Become a Better Magician
Join 15,000+ readers and get our weekly magic newsletter.
There’s a phrase I repeat a lot when consulting for magicians: “You’re running without being chased.”
Imagine, for a moment, that you go out for a meal with a friend who likes to play practical jokes. You sit down and they bring over two drinks. As they slide one drink over to you, they assure you, “This is a perfectly ordinary cup of soda.”
Riiiiiiight. Yeah, there’s no way that soda is ordinary.
It’s gonna be vinegar or something awful.
You might say everyone is chasing magicians, but I would disagree. You’re a magician, here to perform secret methods; your audience has bought into that idea and wants to see magic tricks. Why presume everyone wants to ruin your tricks and figure them out?
Let’s get this straight:
- Ordinary humans only know about ordinary decks of cards.
- You never need to repeat the “no threads, magnets or strings” line you hear in all the magic trailers that are—you guessed it—made for magicians.
Okay, some of you remain unconvinced. You’re no fool. There must be members of the audience who hate magic. They’re probably sitting there questioning everything you do. They probably want to yell out how they think the trick is done. By doing so, they’d ruin the magic for everyone. Even if the method they suggest is totally wrong, it’d still kill the vibe.
The problem is that by interrupting your own performance to tell the audience how the trick could be done (with a special deck), you are now the annoying person ruining it for the rest of the audience. You just killed the vibe.
By saying, “This is an ordinary deck,” you’re often saying, “I could just do this with a special trick deck.” Anyone who hadn’t thought of that possibility hears, “I could just do this with a special trick deck, and you wouldn’t have noticed anyway.” And if I’m in the audience, I’m thinking, Use a trick deck then, you tit.
I understand the insecurity magicians feel and the need to fool every single member of the audience as much as humanly possible. But these statements always feel to me like a comedian explaining why a joke is funny to the only audience member who didn’t laugh. In many ways, telling your audience a deck is ordinary is like a comedian telling their audience that their next story really happened.
Wait—what? Have all the other comedy stories been fictional? Should we assume every deck of cards the magician picked up earlier weren’t ordinary decks?
Here’s the solution, and it’s another thing I say a lot: “Show, don’t tell.” Show us the deck is ordinary. If you believe there are members of the audience who will question the validity of your props, you should establish that they are normal by showing them:
- Shuffle the cards.
- Hand them out.
- Remove the jokers.
- Drop a few cards.
- Act normal.
By showing the audience the deck is normal instead of telling them so, you:
- Show the annoying spectators they are wrong about how they think the trick is done.
- Allow the other spectators who aren’t even looking for a method to enjoy your performance, and enhance the trick in general.
Even better, by doing this silently, you force the annoying spectators to “lie to themselves.” There’s a great lecture Teller gave in which he explains the best lies are the ones you tell yourself.
Imagine, again, that you’re out with the prankster friend. They return to your booth with two drinks. Instead of saying, “This is a perfectly ordinary drink,” they pretend to accidentally take a sip of yours. “Oh, this one’s yours—sorry,” they say before sliding the drink across the table to you.
And just like that, I’m drinking the vinegar.
Pssst… none of the above applies to ‘challenge’ magic tricks, like walking through a brick wall. Tricks that are presented as a challenge to figure out rely heavily on a combination of verbal and physical convincers.