Recently I started doing a trick over Zoom where I trigger the Amazon Echo / Alexa at the spectator’s house. It’s got a fun feel, because the trick happens at everyone’s house how has an Alexa that can hear it respond.
It started out with me figuring out you could get Alexa to reveal a specific playing card by asking, “Alexa, what’s your favorite playing card?” and it will say “Ace of Spades“. Most magicians know you can get a random playing card by asking it to “pick a card“, but being able to get a consistent card is helpful for a reveal.
That going me thinking about what else might be Alexa’s favorites. I started asking all sorts of questions starting with “Alexa, what’s your favorite…” and have a little bit of a list going. There’s a list on Reddit from about 3 years ago, and some of the answers have changed since then, but it will give you an idea of some of the things to ask. Something to remember it to test your results on other people’s Alexa’s before you roll out the trick. There are somethings that have variables, like when I ask, “Alexa, what’s your favorite season?” I get one answer and other people get a different answer.
OK, now that I had the reveal for the trick, I needed to come up with the trick. I’ll write about that tomorrow…
In a few months I’ll be doing some bits for the Kids Entertainer Fest which is a virtual online convention for family performers
I was asked to create some “filler” material and will be popping on throughout the convention to show and teach some quick tricks and stunts. I didn’t want to rehash old things that already exist. My goal is to create new things or some interesting twists on old tricks.
One of the things I started playing with making a troublewit out of a dollar bill:
If you don’t know, a troublewit is traditionally a giant sheet of paper that’s folded up to and twisted to make different shapes. Here’s Jay Marshall doing it:
The challenge from scaling down something that big to something very tiny is that it limits what you can do with it. The advantage of it being soo small is that it will allow me to do the magical kicker that I’m planning on doing with it, which is at the end revealing the one dollar bill has changed to a one hundred dollar bill!
I’m beginning to become an old man yelling at the kids to get off my lawn, but instead I’m yelling at magicians to stop crowdsourcing content on a Facebook groups. The people who do it are usually pretty lazy, and rarely reveal their work first or at all.
This was recently posted:
First of all, anyone who has a remotely original line isn’t going to give it up. But also the original poster didn’t give any context, he’s just trying to build a Milton Berle joke book in the thread. Unfortunately when you ask a garbage question you get garbage answers:
The person who posted the two jokes (?) isn’t the person who wrote them. That person essentially stole two jokes they’ve heard a magician say, then offered the stolen jokes to other magicians. First of all, neither is very funny and the first thing is kind of an @sshole thing to say to someone. It’s a very late 1980’s to early 1990’s stereotypical type thing a magician would say. It’s not modern, but more so it really doesn’t move most magician’s characters forward and that’s the bigger problem, most magicians don’t know who they are on stage, and how using sh*tty lines lines like this doesn’t move the ball forward for them.
It’s also this thinking that’s the reason why people think all magicians all tell the same jokes and do the same tricks. It’s because soo many do the same regurgitated crap. Go out and actually work on your show. Don’t know how? I wrote a post about it recently and you can read it here
About a week ago I did a little chat with Nick Lewin and Fielding West about performing comedy magic. It was a live Zoom chat and it was a lot of fun and the feedback was very positive. A few people have asked if it would be available afterwards. It looks like Nick has it as a download on his website www.lewinenterprises.com
If you missed it, here’s a little video teaser
One of the key takeaways from this talk is that most magicians that call themselves comedy magicians don’t understand comedy. You need to go out and learn to write jokes, and create comedy. There’s a real interesting moment in the talk where we create a joke to fill a spot in the show that’s just expository patter. Not only do we create the joke to fill an slow spot, we tweak it and add a tag to it!!
I was honored to be part of this panel and it was a lot of fun!
Something I try to be aware of is the content of my show and how it relates to the current world. An example of this is trying to stay about from politically charged topics, and not gendering people. I’ll be 100% honest that I struggle with not assuming someone’s gender, I’m getting better about it. The thing is I’m not just pretending it’s not a thing, I’m actively trying. Just breaking 40 years of habit is tough.
Right now I’m having a struggle with a line in my show where I say: “…it gives you the illusion of choice…like voting” The original intent with that line was my opinion on the electoral system. However with the political challenges the USA has faced in the last six months I can see how that line now carries very heavy political baggage.
Do I keep it or drop it?
Here’s the thing, it’s not a huge line in the routine or show. So dropping it won’t hurt the show. Also, it’s a probably pretty easy to write something to fit that format, just change “voting” to something else.
It comes down to how bad do I want to defend the punchline if someone gets upset at it? It’s not a joke or bit I would fight really hard for. There are other edgy jokes that I definitely would fight for, this just isn’t one of them.
Moving forward, I’ll probably drop the line, or rewrite it and a few years from now it may make it back into the show…
One thing that I think is never taught to magicians is how to work on your show. Most magicians have no idea how to do this…I didn’t for the longest time. This week 5 years ago I drove from Seattle to Nebraska to do an 8 week school assembly tour.
The pay was garbage, but that’s not why I took the tour. They had me doing three to four shows a day, five days a week, and that’s why I took the gig. I left Seattle with some rough ideas for what the show would be like, but no established routines, just some props.
Let me stop and say that this really isn’t a good way to approach a tour. I took the gig specifically to generate material. For what it paid, I wasn’t going my tried and true material. That’s said, I did have an idea of tricks that I wanted to do, I just hadn’t really done them in a show context before.
For example, this is where I learned to do my multiplying billiard ball routine. It started out using a shell, but due to the wide angles of a school gym, it morphed to a no shell routine. I dropped a lot of material and added a lot on that tour.
OK, so how do you work on a show?
For this tour I recorded at least one show a day. Then I got back to the hotel and watched at least one show’s recording from that day. I took notes and wrote jokes every night. That’s a crap ton of watching yourself, but you get good really quick. Every night I would have several actionable things to not do in my show as well as several new jokes or bits to try the next day.
That’s how you work on a show. Record every shows (or at least one if doing multiple a day) and actually watch it with a critical eye. Write notes for what you like and don’t like. Then watch it again and write new material to add.
However, it’s work and it’s a pain to do. When you’re on the road by yourself it’s much easier to do than when you’re at home with your family, or whatever home based distractions you have.
You need to sit down and actually watch your previous performances. It’s amazing how many shows you thought were amazing are pretty cringy when they are taken out of “the moment”.
Now that my state is opening up for live entertainment, it looks like Andy Gross will be performing in my area. If you don’t remember who he is, a couple of years ago he was performing at a college and was accused of sexually harassing a student on stage. At the time it made huge national news.
He crossed the line in my opinion when he said, “…I got a free feel out of it“. Well, he crossed the line before that with the routine he did. He basically stole the routine David Copperfield who did it in the 1990’s with the Cardiographic trick on one of his TV specials. Also if you look at his promo pic in the ad for the show, it’s not the only trick he’s swiped from DavidCopperfield.
Why was it OK for Copperfield to do it and not Andy Gross? The main thing is where the world is/was when it was done. Copperfield did it in the mid 1990’s about 25 years ago. The world was a very different place back then. That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it socially acceptable. Just like 25 years ago you could smoke in a park on a bench while your kids are playing at the playground. It wasn’t right 25 years ago, but it was socially acceptable. I remember when I was in high school in the mid 1990’s there were schools with their proms being cancelled because an interracial couple or a gay couple was going to attend and rather than let them go, they simply cancelled the whole thing…and the community supported them. It wasn’t right then, however it was socially acceptable. This is also part of the plot of the Netflix Movie The Prom.
You have to be able to change with the times. Unfortunately most performers don’t reassess their shows to look for things that have hit their expiration date…which Andy Gross clearly hadn’t done.
Here’s my conundrum. I’m curious what he does in his show…but I also don’t want to support him. I don’t want to support people who swipe material.
It’s kinda strange practicing my show. I used to practice new stuff, or when there was a change to existing material, didn’t really run the whole show. I need to right now as it’s been 11 months since I’ve done my full main show. I’m doing a short 10-15 min act in a comedy show tonight, then I’ve got a full 45-60 min show coming up in a couple of days.
It’s interesting the more I practice/rehearse, the more comes back to me. Each time I’ll say a line I wasn’t saying before. This is good, my muscle memory is coming back. Watching old videos of the show is good, however sometimes there are lines that you didn’t say in that recorded show for one reason or another. Also I’m remembering bits that I had stopping doing for some reason, and not sure why.
Besides shaking off the cobwebs, I’m trying to figure out how to do the show that meets the COVID safe requirements, which are different everywhere.
Yesterday’s blog post was about getting a Himber Pail, a prop I’ve been chasing for years and trying to figure out how to use it within my show. Last night I sat down and starting writing some ideas. Here’s what I wrote last night:
When I was a teenager I saw the most amazing magic trick, and the magician taught me to do it. I’ve been doing it ever since…so for 3 years. If it was on the mount rushmore of the greatest magic tricks, it’d be 17 miles down the road at Crazy horse…because he let me use it.
I bring you the milk bucket trick!
Did you know most asians are lactose intolerant? Shouldn’t surprise you, how many do you remember on the Got Milk posters in your elementary school gym?
I should mention that I used to be lactose intolerant. But now, I’ll drink white and chocolate milk.
Oh shoot, I messed up the trick…I forgot to put in the bottom
Hand thru bucket and show it empty
Let’s do the trick in reverse…
Lift the bucket like you are going to pour its contents into the bottle. Contine flipping so its upside down and pour milk into the bottom.
And that’s the greatest trick I’ve ever seen!
That’s not the very good, but it’s as start. I took action by actually writing, and that’s the first step. Waiting for something to just pop into my head randomly, isn’t an effective way to come up with a routine.
It’s interesting that the routine I wrote ended up having a them. When writing it was just some jokes I wrote around the hook of “the greatest magic trick I’ve seen” and the props , but the bit turned out to be a piece about racism. It’s not something I’d probably do in my show, but it’s a start.
What I do like is the “do it in reverse” part which motivates the pouring of the milk onto the bottom of the pail. I think that’s the keeper out of my first try to figure out what to do with the Himber Pail.