Two from Steve Martin

Steve Pellegrino, the author of one of the few good magic weblogs, links to a Steve Martin cartoon called “Morto the Magician.” Though it’s a bit gory and predictable at times, it’s a fun parody of the untalented illustionists who give magic a bad name. Incidentally, I’ve seen a live magician accidentally perform Morto’s signature effect, the magical production of a not-so-live dove. The real magician recovered with the same unperturned panache as Morto. The cartoon is available here.

The second item is Steve Martin’s 2003 novella The Pleasure of my Company. I read this over the holidays as a light break from my usual academic fare and enjoyed it immensely. It’s the story of Daniel Pecan Cambridge, a man whose bizarre obsessions keep him isolated from the world around him. (Asperger’s Syndrome? The book never says, but that’s my armchair diagnosis.) I went into it expecting only comedy, and it is often laugh out loud funny, but Martin also pulls off a delightful combination of skilled writing and compassionate insight. I recommend it.


Starting the new year off wrong

Google may have done me a big favor with its search ranking, but the online magic store Penguin Magic may have just canceled out the benefits with its new DVD release Jay Sankey’s Firestarters: The Real Secrets to Getting Dates with Close-Up Magic and Mentalism:

Featuring 17 brand new MAXIMUM INTIMACY close-up and mentalism effects, this DVD is guaranteed to turn up the heat between you and your audience!

At the same time, Jay teaches you exactly how to determine real prospects, communicate your interest and availability, encourage flirting, fuel chemistry and (most importantly) GET THAT PHONE NUMBER!

Jay also shares an exciting collection of 24 “firestarter tips,” the insightful information you need to get the sparks flying night after night! Learn how to “Make Compliments,” “Express Success,” “Appeal to Her Every Sense,” “Make Her the Star,” and so much more!

Jay even includes valuable information on “Making the Phone Call,” “The First Date,” and “How to Get ANY Woman’s Phone Number!”

I’m ruined! With these secrets out, I’ll no longer be able to use magic to entice women. I’ll have to resort to other gimmicks, like intelligence, personality, or *gasp* self-grooming. But even if I master those, can I possibly compete with guys who can perform…

Whisper: The perfect excuse to whisper a secret into her ear!

Wholehearted: Tear and restore a tissue heart!

Dotcom: The perfect way to get her e-mail address!

Under the Table: Hold hands with her! (Yes-under the table!)

Eye2Eye: Lock eyes with her and create a psychic connection!

Hundred Dollar Kiss: You’ll thank Jay for every kiss on the cheek!

Sexual Healing: Use animal attraction to heal a torn card!

Destined: Challenge fate for her phone number!

V.I.P. (Very Intimate Prediction): She’ll ask you for YOUR phone number!

That’s it for me. The magic thing was fun while it lasted, but now it’s time to pack up my cards and resign myself to a life of celibacy. Curse you, Jay Sankey!

[“In all fairness” note: Jay Sankey is actually a very talented magician, comedian, and cartoonist. While this project of his strikes me as tawdry and calls out to be made fun of, my guess is that it’s a significant step above others of its ilk. And, since it is admittedly not uncommon for magicians to be a bit lacking in social skills, it could prove useful for some.]

[“Pot calling the kettle” note: All kidding aside, I’d be the last to say there’s anything wrong with using magic or any other talent to attract someone. That’s human nature. Tailoring effects to essentially trick someone into giving you their phone number or holding hands, however, seems irredeemably slick and contrived.]

[“Bastard confession” note: I’m really just bitter that Jay released this DVD before I was able to publish my own video project, Ice Breakers: Unleashing the Power of Prestidigitation to Boost Your Playa Prestige.]


Watch me pull a gavagai out of my hat!

Actually, that could be rather messy if I get my inferences wrong. One moment the audience expects a cute little bunny to appear, the next I’m tossing disconnected rabbit parts into the front row. Thus many a cross-cultural attempt at magic leads to bloody disaster. What am I talking about?

The NY Times reports that a philosophy professor at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, Larry Hass, has begun teaching magic courses in an academic context. The article doesn’t make clear exactly how it ties in, but the program seems to be doing pretty well. I can’t speak for the academics, but if Juan Tamariz is representative of the quality of magician the program is bringing in, then they’re in good shape.

The tickets to his events were so hot on campus, said Scott Rodrigue, a freshman, that those with extras had dating currency.

“You can get a hot date because of magic here,” he said, shaking his head.

Now why is that so hard to be believe? Not to sound defensive, but the aspersions on my potential don’t end there:

Dr. Hass, 44, knows that he is probably not training many future David Copperfields. Though several students had good potential, he said that if a student came to him seeking advice about becoming a professional magician, he would offer words of caution, though he would offer similar advice to students thinking of going to graduate school to study philosophy.

Well, there go two of my options! It’s a good thing I have the security of freelance writing to fall back on.


I’ve been misdirected

I spent so much time practicing magic the past few days that I misdirected myself from updating the weblog. Between a daylong Cato event on Friday that ended up stretching into the night and the need to rehearse, Iíve had no time to post.

Tonight Court and I invited a group of friends over to the apartment for magic and desserts. As always, she did an amazing job in the kitchen (how does she bake so fast?) and I performed for about half an hour after everyone had relaxed with a glass of wine or two (I take whatever advantages I can get). This was an opportunity for me to try out some of the new effects Iíve been working on since early this summer Ė to release those pups from the captivity of rehearsal into the wilds of real performance to see if they could scrounge their way to survival.

Fortunately, everything went pretty well. Nothing bombed, some effects went wonderfully, and in many I found a few things that could use some tweaking. Considering that more than half of the show was being performed for the first time in front of a live audience, Iím pleased. Everyone enjoyed it and weíll do it again sometime.

The style of magic was a departure for me. Most of my previous experience is with close-up magic performed in short sets of anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes. Parlor magic is different: it changes the plane on which the effect has to play and enlarges the frame of performance. Performing close-up, the audience is often looking at a downward angle and the magic can take place on a horizontal plane, such as on a tabletop or in oneís hands. In a parlor situation, people are looking from across a room and the magic has to be staged on a vertical plane so that everyone can follow it.

By ďenlarging the frame of performanceĒ I mean that working in a parlor allows the audience to take in a bigger picture. When Iím working close-up, such as at a restaurant or party, people will tend to be focused on just one thing: my face, a hand, an object, etc. That opens up many possibilities for misdirection. In parlor, since people are seated farther away from the action, they can take in everything — if I were on TV, it would be the equivalent of the camera zooming out for a wider shot. Techniques that are effective in one venue donít always carry over to another.

Those changes in the plane and frame of performance require a lot of adaptation. However, I like being able to work for a larger audience and the theatrical opportunities a longer show provides, so Iím going to continue developing this kind of performance in addition to my usual close-up style. Stay tuned here for details.


Open for business

I’ve been procrastinating too long on getting business cards printed for magic promotion. But when I had to write my email address on a potential client’s hand at a party last week I knew it was long past time to break out the PhotoShop and design one. Here’s what I came up with:


It’s a visually striking card, although it presents a bit of a more serious image than really fits my performing style. The picture comes from my photo shoot with Laurel Staples last spring. I turned the contrast way up and the brightness way down to get the black and white effect. The cards were printed with VistaPrint, who did a great job and had them delivered a full two days before scheduled; they’re a great company if you need to print up your own cards and want to use full color.

I’m now accepting bookings for strolling magic at parties and events. (Strolling magic refers to performing close-up sets for small groups of people as opposed to putting on a formal show for everyone at once.) October is the month for ghosts and goblins — add a touch of mystery to your Halloween party with some close-up magic!


Magic Monday

I spoke too soon when I said that finding magic gigs would have to wait for my return to D. C. Yesterday I was hired to perform at the first Magic Monday at the Gatti Town in Humble. I’ll be doing strolling magic from 7 pm to 7:30, then James Austin Banner (for whom I used to do tech work) will perform a half hour stage act. Immediately following that, I and one or two other magicians will perform ten minute sets at the close-up table. If you’re in the area, feel free to stop by. There might be a small cover charge.


Convention report

By which I mean the Texas Association of Magicians Convention, not the Republican National Convention. Though now that I think about it, the two were rather similar. They both had lots of people dressed in funny clothes, they both had speakers promising to do things that they couldnít really accomplish, and they both found lots of ways to make my money disappear.

TAOM 2004 exceeded my expectations in all regards. The evening shows were terrific, the lecturers were great (British magician Wayne Dobson in particular), and the dealer room was full. I caught up with a few magicians I havenít seen in years and left feeling energized and ready to work up new material.

On Sunday night I had one of those moments when it feels really good to be able to make people feel astonishment. A group of us had gone out to a local Italian restaurant before the evening show. Unfortunately, many other convention attendees and people heading to local concerts all had the same idea. The kitchen was swamped and caught completely off guard. A few people at our table never got their food before we had to leave to catch the show. For the first time in my life we simply told the manager we had to leave and would come back later to settle up. Then we walked out of the restaurant.

I donít know if the managers ever expected to see us again, but we came back after the show. Apparently there were a few other miscommunications that kept people arguing for a while (my dinner had come out in due time so I was only there to pay and stayed out of the discussion). After all was said and done all of our meals were comped and the people whose meals never came received gift certificates. It was a grudging consensus.

We then tipped the waitress, who really had done a good job. She wanted to see some magic, too, so I performed one of the more amazing effects in my repertoire that fit in well with the moment. She was thrilled by this and said that I had made her day (which hadnít been very good to this point!). Then one of the other magicians performed another trick. By the end, everyone was much happier and we were all on very good terms.

This anecdote also illustrates how a house magician can help a restaurant. When something goes wrong in the kitchen and the meal is delayed, having someone who can entertain a table is a great way to keep customers laughing and make their experience more memorable. If I were going to be staying in Houston I would have made this a selling point to the manager and think I would have had a very good shot at a job there (or at least a date with the waitress). Alas, looking for magic gigs will have to wait till I get back to D. C.


A guy walks into a magicians convention…

One of my friends told me he’d never heard of a magic convention outside of a joke. They do, in fact, exist, and I’ll be heading to one tomorrow. It’s the annual convention of the Texas Association of Magicians. It will be a mix of working professionals and guys who are strictly amateurs. For me, it’s a chance to get involved again after several years away from magic and see a few quality live performances.

Of course, much of what happens at these conventions must be kept secret, but you can have a peek behind the curtain with this Friday Fun Quiz. One set of photos comes from a magic convention. The other comes from a slightly different kind of convention. Can you tell the difference?