The Magic Castle Suspended Murray Sawchuck

FREE: Magic exposure controversy

The Magic Castle Suspended Murray Sawchuck
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It’s been quite the couple months for Murray Sawchuck, also known as Murray The Magician, the large, spectacled, wacky-haired, comedy illusionist.

Last week, he played his final show at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, a venue he has headlined for the last 12 years before it closed its doors for good to make way for a new baseball stadium. But he recently caused a stir after becoming the latest magician to be suspended from The Magic Castle in Hollywood.

His crime: exposing the secrets of magic online.

Murray, 50, has been performing magic for over 40 years. As well as being one of the biggest names in Vegas, he has toured his comedy magic shows all over the world and is set to perform in Europe and Australia later this year, but his big break was arguably when he appeared on the 5th season of America’s Got Talent, where he made a train carriage disappear.

However, his recent foray into exposing magic secrets, which have so far racked up nearly 66 million views on Facebook and over half a million views on TikTok, have got Murray into hot water.

In the videos, which Murray considers “hilarious,” he performs a series of tricks, including a vanishing bouquet, a pen through anything, a sword swallow, silk vanish, and an Oreo Bite. After each trick, his wife behind him takes the props from him and reveals the method openly to the camera, making a mockery of Murray’s attempts at wizardry—at least that’s what the joke seems to be.

The clips remain uploaded on his social media pages, and many magicians are not happy about the fact so many methods have been exposed in what appears to be quite a meaningless way.

Shortly after these videos began to circulate, Murray was a guest on The Magicians' Podcast, with hosts Richard Young and Alan Hudson, where even Young described the videos as “bad for magic,” “lazy,” and “just about money,” directly to Murray’s face.

Subsequently, a group of magicians who shared Young's perspective complained to the Castle and Murray’s Magic Castle membership was swiftly suspended. 

If you’re not familiar with The Magic Castle, it’s perhaps the most reputable venue dedicated to the art of magic worldwide. Residing in Hollywood, it is the clubhouse of the Academy of Magical Arts (AMA). It has welcomed some of the world’s greatest magicians, and it has frequently hosted star-studded events (Katy Perry had her birthday party there, and Neil Patrick Harris used to be the club’s president!).

Murray is by no means the first person to be kicked out of the Castle. Val Valentino, the man behind the infamous Masked Magician and the star of the hit noughties TV show Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Secrets Finally Revealed, where the methods to large-scale illusions were dissected in great detail, was also banned for exposing such secrets. And Katy Perry was apparently extremely drunk at her birthday bash and broke a bunch of items there, so she’s allegedly been banned, too. Silly Katy.

Katy Perry didn’t expose any secrets, but the club has certain standards it wants to uphold. Clearly, guarding the secrets of magic is just as important to them as basic party etiquette.

The UK’s very own Magic Circle is also very tight on exposure.

Magic Circle members must:

‘Oppose the wilful disclosure of magical secrets other than to magicians or bona fide students and historians of magic’.

Yet those who have come under fire over the years include Stephen Mulhern and, more recently, Scott Perry.

So why are these clubs so vehemently anti-exposure? Well, because they feel it’s wrong. It’s wrong because, unless they directly seek out the methods, most audiences don’t want to know how the tricks are done. It’s wrong because the more methods that become public knowledge, the fewer tricks will be able to be performed. It’s wrong because magic tricks are borderline impossible to copyright, and exposing a method that is not in the public domain and does not belong to you is disrespectful to the magic creator’s artistic integrity.

Despite this, exposure videos do really well on social media. As a magician, I’ll never know what it’s like to watch one of these videos from a normal person’s perspective. Still, I can only imagine it’s like consuming ultra-processed foods: it feels good in the moment but makes your stomach churn afterwards, and the only one who really benefits is the company that sells it to you.

See, the rise of social media has seen other prolific magicians succumb to the attractive number of views brought upon by revealing secrets. Justin Flom, for instance, went from being the star of the hit TV Show Wizard Wars and a regular guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show to exposing tricks such as Joao Miranda’s Astonishing Bottle and The Crystal Casket illusion in the name of “Prank Videos”. The Ellen DeGeneres Show's Viral TikTokker Dan Rhodes has equally exposed marketed magic products on his account, such as Henry Harrius’ Cube In Bottle gimmick.

If you want to go viral on social media and potentially earn big bucks, you could reveal how a Svengali Deck works...

Now, although Murray et al are technically free to reveal as many magic secrets as they like (magic exposure is not illegal) since no magic club can really be an arbiter of some magical code of ethics, organisations such as the AMA and The Magic Circle hold a significant amount of prestige in the public eye.

In an interview with Murray on Howie Mandel’s radio show, fellow guest and comedian Jamie Kennedy, who is not a magician, said: “I know that [exposure] is the carnal sin in [the magic] world - the fact that it’s the [Magic] Castle… that’s like the Mecca.” If his point of view is a microcosm of how most non-magicians consider the Magic Castle, then there’s definitely some gravitas to being booted out.

In the same interview, and echoed in his appearance on The Magicians’ Podcast, Murray says that his specific videos reveal the methods to cheap tricks you can buy from Amazon, brushing them off as insignificant and, thus, belittling them as exposable.

Murray points out that he’s been teaching magic online for years, and that has never caused an issue, yet he’s now under fire not necessarily for exposing tricks but because of the way they are exposed. According to Murray, The Magic Castle views teaching magic online as fine, but when the context is a comedic prank, it’s suddenly wrong and magicians get butt hurt.

In a way, I think Murray’s onto something here. If it wasn’t for people teaching magic on YouTube, I wouldn’t be the magician I am today. Many YouTube videos serve as a free resource, and I have to admit that they have been a great introduction to magic for myself and many other magicians of my generation. I would argue that someone teaching magic to inspire magicians is no different from being at a magic club or a magic convention.

However, the main difference here is that the algorithms behind Murray, Flom and Rhodes’ videos mean that they can appear on anybody’s feed, unprovoked and at any time, whether they’re magicians or not. And they’re mostly not (unless there are 66 million magicians out there I don't know about).

Murray also talks about how these videos have had no negative impact on his professional career at all. Nobody has refused to buy a ticket to his show because they know a couple of his secrets. And, at the end of the day, he doesn’t do any of those tricks live anyway, so who cares! Well, as Richard Young addressed to him, Murray fails to consider the impact revealing the intricacies of these props has on other acts. How does Murray know that the tricks he has exposed aren’t literally a fellow performer's career?

In all honesty, through researching this article, I’ve grown quite fond of Murray. In his interview with Young and Hudson, he came across as a genuinely nice guy. The man is extremely hard-working, and as a businessman and entrepreneur, he knows how to play the game. In fact, his extensive knowledge of the art of magic as the historian of Pawn Stars is unparalleled. His appearance on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, as an homage to his magic mentor Marvyn Roy, is amazing. He’s done loads of work for charity, and his One-Hour Comedy special is great. He managed to build a career, uploading hundreds of videos online that got widespread attention, never having had the need to dip his toe into the world of magic exposure.

Almost everything about Murray is not only deserving of being a member of the AMA, but in an ideal world, they would be proud to have him as a member. Ultimately, there was no option but to suspend him from the Magic Castle, which I found really disappointing.

But there’s something else that I want to add to this discussion, which I haven’t seen discussed enough. As far as exposure videos go, his are... rubbish!

Come on! Magicians have been exposing magic tricks on social media for years. Not only has been exposed before, even the magician-in-foreground-performs-trick-before-assistant-reveals-it-behind-them format has been done to death. Remember A Gan and Pokerface Man from China? Or how about the atrocious @roman_magic_nn from Russia? At least be original when it comes to exposing something, jeez!

(Oh, by the way, that Russian guy puts us Romans to shame. Can people please stop tagging me in his videos? He’s not me, I swear!)

Now, not only is exposing magic as a "joke" unoriginal, but the joke has never been funny before and is unlikely to be funny at all. The joke is, I guess, that magicians are pathetic and magic is stupid.

Sure, in some cases, this is true, but if you’re going to expose magic (and good luck getting into the Magic Circle or joining the AMA if you try), then at least take a leaf out of Penn & Teller’s books by using it to make the magic look better.

Okay, there are times when Penn & Teller have arguably crossed the line, I’ll admit (their rendition of the sawing in half displayed more than they needed to), but I believe that their Cups and Balls routine, which they performed on the Jonathan Ross show, promotes magic and misdirection as a skill to be mastered. I know many magicians who, upon seeing this performance, wanted to become magicians as a result of watching it. That certainly happened to me.

Conversely, Murray’s videos have had the complete opposite effect on me – they don't make me feel inspired or excited about magic.

Hopefully, we’ll see Murray do the right thing and take those videos down. If he does, I'd love for him to be reinstated by The Magic Castle and inspire generations of young magicians to come by sticking to what he does best: pranking unsuspecting security guards in shopping malls.