Cups, Balls, and Rants

I performed the cups and balls regularly in my festival outdoor shows for about a 10 year stretch, from 2000 to 2010. I loved performing the routine and it was appreciated by my audiences. A favorite part were the jokes I wrote for it, as they were edgy, pointed, but not so much that they’d get me fired. Ha!

With the cups mind, here are a few rant-centric mini essays I wrote about year ago based on the ten years of performing the routine. Keep in mind, these thoughts are intended for the outdoor festival stage performer, not a close-up presentation.

RANT: It’s not about the cups

This is an observation that only became obvious to me after I made it. I guess that’s a nice way to say I had a “Well, duh” moment. Thankfully, I had it over twenty years ago, so I’ve been able to benefit from it for two decades. Despite the timing of the realization, it’s perennially useful. 

On stage, the loads are less important than the routine before. 

On stage, it’s about comedically holding court with the cups and balls. 

Holding court means the audience realizes that you and them are the focus, not the props. 

Part of the reason for this is the diminished view of the final load from the stage. Up close, the spectators can count the stitches on the baseball. On stage, not so much. Back in the eighties a regular part of my restaurant magic sets was a chop cup routine with an eight ball as a final load. I heard spectators refer to it as the “trick with the eight ball.” This made me focus on that aspect of the trick when doing it close up. 

Fast forward over a decade and I’m performing the cups and balls on stage. While the loads are still impressive, the entertainment value came from the jokes and interactions before the loads were revealed. 

To make a metaphorical stretch, everything that happened before the loads were the words of a one liner joke. The final loads were the applause cue and exclamation point of the sentence. 

Example: Paul Daniels’ legendary chop cup routine. It’s all the fun before the loads that make it so good. 

Watch Bob Sheets doing the cup and balls with young helpers from the audience. Genius! It’s the interaction with the kids that make it so good. The final loads, wonderful as they are, are a bonus, the final punctuation to a great routine. 

So what’s the takeaway from this rant? Or, in my case, my overdue epiphany? Spend more time writing jokes and creating interactions to hold court before the final loads.

RANT: STOP Load Juggling

Stop juggling the final loads of the cups and balls. 

Stop it. 

I cringe 99% of the time when I see final loads “appearing from nowhere,” only to juggled for no good reason.

You’ve just done a miracle and you’re capping it off with your mediocre juggling? So bad. This is the quintessential example of just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should


Unless you’re Charlie Frye. 
For two reasons. One, the juggling will be spectacular. Two, he’s Charlie Frye, pal. 

RANT: Final loads for the cups need to be recognizable things

Fruits, vegetables, and baseballs are all recognizable from the stage.   

Those large crochet-covered extra large final load cork balls? Not so much. They are the worst. 

Final loads for the cups should be a different color from the small balls. Using small yellow balls then producing a lemon diminishes the appearance of the lemon. The final loads should contrast in both size AND color. 

Rant: Don’t Genuflect For The Cups

I am six feet four inches tall. Is it any surprise that my table height for doing the cups and balls should be a different height than a performer show is five feet six inches tall? And yet … 

As Flosso would say, “Stand up straight, boy!” 

Leaning over a table looks and feels uncomfortable. It’s a small thing to reach down and under the InStand table and adjust it to the right height. 

The table is not adjustable? Then stand up straight for as much as you can and work on minimizing bending over. Remember, the cups on stage are about holding court. It’s tough to hold court bent over. Stand up straight, boy!


Doc Dixon

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