Here Come the Jerx: Danny Cole vs Justin Willman

I'm the best person to settle magic disputes. Why? Well, I'm smarter than most of you. I have more common sense. And I don't know or care about any of you personally.

Today's case:

Danny Cole vs. Justin Willman

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

An Open Letter to Justin Willman from Danny Cole


So obviously I saw your wedding video magic trick because you shared it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., and I am feeling pretty bummed about your decision to perform it as you did. 

We both know that the effect of lying back with both feet planted predates my chair routine. It was done on THEM and I didn’t have anything to do with its creation. Chris Gongora and Enrico De La Vega created that. I know that Enrico gave you permission to perform their effect using their method for your wedding. 

The effect you did it at your wedding was the same effect from THEM but not the same method. The crucial difference is the ability for free movement before and after the effect. There would be no dance or even walking around with their method. 

As you know in 2004, after THEM, I created a method to sit in the air with no chair and do a backwards lean as I fought with the chair. I used the “lean” method as a starting point and added the absolute minimum support to that classic lean method so that I could sit and lean backwards. I used a carpet. I could also raise my leg. I could walk around and there was very free movement before and after the effect. As it happens, with my apparatus, it is possible to do the same effect as on THEM. I never used it that way. 

Then Cyril came along a couple years after I started doing it, and realized he could do the effect from THEM with my method. He connected those dots. 

That ability of the performer to walk and move around before and after the effect is very important. However, that isn’t possible with Chris and Rico’s method. And it is curious that while you had permission to use Chris and Rico’s method, that you actually didn’t. I would have no issues if you did. Why didn't you just do that? I think it is because using my method for this effect makes a huge difference in the overall magical atmosphere and impossibility. Without it, you have no dance for your wedding dance video. And in my opinion you are stealing my method because you did it without my permission. 

We can all vanish a coin, but sometimes it looks more magical when one magician does it as opposed to another. Why? Because of the method. The method matters. 

Here is what I think: you are going to claim you didn’t know that you were stealing my method to do their effect and just apologize. But that is just you wriggling through a loophole that allows you to get away with stealing something and still continue to rack up your “views”. Do your Justin Willman “brand” a favor and always do your own thing and never steal ideas. Do a “Drunk History” on that…oh wait, that wasn’t your idea either. 

Danny Cole

Exhibit C

Justin's response from Danny's Facebook


Everyone is wrong here.

And I'm not saying Danny is wrong for being upset and making this a public issue. I completely understand why he's doing it.

And I'm not saying Justin is wrong for not getting express permission from Danny. I don't know enough about the nature of the illusion to know if that was required. And honestly, if I was performing any trick at my wedding reception, I wouldn't bother getting "permission" from any of you turds. For the same reason I wouldn't okay it with Tim DeLaughter from Tripping Daisy if I wanted to cover Sonic Bloom during my wedding reception. It's completely unnecessary.

"But," you'll say, "there's a difference between a performance for a private wedding reception and then taking that video and putting it on social media and having it go viral." That's a valid point. But again, it comes down to personal conscience and intent which is very difficult to judge in people.

No, when I say that "everyone is wrong," I mean that everyone is wrong about what the issue is here. We think it's about the method. "That's his method." "That's not your method." "That's not his method." "I was inspired by another method." "That method wasn't yours to take." "The method is what made the effect."

Magicians continue to be preoccupied with the same bullshit that they have for decades or centuries and then wonder why audiences often see magic as irrelevant. The "method" was not what got this trick 6 million+ views on youtube. As I wrote in an email earlier today:

Yeah, it blew up and got a lot of attention, but if anything, the amount of attention it got proves that the method wasn't the most important thing about this trick. If it was then Danny would have gotten that amount of attention for his performance(s) of the same trick. The audiences don't care about the secret. They care about the context and Justin put it into a better context than Danny did.

Magic methods are tools, people. That's it. We are like painters whose main focus is the brush everyone else is using. I'm not saying we shouldn't respect creators and strive for proper crediting and acknowledge our inspirations, we absolutely should. And we should be vigilant against people blatantly ripping off tricks and releasing their own versions and things like that. But, for better or for worse, your method can't be protected. Someone else may take it, or someone else may think of it on their own, either way it's out in the ether. And if someone takes it and uses it to connect and bring joy to millions of people, maybe that's not the worst thing in the world. Again, I sympathize with everyone's position, I just wish we could bring this passion for originality to the public-face of the art as well. Instead we have a lot of, "Hey, did he use MY method for putting a bill in a lemon!?" Instead of, "Why don't we all stop putting bills in lemons for a hot minute."


Justin should make a public post on his social networks about Danny Cole. Not as a mea culpa, but to thank him for his inspiration in whatever way his effect directly or indirectly led to Justin's. He should post a link to Danny's social media and video of some of his performances. And as punishment, Justin should have to do something really embarrassing. Like host a reality show about cupcakes or something.

“Art comes out of art. You cannot have Brahms without Beethoven. You cannot have Beethoven without Bach.”
Guy Davenport