Fixing the Magician in Trouble

Today I have a small tip on how to improve your performance of any effect with a "Magician in Trouble" premise. This type of presentation gets a lot of heat from other magicians because it's used all the time and it's rarely very convincing.

I have a theory as to why. I think a lot of magicians have such low self-esteem that they don't want people to think they messed up even for 15 seconds. So they say, "It's your card, the five of clubs." And when the spectator says that's not their card the magician's voice goes up a couple of octaves and he's like, "Whaaaaaa??!!!! That's not it? Damn it! Well maybe this is it. The jack of diamonds? Thank you." The question is why are you bothering going through the machinations of the Magician in Trouble ploy if you're not giving it any chance to register as a real thing? What do you think you're gaining over just revealing the correct card in the first place? Just knock it off. Be the magician who gets things right if you're too uncomfortable being the one who gets things wrong.

For the others of you who really want to sell this premise, here is my tip.

Let's say a Magician in Trouble effect has four parts:

  1. The body of the trick
  2. The fake climax of the trick
  3. The aftermath of your mess-up
  4. The real climax of the trick.

So often we think about how we should act after we've messed up -- part three. The standard advice is to have a mental script that you're going through. Not one that you're saying out loud, but one that you're thinking. In other words, the usual advice looks at Magician in Trouble as an acting problem as in "How do I act like I messed up?"

What I've found works best for me is, instead of focusing my energy on how I act after I mess up, I instead focus my energy on part two, the fake climax. Magicians will often not give this much thought because why would they? It's something that's meant to go wrong. But if you really want your audience to buy into the notion of you messing up, then put your heart and soul into the fake climax. 

If you just say, "It's your card. The jack of hearts.... oh, it's not?" People may or may not believe you screwed up.

But if you take your spectator's hand in your right hand, then wave your left hand slowly over the deck. And if, while you're doing this, you talk about the "magic" of human connection and your ability to locate her card via the bond that we all share as people. And if you pick up one card, then discard it and have your attention drawn to another and pick that one up instead and let a big smile come over your face and then say something like:

"When you tell your friends what happened here tonight, they might not believe you. These days, perhaps, we're all too old and savvy to believe in real magic. But you will know that it really did happen. And it wasn't some ethereal notion of 'magic' that made this possible.

It was our bond... [pause]

and the power... [pause]

of human connection!" You punctuate this last statement by turning the card over in a dramatic gesture and slapping it on the table.

It's the wrong one.

Yes, you will look like a huge fucking turd for a few moments. But if you really want to toy with your audiences emotions, expectations and experiences throughout the trick, then that's a good thing. 

What you do after that is less important. You don't have to "act." Just look through the cards or something. If you put enough passion into the build up, you will be embarrassed for yourself. Good. That's what you're supposed to be feeling in this moment anyway. 

Now when you bring the trick to a successful conclusion -- when you toss the cards in the air in frustration and their card gets impaled on a ceiling fan blade* and you say, "Oh right, that's where I screwed up. It's not the power of human connection. It's the power of ceiling fans." -- there is a genuine release of tension for both you and the audience. 

To put it succinctly, put your effort into building up the triumphant execution of the trick during the first fake climax rather then worrying about how you should act after you "mess up." People will be less likely to think you'd put all that effort into something you knew would go wrong and they will believe you regardless of your acting ability.

* Take a duplicate card and rip a slit through the middle of it. Then put that on the corner of one of your ceiling fan blades. Turn on the fan, if the card doesn't fall off, you're good. If it does, put some tape on the top of the fan blade to hold it in place. Invite someone over. They won't notice a card on a spinning ceiling fan blade. Force a duplicate on them. Do the Magician in Trouble gambit and let them think you fucked up. Spread through the cards as if you're wondering what went wrong. After a few beats say, "You know something? Fuck these gay-ass card tricks," and toss the deck in the air towards the fan in such a way that they scatter in the air. If people don't notice, bring their attention to the card on the fan blade. Sit back on the couch and lock your fingers behind your head and kick your feet up on the coffee table. "I was a Magician in Trouble. Now I'm a Magician at Ease. Thank you, The Jerx!" And give a big thumbs up to no one.