Mailbag #5


How do you get people into engaging with your for your longer tricks? I don’t really see how you can initiate that type of performance. -GY

I’ve laid out my technique before. The way I do it is to start slowly with people and gradually bring them into a world of magic tricks performed in different contexts. I only continue on the trajectory laid out in that linked post if people seem to be enjoying these sorts of interactions. I’ve never actually said to people, “I perform magic tricks in different contexts to generate an immersive world of fantasy!” It sounds like it’s going to be very lame.

So I don’t tell them that, but I do bring willing participants along to that point after a while. There is a learning curve for them. This is a different style of magic and a different type of interaction. They have to understand that it’s a little more participatory. Traditionally, magic is is presented in a “just sit still and appreciate what I’m doing,” sort of manner. So you have to teach them that it’s encouraged for them to not only watch you do something impossible but to also play along for a few minutes. And that’s what the process in that post allows.

Yes, it takes some time, but time is one of the things that differentiates social magic from traditional, professional magic. Incorporating magic into your ongoing relationships is sort of the idea behind the social style. Social magic isn’t just:: Do matrix but do it at Starbucks. It’s about using magic to relate to people in a social context. And that’s something that develops over time.

How scary should you go in social magic? When does the emotion of fear in the participant hinder or enhance the entertainment?  Is that a personal persona choice?  Is that an audience understanding choice?  Are there overarching limitations for humankind?  If I could perform a routine in a certain setting that causes uncontrolled screaming at the end, should I?  With no disclaimer?  Is that going too far? — DA

“How scary should you go in social magic?” In the past few years I’ve taken people to three abandoned mental asylums and one abandoned resort as well as numerous other “haunted” places in the middle of the night to explore and experience a magic trick. These trips are unforgettable for them and having a focal moment where something exceptionally weird happens is an indelible mental hook. So I enjoy a good scary social magic presentation.

“When does the emotion of fear in the participant hinder or enhance the entertainment?” I’m not sure I can say when it enhances an effect. But it definitely can, and significantly. Here’s an experiment. Get the cheapest Haunted Deck you can find. Perform it for someone at your coffee table. Now perform it for someone else, as I have, in the dead of night, by flashlight, in one of the locations below (not my pictures, but actual places I’ve visited) and you will learn that fear can definitely enhance an effect.


It’s one thing to find a word you thought of has been predicted on a piece of paper. It’s another thing to find something you thought of spray-painted in brown paint (that is brown paint, right?) on a crumbling wall.

I would say it hinders an effect when they can’t focus on the “impossible” element because they’re too focused on the scary element.

“Is that a personal persona choice?” Somewhat.

“Is that an audience understanding choice?” Yes.

This sort of goes back to Friday’s post. Do they know this is theater? Then anything is potentially fair game. Especially when they’ve indicated they’re open to scarier stuff. When someone says to me, “Yes, I’ll go explore an abandoned asylum with you,” I know that’s the type of person who’s on board with being freaked out.

If they don’t know it’s fiction, then you’re not doing magic. You may be fooling them, and you may be fooling them with magic techniques, but if they don’t know they’re seeing magic then you’re doing a prank or you’re a scam artist or something.

“Are there overarching limitations for humankind? If I could perform a routine in a certain setting that causes uncontrolled screaming at the end, should I?  With no disclaimer?  Is that going too far?”

Uncontrolled screams of fear? I think in my opinion that would be going too far. (Unless you had someone who asked you to try and scare them as much as possible.) Maybe a brief jump scare, but not an extended period where they were overwhelmed with genuine fear.

My performance philosophy involves allowing people to opt-in to the emotions as much or as little as they want. The only thing I really want to “force” on them is the impossibility and the mystery. I may choose to put that impossibility in a setting that is conducive to an emotion: a scary setting, a romantic setting, a joyful setting, a nostalgic setting. And then I may fill the trick and the setting with other emotional elements, as described in Magic For Young Lovers. But the setting and the elements are there for them to interpret and connect with in the way they choose. This is what creates a nuanced and interesting experience. Anything that 100% produces an extreme emotional reaction is almost by definition going to be somewhat basic and manipulative.

Re: The Watch by Joao Miranda

[I]t's a remote control watch. It's what every spectator suspects when you do Psychokinetic Time.

I really admire Joao Miranda's ability to get shit built, especially technologically complicated stuff, but at this point in particular it's like... I don't think this is a prop that exists for a good reason? If I ever use my own watch for PK time people figure it's remote controlled, and that's a shitty $30 timex that doesn't always get their predicted time right. 

That's why you use their watch, which also has the benefit of not costing you $450. —SM

It’s interesting…You would think now would be the point where we’d be phasing out tricks that involve predicting the time on your own watch. But instead there’s been an uptick in releases of that effect.

I understand that it’s much easier to release a magic product once similar products have gone through research and development for a much wider market, but isn’t the whole idea of using technology in magic that you want be ahead of the curve?

If I painted “Magic Box” on my refrigerator and performed a trick where a can of soda placed in the magic box would become cold “by the power of my mind” over the course of 90 minutes, everyone would say, “That’s a shitty trick,” because nearly everyone knows what a refrigerator is.

But at what point did that become a shitty trick? It was long before 100% of the population understood the technology. 50% is already way too high. 25% is too much. 10%? 5%? I don’t know where the line is. And I don’t know why no one even talks about it. It seems like it’s the most important question when dealing with technological magic. Instead all we talk about is whether the remote is too loud. (Yes, it’s too loud.)

This is a nerdy piece of magic but there’s something memorable about it and I just thought I’d share it with you. {…}

While my real-life stuff leans toward more believable magic, when it comes to having fun with a group of younger kids, at say a family party, I’ll bring some sponge balls with me. The thing that gets them excited about the (end of the) trick is that the balls keep multiplying and multiplying. So lately, when the effect hits a great kid particularly hard, I’ll slip the mom a sponge ball and tell them to pop it under their pillow when they’re asleep. 

These have been parents I know and I typically I get texts back the next morning about the reaction and a) apparently, it’s bananas and b) it’s gratifying. For both me and the parents - everyone’s in on the secret and the kid thinks you’re magic—Gerry Katzman

I don’t perform a ton for kids, but I like it. If they’re bugging me to see a trick I’d say something like, “Look, I’ll show you a trick. But I have to be clear… I don’t know how to make it stop. Are you sure you want to see it?”

Then I would keep it going for years. Just keep finding ways to sneak sponge balls into their life as an ongoing trick (which would eventually turn into a joke, and then a form of torture). This is the sort of thing people love to help out with, so it would be easy to get other people in their life to join in. You could make it so their locker is filled with sponge balls in high school. Then there’s one sitting on their desk on the first day of a new job One is on their pillow on their honeymoon. During the sonogram of their first child, the doctor says, “This is nothing to be alarmed at, but there is a red, spongey mass,” and he shows them the sonogram and there’s a sponge ball on it. It’s not the sort of thing you would do for your neighbor’s cousin’s kid, but if there’s a special niece/nephew or grandkid or whatever in your life, it could be a fun, ongoing shared game. Then when you die, you plan it so the person in front of him/her in the procession line leading to your coffin drops a sponge ball on your corpse for them to find.

No, it’s not a “trick” at that point. It’s something better. It’s a potential life-long way to say, “I love you! I’m thinking of you!” to a special kid in your life.