This morning I’m heading out to AZ for my first fair gig of the year. When I do fairs, I try to work on new material. I’ll be doing something like 15 stage shows, plus I can do as much close up as I want in between shows.
The presentation is based on a old myth that was popular during the WWII era myth that Asians can tell time by looking at a cats eyes. I had some posters made of my cat and someone is going to try to guess the time and that’s the time on the clock.
I’m hoping the idea of having a cat and talking about my cat will suck people into the trick. I’m not sure how it’ll play, but I have five full days of shows to try to figure it out!!
On Saturday night I headlined a bar gig with a few comedians. The feature act was Morgan Colis and she had written a whole chunk of material about magicians because she was working with me. She went as far as to borrow a coat from her grandma for one of the jokes.
Things like that remind me that I’m not working as hard as I used to. Years ago when I was younger, I’d research all of the other acts I was working with, write venue, city, act specific jokes or bits for the gig. I don’t do that very often anymore, especially for a one off gig.
Working with younger acts (by younger I mean performers who are newer) reminds me that I need to work harder to keep up with the “kids”. There are many performers that phone it in the back half of their career, and it’s passable, then there are acts that keep working on their show.
I want to be one that keeps working on their show…
Today is the final day of the school assembly tour, and after 5 weeks I’ve learned a lot!
The big change was the last time I did this tour, I disliked when the kids sat on the bleacher and I was in the basketball court. I was used to having my back against a wall and the kids sitting on the floor, which is how most school assemblies in the Northwest seat the kids. The advantage of having the kids in the bleachers is that they can see more. The disadvantage is that I don’t have a backdrop, so smaller props can be harder to see. Luckily this year’s show doesn’t really use any small props that the audience needs to see.
I’m much more comfortable with using a handheld mic, and use it most of the time during the show, except a few spots where I need both hands. Using a handheld mic I think is visually superior to a headset as you can use the mic as a prop. I use it to accentuate a spot where I laugh, or cue the audience to a spot where they are supposed to respond.
Using a handheld mic also helps create a certain image, it makes me look more like a stand up comic than “magician”. My warm up is doing “crowd work” where I talk to people and try to find jokes with what they say. It’s a lot of fun, but not easy, especially for kids. How I frame is while we’re waiting for the last class that’s 5 mins late to arrive, I tell them we won’t have time for questions, so they can ask them now while we’re waiting to start. Really the show has started, and I do the questions started at the show’s scheduled start time. Usually one of the early questions I’ll get asked is if I’m a comedian. That means the image I’m trying to portray is working. When I get asked that, part my response is that doing stand up come for kids isn’t a thing. What cracks me up is I then do 5-8 minutes of stand up for the kids!
I’ll probably have more reflections on things that I’ve learned on the 20+ hour drive home over the next couple of days…
Today is the beginning of week three of this school assembly tour. One of the metric’s for figuring out how well you are doing is laughs per minute (LPM). My first show of the tour and first time doing the whole show for an audience I got 1.57 LPM’s. That’s an OK number, as this show has a lot of content in it, and isn’t a “just for fun” show.
I listened back to my last show on friday and it had 105 laughs in 45 minutes, giving me 2.3 LPM’s. that’s a huge improvement over the the first show. I added about 50% more laughs to the show!
If you don’t know how to calculate LPM’s, it’s super easy. Record your show, then listen back to it and count the laughs. I used a counter app on my iPhone. Then dived the laughs by the length of your show.
The question I always get asked is what qualifies as a laugh? That’s really up to you to decide.
Another metric is reactions per minute. In that you could count applause, or people going, “wow”. The thing I wouldn’t count are call and response, so anytime you ask the audience to do something and they do it.
Yesterday I posted about writing a line to try to solve a problem where I had a spot in the show where a kid would frequently shout something. I needed to add a line to tell the audience that the fruit I was using wasn’t real. The line I wrote was, “they’re not real, I got them from Ikea…So they’re made of particle board and Swedish meatballs”. That line didn’t get huge laughs, but seems to have solved the problem.
I tweaked the line a little bit to be, “they’re not real, I got them from Ikea…So they’re made of swedish meatballs and sawdust”. This new line is getting a laugh from the adults AND the kids. I think both particle board and swedish meatballs is too much for the kids here to understand. However they do know what sawdust is!
A little tweak like that upped my laughs per minute and solved the problem of how to address the fruit not being real.
Last night I reviewed the video of the first show of this tour and calculated my laughs per minute. I came in at 1.57 laughs per minute or about three laughs every too minutes. Normally my goal is about 3.5 LPM’s, however this show has more content than my standard magic and comedy show.
I think my short term goal is going to be two Laughs Per Minute, but ideally getting this close to three LPM’s.
If you’re a comedy magician and don’t know your laughs per minute, you need to know them. I’m always amazed by how many comedy acts I talk to and when I ask what their LPM’s are, they either don’t know or say a crazy number like 10. To put it in perspective a stand up comic is in the ballpark of 4-6 LPM’s, maybe as high as 8. You need to know the actual number that you’re getting. Once you know this, it allows you to improve.
The way to figure out your LPM’s is to record your show and count the laughs. Then divide the length of your show in minutes by the number of laughs and you get your LPM’s.
Another metric is “reactions per minute”, so this is more than just a laugh. It could be applause, the audience going whoa or whatever. Having a metric allows you to set a goal.
In less than a month I’ll be debuting a new school/library show. I’ll be on a school assembly tour for five weeks. The show is called “Incredible Idioms” and is themed on idioms.
The great thing about breaking in shows by doing three a day for over a month is that the show gets really good, really quick…Or you realize by the end of the 5 weeks you don’t like the show and never do it again.
The key to these is actually putting in the work. I’ll be doing a lot of reviewing video and writing every night and the first week or two the show will be rough, but then it’ll be super tight for the rest of the tour. Oh, by rough, I mean just good, and not great. I’ve done school shows for a long time, and have a good general sense of what kids like (but the do surprise me sometimes).
Right now I have a ton of half built props and half written routines. It feels like the show won’t be ready in less than a month, but once one routine gets completed, they’ll all domino into being built.
One of the reasons that I’m not a fan of stock lines is that 99% of the people who use them only use them because they have heard other people use them. Not because they fit their performing persona or move their show forward, but simply because other people use them.
Recently I saw a magician and he asked where I was from, and I said “Seattle” and he replied “I’m sorry”. This is a very old gag and not a good one. I replied with several reasons why Seattle is an amazing city and he had no follow up. Was I “heckling” him? NO. He asked me a question and opened up a dialogue by putting down where I live. Had he had a joke set about why he dislikes Seattle that wasn’t connected to asking me question, then I would have been heckling. However he asked the question to me, which opened a dialogue…and he didn’t have the point of view or comedy skills to follow up. I wasn’t even funny, just factual with my response.
My point is that if you ask a question only to have your “comedy” response, you might want to rethink why you ask. Especially if your comedy response potentially insults someone. That brings me back to why I dislike how most stock lines are used, the performer doesn’t think about them. So if you use stock lines, think about them…what they are really saying beyond the laugh (if there is a laugh).
A couple of days ago I wrote a couple of posts about a vanishing and reappearing match trick idea and method. It’s a decent idea for 20 or more years ago when matches were common. Bars don’t give away matches anymore and most smokers have lighters now and not matches, so it’s a trick that missed it’s time.
I wrote out a little script for the trick to try to make it relevant for our current time.
Here’s the routine:
Start with match box in left hand under cover of a handkerchief
“This is the most dangerous trick that I’ve ever done. It’s soo dangerous, I was kicked out of my third grade talent show for doing it when I was 13 years old!
More dangerous than running with scissors or putting honey on my chest to try to breast feed murder hornets…it’s playing with matches!”
Pull the handkerchief off your hand to show the matches.
“I thought I’d be the hottest act”
Strike match and put it into handkerchief covered fist (and into thumb tip)
“but my show went up in smoke”
Squeeze the tip to make a puff of smoke come out.
“Luckily the trick didn’t leave a mark on my permanent record”
Open handkerchief to show the match is gone and not damaged
“The crowd was fired up”
Reproduce the match from the handkerchief
“To this day I can still taste the excitement”
Put the match out on your tongue.
It’s got a little bit of a presentational hook and a couple of chuckles and justifies using the match. I don’t know if I’ll ever do it, but it was fun making the routine.
The other day I saw Phil Cass‘s show, and kinda briefly mentioned his shell game routine. Phil’s routine on his VHS tape in the late 1990’s was part of what got me going with the shell game when I first got serious about it.
Here’s the trailer for Phil’s video:
It’s always great to meet people who have had some influence on what you do and how you do it…it’s also a bonus when they are cool people!
It was great hanging out with Phil and Phillipa Cass while we were on the ship! The shell game video is still available from phil, you can get it at: https://www.philcass.com/shop/
If you’re into the shell game, it’s worth checking out! -Louie