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:

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.

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


Doc Dixon

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Comedy Writing Tip #45

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.)


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.


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:
*A heads up for each blog post so you won’t miss them
*Access to the Secrets section of Dixon Magic.
*Earlybird offers for our merch
*The confidence you are now one of the cool kids.


Doc Dixon

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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:
*A heads up for each blog post so you won’t miss them
*Access to the Secrets section of Dixon Magic.
*Earlybird offers for our merch
*The confidence you are now one of the cool kids.

Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.”


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


“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.

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.


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:
*A heads up for each blog post so you won’t miss them
*Access to the Secrets section of Dixon Magic.
*Earlybird offers for our merch
*The confidence you are now one of the cool kids.

Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Pack For Teddy Bear

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:
*A heads up for each blog post so you won’t miss them
*Access to the Secrets section of Dixon Magic.
*Earlybird offers for our merch
*The confidence you are now one of the cool kids.

Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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
*Access to the Secrets section of Dixon Magic.
*Earlybird offers for our merch
*The confidence you are now one of the cool kids.

Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Jumping Off The Top Of A Steel Cage For Laughs

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:
*A heads up for each blog post so you won’t miss them
*Access to the Secrets section of Dixon Magic.
*Earlybird offers for our merch
*The confidence you are now one of the cool kids.

Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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?

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
*Access to the Secrets section of Dixon Magic.
*Earlybird offers for our merch
*The confidence you are now one of the cool kids.

Doc Dixon
Dixon Magic

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Comments Off on It’s Only Funny If They Laugh

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So You Want To Pack Small & Play Big, Huh?

About five years ago I was performing my 90 minute show. I flew in for the gig and all my props fit in my carryon bag. One of audience members was an amateur magician who told me a few months earlier he had done some magic for the group. He was gracious and affable. We were chatting before the show. I asked him, “What kind of magic do you do?” 

He replied, “Card sword. Zig Zag.”
“Uh huh,” I thought as I glanced at my prop case. 

I do my show. It goes very well. It was one of those nights where the planets aligned and the jokes clicked extra strong and the ovations were loud and standing. I chat with the amateur magician after the show. He was gracious and complimentary. He looks at my prop bag, shakes his head, and says, “You killed. Ninety minutes out of that bag. Wow.” 

Not knowing exactly what to say, I just shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, I have been doing this a while.” 

A stand-up show out of one case?

There are certain topics that seem to come up with regularity on magic online forums and the “one case show” is certainly one of them. Months back I gave this comment on the topic:
1. Decide to do it. 
2. Buy the case.
3. Make a list of tricks you do or would do that fit in that case. 
4. Do those tricks. 
5. Keep doing those tricks, and let the routines develop and become yours. 

Here are those same points, fleshed out some, with a few more points thrown in. 

Why do you want to do it? 
If you fly with your act there are some very practical advantages to having an act that fits in a carryon bag. It’s tough to lose luggage you don’t check. Even if your entire show isn’t in the carryon, having a big chunk of it in there is huge peace of mind. My buddies that work cruise ships live this reality. 

If you work small stages, it’s great to walk on and off with a single prop case. I remember headlining a comedy club in Buffalo NY back in the 90s. I called the stage the “postage stamp” and was only slightly exaggerating. 

If you’re in a venue where you have to set up and strike your show quickly, the one case show helps that, too. 

If you want to do it because it’s easier, well, that’s a reason, but it’s far from the best one. Look at the version of the torn and restored newspaper that begins with torn pieces, commonly called the No Tear. Here’s my theory on why people choose that version:
1% think it’s a better theatrical choice
99% are just trying to make things easier on themselves
If it’s easier on the audience, great. If it’s only easier on you, bad. 
It’s not about us. It’s about them. 

You have to actually decide to do it. 
Yes, I know that’s obvious, but it’s the “actually” part that makes it worth writing. 

Example: I have always liked a good dove act …but I’m NEVER going to do a dove act. Decades ago I read about and studied dove acts …but I’m never going to do a dove act. In my early twenties I even bought a few dove holders …but I’m never going to do a dove act. 

Why? Because I never actually wanted to do a dove act. I think they are interesting. I enjoy studying them. I like learning from them and taking what I learn and applying it to the kind of magic I do. But at the end of the day …meh. I think some people have the same feelings about having a one case show. They think it might be a good idea. They are interested in how other people do it. But at the end of the day they want keep what they are doing. So be it. 

Actually deciding to do it means you commit and actually do things. Write down measurements for a case. Flying? Think 22 x 14 x 9. Get a case. (Here’s mine.) Decide who your audience will be. Family? Adult? Kids? Pick the routines. Pick a date for the show. You know, all that goal setting Zig Ziglar stuff. And do it. 

What routines? 
To paraphrase the beloved and missed Denny Haney, “Do you even Tarbell?” Seriously. Rope magic. Stand up card magic. Mental magic. Silks. Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera. I could make a list, but seriously, why? If you’ve been doing standup magic for more than a year you can probably list two hours worth of routines easily. 

Do the same good magic for years. 
Longer routines equal fewer routines needed to fill the time with great entertainment.
Ever hear another magician say, “Wow. He* gets 8 minutes out of fill-in-the-blank trick?” If it’s done well, here’s what has probably happened. When he first did the trick, the routine lasted 4 minutes. Over time he adds comedy, better scripting, bits of business, and, so importantly, the right pauses. Now it’s over 8 minutes. Four minutes added after (say) two years.  

This only happens when you stick with a routine long enough to allow it to happen. Notice you read allow it to happen, not it will happen. It still requires work. Recording shows to remember those great ad-libs. Studying old books to see what someone else did with the routine eighty years ago. Flittering from one trick to another prevents this. 
Show one: Start with good magic. 
Show two hundred: Have a great routine.

Additionally, these routines not only get more funny and more amazement, they get more of you and your connection with the audience. You’re not letting the prop get in the way anymore. And with that audience connection in mind, let’s ditch the phrase “he gets eight minutes out of that trick.” The word “gets” smacks of selfishness, which in turn smacks of laziness. I think it’s better to say, “He gives eight minutes with that trick.” To whom? The audience, of course. Am I parsing words? Maybe. Am I right? Definitely. 

Mentalist have stationary stores. You have …
Your local quickie sign shop. Want to pack flat? Few things pack flatter than a sign. Oversize playing cards, gag predictions, etc., all can be made by a sign shop. Speaking of flat, if you use a table, consider an InStand. They are like many of the magic tables many had growing up, but with one helpful difference. The bottom of the table top is flat. There’s no protruding flange, which makes for better packing. 

Bagging what’s in the bag
A soft sided tablet cases for a packet of jumbo cards. Clear zippered pouchesThese boxes. The beloved draw string Crown Royal bag. The late great Billy McComb packed individual tricks in ziplock bags. Putting props in containers makes them easier to pack, easier to access to perform, easier to ditch when done, and easier to repack for the next show. 

Who died? Enough with the black, already.
I once saw a magician wearing a black tuxedo with a black shirt in front of a black curtain. Because of the black art principle, it looked like his pasty white face was floating in space. 

I know this isn’t a “fit a show in a box” point per se, but it does relate to making the magic play bigger. Enough with the black suits. Ugh. Stop it. If it fits your character and the event consider wearing something that pops. And not just your clothing, but let your props and accessories pop, too. As I type this my mind is back in the eighties and I’m backstage hearing comedy club great Paul Kozak wearing a suit that could only be described as snazzy, telling a shabbily dressed emcee, “I dress like I’m in bleepin’ showbiz, baby.” Gotta love the Koz. Related to this sartorial point …

Don’t forget your best prop.
A one case show doesn’t mean you don’t have any large props. I have one prop in my show that is seventy-six inches long, about twenty inches wide and thicker than it should be. It’s called me. With fewer props a performer realizes his face and body are probably the biggest “props” in his show with or without extra cases. He learns to use his. I’m only half-joking when I say, I rarely do a show decaffeinated for just this reason.

Watch a professional wrestling match. The Heel (bad guy) gets the Face (good guy) in his submission hold, the feared Figure Four Leglock — wooooooooooo! If the Face just lies there and does nothing, with his legs intertwined with the Heel’s, it won’t look like he’s in pain. 

If the Face sells the hold (acts like he’s in agony) the audience buys into the illusion with the suspension of disbelief that makes it all work. The Face doesn’t have any props to sell this. Just his face and body. While I think the level of sell of professional wrasslin’ would be a bit much for most acts, I think there’s much to learn from it for a magician who wants to sell the amazement of his magic with props that come out of a 22 x 14 x 9 inch box. 

Watch the late Tim Conover in this clip. Greatness personified. 

Add production value for the ears
The visual production value that’s missing from a case can be replaced with the audio production value of music. This usually means a remote control music system. Keep in mind, I hate tech stuff. No, really. I hate tech stuff. I particularly hate it when it’s not 100% dependable, as standing on a stage repeatedly clicking a remote waiting for the next track looks horrible. All that being said, I use the Audio Ape and I have liked it from day one. It has never failed me. The range is fantastic. For what it does, it’s a bargain.

Finally, know when the audience should see more props than one case can contain
Many of my shows are worked out of a carryon case. Many aren’t even close. Some audiences see people being sawn in half and floating tables. 
What’s the difference? At the end of the day, it’s what best for the audience that matters.Not me. Not you. Them. 

Packing all your props in a carryon because you don’t want your props lost in checked luggage is about the audience. 
Packing one case of props because of a small stage is about the audience.
Packing one case of props because you need to set up and strike your show quickly because of the next act (or your next venue) is about the audience.  
Doing and growing the same routines for years is about the audience. 
Tapping into music and costuming to add to the show without adding to the prop case is, again, about the audience. 

It’s about them. If there’s a takeaway in this post, let it be that. 

Hope this helps any hopeful “one-casers” out there. If you would, this please share with your magician friends. Thanks.


Doc Dixon
*Don’t let the use of the masculine pronoun be interpreted as forgetting my female readership. I know too many talented female magicians to do this. But until the English language has less cumbersome options than writing “he or she,” let this footnote suffice. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on So You Want To Pack Small & Play Big, Huh?