8 Ways to Make Your Magic Un-Googleable

On one level you should be happy if people are trying to figure out your tricks after you perform. It means two things: they were engaged and they were fooled. Accomplishing those two things is most of your job when performing magic. 

After every live magic show I've seen in the past five years—that includes Penn & Teller, Copperfield, and Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimarães' "Nothing to Hide"—there were people directly outside the theater on their phones trying to find out how certain tricks were done. 

On the Magic Cafe you will hear that if people are trying to figure out the secret after the performance it's because you're a bad magician (as bad, apparently, as Penn & Teller, Copperfield, Derek, and Helder). If you're a good magician (according to Cafe wisdom), then people will think you're really magical and so why would they be googling something they think is accomplished by magic?

Uh-huhhh....okay... sure.

The level of rationalization done by magicians to preserve their own self-esteem is astonishing and it is toxic to the art. "These people show no interest in examining my props because my magic was so good!" "My audiences don't try and figure out how my tricks are done because they think I'm really magic!"

No. No they don't. Let's exclude children, the mentally retarded, and the clinically insane. Most everyone else seeing tricks performed by a person will judge that person on a scale of: bad magician to great magician. What is not on that scale is real magician. This is ten times as true when you're performing professionally. You can read someone's mind in a bar and people might be a little unnerved. But if you do that table-side at Fuddrucker's or on a Broadway stage, your "demonstration" is now a performance and is seen for what it is: a show. 

(I go into this more in AATKT, but one other area traditional "magic wisdom" has it completely backwards is when you hear things like this: "Well, you're an amateur. You just perform for friends and family, so of course they don't think you have any real 'powers.' I'm a professional. I perform for strangers, so if my magic is strong enough, they'll actually believe it." This is the opposite of the way it really is. Your professional status is a detriment to your ability to cause a ripple in people's view of reality. No one says, "Oh my! A genuine warlock just changed a silver coin to a copper coin at the Nabisco Christmas party!" So a really great professional magician will most likely be viewed as a really great professional magician. But a really great amateur has more freedom to create moments of genuine weirdness.

Here's a real world example. I have Greg Wilson's Exact Change. I bought it and then never really felt I had a great way of utilizing it, so I never really used it as a trick. Instead I just started carrying it with me and anytime I was with a friend and one of us was buying something I would say, "Oh, I have exact change, and toss the coins on the counter. I did this for at least six months before anyone even noticed. I didn't make a big deal of it. I didn't say, "Behold! I have exact change." I was just half-paying attention, looking at my phone or a magazine in the check-out aisle and I'd say, "Oh, I have exact change." Once one person noticed it, he started asking other people if I did it with them, and they began to notice it, and then it spread. This went on for a couple years. And I was able to use, essentially, operant conditioning to flush skepticism, criticism, and doubt out of the equation. Whenever they would stop me before they paid for something and say something like, "Okay, before this gets rung up, how much change do you have in your pocket?" I'd just say, "Oh, I don't have any change." And they quickly learned if they tried to test me or bust me on it then nothing happens. But if they just go with it, they'll get this strange little moment. And they became more engaged in this game to the point where they were doing trick through me as a proxy, i.e. they'd say to a friend who was with us, "Go get whatever you want to buy and bring it to the cashier. No matter what you get, I bet Andy will have exact change." 

It became a legitimately uncanny thing and I wrung much more wonder out of that effect using it as an amateur than I ever could have in a show.

In The Jerx, Volume One, I discuss the three performance styles I utilize: The Peek Backstage, The Distracted Artist, and the Romantic Adventure. I could never hide my interest in magic from my friends and family, but these three styles allow me to disguise my level of involvement in the effects. The Peek Backstage is a style that involves talking about magic, and methods, and asking for their input. The Distracted Artist is a style that happens without commentary. And the Romantic Adventure is an immersive style that is so far removed from a traditional "trick" that it feels like a different type of event. As an amateur I can manipulate my relationship with magic in this way and engage my audience in a way I never could as a "professional performer."

As I mentioned in the most recent X-Communication, this is why I remain anonymous here. Not to keep you from knowing who I am outside the word of magic. But to keep my friends and family from knowing how much thought I put into all this.)

Where were we?

Okay, the notion of you having "real" powers isn't even on the table for a rational, modern audience. So if you say that's why people aren't trying to figure out your tricks, you're kidding yourself.  You're like the guy who says, "No girls want to date me. They must be intimidated by my good looks."

Probably 50% of your audience doesn't want to know the methods. They like the mystery. But the other 50% is interested in the method or "figuring it out," at least on some level. (Maybe only 10% are Google-level method-hounds. But there's another 10% who are just straight-up a-holes who want to bust you, and they'll resort to Google too. So that's 20% of your audience). So don't brag if your audience doesn't show an interest in your methods. If some aren't actively trying to figure them out, it means one of two things: your performance is too meaningless to care about, or they already have it figured out. Neither is good for you. 

I will concede that you can present an effect in a way that is so "enchanting" that an audience just says, "Fuck it. I'm just going to roll with it," and becomes non-critical. But that has to be an effect of an entirely different nature than the type of stuff we're normally talking about. No one ever runs home and says, "I just saw the most wonderful thing! A deck changed from blue to red!" It needs to be something that touches them on a different level. On a level the cups and balls can't. That doesn't mean don't do the cups and balls. It just means don't think there is some level of mastery you can attain with certain tricks that will prevent an attuned, interested audience from trying to figure them out.

With that being said, here are some ways to mitigate the problem of having an audience member simply google something you show them after you perform it for them.

#1 - Avoid Tricks With Distinctive Props

If all you need to do to find out how a trick works is google the main props and the word "magic" that's not a great trick for the 21st century magician.

Of all the reasons not to do the Bill in Lemon trick, you can add the fact that the first thing someone would google is: bill lemon magic.

Let's see how that would play out. 

#2 - If You Must Do Those Tricks, Modify the Props So They're Unique To You

Ok, you just have to do a Bill in Lemon style effect. Well, let's switch out the props. Let's use an orange instead of a lemon. That shouldn't be a problem as it still has the properties we need for the trick. And instead of a bill use... I don't know... anything you want. A giant fortune-cookie fortune. Whatever.

You offer your spectator a choice of a dozen fortunes. Each are (conveniently) on a dollar bill sized piece of paper. They choose one and sign it. You say that you were hired by the Chinese Food Association of America to make a healthier alternative to Fortune Cookies, so you created a way to get a fortune inside an orange. They pick an orange from a bowl, you cut it open and inside is their signed fortune.

Is this a good trick? I don't know. I'd give it a C-. But it's at least better than "I MADE A DOLLAR GO TO A LEMON FOR NO REASON!" Which is the standard presentation.

And it has the added benefit that if someone searches: orange "fortune cookie" magic, they come up empty.

#3 - Recontextualize Effects

You don't have to change the props. You can also redefine what the effect is. An example from this blog is Cryptophasia. What is, essentially, the effect of a magician predicting a spectator's freely named number was changed into a spectator being able to interpret a language he didn't think he knew. The other two phases of the effect recontextualize two other classics of magic/mentalism.

How about ambitious card. If you do four phases and talk about how the card always "rises to the top." It doesn't take much for someone to google the method to make the card rise to the top. So what if, instead, you said the card was drawn to the palm of your hand. And, in fact, this was some new type of "super-palming." "I can actually palm the card through half of the deck." Now you draw the card to the top a couple times. Draw it to the bottom once. Draw it to the top with a bend so they can see it this time. And then you say, "Even if I put my hand in my pocket the card is still drawn to it." The spectator pushes (what they believe to be) their card into the deck and you remove your hand from your pocket, there's nothing in it. You empty out your pocket, but no card. "Huh," you say. You poke through the items that were in your pocket, eventually opening up your wallet and finding the card stuck in there. "I haven't perfected the technique," you say.

Again, this is just an idea I'm making up as I type. But it's a little more interesting than "the card rises to the top." (It also justifies the card to wallet some people end an ambitious card routine with.) And it allows you to perform one of the most classic effects in card magic with no trail to be found online. If they start googling "card drawn to hand" or "superpalming" they'll find nothing. 

Well... now they'll find this post. Sorry bro. 

#4 Combine Effects

By combining two effects you may be able to blur the line of what each individual effect is. Thus making it harder to google.

The two effects mentioned above—Cryptophasia and the Ambitious Card presentation—would also be examples of that. Another is the previous post, All Seeing Eye of the Beholder.

#5 Overwhelm Them With Possibilities

The previous ideas have looked at ways to make your performances more unique and thus less googleable. But you can go the opposite way as well. If you do a poker routine or a routine where coins change, these effects are so generic that anyone googling will just be overwhelmed with avenues to explore and won't be able to find that specific coin change or poker routine.

#6 Don't Buy the Latest Big Thing

Sorry Penguin and Ellusionist. I love you, but you're just too good at marketing. Many of the effects you release, and really get behind, end up overexposed. Not only that, but a good portion of your customer base are the most pube-less members of the magic community. And so you have a lot of shifty 12-year-olds uploading videos of themselves performing the latests sensation in their dull monotone to youtube. So not only can your audience quickly discover that your little miracle is available to anyone with $15 dollars. They can immediately learn how it's done via some kid's poor performance which serves as an explanation.

#7 Get Your Material From Books

This is the flip-side of #6. I don't want to sound like Grandpa Jerx here, but there is so much good material in books that there is no record of online. 

Honestly, I'm as guilty of eschewing effects found solely in books as anybody. I will overlook an effect in a book for years and then hop on it once it's released as its own instant download. I know it's lazy on my part, but sometimes it takes someone really shining a spotlight on an effect for me to give it the attention it deserves. 

So do as I say, not as I do with this one. If you're looking for material with no online paper-trail, look to books.

#8 Remove Yourself From the Magic

This has been a theme of this site since the beginning. The most tolerable and enjoyable amateur, informal magic presentations are the ones that aren't centered around your ego. They're the ones where you shift the focus off yourself and let the audience put as much of the focus back on you as they choose to.

This style won't necessarily make your effects un-googleable, but it will make them less likely to be googled. It pulls the rug out from under the 10% a-holes I mentioned above. Their compulsion to "expose" you goes away almost completely when you're not looking for credit or validation. 

If this post has its detractors it will be people saying, "Oh, come on. You're worried about a few people googling a trick and finding out... that it's a trick? As you said, they already know that, so who cares? It's all a bit of fun. You're taking it way too seriously. Isn't your ego the thing that is dictating you scramble to make all your material seem original and not traceable on Google?" 

So let me preemptively say no, that's not what this is about. I don't want an effect to be un-googleable for my sake. It's for the sake of the person I perform for. I want them to feel the experience we just had isn't some cookie-cutter thing that comes in a box.

Have you ever watched Dr. Phil when he has some older woman on who's involved in some Nigerian catfish scam? She's always a hefty woman in her late 60s who thinks she's talking to some handsome silver fox across the sea who is perpetually just days away from visiting her. She's about $200,000 in at this point (but he's assured her she'll get it back). Dr. Phil will read some of these love-letters the guy has sent the woman and she will just be beaming at how romantic they are and how special they make her feel. Then Dr. Phil plugs the love-letters into Google and he shows her 100s of results for the same email and you can see her crumble inside. I think, on a much smaller level, some spectators can have a similar letdown when they realize this is just a "routine" and not a genuine rare moment.

You want your spectators to feel like what just occurred was unusual in some way. You want every performance to be a little love-letter to your audience that hasn't been sent 1000 times already. And it turns out the best way to do this is to actually strive to make something unique. If you look at those steps above, that's what most are designed to do. That's why, if an electromagnetic bomb takes out the internet tomorrow and you don't need to worry about people googling anything, it's still a good idea to follow many of the suggestions above.