Presentation Week Part 1: Laying the Groundwork

[This week I've decided I want to write about presentation. The audience for these thoughts can be categorized as "very small" and "probably not you." Come back next week for the usual fat jokes and such. In the meantime, Craig Petty just linked to a new "web show" on the Magic Cafe with a threat in the title that it is "Season 1 Episode 1." That's probably more your speed.]

I'm more comfortable talking shit about the Magic Cafe or making fun of some stooge magician than I am talking about my actual thoughts on magic, effects, presentations, etc. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main one is I just don't think there's much of an audience for it. I am not interested in performing stage magic, or restaurant magic, or street magic -- or those types of performances, which seems to be what people want to read when it comes to performance theory. I'm pretty much only interested in magic that is performed in casual situations for a handful of people at most. Preferably one-on-one. And for those situations, 98% of the theory you read in magic books is wrong or at least not applicable.

I wrote a book called The Amateur At the Kitchen Table a few years ago. I wrote it for the purpose of clarifying my own thoughts. It was my philosophy on the performance of informal magic that was illustrated through a couple dozen presentations. I had thought about publishing it at one point but then I got selfish. You see, I actually like that so many of you are so bad at performing for people. I think it's great that some of the people we consider the best in our field are completely off-putting and have no appeal to real humans. We like them because they're clever or dexterous, but they have no concept of how to channel that in a way that people like. The last thing I want is for people to get better at something I believe sets me apart. So I shelved the idea of publishing the book (although I did sell two copies for an exorbitant price I couldn't refuse.)

"Who are you to give advice? Why should I listen to you?"

I couldn't give less of a shit if you do. Really. Keep doing what you're doing. 

Most of the advice on showing magic to people is predicated on a professional performance, which is great if you're at the Magic Castle, but you're not at the Magic Castle and shouldn't be acting like you are. Performing like that has a distancing effect between you and the people you're trying to engage. It's analogous to being funny. A witty guy at a party will win friends and get laid. But if you stand up and start reciting jokes you memorized from a joke book, people will be like, "What a weirdo." Even if they're laughing at the jokes.

The goal is -- in a non-corny way -- to make the effect of magic as much a part of your being as the effect of humor is for the funny person. And I'll talk more about how I think you can do this as the week goes on.

"So we should try to project an image of possessing true magic or mentalism abilities?"

No. Fuck no. If you want people to think what you're doing is real, you're a sociopath. Seriously, I think that's a pathetic mental disorder and I feel bad for you and worse for the people you perform for. And it's a poisonous attitude that has held back magic for centuries. If coming off as "real" is a priority for you, then what you're saying is, "I want to dupe dumb people and look ridiculous to smart people."

My goal is never to have them believe. My goal is to have them intrigued and enraptured and swept up in the moment, despite knowing it's not real. 

What makes a trompe-l'œil painting engaging is that it seems so real, even though we know it's not. I strive to perform trompe-l'œil of the fantastic. And what I've found is when people don't have their defenses up against your phony bullshit of trying to come off as "real," it becomes much easier to create feelings of amazement, joy, fear, lust, nostalgia, and poignancy that are real.

Tomorrow: The Jerx Patter Algorithm