Be Like Aunt Tippy - Examination In Social Magic

I want to wrap up my recent posts on examination with some final thoughts (for now) on the subject.

A couple months ago I got an email that asked:

Am I right in thinking that in social magic, cleanup is even more important? How often do people say "let me have a look at this thingy again" after an effect? And how do you handle it? Carrying an ungimmicked duplicate of everything with you? —AS

Yes, you’re right that cleanup is more important in social magic. The reason why is because social magic is meant to have the feel and rhythm of a social interaction. That’s it’s defining quality.

Traditional magic is meant to have the feel and rhythm of a performance.

In a performance, you can introduce an object of interest, and not let the audience examine it.
In a performance, you can speak in one long, prepared monologue.
In a performance, you don’t have to address the audience’s questions, concerns, and curiosity. If I stop Derek Delgaudio mid-show and say, “Wait… hold-up…tell me more about that…,” then I’m the idiot, because that is not the nature of a performance.

But social magic is just the opposite. It’s a social interaction, first and foremost, that you move along the path of the trick you’re performing.

When you ignore your spectator’s interests or concerns, or you start speaking some clearly memorized patter, it no longer feels like a normal interaction, because that’s not how normal people behave in social situations. It may still be something, but it’s not social magic.

In my experience, people love seeing magic in casual situations. What they don’t love, and what feels awkward and alienating, is a “formal presentation” done at a cafe or in the break-room at work. So even if they realize you’re going into a trick, as long as it feels natural and casual, they will go along with it in that same spirit. What you don’t want to do is anything that breaks that spell in the moment. And one of those things that breaks the spell is withholding an object of interest.


When performing social magic, don’t ask yourself, “What would Darwin Ortiz do?” Ask yourself, “What would Aunt Tippy do?”

Aunt Tippy just visited the Grand Canyon and you two are going to meet up for coffee and she’s going to tell you all about it. You and her are about to have a normal social interaction. Sure, Aunt Tippy will probably handle the bulk of the conversation. She may speak uninterrupted for minutes at a time. And when she tells the story of the snake that bit Uncle Bob’s scrotum, you may get the sense that it’s a story she’s been telling a lot of people since her return. Regardless of that, you can still have a genuine give and take with her.


If Tippy starts reciting a clearly memorized script about her trip to the Grand Canyon, or…
If you ask Tippy a question and she ignores it or only briefly addresses it, clearly intent on getting back to her pre-determined outline of how this conversation should go, or…
If Tippy has a bunch of obviously pre-written set-up/punchline jokes that she is inserting into the conversation…

You will start feeling like maybe Tippy was abducted by aliens on her Grand Canyon trip and you are now just dealing with some lizard in a Tippy-skin suit.

And getting back to the examination issue, if Tippy pulls out this “cool shot glass” she got at a gift shop and displays it at a distance and—when you reach for it—she quickly put it back in her purse, you will find that very strange. You’ll find it strange even though you have no reason to suspect anything weird about the shot glass.

So how do you think non-examination in a social situation comes across when the person you’re with does have a reason to question the object?


Let’s say you transform a one dollar bill into a twenty dollar bill. There are four reasons someone would not ask to examine the bill in a social situation:

  1. They don’t give a shit about what you just showed them.

  2. They weren’t fooled by the trick. They know they don’t need to examine the $20 because they know the original $1 is still hidden in your hand.

  3. They just assume it’s a trick bill and they like you and they don’t want to embarrass you or spoil the moment by asking to look at it.

  4. They are so convinced that you have real magic powers that they don’t need to look at the $20. Obviously it’s just a normal $20. Why would you—a genuine WIZARD—turn the bill into anything other than a real $20?

Here is how deluded most magicians are: If someone doesn’t want to examine their magically altered object … they assume the reason is number four! Seriously! This is why you get the admonition, “If the spectator wants to examine your props, then you’ve done something wrong.” This is completely lazy, wishful thinking.


Here is the rule I operate under:

If I am drawing people’s attention to an object, then I must act in a way that is consistent with that object being worthy of their interest. Therefore it must be able to be examined.

A desire to examine an object is an expression of the interest you’re trying to generate.

You can’t ask people to be somewhat interested in something you’re choosing to show them. That comes off as non-human. “Pay attention to this interesting thing! … Ok, now stop paying attention when it’s at its most interesting.”


This doesn’t mean everything has to be examinable at all times, but objects of interest should be examinable at moments of peek interest.

When I read your mind, I’m not encouraging you to take interest in the pencil and the pad of paper. If you’re demanding to examine them, then there is quite possibly an issue with my performance.

But if I’m changing one bill to another, the bill is the thing I’m asking you to express interest in. Not allowing you to look at it at the end would be bonkers.


To answer the questions from the email above:

How often do people say "let me have a look at this thingy again" after an effect?

They don’t have to say it because I always toss the item out for them to look at. How often do they take me up on my implied offer to look at it? Almost 100% of the time. In fact, if they don’t, that’s when I get concerned. The few times someone hasn’t taken at least a cursory look at some magically altered object, I’ve found—when breaking down the trick with them a little—that they already had a pretty good understanding of how the trick worked, which is what led to the disinterest in the examinable item.

And how do you handle it? Carrying an ungimmicked duplicate of everything with you?

Well, I don’t ever carry around more than one gimmicked object in the first place, so I don’t need a bunch of ungimmicked ones. But yes, if I have a gimmick that demands to be examined, I will choreograph things so I can switch it for something examinable.


Here is, I think, the only intellectually honest counterpoint to the examination argument.

Magician: I don’t let people look at my props.

Me: But then they’ll just assume there’s something fishy about them.

Magician: I know. I just don’t care.

I think that’s a fair and rational position to take. It’s at least as fair and rational as saying, “I don’t care if they know I’m using sleight-of-hand,” which is an attitude a lot of magicians have. But ultimately I think it’s an attitude that cheats the audience in a way. This is a broader concept I’ll be discussing in a post in the near future called: No Easy Answers.