When people talk of the most valuable tools for a magician to have, they usually talk about a thumbtip or a marked deck or something. But in my experience, when it comes to creating small miracles, the most useful weapon in a magician's arsenal is a magic wingman.
"Wingman" singular, is a bit of a misnomer. Ideally you want a small group of people you can call on to help out with your effects and for whom you make yourself available to help with theirs. Similar to your 100 trick repertoire, crafting your little syndicate of deception should be an ongoing project of growing and refining your crew.
To be clear, I'm not talking about creating a group of magicians who go around performing tricks together like the it's the goddamn reboot of Totally Hidden Extreme Magic. I'm talking about creating a resource of like-minded individuals who are willing to help each other out with the execution of tricks and experiences.
I first learned the value of a wingman by being one, not by having one. I remember reading a trick in a beginners book as a kid. It's a trick where a coin disappears from under a handkerchief. The magician places the coin on his hand, then covers it with a handkerchief. The spectators can feel the coin underneath the handkerchief to confirm it's still there. And then—with a snap of his fingers or an entreaty to Christ himself (whatever type of Imp the magician prefers)—the handkerchief is whipped away and the coin is gone. And it's truly gone. It's nowhere on the magician.
The method, as most of you know, is that the last spectator to confirm the coin is under the handkerchief actually steals the coin away. When I read this trick as a kid I desperately wanted to perform it. But not as the magician. I wanted to be the guy who steals the coin and then acts dumbfounded with everyone else. That, to me, seemed much more fun.
Ever since that time, I've always been willing to be the wingman and I've seen how strong effects can be when the deceptive duties are shared with someone the audience doesn't know is even in on it.
Not everyone who is into magic will be a good wingman. That guy you know from the local magic club who is super ego-driven and believes people really think he has powers, he's not good. You just want to find chill, normal people who are in this for fun, not validation.
The one rule we have amongst my group is that as long as you're available and the request isn't onerous in some way, then we just automatically agree to help each other out. And we'll pretty much do whatever is asked. That way it doesn't have to be an issue where we're like, "Hey, do you think maybe if you're free on Sunday you could possibly help me out with this idea I have? If not, no big deal. But if it's feasible could you mull it over and maybe consider it? If it's the sort of thing you'd be okay with?" We're already committed to help each other, so we don't have to renegotiate everything each time we want to try something. It's just like, "Are you free Sunday? Okay, here's what I need." No one ever feels taken advantage of because everyone is available for everyone else. You're not constantly being asked to give up your night for someone else, but maybe a dozen times a year or so you're asked to help out with some ambitious effect.
Secret Assistant - Having someone who's willing to be at a bar or cafe you're at, or wait outside your house while you toss something out the window, or sit nearby while you're hanging out with someone at the park, or anything along those lines, that's the ultimate weapon. Your spectator views the interaction as being just between you and her, but there is at least one other party helping out who she never factors into the experience.
I've done things like The Look of Love, and Faith from The JAMM #6 with the help of secret assistants. Those tricks are already amongst the strongest tricks you can do in magic, but with the help of a secret assistant they're stronger than at least half of the miracles Jesus accomplished (some of which I'm sure he had help with too).
Less-Secret Assistant - The previous category is about having people help you who aren't noticed by your target audience. The "less-secret" assistant, is similar to the person stealing out the coin from under the handkerchief. Your target audience knows they're there, they just don't realize they're in on it. Ideally, your target audience won't know that the LSA is someone with an interest in magic, but it's not necessary to keep that totally secret.
I have a whole post coming up on uses for a Less-Secret Assistant. It's one of my favorite ways to utilize a wingman (and be utilized as one).
Partner - Sometimes you and your wingman will be performing as equals, like in a two-person code act, or something along those lines. I don't use this wingman relationship that often, but my absolute favorite version of it will appear in Magic for Young Lovers.
Pimp - In improv comedy there is the concept of "pimping" people (yes, I know pimping isn't exclusive to improv comedy, but that's the most direct correlation to what I'm talking about here, not, like, sexual slavery). An example of pimping in improv would be someone walking on stage and someone else saying, "Oh, hey, Bill Cosby, how's it going?" Now the person who walked on stage is forced (pimped) into being Bill Cosby in that scene.
Similarly, you can have your wingman "pimp" you into performing, but it's all a con, because he's setting you up for something you're already prepared for.
This can be as simple as your wingman saying to you and your target audience, "Oh, you have to show them that trick you showed me the other day." This type of thing can create an anticipation for an effect that might not be there if it seems like you are pushing the effect on them (as opposed to having it pulled from you). It would be similar to being out with a couple people and one of them says to you, "Oh my god, you have to see this video Corinne took. It's so funny." That's going to hype up Corinne's video more than if she pitched the video to you herself. And that's even more true with something like magic, because a third party can say, "You have to see this trick Andy performed for me the other day. It's fucking amazing." And that will be intriguing and get people excited. But if I myself say, "You have to watch this trick I'm going to show you. It's fucking amazing." That may come off as egotistical and even turn people off.
Your wingman can also pimp you in a way that sounds more like a challenge. "Okay, but what if she didn't have to take the card out of the deck? What if she just thought of a card." And, of course, you're set up to do the trick with a thought of card.
Cast - One of the more satisfying ways I've found to use a wingman is to have them play a part in some sort of long-running fiction that you've established. For example, in this post I wrote about a presentational tool called The Cast, where you create some characters to help you get into different effects. And these people can recur in your presentations over months or years.
Now, the first time you bring up someone in your "Cast" it can be somewhat believable. Maybe you do have an aunt who used to be a professional psychic, or an old mentor who you visit once a year, or a guy in your office who used to be a male witch. But as time goes on, people may start to think that it's just part of the story you're weaving. This all depends on how outlandish the character you've created is, and the tone you take when talking about the person.
So maybe, over the course of a few months, I've shown someone a few things that "Glenn the male witch," an old co-worker of mine taught me. At this point they're probably pretty sure this is all part of the fantasy.
Then, one day we're at the farmer's market and I whisper to my friend, "Oh, look over there. That's Glenn, that male witch I used to work with. Oh, hey Glenn! Good to see you. You got a lot of herbs there. I'm guessing those aren't for cooking with. Haha. Great seeing you."
And my friend is dumbfounded. Fucking Glenn, the male witch is real!? That sort of thing can be as mindblowing and "magical" as any trick.
So where do you find these people? Look, man, I don't know. I'm not here to tell you how to make friends. Keep an eye out for people with an interest in magic who don't seem like total drips. You don't want to add someone into your little circle of wingmen if they're not the sort of person you'd want to be around in real life anyway. Attend some local magic club meetings or lectures and poach some people from there. Or send some of the people you already know with an interest in magic a link to this article and ask if they'd be interested in establishing this type of arrangement.
The one key thing to keep in mind is that to find willing wingmen you have to be one.
Too often magicians only get together to perform for each other. It's a very safe thing to do because no one is expecting much insofar as presentation goes and if you screw up a trick it doesn't matter because the other person probably already knew how it was done. While it can be fun to dick around for the sake of other magicians, joining forces with them to truly mystify the uninitiated is (in my experience) a significantly more fulfilling way to use these skills.