Superman’s Glass

Do you perform any of these routines?

Sympathetic cards
Rising cards
Twentieth century silks
Silk to egg
Needle routines (like Jim Steinmyers’) that use a glass

A cool looking wine glass can class up the joint or, for our purposes, the magic trick. Unfortunately, a broken wine glass can break, cut skin, and bloody the stage. Here’s a solution: nesting camping wine glasses. Made from “hyper-strong polycarbonate material,” they’re built to troupe. And a deck of cards fits in one nicely so they’re great for those routines where you need to spin the glass under the cover of a silk handkerchief. 

You can find them here.

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Comedy Writing Tip #45

UGH! It’s been over a month since my last post here. Meh.

Enough with the self-loathing. Let’s get to the topic at hand.

I’d never been on Reddit before so recently I decided to search my name there. And I see this:

TheCreepyStache
This thread is intriguing.
I use an Anthony Jeselnik joke in my dollar to credit card bit and have never even considered that I might be doing something unethical.
I’m also fond of throwing in Doc Dixon’s “permanent marker” one liner.

Apparently this guy must have a thing for stealing from Pittsburgh born comics of greatly varying success levels. Ugh.

(HA! Just to be clear, I post this 1% to vent, and the other 99% to do the Jesilnik/Pittsburgh joke. I’m not so naive to think this is anything new under the sun.)

BUT I’M HERE TO HELP, PEOPLE!! Especially you, TheCreepyStache!

Here’s the tip:

When I’m writing a magic script, usually in google docs, I highlight the laughs in GREEN.

That’s it. Simple enough, but here’s what it does. If I’m looking at a page and I see too many lines in a row without a green highlight, I know I want to add some funny.

In my first appearance on Fool Us I performed a three stage shell game routine. I knew going into the situation I would not have most of the laughs that are usually in my shell game routine because most of those come from playing the game with laymen. Obviously, Penn & Teller are not laymen. I realized I wanted/needed a strong laugh at the beginning of the second phase of the routine. This green highlighting practice made me realize this.

Of course it didn’t write the joke for me, but I probably would not have written the joke if I didn’t so easily see the need for the joke. And I’m glad for it more than most jokes, as it got a big reaction from Penn & Teller, resulting in us fist bumping each other, giving additional energy to the routine.

So, ol’ CreepyStache on Reddit, get your green highlighter and write your own &#$% jokes, you putz.

That’s all for now. If you like this kind of discussion, you’ll want to sign up for the Dixon Magic email newsletter.

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Doc Dixon
www.dixonmagic.com

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Road Stories

Several months back I was performing at a country club holiday party. Beautiful, swanky event. Ninety-five percent adults, but there were a few kids there. One was an eight year old girl. I ask her to help me with a trick.

“Hello, young lady. I’m Doc Dixon. What’s your name?”

She replies, “Hello, sir. My name is Dawn. D-A-W-N. Dawn.”
(The audience chuckled at the cuteness.)

I replied, “Well, thanks. T-H-A-N-K-S. Thanks.”
(Big laugh.)

She replies, “No. DAWN. D-A-W …”
(Huge laugh — including me — before she even finished spelling her name.)

MORAL OF THE (ROAD) STORY?

That’s my story. I tell it in my shows. Don’t tell my story. Tell your story. You already have your stories. Just polish them up and tell them in your show.

Why?

One, they’re entertaining. They’re funny.

Two, great stories require no props.

Three, a great story can be used as a subtle commercial …”several months back I was performing at a country club holiday party.”

That’s all for now. If you like this kind of discussion, you’ll want to sign up for the Dixon Magic email newsletter.

When you sign up for the email newsletter you get:
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Best,

Doc Dixon
www.dixonmagic.com

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How To Get Them To Give A Rat’s Tuchus

Years ago when I was a young magician barely in my twenties I did this great close-up trick that I thought would play well on stage, but I couldn’t figure out how to get the audience interested in the trick.

The trick was a great one. It was a classic that was the favorite of my close-up magic audiences, but I couldn’t get an audience of more than a dozen to focus on it enough to appreciate it from the stage. Ugh. Finally, my mentor showed up at one of my stage shows and before the show he told me how to introduce that trick to my audiences to get them to appreciate it. I did it …and it worked.

Want me to tell you what he said?

I just did.

OK. Confession time. Those first couple of paragraphs were a complete fabrication …a cunard …bupkus …a lie …BS. But they got your attention, didn’t they? Telling the audience that they are about to see something special helps them react like they are seeing something special.

Here’s a sample script to give you the idea.

The next trick found its way into the show in an unusual way. I love close-up sleight of hand magic. The kind of stuff that takes months and years of practice. A few years back I was performing close-up magic at a party and afterwards was doing a larger show like I’m doing right now. During the close-up magic time I did the trick I’m about to do now and the host of the party said, “Whoa!! You must do that in your show when you’re performing for everyone. That’s so cool.” Well, I had never thought of doing it in the show before. I mean, it’s only three coins. Three silver dollars. (Take out coins and display them.) But it is a beautiful piece of magic, if I say so myself. So lean in now. Pay extra close attention. Watch.

Then comes three fly, or some other swanky three coins vanishin’, appearin’ and migratin’ wonder.

It’s not the specific words I’m trying to emphasize here. Or even the words in general. It’s their purpose that’s important. Their utility for the show is what I’m talking about.

A smaller (prop-wise) sleight of hand piece is often shorter, usually less laugh-centric, slower, and doesn’t involve audience participation. This doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, that shift in gears can be good for the show, but only if the audience shifts gears, too.

That’s the whole purpose of introducing the piece like that. It gets the audience to lean in, both literally and figuratively. Without shifting their gears, you’ll grind them.*

I’m not writing from theory. I have a piece like this in my act and the right introduction made all the difference.

So if you have a piece like this you’d like to put in your stand-up show, start writing its gear shifting introduction.

That’s all for now. If you like this kind of discussion, you’ll want to sign up for the Dixon Magic email newsletter.

When you sign up for the email newsletter you get:
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Best,
Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

*Could this be the most manly metaphor EVER in a magic blog? Yes. Yes, it is.

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Pack For Teddy Bear

Scenario: You’re performing your show at an after dinner event or holiday banquet. You were told it was an adult only function.
And that’s the show you’ve prepared.
Those are the props you’ve packed.

And you look over to your left and there’s a nine year old boy sitting at one of the front row tables.

It happens.

Often it’s the child or grandchild of someone higher up in the food chain in the organization. You have a few options here, that live on the spectrum of do your show and act like the kid is not there to bring up the kid and shoehorn him into a routine that’s not designed for a kid to participate.

Here’s a third option: always have the props for a brief routine in your case that will involve a kid’s participation. Pack a gift, too. Now you’re always ready.

So let’s look at the scenario again in more detail.

An hour before the show Julie from human resources introduces you to the company owner, John Smith. John introduces you to John, Jr., his nine year old son. Both Johns tell you how they love to watch the show Fool Us. Junior loves magic so Dad brought him along.

You ask Junior, “Would you like to help me in the show?”
Junior grins widely, “Yes!”

Now after the halfway part of your show, you look out at the audience and say, “Now I noticed we have young person in the audience. Please tell everyone your name, son.”

“John.”

“Would you help me with the next magic trick?”

“Yes!”

“Then come on up, son. Let’s give him a big round of applause.”

Do the routine, and make John Jr. look like the star of the show. At the end thank him, tell him he’s the star of the show, then reach in your prop case for the Svengali deck you have and gift it to him.

Now let’s look at what this does:

John Sr. loves you.
John Jr. loves you.
Junior repeatedly tells Senior how great you are for weeks after the event.
Julie from HR loves you because her boss loves you.
The audience loves you because you looked like such a mensch with the kid.
Even though the audience isn’t in show biz, it’s obvious to them your are Captain Prepared For Anything.
Your bank loves you because you’ll be booking this gig for many years to come.
FEEL THE LOVE.

Details & Disclaimers

Keep in mind, this isn’t moment for a kiddie trick, but a classic trick that would work especially well playing up the kids looks of astonishment. Egg bag, linking rings — the entertaining interaction with the child is the key.

This probably not the best option if there are several kids, but bringing the props allows you to have the option.

What about Zoom? I wouldn’t do this in a 20 minute meeting drop in sort of show, but in a longer 45 minute set I might/probably pull the trigger. I’d set it up to spotlight my screen and the kid’s so the rest of the audience could enjoy his reactions. The biggest variable affecting the decision would be the kind of event it is.

Caveat

This is a character-driven choice and my stage persona (husband of one, father of 7) comes from my real life persona (same). Your mileage may vary.

That’s all for now. If you like this kind of discussion, you’ll want to sign up for the Dixon Magic email newsletter.

When you sign up for the email newsletter you get:
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Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic


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Zoom Show Audience Etiquette For Magicians a.k.a. “Stuff That Really Shouldn’t Have To Be Said, But Apparently Does.”

So you’re a magician? Cool.
Going to watch another magician do their Zoom show? Very cool!
Here’s a few tips to avoid being that guy.

Put away the cards. Sure, your diagonal palm shift needs work. Do that work away from the other performer’s Zoom cameras. And that means before, during, and after their show.

Don’t wear theatrical clothes. You’re a “civilian,” not the performer in their show. (Exception: Jeff McBride. Whatever he does is all good. Jeff is the man.)

Clap. Yes, that’s a stock bit you saw coming. And? Your point? Clap and act like a non-magician audience member.

Clear your background of any magic paraphernalia. Again, you’re a “civilian,” not the performer. Move the four inch dice, Fool Us trophy, and your poster off camera.

Clean your electronic background of magic. When you turn off the video of your Zoom account it should go to a civilian name, not to the Amazing Tuchas or your logo.

Cooperate. Unless you have a very good reason, when the performer ask you to turn on your video, turn on your video. Your ignoring the suggestion can encourage others to do the same. Few, if any, Zoom performers want an audience of people turning off their cameras.

Have fun in the Zoomiverse, magi.

That’s all for now. If you like this kind of discussion, you’ll want to sign up for the Dixon Magic email newsletter.

When you sign up for the email newsletter you get:
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Best,
Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

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Jumping Off The Top Of A Steel Cage For Laughs

When I was a youngster I’d walk next door to my grandfather’s house every Saturday afternoon to watch Studio Wrestling, the local professional wrestling show featuring stars of the WWWF, the ancestor to the WWE.

While I’ve only caught a few matches a year as a working adult, husband of one, and father of seven, I’m convinced the comic book come to life, the true willing suspension of disbelief, that is wrasslin‘, has much to teach magicians.

Eddie Guerrero Jumping Off The Top Of A Steel Cage Onto Bradshaw

Watch THIS.

It’s one grown man jumping onto another grown man from what looks to be about twelve feet in the air. At the fifty second mark of the video the crowd sees that Guerrero will not be climbing down the outside of the cage to victory. Instead he’s going to do something that looks (and most likely is) incredibly dangerous and outrageous. He’s going to jump belly first on the guy lying down on the canvas.

Now if you saw someone do this to a passerby on the street you’d be shocked and terrified.
In the theatrical world of wrestling you feel safe and entertained.

That’s the moment I want in my shows.

To be clear, when I say “dangerous,” I don’t mean I’ll be doing the latest version of whatever roulette routine is trending at the time. On the contrary, I think most of those performance come across as non-dangerous because they are in a show. The larger picture and deceptive nature of a magic show hamstrings the attempts at feeling like danger.

I mean I want the perception of comedic danger. I want moments where part of the reaction is “I don’t believe he said that!!!” coupled with “I’m so glad he did.”

And just like wrasslin’, I want it to feel safe. This means I don’t cross a line of appropriateness regarding foul language or innuendo, etc.

I’m searching for a metaphor for this and here’s the best I’ve manged to come up with:
Bad: your spouse slaps you across the face.
Good: your spouse gooses you, with a poke in your side at the supermarket.
Both can very surprising. The slap produces shock. The goose produces laughter. The goose seems a little inappropriate, but doesn’t cross a line to offend.

These kind of moments can make an audience feel after the show, “I can’t believe he did that. It was GREAT!! I’m so glad that happened at our show.” And it’s even better for the performer and the audience when these kind of moments are scripted into every show.

That’s all for now. If you like this kind of discussion, you’ll want to sign up for the Dixon Magic email newsletter.

When you sign up for the email newsletter you get:
*A heads up for each blog post so you won’t miss them
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Best,
Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

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The Ideal Comedy Magic Trick

Comedy, Comedy, Comedy, Comedy, Comedy, Comedy, Mind Seizure.

That’s it. Good night.

Close to thirty years ago I was chatting with Dan Harlan. Some how we got on the topic of what would be the ideal framework for a stage comedy magic trick. Our conclusion?

Comedy, Comedy, Comedy, Comedy, Comedy, Comedy, Mind Seizure.
That likely means five minute routines or longer where the magic only happens at the very end. Not the stuff of quick online videos, but the stuff of mortgage payments.

The comedy takes the form of the script, ad-libs, and interactions with the audience. This is in the midst of all the procedural things that are necessary to set up the magic that happens at the end. It’s easier to explain with an example.

Michael Zens’ Cards Across with Envelopes
(“IT’S IN TARBELL!!” The Great & Beloved Denny Haney)
1. Two spectators are recruited.
2. Spectator A counts cards.
3. Cards are sealed in envelope.
4. Spectator B counts cards.
5. Spectator B has three people select a card.
6. Spectator B seals cards in envelope.
7. The three cards pass. (insert schtick of your own creation)
8. Both envelopes are opened.
9. Spectators count cards.
10. Spectators announce how many cards they have.
11. It is confirmed that the three selected cards traveled.

Eleven steps. Could be more if I broke down the actions further. Absolutely no magic happens until the step ten, and doesn’t fully happen until step eleven. Yet it’s the fun, the interaction, the laughs in steps 1-9 that make the trick so worth doing.

And steps 10 and 11? They also make the trick worth doing because they are a major league mind seizure A.K.A., great magic.

A trick with virtually no process: Brautier DeKolta’s Vanishing Birdcage
(To continue the theme, I bought my Owen cage from Denny Haney.)
1. The cage is brought out.
2. The magician says some stuff.
3. The cage vanishes.

The funny lives in two steps. Can it be be made funny? Have performers made this funny? Absolutely. It’s just more of a challenge. Am I saying, “Don’t do tricks like this?” No. I do tricks like this, but the bread & butter, the meat & potatoes, of my act is the first example.

So what’s the takeaway?

Every good kids magician will tell you ,”It’s not about the magic. It’s about the journey.”
For adults, “It’s about the journey to the magic.” The magic must pay off well and the journey to it should be hilarious.

And the longer tricks — tricks with more procedure, either procedure that must be there or procedure you add — offer more real estate upon which to build the yuks.

That’s enough for now. Sorry for the abrupt ending. This is a topic that has tentacles in my head in about six other topics, and this is a blog post, not a book. And you have things to do.

Thanks for reading. Next week’s post I’ll return to ranting. Not sure about what yet, but as every good Calvinist will tell you, it’s a fallen world, so I’m sure I’ll think of something.

That’s all for now. If you like this kind of discussion, you’ll want to sign up for the Dixon Magic email newsletter.

When you sign up for the email newsletter you get:
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Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

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It’s Only Funny If They Laugh

Scot Nery, juggler, comedian, juggler, and maestro of Scot Nery’s Boobietrap wrote a great blog post sharing what bothers him about many magic acts. He shared it on his Facebook page with the line, “I might be offending magicians with my blog post today…”

I replied, “I’m offended that your hatred isn’t deep enough. You fully haven’t grasped the evils you address (read that line in Darth Vader voice.). But it’s a good start. “

He replied, “gimme more!” Here’s more.

“Define comedy properly.”

What is comedy? Before we begin to discuss something, it is important to define it. At this point many writers might give you Webster’s definition. I won’t. I never met Webster. You never met Webster. For all I know, Webster couldn’t do a decent five minutes at Fred’s Chuckle Hut (ask about the Tuesday Two-Fer Tickets!). He’s not writing this and he’s not reading this. So we will use my definition.

Comedy (com-uh-dee) n., actions a performer takes with the intent and result of making an audience laugh.

There. We have a definition. If they don’t laugh, it ain’t funny — it ain’t comedy. It’s not that the audience doesn’t realize how funny (or comedic) you are. The audience determines whether you are funny. They are the final and only judge. Jokes, routines and the ever popular “bits of business,” do not exist in isolation. They live in the real world. And they can only be born with an audience present and only if that audience is laughing. I repeat — If they don’t laugh, it ain’t funny. I’m sure most performers would agree with my definition … in theory. But far fewer agree with it in practice. And that’s the @#$%^ problem.

Years back I’m watching a magic act. The performer on stage is having a borrowed bill signed. He takes back the felt pen and says, “It’s a felt pen. I know it’s a felt pen because I felt it.”

The audience groans like a mortally wounded moose.

The performer replies, “Don’t blame me. I didn’t write it.”

I turn to my friend next to me and say, “The joke isn’t his. The joke stinks. Then why, pray tell, did he inflict it on us?”

Kill me.

“Groans? We don’t need no stinkin’ groans.”

It gets worse. Hack lines not only don’t fit, they frequently didn’t work that well in the original model. This is probably the case in the above example. I can’t imagine when that joke would ever have been funny. And please don’t tell me that it got a groan, and “a groan is as good as a laugh.” I’ve heard that before and I’ll give the same reply I gave then:

“A groan is as good as a laugh? That’s as true in a magic show as it is in the bedroom.”

Pardon the semi-crassness of that last sentence, but it really does sum it up, doesn’t it?

NEXT WEEK’S TOPIC:
Let’s leave behind today’s negative and rough topic and go to something a little more positive:
The Ideal Framework For A Comedy Magic Trick

Come back most Mondays for more ranting thoughtful commentary on magic, comedy, and other performance stuff.

That’s all for now. If you like this kind of discussion, you’ll want to sign up for the Dixon Magic email newsletter.

When you sign up for the email newsletter you get:
*A heads up for each blog post so you won’t miss them
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*Earlybird offers for our merch
*The confidence you are now one of the cool kids.

Best,
Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

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Put Your Ears On Before Showtime

Do these ears make my butt look big?

Sometimes things will happen at an event before your show that will give you an opening joke that is potential comedy gold. Take advantage of the time before you go on to quickly write (and rewrite) these bits in your mind.

Real Life Examples

Outside the situations these jokes may read flat, but I hope you’ll trust me when I tell you they played very well. I’m sharing them because I hope these examples will help drive the point home.

First one is from the late Pittsburgh-based comic, Keith Leslie. Keith was smart, a great writer, and passed away much too early. I saw Keith do this at the Funnybone over twenty-five years ago. It killed in the show and it’s still funny now.

Keith is introduced. He walks on stage left. Shakes the hand of the emcee. Grabs the mike from the stand and continues to walk toward stage right. Leans over and shakes the hand of a man on the right side of the small comedy club stage who’s wearing a kelly green sport coat. “Hello, sir. Congratulations on your win at Augusta.” Boom!

A few years ago I was entertaining at a business meeting of politicians. Before I spoke, a man from PennDot (the agency in Pennsylvania that does road construction and snow plowing, etc.) spoke for about 30 minutes. I followed him. Of course, at that point the audience was not exactly whipped into a frenzy of excitement. My first words, “Thank you, Bob. Hello everyone. This isn’t the first time I’ve begun my show saying this, but, ‘Sorry, I’m here later than I thought I’d be. Once again I was delayed by PennDot.’”  The joke – admittedly an easy one given the situation – played well, especially with the PennDot official.

Here’s one that happened a few days ago. I’m headlining a comedy club and while I’m waiting to go on the feature act deals with a chatty patron and does the “Where’d you learn how to whisper? In a helicopter?” line. Ten minutes later I’m on the stage and the first words out of my mouth after thanking the emcee are “OK. Who’s my chatty friend out there? I heard the helicopter joke.” The audience cracks up and her friends out the chatterer. “I just want you to know, helicopter or no, I’m glad you’re here. Welcome to the show.” All of this was said with tongue in cheek, smiling, and with a tone of teasing silliness. It played well — especially with the chatterer.

Listen & Pay Attention
It’s obvious, but to make these kind of jokes you have to be listening and paying attention before the show. As much as one can quantify this, I think this first step is 90% of the task.

Be Kind
There may be situations where you can make fun of someone. Maybe someone dropped a drink tray before you went on. Don’t make a joke about it. There are few quicker ways to be pegged as a jerk and make getting audience volunteers a huge chore.

What if the joke falls flat?
George Wendt, the comic actor that played Norm on Cheers, said this about comedy

Never let the audience catch you trying to be funny.

Do the joke. Say the line. Keep moving.
If it scores, great.
If it doesn’t, don’t stand there like you were expecting a standing ovation or even a sitting laugh.
If you wait when there’s no reaction like you were waiting for one, the audience will assume you tried for a laugh and failed.
If you keep moving on when there’s no reaction, the audience will probably assume you’re making brief (hopefully charming) small talk.

In George Wendt’s terms, trying to be funny means unsuccessfully trying to be funny. In a nutshell If you don’t act like you were waiting for a laugh, if the joke isn’t too over the top, it is almost like the joke can not fall flat because the audience won’t realize you are attempting a joke.

Here’s another example, this one of a joke that didn’t get a big laugh. It was in the early show of the night that I did the helicopter reference. A man in the front row has a waxed mustache, as do I. I’m introduced. I thank the emcee. I look at the mustache guy in the front row. “Dude! My fellow mustache waxer! Nice ‘stache, buddy. (We bump fists.) Hope to see you next week at the monocle convention.

The response? A nice laugh, but nothing that really popped. So I just went into the rest of my act. No blood, no foul.

Disproportionate Reward
As there are rewards for not going on autopilot during a show, there are rewards for not going on autopilot before the show. Beginning a show with a line that is obviously an ad-lib is powerful, even if it’s an adlib you’ve had a few minutes to rehearse in your head. When it works, the audience gives the performer much more credit and response than the joke would normally earn because they realize he just made it up and is taking a risk.

Additionally, an opening joke that scores well like this immediately makes the booker look like they made the right decision.

The Well-Placed Joke Can Ease Tension
The PennDot speaker, as professional as he was, created the tension of a less than entertaining 30 minutes.
The chatty audience member situation had the tension of someone being shut down (even if it was necessary) by the comic from stage.
Laughs don’t come from a place of tension.
Laughs are easier without tension
Big laughs can come from a moment of releasing tension.

You May Find A KEEPER.
Sometimes the situation you’re writing for is not a once in a lifetime situation. In fact, it may be a 10% of the time situation. You instantly have another tool in your comedy toolbox.

Keep your ears on, friends.

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