From the post, “If It's All The Same With You, I'd Like to Never Fucking Hear These Three Things Ever Again, Thanks” From the Magic Circle Jerk blog, April 15, 2005.
“Don't run when you're not being chased."
First off, even non-metaphorically it doesn't make that much sense. There are plenty of reasons to run when you're not being chased. Maybe it's raining out. Maybe you're trying to drop some pounds. Or maybe you got a little turd beginning to inch its way out your butthole so you decide to run home and the whole time you're thinking that maybe the running is actually making it worse, like maybe your scissoring legs are squeezing your bowels as you would squeeze a toothpaste tube, and maybe you should just walk or something, but hell now you really gotta go. You know what happens if you only run when being chased? You shit your drawers, that's what.
“Don’t run when you’re not being chased,” is a seductive bit of advice for the magician. First because it’s rooted in some common sense. Second because it sounds like advice that is telling you to play it cool. “Don’t be a spaz. Chill out. Don’t run when you’re not being chased.”
But it’s advice that, in my opinion, has become a little perverted over time to the point where some people are undermining their own effects because they’re so desperate to “not run.”
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. It’s John Carey performing a trick called Kaleidoscope.
Regardless of whether you think that trick is good or not, there’s a kind of fatal flaw in performing it the way he does in the video. I tried it out myself on a couple people and both said the same thing.
“You never showed me the backs of those four cards.”
“Yes I did.”
“No you didn’t.”
“At the beginning. I counted eight red-backed cards.”
“I don’t remember that.”
I think anyone who has performed card magic for some time has been in this position. The spectator has failed to notice some element of the effect during the initial stages, and then later on you have to, sort of, retroactively convince them you did something amazing.
“No, no,” you say, “The cards were all face down.”
“They were?” they say.
“Yeah, when we started. I spread the deck and the were face down.”
“Ok… yeah… I don’t remember that.”
And you’re just thinking, “Agggh…Fuck this dude. I’m never hanging out with him again.”
The problem is that (at least in this particular performance) John never clearly demonstrates he has eight red-backed cards. Yes, he shows them at the beginning using a Hamman Count (or something similar, I don’t know my shit.) But without drawing attention to it, why would he expect anyone to ever absorb that information? He’s talking to them when he does the count so they’d be looking at his face, not his hands at that moment, so how are they ever expected to understand what the situation is at the outset?
The issue is, we’ve come to feel that saying something like, “I have eight cards and they all have red backs,” is bad patter because you’re emphasizing something that should be obvious. You’re running without being chased.
But here’s the thing, at some point in your trick you need to emphasize that which contradicts the magic effect to come. This is what magic is. If they don’t understand that the cards are all red, or that you never look towards the business card with their word on it, or that the coins never leave their sight, then there is no trick.
And, in fact, “I have eight cards and they all have red backs,” is bad patter. But it’s serving purpose. If you’re going to remove that patter, great. But you need to do something to serve the same purpose. Certainly there are more elegant ways to emphasize the color of the cards without just saying it directly. You could have all eight picked from a red-backed deck and switch in the four odd-backed cards during the strip-out. Or you could show the cards face-up first and then say, “All the cards are different on this side,” turn them over and Hamman Count them, “But they’re all the same on this side. Because this is a demonstration in free choices and blind choices,” or whatever the point of your trick may be. Regardless of what you say or do, you can’t just eliminate the part where you establish what the situation is at the start of the trick.
But I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the different colored backs by indicating the back color might be important in some way.
I get that. But here is what you’re shooting for then, “Oh wow, different colored backs! Wait… did I ever see these backs originally?” That’s the best you’re going to get if they’re never convinced they’re looking at eight red-backed cards.
Carey’s trick is just an example, of course. This is an issue with all sorts of tricks. Not just card magic or visual magic.
Remember, the audience doesn’t know where things are going, so they don’t know what to focus on unless you tell them.
You would be shocked if you knew how many people walk away from a business card peek thinking, “Well, he must have looked at the card at some point.” Only by strongly emphasizing that you will never look in the direction of the card will they ever be certain of it.
But if I just turn my head away they’ll know I can’t see. Possibly, but they’ll never be completely sure. I’m in a cafe writing this. There is a girl sitting next to me. Has she gotten up from her table at all since I’ve been here? No. At least I’m pretty sure not. But I’m not 100% sure because I didn’t know that was something to concern myself with.
But surely spectators know to be concerned about whether or not you see their card. You would think so, but I can’t tell you how many times in the testing I’ve been involved with, that someone will get information via a peek and the spectator, when breaking down the effect, will say, “He must have seen the information some how.” We’d ask if they saw the magician look at the card. “No, but he must have.” This type of response would only go away when we consistently emphasized the card was in a position where it could not be looked at.
(This, by the way, is one of the decent justifications for using a peek wallet. “For this to work I need to hold your card, but I don’t want you to think I sneak a peek at it while it’s in my hands so… let’s put it in my wallet.”)
This is something I have to remind myself over and over because my instinct is that these things should be done with some subtlety. If we were real mind readers/magicians, would we constantly be emphasizing the conditions? Probably not. But most of the people you perform for in social situations don’t believe you’re a real mind reader or a magician. So that argument doesn’t fly.
There are certainly situation where “don’t run when you’re not being chased” makes sense. But it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t establish the conditions of an effect or make clear the nature of the impossibility.
If a friend of mine can track down the data, Wednesday’s post will have some information about a similar concept we tested years ago in our focus groups. Something that had an interesting twist in how the results turned out.