Update: Next Week - I received a good question over email about what I do (how I act) after the effect is over. I'm going to continue this Bedrock series next week and talk about getting in and getting out of this style of performance. 



As mentioned Tuesday, here is a short bonus pdf for those of you with the JAMM #5.

The password is the last word on page 6 of that issue.

Thanks to Alex Schoof for building the tool utilized in the trick. (The tool has worked and not worked for some people outside the U.S. Not sure why that is at this point but, obviously, just test it out before you go ahead with it if you're outside of the U.S. If it doesn't work for you you'll have to make a friend so you can use the original version.)