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.

Doc Dixon

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