On New Year’s Day of 2020 I saw Darren Brown’s show on Broadway in New York. It was a great show and during the intermission the guy next to me was looking at the program and mentioned there were a lot people listed in the credits for a magic show.
Somehow that guy’s comment popped back into my head and got me thinking about who I would have to credit for my show. Looking at the tricks in the show, I’m trying to name the creator of the trick, move or principle that I’m using. For example, I use a classic force, and while Reginald Scot is not the inventor, he’s the oldest reference I could find for the move. For the technical end of things I’m calling the creators “magic consultants”. Then I have a column for “writers” and my criteria is if the line didn’t come out of my head, then it has to be credited to someone else. If I know who wrote the line, then their name is listed as a “writer”. If I don’t know who wrote a line or created a trick, then I’m going to list them as “unknown” and for each unknown I list, it will have a number after it. This also applies for moves/tricks/routines. For example, let’s say I use 2 stock lines and a trick who I don’t know the inventor of, then it would be “unknown (1)”, “unknown (2)” and “unknown (3)” listed in the appropriate categories.
Here’s what my credits look like:
Ralph W. Hull
When you read my list, you’ll notice that Jim Steinmeyer is listed as a writer, not magic consultant. This is because I use a gag from his egg bag routine, in a different context. I’m using the joke, not magic routine.
This was a fun thing to do, and made me think about who has contributed to my show!
I’m still working through using a handheld microphone in the show. There’s definitely a learning curve. I’m getting better at it, but it’s an uphill slog. I have a lot of points where I’m holding the mic in my hand, then put it in the stand for a moment, only to quickly remove it.
I really like how when I’m holding the mic in my hand, I’m a lot more expressive with my hands than when I’m wearing just a headset. I think holding the mic makes me more aware of what my hands are doing. It also puts a hand up near my face, so I can play more with motion that’s motivated.
As I get deeper into my show, I’m realizing that there’s going to be a lot of spaces where I’ll need to use the mic neck holder. That’s fine, I’ll need a joke to address it. Today I have to figure out how to do the reveal of the object in ball of yarn that’s the end of the longest routine in the show. I had to chunk this routine out into three bits to figure out the blocking, and today will be the third bit to figure out.
When I was first starting out performing in comedy clubs in the early 2000’s I had to use a wired handheld microphone. As I progress through my career, I switched to a wireless headset. I’m now playing with going back to being able to do my show with a wired handheld microphone. The main reason is that it’s logistically easy. I don’t need to travel with my own gear, and it also makes trying out new stuff and open mic’s much easier.
I’m performing all month doing three shows a day at a fair, and aside from working on some new material, I’m also trying to relearn to use a handheld microphone. My preshow right now is a stand up set of jokes, which runs about 7 minutes, and I’m now doing that all with the handheld mic. I’m still wearing my headset during this, but using the handheld.
Right now my goal is every day to move the handheld one bit further into the show. Right now, I have my preshow stand up set, my two new “preshow” tricks and then first actual trick in the show all done with the handheld. The next routine is really three tricks in one routine. I was dreading figuring out how to add the handheld microphone to it as parts of it are pretty physical. Then it hit me, I need to look at it as three tricks, not one routine. Once I broke it down that way, it’s much easier to start figuring out how to do it with a handheld microphone.
I was chatting with the sound engineer at my stage about what microphone to get and he suggested the Shure SM58S. This is the version of the Shure SM58, but it has an on/off switch which is something I want. Right now if I’m jumping back and forth between the headset and the handheld, I need that switch so that I’m not being picked up by both mics.
If you’ve never used a handheld, I suggest you learn how, it’ll be helpful the one time your headset dies right before showtime.
As I still keep working on my version of the Invisible Deck, I think I have the technical end worked out. The biggest challenge is the elimination process. I needed to figure out how to remove any confusion as to what side people are selecting. What I have settled on is having people point to a side of the room. If they point to my hands, I can’t tell which side they are pointing at. So having them point at the left or right wall clears that up.
Next up is figuring out the presentation. As I’ve been doing it, as the elimination process happens I’ve organically been saying, “that’s what I would have done”. I’m kinda using that as the base for the routine. Here’s what I wrote last night: “Whenever I leave the house, my wife tells me to make good choices. I’m gonna tell you, I only make the best choices! Like the time I made my own penicillin from sour cream…or when I knitted my own seatbelt…or the time I went to Wyoming.”
It’s a starting point. Maybe I could say say their “choices are better than the time I…” and then say something funny. I think I’m not at a point where I just need to write and try out the jokes.
One of the tricks I’m working on right now at the fair is my version of the Invisible Deck…Well my version of Vernet’s 52 B’wave. The effect is a selected card is in a second deck face up, has a different colored back and the rest of the deck is blank.
Because of my method for the trick, I know what the selected card it without looking at the face. Yesterday I said the name of the card without looking at it and someone in the audience called me on it. I played it off as saying I did look, and they must not have noticed. I need to do an exaggerated look at the front of the card. I also need to do a streamlined elimination of the cards. Right now I’m splitting the cards in half and eliminating half at each split. I need to figure out the least number of splits. Like maybe doing it with a 45 or 48 card deck instead of a 52 card deck make it go a little bit faster?
I’m figuring out the beats and how to make it play better with the audience. After the first reveal of the card upside down, I’m flipping the card they chose over, saying they aren’t an exact match, as that’s from a blue deck and I’m holding a red deck. I then flip the card in the red deck over to show it has has a red back. The change from just saying, “and it has a different colored back” to explaining why it would have a different colored back is giving me a stronger reaction.
I’m liking how this plays better than the traditional invisible deck where they simply name a card. It involves a lot of people from the audience, and they can see the cards that they are making a choice of. While it’s dirtier than the traditional invisible deck method/effect, it also eliminates the top explanations on how the tricks works:
1. Everyone picks the _____ 2. It was set up with the person in advance
While neither of those are how the traditional invisible deck works, you really can’t argue them.
The picture below is from back in 2017, I had an idea to use a foam hand for a trick.
The idea was inspired by a math based trick in a Jim Steinmeyer book. The problem I faced in the trick was giving clear instructions. I tabled the trick shortly after I started doing it in 2017. Then shortly before the pandemic hit in 2020, I reread in Gary Oulette‘s book of his columns in Genii magazine called Fulminations about the challenges David Copperfield had to get through when giving instructions for his “touch the TV screen” tricks. The instructions had to be clear, even for the biggest idiot.
Then the pandemic hit and I started playing with some tricks that used counting on a hand, and went out and remade my foam hand. I never used the foam hand in a show, because in a virtual show my hand plays big.
Right now I’m cleaning up and downsizing the props I have, and I came across the giant foam hand. It’s sort of gimmicked, or at least altered so that I can bend the fingers down and they stay down. In a couple of days I head to Arizona for a month long gig and I think I’m going to take the hand with me and try to figure out the routine.
One thing I think it lacked was an ending. It needs a good way to reveal that they are all touching the same finger. When I made the last foam hand, I also bought a foam hand that just has the pointer finger up. The challenge was how to reveal this. I was playing with it and essentially found a pull the giant hand off my hand to reveal my hand is holding a giant foam hand with just the index finger up!
Now I have a moment to punctuate the reveal of everyone on the same finger.
It’s still got a challenge. Am I going to do the trick looking at the audience or not? Traditionally in this type of trick you don’t look at the audience, however I’m not sure I want to do that. You lose a lot of control by not looking AND you can’t keep an eye on people doing the procedure.
I think I can solve this by having my instructions fixed. By “fixed” I mean something that I can’t change. It could be a recording, like in the Banana Bandana style of trick. I really don’t like performing to a recorded track, it takes away a lot of what makes a live show fun. I think I may make a flap card, that has a five on one side. You turn it over and it has a three on the back side. Then when you turn it over again, the five has changed to a one. That gives the audience something interesting during the boring counting procedure. I also think going from five to three to one, makes the counting easier as it’s getting simpler each time.
I’ll have some playing to do, but luckily I’ll have a monthlong venue to try them out!
In a facebook group someone asked for advice on how to deal with preteen hecklers. Now, I’ve written in the past about how advice on the internet is pretty much always crap advice. Well here’s a good example. Here’s Pete’s suggestion and my reply:
Objectifying a pre-teen girl without their permission is wrong. This is also misguided, as the girl may not be the one causing the problem. Another issue is that preteen’s probably don’t know what misdirection is, so they won’t get the joke.
He tries to defend it by saying he’s not in the USA, and where he lives it’s culturally OK. That may be, but that doesn’t make it right. There’s a place in the USA (Massachusetts) where it’s legally OK for an adult to marry a twelve year old, but that doesn’t make it right.
Then he goes onto personally attack me:
I respond with a couple bullet points of my resume and Pete says that he’s never heard of me. This is very interesting because he just made a lot of statements about my show. How could you make the above statement if you know nothing about me?
So which is it Pete, do you know about me or not?
When I asked him to explain his statement, the confirmed he had no idea who I am. That’s when I asked him:
He then says he never made any statements about my show. That’s when I quoted his statement about me copying other people and then here’s the exchange that followed:
FYI: he lives in the UK, which has libel laws that are much more strict than in the USA.
His only response to me asking why he felt the need to make up stuff about me was to try to bully me.
This is the problem with trying to crowdsource advice on the internet. You can get advice that’s not very good. Then the people giving that poor advice aren’t exactly people you’d want to take advice from.
The bigger point is that we all should try to be better. Things that were OK in the past may not be OK now. Look at it this way, if you don’t objectify women in your show, no one is going to see the show and say, “I didn’t like how the magician chose to not comment on that preteen’s look, I’m not going to hire them for my event.” However there are people who will see the show and chose not to book you because of how you objectified a child.
Many years ago I bought a trick in a bin of discount magic that was a change of a spoon to a fork. When I opened the package, I thought it was garbage, and as written in the instructions, it really was garbage. Then I started presenting this as a transposition between and fork and a spoon and it played much better. It’s a real fooler for audiences.
This trick has basically lived in my preshow for years, but never made it up into the main show. It was missing something. I ran the trick through a workshop group I’m in and they all thought it needed a surprise ended. They were pulling for a spork, which is funny, but I think it lacks visual contrast from a spoon or fork as an ending.
Here’s what I came up with yesterday:
I do like the surprise of the knife. Now the routine needs to be fleshed out a bit more and performed for an audience a bit and we’ll see if it goes anywhere…
One thing I hate when performing is forgetting or mispronouncing an act’s name if I have to introduce them. Recently a show I was performing on had an performer whose stage name wasn’t the name I knew them by, and the stage name was unusual.
To make it easy, I put a cheat sheet on my table:
You’ll notice the name is spelled out phonetically. That helps me read it at a glance. It really makes a difference, rather than seeing how they spell it and trying to figure it out.
After one of my shows yesterday at the fair I’m performing at, I had a guy tell me something interesting after the show. He was a caterer and has worked with a lot of local performers, so he’s seen some magicians, and told me that. The caterer told me that my product wasn’t a magic show, it was my personality.
I 100% agree with his assessment and that’s the goal with the show. It’s not about the tricks, while they are important and I select them to hopefully move the story of my personality forward. What I’m selling is how I work, not what I work with.
Some magicians live on the the tricks that they do and that’s an easier route than trying to live on your personality. One of the hard things is when people don’t like your show, that directly means they don’t like you. Where if you do an effect driven show, if they don’t like the show they don’t like the tricks.