The Least You Can Do

Imagine you're in a relationship with the love of your life. Every morning, before she wakes up and before you leave for work, you write her a love letter that you then hide in some location so that she'll stumble upon it later in the day; in the fridge, in her purse, on top of the coffee pot. This is just one of the many ways you remind her of how much she means to you. You also plan special trips, surprise her with elaborate birthday celebrations, write her love songs, chop firewood for her elderly parents, make her favorite dinner when she's had a rough week, and so on. Over time, these romantic gestures become less frequent. But those daily love letters always remain. Kind of. They get shorter and less thoughtful as the years go on. What was once a full letter-sized sheet every morning, becomes half of that, then it becomes a post-it. As time passes the messages on the post-it become even more generic until you're just writing "♥U" on a post-it every morning. Then one day you realize it would be easier just to take yesterday's note out of the trash and put it back on the kitchen table. So now you just re-use the same note every day for a couple of months until it gets too ratty and you replace it.

Someone says to you, "Does your relationship still have that spark?" 

And you reply, "Yes, in fact, I leave her a love note every morning."

You applaud yourself for leaving that post-it on the table every morning, when really it's the least possible effort you could put in.

Magicians have a similar issue with taking pride in putting in the least possible effort. And that comes in the form of their passionate love-affair with...


"When I snap my fingers, your card will rise to the top."

"When I snap my fingers, this card will change to your card."

"When I snap my fingers, the ball will disappear."

Nearly every well-known teacher of close-up magic praises snapping. "You need to snap your fingers so people know the moment the magic happens," they say.


Okay, I'm going to give you one simple tip to invigorate your close-up performances: Don't ever snap to make magic happen. 

If you ever do anything with a "snap" of the fingers, you've literally put the least possible effort into coming up with one of the more interesting aspects of a trick: the stimulus that makes the magic happen. 

This may seem like a small point, but I've found removing snapping as my default magical action has had a fairly significant benefit in terms of audience engagement and interest.

Last Wednesday I talked about the idea of performing magic that feels real in the moment. When you snap your fingers to make magic happen you're essentially saying, "Look at me! I'm a magic genie!" That's going to pull the rug out from under any sense that what they're seeing has any real relevance. "Well... he's treating this like hokey bullshit, so why should I invest anything more in it as the viewer?" And that's completely fine if you want your tricks just to be a momentary diversion. I think that's perfectly acceptable. But then let's not hear this shit about magician's complaining how people don't take the art seriously and people think it's just for kids, etc. If your performance is on the level of, say, a knock-knock joke as far as depth goes, then the fact that people dismiss it and move on is exactly what you're asking them to do. 

Why don't you respect my knock-knock jokes! I'm an artist! Perhaps you will respect my Knock-knock Tragedies!

Who's There?
Officer Williams
Officer Williams who?
Officer Williams from the county sheriff's department. I'm afraid your husband has been in an accident. It's not good ma'am.

So what do I do if I'm not snapping?

What does the guy in the hypothetical at the top do if he can't leave his wife the old post-it note? It doesn't matter. Any other gesture is going to be better. Same with not snapping. Do any other goddamn thing you want. You're doing ambitious card? Rub your hands together and hold them around the deck like Mr. Miyagi. Say a prayer. Stare at the deck and sharply inhale after a few seconds. Cast a shadow over the deck a la Michael Ammar (I like to do very elaborate variations on this). Teach your spectator to create an energy ball then pluck it from their hands and smash it into the deck. Set the deck on the table and wait for 2:33 AM (the Devil's hour). Slowly breathe over the deck. Put the deck in the refrigerator for a minute. Extract the "essence" of the deck from the deck on the table, spread through this invisible deck in your hand, and place their invisible selection on top of the invisible deck and then push that essence back into the actual deck.

Or go deeper. Multiple Universe Selection is a change from one card to another. I could have changed the card with a snap of my fingers. Instead I change it with a visualization exercise that sends us to a different dimension. Guess which one stays with an audience longer.

Most of my presentations are just elaborate ways to get rid of snapping.

If I brought you over to my house and said I had this incredible thing to show you, no matter what it was—a liquid solution that turned $1s to $20s, a levitating rock, a picture of my mother that jumped from room to room—and I said, "Check this out, watch what happens." And after a moment it just happened, you'd be like, "Whoa, what the hell was that?" But if I showed you the same thing and said, "Watch what happens with the snap of my finger!" You'd say, "Oh, that's a neat trick."

Snapping is a holdover of the need to be seen as The Magician. "That was me, everyone. I'm the one who did this. I did it with my snap. My powerful snap. Don't forget." That's right. You snapped. You've got the power. (It's gettin' kinda hectic.)

You're an adult. You don't need that validation anymore. 

At the very least it's a bland, cliched action. It's something every single close-up magician is doing just out of force of habit. And certainly, with a little thought, you can come up with a more compelling way to initiate the magic than the thing that requires no thought that everyone is doing on auto-pilot, right? Right?