Last time I talked about where you can find good, reliable, and audience-pleasing commercial tricks. In this article, we’ll talk about other things you have to remember when selecting magic tricks for your first show.
Having a list of tried-and-tested tricks is a good starting point, but I would say slow down a moment. There is something you truly need to understand before we go any further. And it is this …
Tip #3: There will never be a trick that will propel you to the next level. Never.
Do this simple test. Put a deck of cards on the chair and watch them. They will not entertain you. They just sit there waiting for YOU to bring them to life.
Jeff McBride wrote:
I once wanted to write an ad that began with "Are you waiting for someone to invent the trick that will make you a superstar?" Not gonna happen. The knives don't make the chef. The brushes don't make the painter. The tricks don't make the magician.
Sure, practise and master the hard stuff as much as you like, because technical mastery is a great thing to have under your belt but ...
Tip #4: It's good to know the moves but entertaining will take you further... Much further.
Let me tell you a story.
Once I was at a magic convention. A big name in card tricks was about to do a 'one-trick' lecture session where he would perform this knuckle-busting SUPER TRICK. I thought this ought to be good so I followed the crowd who were all very excited to see the master perform his stuff.
The introduction was made, the crowd applauded, and the expert magician sat at his table. He called an audience member to help and launched into this incredibly hard trick. It was incredibly hard because the person next to me kept telling me so.
All I saw was the top of the magician’s head as he hunched over his deck and went into multiple faro shuffles, table shuffles, and cuts. Eventually one card was tabled, face down. The crowd hushed as he paused before turning it over. And finally, turn it over he did, but alas, it was not the selected card.
The magician immediately grabbed the deck and spread it, all the while muttering about this position and that. He said there would be no point in continuing, so he took his deck and left the room looking at his feet as he went. Well, the feeling of the room was awkward and uncomfortable.
"How about this then?,” a voice said above the din.
A young street performer walked over to the table with the coffee and biscuits on it, found three dry cups and some sugar cubes, then launched into an impromptu cups and balls routine. He had that room full of magicians hooting and hollering with laughter. He took his bow and we all filed out.
This story poses a very good question: What are you left with when you take the tricks out of your act?
If all you have is a series of tricks in your act, you are left with nothing if the performance of the tricks doesn’t go according to plan. But if in there WITH your tricks, you have some fun, some comedy, some stories, some of your personality (and maybe a back-up routine in your pocket), then you can keep going, as demonstrated by the street performer who kept the room alive at that moment.
Outside the room, I was talking to others about what had happened. "What about that cups and balls? That was amazing," I said.
"Nah, that was such a basic routine," someone countered. "Anyone could have done that. But that card trick, it wasn't really his fault it didn't work. It's ridiculously hard, you know."
I say it again, stop listening to other magicians.
And here's another reason why performance is paramount over your tricks nowadays: the smartphone.
With a simple Google search, audience members can easily and immediately discover the secret behind your tricks. Already I have had people call out how a trick was done before the end of my show, after they had done a quick YouTube search.
Because you can now be “found out” so much more easily these days, you need to start putting an emphasis on entertaining. Now more than ever, secrets don't matter. It’s your entertaining skills, your personality, your showmanship that will save you and make you a success even if members of the audience know your tricks.
Think of top stand-up comedians who go in front of a crowd just telling their own personal stories. As long as they are funny, they will always have an act. It's not like getting up there and telling jokes that any drunk member of the audience can ruin by yelling the punch lines. No punch lines, no act.
I heard this line in a movie recently. It fits our discussion here.
"Battles are fought with weapons but they are won by men."
-Tommy Lee Jones in Captain America
I think a similar thing can be said of magic.
"Magic is fought with tricks but it is won by personality."
This is something that seems to elude many magicians—and again, these are magicians who outclass me, technically, by a country mile. But ask successful, long-time entertainers who use magic and a host of other things in their act—ventriloquism, balloon twisting, and even bubble art—and you will hear how it’s not so much about the tricks you do, but the way you keep your audience entertained.
I hope that thought takes root in your mind and guide you as you build your show. It can make such a difference in what results you get and how fast you get them.
Next time, we’ll tackle a question that many beginning magicians think about: just how many tricks do you need to start an act?