Ward Clever

I get it. But the thing to realize is this: they think they're giving you a compliment. They're trying to say something nice. You're like a fat girl with a pretty face. And you're sick and tired of people telling you you have a pretty face or a great personality. You want to hear how sexy you are, or how great you look in that dress. But we don't get the compliments we want; we get the compliments we deserve. 

Most magic, performed in a magician-centric style—that is, a style where you are directly taking responsibility for what's occurring—is designed to make you look clever or to celebrate the cleverness of the trick itself. So what else would we expect? "No, no, magic is designed to AMAZE people," you say. Okay, maybe. But the majority of magic is designed to amaze people with how clever you are. You're able to make cards change. You're able to read my mind (as long as I follow the procedure you've delineated). You're able to make the coins go from one hand to the other. Clever stuff!

Honestly, if you're a professional magician doing walk-around magic, "clever" isn't that bad. "Clever" is the smart person's way of saying, "I was fooled. I'm not emotionally vulnerable enough with this person to suggest I'm in awe of what they've done. But they fooled me. And I'm no dummy. So that was pretty clever."

But you want more. You want people to express the same awe with you as they do with the magicians on TV. People don't say, "David Copperfield is so clever." They don't say, "Criss Angel is so clever." In fact, they're more likely to say, "Criss Angel is functionally retarded." And yet they still freak out at his tricks. If you're a professional magician and you want people to come away with something other than your cleverness, then you have to offer something other than than your cleverness. Good fooling tricks = cleverness. What are you emphasizing other than the tricks? Every superstar magician (in the U.S., at least) has had that "something else" that people are really responding to. David Copperfield put emotional resonance above the tricks. David Blaine valued an enigmatic presence and artistic tests of endurance over tricks. Penn & Teller put comedy and commentary above tricks. Criss Angel put overall weirdness and getting his hair cut at the same place my mom's friends do above tricks. 

Those magicians are considered amazing and incredible and awe inspiring not because their tricks were the most fooling, but because they put something else above the magic. Mat Franco will not achieve that level of cultural relevance because he doesn't have that other thing (at least he doesn't now). He just has tricks.

If you are an amateur it's a whole other story. You have a whole different set of tools you can use to engender other reactions to your effects and to ward off the idea that it's just a bit of "cleverness". Tools that aren't available to the professional. For example, you can perform things in a way that seems genuinely unplanned or unexpected. When you're standing on stage with one of those hoops around your neck that holds a microphone, it's very difficult to pull off the "this was completely unplanned!" schtick.

For a long time I have tracked my spectator's responses to tricks. In this post I described some of my organizational systems for magic. If you scroll down to the spreadsheet with people's names on the left and effects along the top, that's where I track them. If I click in a blacked out square it will bring up a note indicating the date and time I performed the tirck, and the spectator's first verbal reaction to the effect and their overall reaction.

What I've found is the only sure-fire way to get reactions that are more than just a nod to your cleverness is to do what I've mentioned from the beginning of this site, and that is to remove yourself as the entity behind the magic. This works in two ways.

The first way it works is that if you're not claiming responsibility for what's happening then you get to play the role of a spectator too. And, in that way, you are able to model a proper reaction to your other spectators. If you use the "power of your mind" to move something, it may come off as "clever" to your spectator.  But if you're not responsible for something moving—If a deck cuts itself and a card slides out while no one is in the room with it—then you get to react to the effect yourself and demonstrate the type of impact it might have on your spectator. If you walk in the room, see the deck has moved, and immediately turn around and say, "Fuck that noise. I'm out of here." Your spectator won't respond with, "That's clever." Instead they'll allow themselves to see the creepiness of the effect too.

There's a second way this works as well, but to understand it you really need to understand the relationship between the amateur magician and the spectator. It's something I've spent a lot of time thinking about, but more importantly it's something I've spent a ton of time asking people about. I wouldn't be surprised if I've talked to people about their perception of magic and magicians—outside of a formal performance—more than everyone reading this combined. And I can tell you that it can be an uncomfortable dynamic for someone when a person in their life offers to show them a magic trick. Maybe they work with you, maybe you're  friends, maybe they put your genitals in their mouth on the regular. So when you say, "I'm going to read your mind," or, "I'm going to cast a shadow over this coin and make it disappear," they know you're not psychic and you're not a goddamn wizard, so they know it's an act and they play along. And it's easy to play along with during the effect, but at the end, what is the proper response they're supposed to give you for faking this impossible thing? Surely it can't be heaping praise on you as if you actually did it. They assume that's not something you want, that it would be almost condescending of them to act like that. So instead they describe it in terms you might use for someone's talent of faking the impossible. "That's very clever."

The three performance styles I've discussed on this blog and further defined in The Jerx, Volume One are all designed to remove that awkward moment for the spectator of just how they should react to someone claiming to have done the impossible when everyone involved knows it was just an act:

The Peek Backstage acknowledges the artifice throughout so there's no wondering how you want them to interact with you. You want them to interact with you as someone openly demonstrating deception to them. This can actually free them up for bigger reactions.

The Distracted Artist removes the magician's ego from concern because the effect happens unintentionally. And because it is only climax and no build-up you get a genuine response in the moment from the audience.

The Romantic Adventure is all about the journey, not the effect. The effect is, essentially, a real-time special effect in the greater experience you're creating. It's not meant to be commented on in the moment so there's no weird pressure there on the spectator.

So the second way removing yourself from the effect helps get you stronger reactions is that it lets your spectator off the hook. There's is never a sense of: "I'm going to do something amazing. Now what is your response to it going to be?" You've actively removed yourself and your ego from the demonstration and it frees them to give voice to what they're feeling from an effect, rather than just giving you credit for doing it well. It's incongruous to say "that's clever" or "well done" to someone who apparently isn't seeking credit. So instead they say what they're genuinely feeling. "That's crazy!" "That's amazing!" "That's not possible." "That's freaky." etc.

Of course, sometimes a trick is just going to be a trick. It's hard to play off some four-phase pseudo-memory demonstration as anything other than you being clever. So that's probably the response you'll get. That's okay. There are worse things to have said about you.