MCJ Advent Calendar - Day Twenty - Zagat

This was, I believe, my first time putting the performances of people who are well-known in the magic world, in front of people to whom they are pretty much completely unknown, i.e. the rest of the world. This is something I would do a dozen or so more times in the intervening years in a more structured way (for a real cross-section of people rather than just for my friends), and it was always very interesting to hear how awful they thought some of the big names in magic were. As I was packing up for my move I found a whole bunch of notes from other focus-groups where some of these performances were shown, I may end up posting them in the future.

I think Eugene Burger gets a bit of a raw deal here. I'm sure in real life he comes off as very avuncular and charming, but perhaps out of context, on video, his sing-songy, slow delivery can come across as condescending. Or maybe I just feel that way because I want to like him (which is what this whole enterprise was meant to combat -- our tendency to assume a creator we like is a good performer). Who knows. Anyway, here, from 2005, is the first installment of Zagat Magic Reviews.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Zagat Magician Reviews 

Is everyone familiar with Zagat? I assume so, but that assumption is just based on the fact that everyone in NYC is familiar with these books, but in case that doesn't hold true for the rest of the world, here's a brief explanation. Zagat does books that are reviews/guides to local restaurants, bars, stores, etc. But the reviews are created based on surveys that are conducted so the reviews contain quotes gathered from those surveys. 

For example, here's the listing for Grimaldi's Pizza:

"Pizza perfection" perseveres at this Brooklyn Heights "slice of heaven" (again voted No. 1 pizzeria in this Survey), where they've "nailed down the science" of coal-oven pies; sure, there may be "long lines", but it "doesn't get more authentic than this."

See? It's a review made up of quotes that were gathered via their survey. Quotes that are, in some way, representative of the consensus of that survey. (There is also a numerical rating portion of the survey, but we won't concern ourselves with that.)

Where am I going with this? Well, about a month ago I was watching Derren Brown's Russian Roulette special with a friend of mine. At the climax of the show, where Derren is purportedly playing Russian Roulette with a real gun on live tv, (well, on the night it originally aired it was live, not on the night we were watching it) my friend turned to me and said, "This is terrifying." Now, my friend has zero interest in magic, but she was really enthralled with the whole show and I was happy that she enjoyed it so much, and I was impressed that Derren was able to evoke that type of reaction because I think it's a difficult thing to do. When David Copperfield suspended himself over that pit of fire or whatever he called it and escaped from a straight-jacket, I think some people were probably interested, but I doubt many people were actually frightened for him. (Probably because the whole thing was too "show-biz." Note to performers: If you want people to really believe you're putting your life on the line, tone down the theatrics. Someone in a real life and death situation would have a hard time remembering the choreography to whatever soft-rock, Peter Gabriel, bullshit they're supposed to be dancing to.)

So anyway, after hearing my friend's comments I began to get interested in how other regular people (non-magicians) would view some magicians that you and I might be very familiar with, but who they have probably never even heard of.

So over the course of the next few weeks I showed some performances of a few different magicians to some friends of mine. I didn't make them sit through a whole DVD I just showed them a couple effects for each performer. It was interesting (and somewhat surprising) and I plan on doing some more of these. 

Enough of this ridiculously long prelude…

Zagat Magic Reviews

David Regal:

All found him "enjoyable." Some said he was "sweet." One said he was "the best." Meaning, he does the best magic? "No, he seems the most normal." Although watching a couple of effects on his DVDs left some wondering, "Who are these people," (referring to L&L's audience).

Darwin Ortiz:

Reviews were widely mixed for this magician. Well many believed he "seems to know what he's doing." And one found him to be "incredible," a female said he was "boring." When I told her she was living up to the stereotype of women not liking card tricks she said that Ortiz was "living up to the stereotype of magicians being boring."

Eugene Burger:

While most people found the magic to be "fine," and one considered him "charmingly effeminate," the overwhelming opinion was that he was "ridiculously condescending." One viewer commented, "I know I'm not retarded, but he made me feel like maybe I am retarded."