MFYL and the James-Lange Universal Presentation

Back again with the Jerx, Season 3. I'm so out of practice. It's been a while since I derbled. Is that the word I'm looking for? Shit. I can't even remember how words work. I derble on my crong, right? That doesn't sound right. Alsowhereisthatbuttonyouusetomakespacesbetweenwords?Ifyouknow wait... never mind I found it. I got it guys.


First, let me thank everyone who signed up to support this season of The Jerx. The relationship between reader support and the existence of this site isn't some abstract thing, it's a direct correlation. So thanks for affording me the time to put into this site to keep it going. 

If you'd like to sign up to support this year of the Jerx and to receive the bonuses, you can still do so here.

As mentioned on that page the primary reward this year is going to be a book which I refer to there as MFYL.

I have most of the new material for that book outlined and I'm really happy with the way it's coming along. It's similar to The Jerx, Volume One, in terms of the type of experiences I shoot for when presenting magic, but I think I've gotten better at creating effects that generate those experiences in a more practical way, with routines that require less planning or that can be done in more varied circumstances. But at the same time there's some totally bonkers stuff in the book too. 


The title of the book is Magic for Young Lovers. Not because it has anything to do with youth or love really. It's just a nod to some of my favorite album covers/titles from the 50s and 60s which are so evocative of a kind of youthful energy, happiness and romance that I appreciate.

It's the type of thing I think magic can use at least a little of, because so often magic is evocative of absolutely fucking nothing beyond this little unlikelihood that's happening in our hands. 

One thing I've done a lot over the past month that I hadn't done much the previous year is watch other people perform. Now, the thing is, I get so caught up in my own thoughts on magic, and I'm in such a bubble because I tend to interact with people who are on a similar wavelength. So it's weird for me to watch magic that is performed in what I would consider a "traditional" style. And that style is "Look at me, and look at this thing I can do." It shouldn't be weird because 99.9% of all magic is that. And it shouldn't be weird because I did magic like that for most of my life too. 

But what I'm trying to do in recent years is shift the momentum of the amazement at the end of the trick. Instead of making it an implosion, where it's all geared back towards me, I want to turn it back on the world and make go outward. It's not like I won't still get the credit and the accolades, because people know I choreographed the experience, at least to a certain extent. But because the "story" of the trick isn't just about how great I am, it gives people the opportunity to get more invested in it. 

As I mentioned earlier this year, my focus is to create effects that really stick with people because they engage them emotionally in a manner that goes beyond just amazing them. Magic for Young Lovers is going to collect my most recent successes in that area.


The James-Lange Universal Presentation

This is an idea that I've used a bunch over the past month. It's something I really like. Maybe it's the sort of thing that goes over well for me particularly and the type of people I perform for, but even if you don't perform it with the identical tone that I do, I think you could still fool around with the same concept and use it in a style that suits you better.

This is a "Universal Presentation," meaning it's a presentation that can be used for many different effects. I will describe it below as I've performed it this past month.

This is one of the rare effects I've worked on that I think is probably better for a small group than one-on-one, but the particular performance I'll describe below is one of the ones I did for just one person because that's easier for me to remember and to write up.

My friend Amanda had come over to my place to do some writing on some projects we were working on (separately) and then to order food and watch a movie (together—it would be weird if she came over and we ate and watched movies in separate rooms, I think).

At one point while she was working on a play she's writing and I was working on, well, probably some dumb shit for this site, I said, "Can I show you something?"

I brought out a deck of cards and spread it between my hands and asked her to touch four cards. She did and I out-jogged each card she touched. "Let's see how you did," I said, with a little expectation in my voice. I stripped out the cards and turned them over and they were an 8, a 3, a Jack, and a 2. "Huh," I said. "Well, forget that. Never mind." And we both went back to our laptops.

Two minutes later I said, "Wait, can I try something else with you? This is going to be a little... weird, I guess, but I want to give it a shot. Have you heard this idea that, like... Well, you know how we smile when we're happy, of course. But there's also a theory that if we smile we'll become happy. So, in other words, we tend to think of it as the emotions coming first and then the physical expression of that emotion coming second. But it works the other way around too. If you do the physical manifestation of the emotion then the emotion follows. Is this making sense?"

She said it was, and that she had seen that TED Talk about how taking a power pose can make you feel more confident. "Yeah," I said, "that's the same sort of thing."

"I have this idea that's kind of along the same lines," I said. "This is going to sound dumb, but I have a feeling that if we act surprised, then we can cause something surprising to happen." She gives me a look. "Can we try it?" I ask. She agrees to.

I pick up the deck. "Okay," I say, "Let's act surprised." 

"Oh, wow!!!" she says, excitedly.

"Wooooaaaahhhh. Holy crap!" I say, and throw my hands up. 

"No way!" she says.

"Okay, okay, okay," I say, settling her down. "Now quick, touch four cards." She does, they're outjogged, stripped out and turned over and they're the four aces. Her eyes go big and she starts laughing. I take the aces and place them face-up on the couch cushion between us.

"See?" I say. "I think it's like... I don't know. The universe expects a balance or something. Usually you act surprised when something surprising happens. But if you act surprised without that incident then the universe creates it to keep things in balance. Maybe. Or who knows. Let's try again. Let's be really surprised this time and see what happens." 

We start acting surprised again.

"What. The. Ever-loving. Fuck," she says, holding her hands to her chest.

"Awwww...HELLLL no," I say, "Nuh-uh, nuh-uh. No way." 

"Wowee-Zowee!" she says, with a big smile on her face, and tosses a pencil and notebook up in the air.

"Ok, go!" I say as I spread the deck out for her again. She touches four cards, they're turned over... and they're nothing. Just four random cards.

"Well... F that idea," I say. "It was just a theory anyway."

I turn over the most recent selections and then pick the aces up off the couch to put them back in the deck. "What the hell?" I say. The aces now have four different colored backs, none of which match the deck. "They weren't like this when you touched them originally, right?" 

Mandy grabs the aces from me in order to look at them. Her jaw drops and nose wrinkles.

"Wowee-Zowee!" I say and toss the deck in the air.

That's it. The James-Lange Universal Presentation is the idea that acting surprised is the "Imp" that's used to cause the magic. You could obviously use this with all sorts of effects, but it happens to work nicely with a trick that has a kicker ending so you can do that kind of misdirect at the end. The trick I was using in the example above is the same card trick I mentioned a few weeks ago (I'll reprint it at the end of this post). And while I was getting a nice reaction with it as just a card trick, with this presentation it's something completely different and much stronger. (I have a theory developing that the tricks themselves don't actually matter much. Or, at least, much less than we think.)

Some things to keep in mind:

1. As I mentioned, and as you can probably imagine, with about 3-6 people this becomes an even more manic, ridiculous experience. It's like David Blaine level reactions but if his audience was on bath salts. I recommend having someone record it on their camera. Watching everyone "act" surprised is a ton of fun. If not, you need to find new friends. Set the tone for the surprised acting yourself and keep it a little low key the first time around so it has somewhere to build to on the second go around.

2. In regards to the particular trick I used above, you need to have the aces out of your hands and in a place where everyone can see them after the first phase or else they'll just assume you switched them during all the madness.

3. I don't know this for a fact, but I wouldn't be surprised if—when my friends think back on it— they somehow conflate their fake acting surprised with their genuine reaction to the trick. So they might remember this trick as something that caused them to genuinely flip out a little. Maybe. That's just a theory.

There you go, if you like this sort of thing, I'd be happy to have you support the site and receive Magic for Young Lovers and the other bonuses.

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Here again, are the instructions for the un-named card trick above. I had the feeling it might be something that a million people had already thought up, but no one came to me with a reference for it. The closest thing to it was a trick called Boondoggled in Tom Frame's book Frameworks. It's a similar effect, but a different method. (This version is cleaner, but his has the benefit of not needing a double-backer.)

Here's what you need, going from the top down. A red deck of cards. A double-backed red card. 4 aces with different back colors. Hold a pinky break over the double-backer. Spread the cards in order to have four cards touched and out-jogged for half their length. Do a Vernon strip-out addition type thing to remove the four selected cards as well as everything under your break. Turn everything over on top of the deck to show the spectator has found the four aces. Remove the aces and set them aside face-up, then you can reveal the different colored backs at whatever point it makes sense in your routine.

Doing this trick with the James-Lange Universal Presentation goes like this:

First time: It doesn't work. Nothing happens.

Second time: You do the handling as mentioned above.

Third time: Again, this is just a bluff. You don't do anything.

Between the second and third time you'll need to flip over the top five cards on the deck to reorient them. Other than that, it's pretty straightforward.