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The Classic Book,





~ KEN WEBER_____..

Director's Notes
Magicians and Mentalists

Ken Weber

Maximum Entertainment 2.0

Director's Notes for Magicians and Mentalists
by Ken Weber

ISBN 978-0-9746380-1-0
Printed and bound in the United States of America

First Edition, 2019

Published by:

Ken Weber Productions

1983 Marcus Ave. #221
Lake Success, NY 11042

Copyright 2019 by Ken Weber. All rights reserved. No part of

this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,
or transmitted in . any form or by any means-electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise-without
the prior written permission of Ken Weber.

Back cover photo by David Linsell

Layout by Mark Garetz.

As with any good piece of magic, there is more to getting
a book published than meets the eye. The process requires a
team, and I was fortunate to have an ''N.' team on board.
Bob Baker, Doug Dyment, Mark Sherman, and John
Sherwood offered continuous encouragement and then polished,
corrected and kneaded this book into the product you now hold.
Each, to varying degrees, is a wordsmith, each has extensive
performing experience, and they provided invaluable assistance.
I also want to acknowledge Kathy Daly for the time she
stole from her professional and home life to help with the
Mark Garetz assumed the arduous task of morphing my
electronic bits and bytes into a physical, well-designed book.
My sincere thanks to them all.

Acknowledgments for the Revised and Expanded edition

Doug Dyment (his mentalism books are underground
classics) did most of the heavy lifting regarding editing, with
additional editing and wisdom from two top-level pro performers,
magician Nathan Coe Marsh and mentalist Eric Dittelman.
And then John "Handsome Jack" Lovick swooped in toward the
end of the process and applied his practiced eye to the text.
Mark Garetz once again designed the interior of the book
and gave the text a final once-over.
Thanks, guys!

And special hugs and kisses to Neela, Melanie and Keith,

Daryl and Jenn, Maya, Sasha, Avi, and Devin, who care not one
bit about anything in this book; they are the perfect balance in
my life.


Dedicated to Gil Eagles,

who taught me the magic of sharing.

By Bob Baker, MD

When Ken Weber talks, the top mystery entertainers in the

world listen. When Ken Weber advises, professional mentalists
who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year take his
advice. Why? Because Ken Weber· knows how to make a
performance entertaining, and to the most successful magicians
and mentalists in the world, maximizing entertainment is what
matters the most.
It's also what matters the most to our audiences. Frankly,
it's the only thing that matters to them. But how do we learn to
truly entertain an audience? We do hundreds or thousands of
shows, learn from our mistakes and, over time, we get better.
However, wouldn't it be wonderful if a great coach could help
us accelerate this process? An expert entertainer to watch us
perform, point out our errors, and show us what to do to perfect
our acts. A director. A mentor. A friend. In this book, Ken Weber
can fill these roles for you.
Ken, of course, didn't start his performing career at the
top of his profession. Like many of us New York performers, he
began in the humble bungalow colonies of New York's Catskill
Mountains-the Borscht Belt. I first became aware of Ken's
existence when he and I were paying our performing dues ther~
in the 1970s. (Performing dues: a 1:00 a.m. show in a non-air
conditioned "rec" hall for a hostile crowd just back from a losing
night at Monticello Racetrack.) In those days Ken and I trod the
same boards, but for me to say we were competitors would be
blatant self-aggrandizement.
As Ken perfected his show, his career leapt forward, and,
until he made a major career change (more on that later), Ken
was one of the top mentalists/hypnotists in North America. I've
had the pleasure of seeing Ken perform many times. I've seen
him turn a restless crowd of a thousand cynical college kids into
a stomping, cheering audience convulsed with laughter; I've
also marveled as he performed under the toughest conditions
and turned what would have been disaster for most performers
into another successful show.


That's why, when the Psychic Entertainers Association

wanted a performer's performer to conduct an open critique of
the professional mentalists who had entertained at the PEA's
annual convention, they turned to Ken.
What? Critique your peers? Publicly? Was the guy nuts? Well,
that's what we all thought, but Ken pulled it off magnificently.
So much so that he has been invited to repeat his seminar many
times since. But while Ken was teaching others, he was also
learning. He studied other performers. He saw a myriad of ways
to help even the best entertainers improve. And then he decided
to write it down. You hold the result in your hands.
In this book, Ken gives you tools and techniques that will
enable you to advance from being a good performer to a great
one. You will benefit from his twenty-five years of performing
experience before every conceivable type of audience. You will
discover in a single reading what most magicians and mentalists
never learn in a lifetime.
Now, you may be wondering, "If this guy is so great, how
come I've never heard of him?" Maybe it's because you've never
seen any of his thousands of college or corporate shows. It might
also be because Ken does not work magic conventions, lecture
to magic clubs, or pontificate in magic magazines. (Frankly,
he's too busy managing several hundred million dollars of
other people's money-his profession since retiring from full-
time performing.) But the fact that you don't know Ken Weber
doesn't mean you can't learn something from him. And this is
true whether you're an amateur performer or a working pro.
Who knows? If I'd known way back then what I've learned
from Ken since, I might not have ended up as a physician.
So get ready to discover the real secrets of magic. You are
about to hear from a master performer, expert analyst, and
all-around nice guy. Read, study, and learn. Apply what Ken
teaches, and watch the change in the way your spectators
respond to your magic.
You have nothing to lose but your audience.

Preface to the
Revised and
Expanded Edition
Welcome. Or if you've read the original version, welcome
The first edition of Maximum Entertainment appeared in
2003. In the intervening years many people asked me when I'll
write another book, or at least a new version of the original. My
answer was always, "Never. I'm too busy doing other things."
Well, I'm still busy. Family, friends, running my financial
firm, and other interests fill my days. Yet I happily admit that
after the book was published, my connections to magic deepened
and worldwide friendships increased greatly. I attended more
magic conventions and saw much more magic and mentalism
shows than I did previously. Yes, I still love it!
But why write a new version of the book?
In 2016, Stan Allen invited me to deliver a General Session
address to the 1600 magicians at MAGIC Live in Las Vegas.
I had infrequently held a microphone during the previous ten
years and I certainly had not spoken to an audience that size
in many years (although I often did when I was a full-time
The MAGIC Live talk was titled Raise Your Level, which in
fact had been the working title of my book. As I prepared my
speech it became clear that I had far more than the allotted
eighteen minutes of thoughts about the performance of magic.
That was a big push toward this effort.
However, the biggest impetus for revising the book was the
reception-highly unexpected, truly-it received within the
worldwide magic community. It became a bestseller (it's been
reprinted five times) and many top pros have told me they
regularly reread the book. Plus, with zero input from me, there
are now Spanish and Japanese translations, and a terrific


audio version of the book. (And just as I was wrapping up this

new version, I learned that a Chinese translation was nearly
complete; that group decided to wait for this new version to be
Perhaps most gratifying of all was what happened in
2013. Matthew Field, a columnist for London's prestigious
Magic Circle newsletter, The Magic Circular, surveyed a
representative sample of members for an updated version of
Annemann's hypothetical "Five-Foot Shelf of Magic Books."
Twenty-eight titles, from all magic's history, made the list, and
Maximum Entertainment was one of them. Considering that,
aside from the book, I had little visibility in the magic world
(no other books, no tricks, no lecture tours) I took that as an
important validation of my efforts. And to be honest, seeing that
list with my name alongside Magic's most luminous literary
stars-Tarbell, Ganson, Page, Bobo, Burger, Tamariz, etc.-
was immensely humbling and gratifying. (Fun fact: the list
included just twenty-eight titles from anywhere in the world, yet
two of the authors on the list, David Kaye and I, both attended
the same Junior High School! Years apart, I must add. David's
Seriously Silly book, you should know, brilliantly explains his
techniques for successfully entertaining children.)
Interesting too was that hundreds of performers told me
about their "favorite part of the book" and there was very little
overlap. That indicated to me that the advice was broad-based
enough to cover a wide range of circumstances.
All the above made me want to give back to the Art even
So here we are.
As to why I didn't simply write a second book: I considered
that option but soon realized that much of what I wanted to
say was directly related to the original material. Therefore, it
made more sense to scaffold the new thoughts onto the old. Plus,
if you're among the thousands who read the book years ago,
rereading the original tips might help reinforce some concepts
you might have missed, or which perhaps didn't pertain to you
back then but do now.
In sum, this "new" book is filled with Amplifications,
Clarifications, and Additions. Most of the new material appears


in the second half of the book, but just about every section, and
in some spots almost every paragraph, has been tweaked.
I'll also point out that while most of the original book's
comments about performances grew from viewing videos, in
the intervening years the situation reversed; I watched tons of
live performances and very little video. Making, I believe, the
comments even more practical and more grounded in the real
One welcome change over the past fifteen or so years is
the surge in female magicians. (Try to never refer to "female"
magicians; they are magicians.) However, being that the
preponderance of magicians still are male, most of this book
uses male pronouns. Sorry.
Above all, I want to stress that just about everything in
this book is based on watching professional magicians and
mentalists. I love amateurs, but I rarely see them perform.
A few times I heard from magicians who didn't buy the
book because they picked it up, glanced at it, and didn't agree
with what they happened to read. To which I say, "Of course!"
This is a wide-ranging overview and nothing will apply to all
performers. That's why I urge you to read the book straight
through; that's the only way to find the suggestions that apply
to you.
Finally, a word about the layout of the revised version. By
and large all the new thoughts and tips are integrated into the
text. Some, like the words you are reading now, will obviously
be new. And others are [bracketed] when I have a clear reason
to differentiate old from new.
That said, here we go.


Acknowledgments ." ............................................ "····· i
Foreword ···················••e••··••eu•ee•••eo••e11••0••······ ............ iii
Preface to the Revised and Expanded Edition ... v
Section 1: Pream.ble e•e••·••e••••11••········"·••e••··············· 1
Introduction ............... ., ... , .............................. Cl • • • ., • • • • • • • 3
Teen Magazine Advice ..................................................... 4
Ken Who? ......................................................................... 5
Pardon Me, Your Slip Is Showing ................................. 12
Please Take Note ........................................................... 13
The "Science" of Entertainment? Never! ...................... 14
Chapter 1
The Search for Entertainment .......................... 17
Defining Entertainment ................................................ 17
Looking for Entertainment in All the Wrong Places ... 18
Why a Director? ............................................................. 20
See You as We See You: The Importance of Video ....... 21
Find a Mentor or a Trusted Friend .............................. 23
Raise Your Level. ........................................................... 23
My Aha! Experience ...................................................... 25
Say It Loud:"I Entertain and I'm Proud!" .................... 27
Look to the Stars ........................................................... 27
Too Much of a Good Thing ............................................ 29
Competitors .................................................................... 31
The Dangers of Success ................................................. 32
Personal Entertainment Highlights ................. 33
A Personal Entertainment Highlight:
Al Flosso--The Miser's Dream ........................................ 34
Personal Entertainment Highlights: Update ............... 35
Section 2: Precursors e•o•s••"··················• ... 11••••e•••&•• 39
Chapter 2
The Hierarchy of Mystery Entertainment ...... 41
Bona Fide Magic ............................................................ 42
Stalking the Extraordinary Moment ............................ 43
Magic for Magicians vs. Magic for Everyone Else ....... .44
The Trivialization of Magic ........................................... 46
Chapter 3
Reactions ...................... ., .... e .... e .................. " ..................................... 49
The Big Three ................................................................ 49
Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak........................................ 51
Fizzle vs. Sizzle .............................................................. 52

Chapter 4
The Six Pillars of Entertainment Success ...... 55
1. Master Your Craft ..................................................... 56
Man and Superman ................................................. 57
Do a Few Things Extraordinarily Well .................. 58
The Road Less Traveled .......................................... 59
2. Communicate Your Humanity .................................. 60
Certified 100% Natural ........................................... 66
Say, Young Fella, Ain't You One of Us? ................... 68
Your Audience Wants You ....................................... 70
3. Capture the Excitement ............................................ 70
4. Control Every Moment .............................................. 74
And Then I, Umm, Like, Said to the Guy.............. 74
Use a Lower Gear for More Traction ...................... 75
Never Apologize to Your Audience .......................... 76
Radiate Control. ....................................................... 78
Are You Looking at Me? .......................................... 78
Excuse Me? ............................................................... 79
Dominate Me. I Like It! ........................................... 79
5. Eliminate Weak Spots ............................................... 80
Speed Kills ............................................................... 82
The Pause that Refreshes ........................................ 83
The Magic is Rarely Enough ................................... 83
6. Build to a Climax ...................................................... 84
Vary the Texture ...................................................... 86
Heighten the Impossibility ...................................... 87
On Multiple Climaxes .............................................. 88
Climax Fast, Climax Slow ....................................... 89
One True Climax Per Audience, Thank You .......... 90
All's Well That Ends Well ........................................ 91
A Personal Entertainment Highlight:
David Berglas-ACAAN ...................................... 93
Section 3: Preparation ....................................... 97
Chapter 5
Scripting and Rehearsing ................................... 99
Writing a Script: Just Do It ........................................... 99
Write. Fix. Repeat ....................................................... 100
Be a Marksman with Your Words ............................... 101
Actions and Dialogue ................................................... 101
Reverse Engineering ................................................... 103
Actions ......................................................................... 103

For My Next Trick,

I Have a Deck of Cards Somewhere ........................... 104
Thanks for the Memorize ............................................ 105
Ah, the Profound Irony of Magic ................................. 106
Build a Brick House .................................................... 106
Chapter 6
Choosing Material and Developing the Act .. 109
Mind Blowing or Mind Numbing ................................ 109
Performance Trumps Trick ......................................... 110
New Tricks, Old Tricks .............................................. 111
My Tricks, Your Tricks ................................................ 112
Original Sin ................................................................. 113
Destination: Astonishment .......................................... 114
Strong, Stronger, Strongest.. ....................................... 115
Props. Get Real!. .......................................................... 116
Exposure: Indecent? .................................................... 116
Second that Emotion ................................................... 117
Audience Participation ................................................ 118
Warning, Dangerous Tricks: Proceed with Caution ... 119
Four Case Studies ........................................................ 120
Case Study #1 ........................................................ 120
Case Study #2 ........................................................ 122
Case Study #3 ........................................................ 123
Case Study #4 ........................................................ 125
Start Naked ................................................................. 126
Art for Art's Sake? ....................................................... 127
Flight Time .................................................................. 128
Colin and the Cloud ..................................................... 129
Look Homeward ........................................................... 129
A Personal Entertainment Highlight:
Del Ray at the Card Table ................................. 131
Section 4: Perforiner ......................................... 133
Chapter 7
Your Appearance ............................ e••·················· 135
Dress for Success ......................................................... 135
Hands and Nails .......................................................... 136
Shoes ............................................................................ 136
Glasses ......................................................................... 137
Handkerchief ............................................................... 138
Your Jacket .................................................................. 138
Your Shirt .................................................................... 139

Chapter 8
Your Voice ............................................................ 141
My Favorite Voice Trick .............................................. 141
Change the Em-pha-sis to a Different Syl-la-ble ....... 146
Talk in Color, Not Black and White ............................ 147
Ya Gotta Get da Woids Right ...................................... 148
Hear the Voices ............................................................ 150
Chapter 9
Language Skills .................................................. 151
Words and Phrases We Can Do Without .................... 152
Back to Grammar School ............................................ 161
When I Count to 3, You'll Say It Right! ...................... 162
Honesty is the Best Policy ........................................... 162
Raising Hands ............................................................. 163
On the Other Hand ...................................................... 164
Say What? .................................................................... 166
Don't State the Obvious! ............................................. 166
Chapter 10
How To Be Funny! .............................................. 169
The Two Hooks for Humor .......................................... 170
Get to the Point ... Quickly ........................................... 172
Guy Walks Into a Bar, Gets More From Less ............ 173
Use Humor with Compassion ...................................... 174
Master Your Domain ................................................... 175
A Personal Entertainment Highlight:
Mac King ............................................................... 177
Section 5: Paraphernalia ................................. 179
Chapter 11
Sound and Lighting ........................................... 181
The Early Bird Gets the Light. And Sound ................ 181
Banquet Rooms ............................................................ 182
Chapter 12
Sound ·············································"······················ 185
Sound Systems ............................................................. 185
Testing, One ... Two ...Three ......................................... 186
The Beauty of the Handheld Microphone ................... 187
Respecting the Spectator ............................................. 191
A Tip of the Mic ........................................................... 191
Mic Stand or Mic Holder? ............................................ 192


Pros Know .................................................................... 192

Gear for Workers ......................................................... 193
To Mic or Not to Mic? .................................................. 193
Speakers ....................................................................... 194
Speaking of Speakers .................................................. 196
Monitors ....................................................................... 197
Chapter 13
Music ...................................................................... 199
Music Moves ................................................................ 200
Musical Miscues .......................................................... 201
The Hierarchy of Music ............................................... 201
Think Outside the Music Box ..................................... 202
Control Yourself! You're in Public! .............................. 203
Soma Shows the Way ................................................... 206
Finding the Right Music ............................................. 206
Amateur Music ............................................................ 207
Royalty-free music sites ............................................... 207
End Notes .................................................................... 208
Chapter 14
Lighting ................................................. 11••······••a••···· 209
Spotlights ..................................................................... 209
Finding the Hot Spot.. ................................................. 210
Re: Sound and Lighting.Dominate the Terrain-An
Object Lesson ............................................................... 211
The Search for Remedies ............................................. 212
Where the Buck Stops ................................................. 213
Blessed Are the Not-Meek ........................................... 213
A Personal Entertainment Highlight:
David Copperfield-Flying ............................... 217
Section 6: Perforniance ....................... ., ............ 219
Chapter 15
Close-up Magic ··················••u••·····"········ ........... 9 •••• 221
Pleased to Meet You? ................................................... 221
"You Want Me to Pick Another Card?" ....................... 222
May I Borrow Your Wife .. .I Mean, Your Watch? ........ 223
May I Borrow Your Hand ... The Clean One? .............. 223
Don't Blow It ................................................................ 225
"And All I Gotta Do Is ... Act Naturally" ..................... 225


Chapter 16
Mentalism ............................................................. 2 2 7
Blame Blaine ............................................................... 227
Don't Dilute .................................................................. 228
Et Tu, Tamariz? ........................................................... 229
What Not to Say .......................................................... 232
Explaining Away the Mystery ..................................... 234
Why Did You Tear Up My Card!? ............................... 236
C'mon, Get Real ........................................................... 236
Disclaimers .................................................................. 237
On a Related Note ....................................................... 239
Mental Magic ............................................................... 240
Nothing to See Here .................................................... 240
Descartes Before the Horse ......................................... 241
Chapter 17
"Silent" Acts ........................................................ 243
Unnecessary Movements ............................................. 243
Dancing. Or Prancing.................................................. 244
What Are You "Saying"? ............................................. 244
Music Blunders ............................................................ 245
Cliche Choices ............................................................. 246
Applause Cues ............................................................ 246
Desperately Seeking Spina ......................................... 246
Chapter 18
Dealing with Spectators ................................... 249
Asking for Volunteers .................................................. 250
Please and Thank You ................................................ 252
Clear Directions ........................................................... 252
Talking to Spectators .................................................. 253
Listening ...................................................................... 254
Like I Said, Listen. And React .................................... 255
Touching ..................................................................... 256
#MeToo and You, Too .................................................. 256
One is the Loneliest Number ...................................... 257
Dismissing Spectators ................................................. 257
Prepare for Problems ................................................... 258
Chapter 19
Before the Show ······························••e••··············· 259
Easy Riders .................................................................. 259
Know Your Audience .................................................. 259
Who's on First? ............................................................ 260

Setting the Environment ............................................. 261

Chairs .......................................................................... 262
Stairs or Steps ............................................................. 263
Doors ............................................................................ 264
Makeup ........................................................................ 265
Malodorous Maladies, etc ............................................ 268
Your Introduction ........................................................ 268
Instructions for Introductions ..................................... 269
But First, Get There ................ .'................................... 271
To Be Seen, or Not To Be Seen? .................................. 273
Just Before You Walk Out ........................................... 273
Chapter 20
During the Show .......................................... 11••····· 275
Your Opening Moments ............................................... 275
Ewww! Gag Me with a Spoon ..................................... 276
About Face! .................................................................. 277
Do You See What I See?Do You Hear What I Hear? .. 277
Rise to the Occasion .................................................... 279
Avoid Dead Time .......................................................... 280
Missed-direction .......................................................... 281
Eyes Wide Shut ............................................................ 282
Careful Where You Step .............................................. 282
Share, and Share Again .............................................. 283
No "Thank You" ........................................................... 284
Treat Your Props with Respect ................................... 284
Dirty Baggage .............................................................. 284
Don't Be Ruff with Your Animals ............................... 285
MC Hammered ............................................................ 285
Show Your Best Side .................................................... 286
Signing Off on Signing ................................................ 287
Power Shifting ............................................................. 289
Whose Fault Is It, Anyway? ........................................ 289
You All Know This, Right? .......................................... 291
When Bad Things Happen to Good Performers ......... 292
Yes, They Are Jerks. Too Bad ..................................... 293
Smile, and the Whole World Smiles with You ............ 294
He Ain't Heavy, He's My Bro ....................................... 294
A Personal Entertainment Highlight:
Gil Eagles-1'he Q&A Act .................................. 297
A Highlight within a Highlight:
Removing the Blindfold ............................................... 298


Chapter 21
Closing the Show ................................................ 301
Last Man Standing ..................................................... 301
Standing Ovations ....................................................... 302
Section 7: Postscript ......................................... 305
Chapter 22
After the Show .................................................... 307
The Spin Cycle ............................................................. 307
The Postmortem .......................................................... 309
A Personal Entertainment Highlight:
Derren Brown, Lior Suchard ........................... 311
Derren Brown .............................................................. 311
Lior Suchard ................................................................ 312
Chapter 23
How To Give and Receive Criticism ............... 315
How to Give Notes ....................................................... 316
How to Receive Notes .................................................. 319
Chapter 24
Passion and Failure ........................................... 323
Embrace Failure. Momentarily ................................... 323
Passion ......................................................................... 323
Chapter 25
And, in the End .................................................... 327
Where is Our Masterwork? ......................................... 328
Summing Up ................................................................ 329

Section I

"The introduction to a document
that serves to explain its purpose."


is hardly ever heard,
•but mostly what I need from you.
Billy Joel

One of the most successful mentalists in the world frequently
begins his show with a warm-up exercise to "get his mind in
gear." He calls it "Mental calisthenics." Except that, for a time,
he pronounced it "cal-is-thet-ics."
The tradition in most performing arts says that we always
stroke a performer after a show, and save our true feelings
for ourselves-or we share them with others and leave the
performer no wiser.
I've grown weary of that mindset. I love my craft too much.
We sink or swim together. Bad magic and weak mentalism
smear all magicians and mentalists. And surely the opposite is
true; successful performers increase demand for the genre.
The mentalist in this story is a dear friend. With some
trepidation I told him about his mispronunciation. At first he
was sure I was mistaken. After all, he holds advanced university
degrees and had been saying that line for years.
''Are you sure?" he asked again with a combination of
skepticism and worry.
"Yes, I'm certain," I replied, not knowing whether I was
stepping over some ego-proscribed line.
"Calisthenics. Calisthetics." He said them both several times.
Then he looked directly at me, put his hand on my shoulder, and
said, "Thanks, Ken." He knew that wasn't easy for me and he
wanted to make it clear he was grateful.
That one word was an infinitesimally small moment within
a masterful one-hour presentation, but as working pros know,
every moment counts, and we can always raise the level of our


The friendship endured, and I woke up to the need for

sharing-rather than hiding-our honest opinions. My purpose
within these pages is to look at the small moments (and some
larger issues as well) that raise or lower the level of your
Traditional magic books, videos, and lectures give you the
mechanics of the tricks. This book examines the other elements
that comprise a successful entertainment experience: the
cement between the bricks.

Teen Magazine Advice

When I was sixteen years old, I wrote up a card trick that
appeared in a magazine for teenage magicians. I urged the
readers of my simple little trick to "make it entertaining." It's
not that I knew what that meant, but I had seen the phrase
written by so many others that I assumed it was mandatory.
From the day you began reading your first magic book, you
have been repeatedly reminded that your job is to entertain
your audience.
"Your tricks must be entertaining." "Don't forget, you are an
Entertain ... entertainment ... entertaining ... entertainer.
Blah, blah, blah. Easily written, rarely defined, those
admonitions appear in our literature so often they have evolved
into vapid cliches.
But what exactly is entertainment? Specifically, what
makes one trick entertaining and another merely a puzzle?
What actions, gestures, or words levitate a conjuring trick
into something recognized as entertainment? And equally
important, what specifically detracts from the entertainment
In other words, how do you achieve entertainment? Those
are the questions we tackle in this book. And we'll do it, at some
points, in great detail.


Ken Who?
Until the original publication of this book, you would never
have seen my name in a major magic publication, and I am
not clever enough to have invented any commercial tricks. I'm
including a brief autobiography here for two reasons. Primarily,
since I'm offering advice-sometimes delivered bluntly-this
book may have more credence for you if you understand my
background, my qualifications as an "expert." Knowing that
I've managed to achieve a significant level of success as an
entertainer may allow the medicine to go down more easily.
Secondly, I enjoy reading other stories about "a life in magic,"
and would like to think that you feel the same. So please allow
me to introduce myself.
I'm a native New Yorker, but from ages ten through twelve
I lived in a home for asthmatic children in Denver, Colorado.
Back then, the mid-1950s, asthma was a fairly rare and highly
misunderstood disease, and one theory held that it has a strong
psychosomatic component. That approach, since discredited,
posited that parents might inadvertently be a trigger for the
attacks, so after years of unsuccessfully trying other treatments,
my parents, heartbroken, shipped me off, alone, to the foothills
of the Rockies. They were allowed only two one-week visits
during twenty-five months.
Sad to think back on it now, but the experience held the
key, for better or worse, to my entry into show business. During
the middle of that two-year stretch, while walking in downtown
Denver with a friend and unaccompanied by any adult (life was
different for 11-year-olds then!) I stopped at the window of a
store unlike anything I had seen before. At first I thought it
was a toy store, but there were masks and "gags" and tricks. A
young man emerged from the store and said to me, "Do you like
"Umm, I guess so."
"Well, come here next Saturday for a free magic show."
It turned out the free magic show was actually a meeting
of a teenage magic club, and that afternoon changed my life. I
began reading everything on magic in the local libraries (I find
it curious that most magicians don't know the significance of


793.8. Hint: Ask your librarian), and by the time I moved back
to New York I thought of myself as a twelve-year-old magician.
At age fifteen I first saw my name in print; TV Guide
listed me as the Teen-Talent guest on the popular Wonderama
children's show (with Sonny Fox, the host prior to magician
Bob McAllister). For a few weeks during the 1964 World's
Fair, I held the title of "Official Magician'' at the RCA Pavilion
(among others, Peter Pit and The Amazing Randi also filled
that role for short periods). The RCA folks exploited my talents
to help introduce color TV to the passing public. "Ladies and
gentlemen," the young female tour guides intoned, "if you look
through the windows down into the television studio, you'll see
our magician. Now look at the color TV monitors above you;
notice the red of the handkerchief he's waving around? See how
the red appears the same as what you see in the studio."
Saturday afternoons during my late-teen and early-twenties
years followed a pattern: First stop, Louis Tannen's store,
where I'd hang out watching demonstrations of tricks I couldn't
afford, then at 3:00 p.m., when the shop closed, I'd either head
to Al Flosso's shop or move with the gang to "the cafeteria" to
schmooze with guys like Frank Garcia, Richard Himber, Harry
Lorayne, Ken Krenzel, and many others who were or became
stars in the magic world.
My best friend in magic back then was Jeff Sheridan, the
person who single-handedly brought the art of street magic back
to America. Sometimes Jeff and I would leave Tannen's and
just "bop" around Manhattan, practicing our latest tricks on
comely females. Other times we took the subway downtown to
Flosso's dingy shop (more about this great man in my Personal
Entertainment Highlights).
One day, Jeff introduced me to a young lad who was standing
at Tannen's counter, accompanied by one of his parents. The
demonstrator was spending a good deal of time with the kid,
a sure sign he smelled money. I could never fathom scenes like
that. My parents barely tolerated my addictive hobby, and here
was a kid whose parents encouraged-encouraged-his interest
in magic! Jeff told me that not only did the folks buy tricks for
that spoiled brat (that's how I viewed him and all others who
came to the shop with a parent, usually just once or twice, never


to been seen again), they were even paying Jeff to give him card
manipulation lessons. Ha! What a waste of money.
Everyone knows-certainly I knew-that you must suffer
for your art. No pain, no gain. Handing him magic on a silver
platter would only soften him and make him cower once he
experienced failure in front of strangers. Nonetheless, the
parents kept paying and the kid diligently continued his lessons,
surprising me, and as I recall, to a lesser extent, Jeff as well.
Whatever became of that kid, David Kotkin?
Higher learning for me took place at Long Island's Hofstra
University, where I majored in Speech and Drama. That
combined major was chosen because it a) seemed useful to my
magic career, and b) was easier than a real major.
It was there that I began my formal study of acting and
directing. Thanks to the first-rate reputation of Hofstra's
drama department, the faculty included talented people from
nearby New York City. Writers, directors, and actors with
Broadway experience were more than happy to sign on for
steady paychecks. Those teachers showed me the collaborative
nature of entertainment. And it was at Hofstra that I first
experienced the technique of the director, sitting alone in the
theater watching the rehearsals, taking notes.
Director's notes. One person, sitting where the audience sits,
objectively observing and writing notes. One person coaching
another. It's the backbone of theater.
After earning my Bachelor of Arts degree, I went on to
Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. There,
I picked up a Master's Degree in Broadcasting, and all my
elective courses were again, as at Hofstra, related to either
acting or directing.
During my two years' time at Brooklyn College I produced
and hosted what we were told was the first student-run TV
program in the United States to have a regular run on a
broadcast station. It was, in fact, a forerunner of MTV, with
music and news strictly for young adults. Yet, despite what I
considered an impressive resume, no company in TV land shared
my enthusiastic opinion of me, and so I took a temp office job.
[This was back when there were just three TV networks, and


scattered local TV outlets. Today the opportunities in film and

television are vastly greater.]
Three months later I received the call that morphed my
avocation into my profession: an agent said he could book me for
two weeks performing on cruise ships. That meant quitting my
steady job for the vagaries of show biz, and it fostered an inner
conversation regarding the pros and cons of the two choices:
work in an office for people I don't like and who don't like me,
or get paid twice as much to sail around the Caribbean and do
magic and mentalism, but with no secure prospects afterward.
I packed my bags.
For several years I worked with some regularity on the ships
of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Later on, I discovered that
other cruise lines didn't treat their entertainers nearly as well.
I was paid two to three times as much as similar acts on other
lines, plus we cabaret entertainers were also treated with more
respect. Not that we didn't work hard: I did two 45-minute
afternoon shows, then transferred to another ship. Sometimes
the transfer involved walking across a pier; other times the
entertainers were put on a small private plane and whisked
off to meet a ship on a different island. Regardless of the work
schedule, when not performing we were no different from any
paying guest on those floating luxury resorts. Not bad for a kid
just out of school.
I then migrated to doing an ever-increasing number of what
agents call "club dates." Despite the name, those were any
type of paid one-night show for any audience. That's when I
began traveling across America. It was during those years, the
late 1970s, that I began developing my hypnosis show. (These
days, one can supposedly learn stage hypnosis from any of
several weekend courses or a 2-hour video. That's a regrettable
development. My hypnosis training included, in addition to my
own extensive reading of hypnosis books from college libraries,
courses at two local universities plus an intensive correspondence
course from the UCLA School of Medicine which earned me a
Certificate in Clinical Hypnosis-good for four medical school
Among the club dates was a steady stream of gigs in New
York's infamous Catskill Mountains. The circuit there was


comprised of hotels and bungalow colonies, which housed the

most jaded audiences in the world. Most of the habitues had been
going to "the mountains" forever, which in some cases meant
before man learned to bake bread, and all the resorts provided
a non-stop stream of entertainment. Impressing those folks
required more than a smile and a clean suit. But it was also the
best training ground for a young performer: you learned how to
overcome apathy, extremes of temperature, outright antagonism
("You're not the stripper?"), and distractions of every variety.
And, if you proved yourself worthy to the agents, you had the
dubious honor of doing two or three shows on a Saturday night,
each at a different resort.
Next followed the college circuit, where, needless to say, the
audiences looked, sounded, and smelled different. Those kids
had a natural affinity for my memory, mentalism, and hypnosis
demonstrations, and at one point Newsweek magazine named
me "one of the most requested" performers on the college circuit.
Now there's a funny thing about becoming a professional:
when your hobby is your vocation, your perspective changes.
For me, that change, over the course of a few years, was a major
one. As I became more successful, I stopped going to magic
conventions. I let my subscriptions to the magazines lapse. I
rarely bought new books and tricks and I hardly ever visited
any magic shops. Magic was no longer my hobby.
My focus became the business side of show business, and as
a result, I felt reluctant to introduce new material into my act.
That is not an incorrect strategy; every show is important for
the professional, so why tinker with a winning formula? And if
I was not going to bring new material into the act, why tease
myself by seeing what others were offering in the shops and
magazines? Why take money from my family's budget if I could
not justify new magic as a business expense?
Right or wrong, that's how life went for more than a decade.
By the early 1980s, my show-biz career was on cruise
control. I reached the happy point where I did all the shows I
wanted to do, with virtually no advertising or soliciting for gigs;
all shows were either repeat dates or from agents who knew and
trusted my work. By any measure, including monetarily, I was
a successful entertainer.


Around 1982 I began a slow evolution to the world of

investments. Second only to magic, Wall Street had been a
passion since rn.y early teens. I used the time spent while
flying from. gig to gig researching what to do with rn.y show-biz
earnings, and after a few years I realized I knew quite a bit
about one particular area: mutual funds. In the early 1980s I
also became convinced that they were going to be the preferred
investment vehicle of the future, and so I began publishing a
newsletter to help the average person invest in funds. I assumed
it would entail perhaps four or five days each month, and while
I didn't expect to make any money, I thought it would help rn.y
subscribers avoid major investing mistakes, and let rn.e feel
that I've contributed something important to society. (Later
on, and especially after the 9/11 attacks, I came to appreciate
more fully the important contributions artists and entertainers
provide within a free society.)
The newsletter grew rapidly and, at its peak, had 5,000
paid subscribers at $79 per year. In 1992 I established Weber
Asset Management, Inc., a company dedicated to helping people
invest prudently in no-load mutual funds. I never planned to
retire from. show biz, but the success of rn.y venture into the
world of investments snuck up on rn.e and began to consume rn.y
tirn.e--within six years we zoomed into the top 10% of America's
37,000 Registered Investment Advisor firms, based on assets
under management. [And in 2015 I wrote a financial book for
the public, Dear Investor, What the HELL Are You Doing?]
Then came the day when I realized I had to begin declining
offers for out-of-town shows. After spending years building up
rn.y reputation as an entertainer, it was truly painful to say "No
thanks" when a distant college or agent requested rn.y services,
but I had no choice.
The one constant during those years was, and still is, rn.y
affiliation with the Psychic Entertainers Association (PEA),
an international organization of those with a serious and
vested interest in rn.entalisrn., hypnosis, and related fields of
entertainment (despite the name, most members eschew strong
claims of psychic ability). For quite a while it was rn.y only
formalized connection, other than regular meetings with a few
close friends, to the world of mystery entertainment.


In 1993, the PEA bestowed upon me their most

prestigious honor, the Dunninger Memorial Award, ''Awarded
for Distinguished Professionalism in the Performance of
Three years after receiving that plaque, I volunteered-
in a fit of altruism mixed with foolhardiness-to do a lecture
at our annual PEA convention. It was to be a critique of the
performers who appeared on the shows there. Most of my PEA
friends thought I was a mentalist who had gone mental. To put
it mildly, they tried to dissuade me. Nonetheless, I persisted,
believing it could be pulled off without anyone committing an
atrocity upon any of my vital organs.
During the Thursday and Friday night shows, I sat in the
darkness with a pad and a pen, jotting down my thoughts about
what I saw on the stage. Understand that all the performers at
the PEA shows are members of a fairly restrictive organization,
one which requires a demonstrated seriousness about the art of
entertaining using mysteries of the mind; some members, while
serious students of the art, rarely appear in front of audiences,
but many others are full-time entertainers.
And on a particular Saturday afternoon, I stood before this
group of fellow performers and began, with trepidation, my
point-by-point critique of the eight entertainers we had seen
during the previous two evening shows.
The response, a full standing ovation, exceeded anything I
expected. One member wrote in to the organization's newsletter
that it was "the best lecture I've ever seen, and I've been going
to magic conventions for nearly fifty years!" More importantly,
the subjects of my critiques were the first to pull me aside to
say, in various ways, "Thanks, I needed that."
I never volunteered to do the "workshop" again. Instead, for
six of the next seven years the different convention chairmen
asked me to repeat it, and I did, and I take that as a verification
that I provided a useful service to my fellow performers.
From the moment I accepted the responsibility of offering
my "Performance Workshop" to the Psychic Entertainers
Association, I began the process of systematically noting and
analyzing the big and little things that helped or hindered
performers in all branches of the magical arts. I believe that


the workshops were well received, in part, because I dissected,

with great specificity, what I saw on stage, seeking to eliminate
the rough edges in otherwise smooth performances.
After those sessions a number of people suggested I
write a book based on my lectures. At first, the idea seemed
preposterous. After all, my comments targeted specific
moments in shows I had seen, and which had been seen by
the attendees at my lectures. As the years passed, however, it
became clear that certain themes of advice repeated themselves,
and those concepts coalesced into the framework for this book.
But I recognize that the individuality of performers makes
comprehensiveness impossible. I could pen a thousand pages
and it still could not substitute for a live, knowledgeable mentor
scrutinizing your particular act. Nonetheless, by reading this
book you will increase your ability to, in effect, mentor yourself.
And if you should be fortunate enough to have a trusted friend
or true director evaluate you, after digesting my advice you will
be better equipped to accept or argue against any particular
piece of advice with greater clarity and intellectual strength.

Pardon Me, Your Slip Is Showing

The subtitle for this book is, "Director's Notes for Magicians
and Mentalists," for that was the genesis of this project-my
"Director's Notes." A true stage director must report his or her
views honestly and directly, and likewise in these pages you
will encounter a bluntness rarely seen in typical magic prose.
In any educational exercise, specific examples always provide
greater usefulness than generalities. That's why this book
names names. Some will be offended. Sorry. At this stage of
my life, I see no need to hide behind broad-brush statements, so
when I can point to a particular performer or a specific moment
within an act to illustrate a line of reasoning, I do.
However, be assured that I do it always with deep respect
for my fellow entertainers. From my earliest days of reading
our literature, I realized that this is a unique and special
brotherhood (and increasingly, a sisterhood), spanning age,
religion, race, and geography. Despite what you may infer from
some of my criticisms, I love magic and mentalism and all those


who share my enthusiasm for this art form. (Is magic an art?
Of course it is; it's a subset of the performing arts.) My lectures
were well received, in part, because I developed a reputation for
fairness, and I know there is no performer who cannot teach me
And I need to let you in on a little secret: I will be commenting
on, and offering suggestions about the performances of, a
number of contemporary magicians and mentalists, including
some of the most respected, and I am intensely jealous of each
of them! I wish, deeply, that I possessed their skills. I don't,
but that of course does not invalidate my observations. Each
comment needs to stand on its own, apart from me, and it's up
to you to decide whether I am on or off target.
Occasionally, after one of my lectures, a performer whom
I reviewed would come up to me and explain in one fashion or
another that "that's not what I usually do." I understand that
they want to be seen in the best light. Who doesn't? However,
for the purposes of the reviews, I could go only with what I saw.
It's the same for the comments you'll read in this book.
I fully recognize that I am commenting on routines that in
some cases are not fully formed, routines these performers may
never perform for a paying audience.
Is that fair? Yes, for several reasons. First, in general, my
comments are about performances that are for sale to the magic
world on DVD or video download. As such, they are fair targets
for honest commentary. Second, the performers chose to put
those moments out before us; I didn't sneak into a rehearsal or
a back-room session. But mostly, I made the decision to choose
performances that you, the reader, can access.
Also, I use specific moments to make a general point. So,
while the performance being discussed may not be an accurate
representation of that particular artist's repertoire, my
suggestions are aimed at magical performers generically.

Please Take Note

You should make notes about my notes. This book is not
sacrosanct. It's an opinionated and sometimes borderline rude


"how to" manual. Mess it up! Talk back to me. Never pick up
this volume without a pen, pencil, or highlighter in your hand.
When you agree with a point, reinforce it with an underline.
When you see something that resonates with your performance
style or situation, dog-ear the corner. When you read a section
and think, "This guy is nuts!" you'll gain further insight by
committing your thoughts to the margins. Writing it out helps
ensure that you agree or disagree with me in a cogent, non-
emotional manner. As an admirer of the person who machetes
his or her own path through life, I want you to rebel against
any of the suggestions offered herein, but only if you can justify
to yourself why you are breaking a rule. In other words, if I
meet you in the hallway after your show and ask you why you
ignored one of my edicts (don't worry, I won't), you should be
able to articulate your reason for veering from my roadmap.
Not for me ... for you.
Do not trod your own way merely out oflaziness or obstinacy;
for maximum success, attack the goal of entertainment in a
thoughtful and methodical manner.
In advertising, it's said that fifty percent of every ad budget
is wasted. The problem is, you never know in advance which
fifty percent. Similarly, for you, much of this book will tell you
things you find painfully obvious or that you have already
garnered from your own experience. But again, until you read
the book through, you won't unearth the gold nuggets that apply
to you.

The "Science" of Entertainment?

The art of entertainment does not lend itself to scholarly
studies of empirical data. [Well, Joshua Jay, along with some
scholars at the University of New Jersey, have somewhat negated
that statement.] And that's as it should be; if entertainment
could be quantified, the mystery would evaporate.
Entertainment is a personal experience. The delight
of the moment takes place exclusively between the ears of
each participant. Not on the stage, but in the brain. No two


individuals experience the same concert, the same comedy

act, the same movie, the same magic act. Where you sit, your
preconceptions about the show, your relationships with your
companions, your hearing and visual acuity, what you ate or did
not eat, your general state of health and mind-all factor into
the entertainment experience. And so it follows that achieving
entertainment is shooting at a moving target. One size will
never fit all; every audience presents new opportunities and
I try to steer clear of idealistic theorizing; I want my advice
grounded in practicality. Theory has its place, but from the start
I wanted this book to be well-larded with real-world advice for
real-world performers at every level, from the hobbyist to the
most successful professional.
This is not a "here's what I saw at a magic club" checklist
of errors made by neophytes, so please don't dismiss any tidbit
of advice; it's here because someone who should have known
better, didn't. And that someone, in almost all cases, was a
professional magician or mentalist.
When I urge that you not do something, I rarely provide an
alternative action or line of patter; I cannot be creative for you.
Directors shape, push and polish performances; it's usually up
to others-the author, the playwright, the composer, or in this
case you-to create.
Nothing you're about to read is pie-in-the-sky stuff written
in an ivory tower; it's all real-world. My world and your world.


Chapter 1

The Search for

Defining Entertainment
Baseball entertains. As do novels, cinema, concerts,
and cricket matches (OK, that last one applies only to those
fascinated by white-sweatered men who break for tea). And
magic, done properly, entertains. These activities appear to
have little in common. What, then, makes each a part of the
world of entertainment?
My definition of entertainment is: anything that purpose-
fully transports your mind into another world.
When you are being entertained, your mind focuses on
the entertainment, and everything else recedes from your
consciousness. The stronger the entertainment, the less likely
it becomes that you will lose that focus. If your mind drifts
back to your everyday world, the entertainment, for that
moment, has failed.
Boredom, the opposite of entertainment, is a consequence of
being forced into a situation beyond your control. For example,
you cannot leave the classroom despite the droning professor,
and it's impolite to walk out on an inept performer. So you
stay. In those situations you're bored, and your mind moves
onto other things.
"Being entertained," at its crux, can be defined as paying
When you give your full attention to an engaging professor,
singer, football game, movie, dancer, or magician-you are
being entertained. Your overdue tax bill, your problems at
work, your personal relationships, where you are going to
eat after the show-none of it matters. The entertainment
removes you from all that. Magical, musical, comedic, or
theatrical entertainers take you out of your world and bring
you, willingly, into theirs.


You have temporarily and willingly removed your

consciousness from the world you inhabit daily, and placed it
into this new realm, a different reality. You may cry, laugh,
cringe, or gasp, but you are not thinking about anything
related to your everyday existence.
At its best, entertainment enlightens, inspires, and
communicates new insights about life.
That's entertainment!

Looking for Entertainment in All the

Wrong Places
Here's an anecdote that illustrates the elusiveness of the
entertainment experience.
It happened years ago while I attended a conference for
investment professionals at a luxury resort in Dallas. Within
a 12-hour span, I saw a young professional close-up magician
and a 60-year-old grandmother whose topic was "Regulatory
Issues and the Securities and Exchange Commission."
The Professional Magician vs. the Regulator. Which of
those two was more entertaining? Common sense says there
should be no contest. Investment advisors attend SEC "Update"
sessions because we must; running afoul of their constantly
shifting rules could put us out of business.
The magician appeared at the evening cocktail reception.
Wearing an outfit signifying Texas saloonkeeper circa 1890-
old-style white shirt, string tie, fringed black vest, Western
boots-he approached five of us who were standing together
and asked if anyone had a class ring. None of us did, and it
stopped his presentation cold. He quipped, "Oh, so this is a
group with no class."
A couple of people exchanged glances.
Then he rummaged around inside his shoulder bag and
finally pulled out three scrawny and frayed pieces of rope. He
performed a weak Professor's Nightmare routine, received
polite applause (which I started for my fellow performer), and
then moved on.


No one commented, neither positively nor negatively; they

just resumed their conversation as if he had never been there.
The following morning, Marianne Smyth spoke to us. Her
physical appearance can charitably be described as frumpy,
and her subject matter normally sends an audience into spasms
of apathy.
There she stood, pacing in front of a group of several
hundred high-powered business people. (How high-powered?
The speaker immediately following her at this invitation-only
event was former President George H.W. Bush.)
At one particularly complex section of her talk, she slowly
drawled out, "I think I'm losing some of you, but I'm not going
to let that happen!" So, wrenching the wireless microphone
from the lectern, she left the stage and walked down into the
audience. She roamed up and down the aisles, looking directly
into the faces of the many individuals she passed. She waved
her hands; she banged on the tables where we sat taking notes.
No one could not pay full attention. The sheer force of
her personality, fueled by her sincere certainty that "This is
important to you!" made her a compelling speaker. She was a
At one point, her fast-paced rhythm suddenly slowed,
her voice softened to almost a whisper and she told us, "I-
The audience laughed at her audacity, and despite the
laughter, everyone got the message. This woman knew how
to control her audience with nothing more than her voice, her
sincerity, and her fervent desire to share her knowledge with
President Bush ("41," as he called himself, to differentiate
himself from his son, whom he referred to as "43") began his
presentation by saying, "Wow, that's a tough act to follow!"
Why was Marianne Smyth so effective? What made her
presentation so powerful that a former leader of the Free World
felt compelled to provide a transition to his own talk?
First, she knew her stuff cold. Facts flowed seamlessly
without notes. More importantly, her commitment to


communicating, to teaching her audience in a meaningful way,

overflowed from the stage and washed over all of us listening
to her. She had all the entertainment cylinders firing: timing,
enthusiasm, humor, emotion, surprise, audience awareness,
and enlightenment.
Marianne Smyth, elderly-looking, rotund, disheveled, and
a government policy wonk, entertained her audience far more
effectively than the young professional magician.
That young magician had the basic tools. But he, as with so
many others in our craft, focused on achieving mystery rather
than entertainment. And he never had a chance to read the
book you're holding. It's for him-a younger version of me-
that I advance the theories and advice to follow.

Why a Director?
The off-Broadway show, Ricky Jay: On the Stem, showcased
(to dazzling reviews from the New York press) one of the most
accomplished performers on the American magical scene. Our
profession recognized the late Ricky Jay as a master of sleight
of hand and all other things magical. And he was a storyteller
Yet prominently displayed on the billboard outside the
theater and in all the ads were the words, "Directed by David
Mamet." That tells me two things. First, since David Mamet
is a well-known playwright and film director, the producers
know his name draws in an extra allotment of hoity-toity
theatergoers and financial backing. Second, and more germane
to this discourse, even as masterful a performer as Ricky Jay,
with his vast storehouse of experience in all venues, felt that he
benefited from the guidance of a trusted director. [Two decades
later, when Derek DelGaudio's In & Of Itself took the New York
theater scene by storm, top-rank director Frank Oz was similarly
credited in the marketing.]
In the September, 2017 Genii, in David Kaye's thoughtful
cover story on Derren Brown, the English mentalist "wanted
to share his thoughts on how important it is to have a director."
Derren points out that your feelings about any particular
performance can be quite different from those in the audience.


"You cannot judge (your performance) from the stage," he

I agree. Unfortunately, not everyone can find or afford a
director. Therefore I want this book to be the next best thing:
to help you become your own director.
No matter how clever and experienced you are, your
magically jaded eyes do not see what the layperson sees. But
you must assess your act from the layman's perspective. A good
director takes on the role of the non-performer, views your
show without preconceptions, then overlays their experience
and judgment to refine and polish it.
With few exceptions, magicians and mentalists craft their
acts unaided. Other performers have directors, choreographers,
voice coaches, film editors, and scriptwriters to develop and
refine their efforts. Plus, they have critics-serious critics,
who analyze and nitpick. We don't. We have magazines that
gloss over flaws and lead the cheering section, and this, over
the generations, has not served us well.

See You as We See You:

The Importance of Video
From the days when going to the theater meant sitting on
benches hewn from the side of a mountain, certain performers
garnered more fame than their peers. Yet prior to the invention
of the motion picture, not a single performer, no matter how
illustrious, ever saw himself from the audience's perspective.
(Looking in a mirror doesn't count, because the moment you
glance away, you can't see yourself.) Sound added another
dimension to movies, but filming was an expensive and overly
complex procedure, suitable mostly for the already established
With the advent of the video recorder, followed by smart
phones with video, the ability to see what the audience
sees became available to all performers. Inexpensive video
recording, not the latest thread reel or gaffed card, is the most
important breakthrough ever for the success of the mystery
performer, and should be recognized as such.


You cannot reach your fullest potential until you critically

analyze yourself on video.
You can have a professional videographer record your
show. Or have a friend do it. Or just mount a video camera or
your iPhone on a tripod. The specific route you take is far less
important than just getting it done. Regardless of the way you
do it, it must be done unobtrusively so that the act of recording
has no impact on the audience or on you.
Video your show whenever you have a chance, and then sit
down and analyze what you see, always with a pen and paper
in your hands. Use this book as your manual for becoming
your own director, intelligently critiquing your performance.
Among other things (which will be detailed as you progress
through these pages), you want to look for a natural flow of
• your hand movements
your body movements
your speech patterns
your gaze
Is there anything that looks awkward, out of place in any
way? Any "tells"?
The best sleight-of-hand occurs during the off-moments.
Does yours? Can it be reworked so that it does?
Watch yourself from a layman's perspective, and then
watch yourself from a magician's perspective. Could you fool
fellow conjurors? Does that very question strike you as silly?
Your goal, I well realize, is not to fool others in our field (unless
you're in a competition), but the meticulous attention to detail
needed to accomplish that task will force you to confront flaws
that you might otherwise too willingly overlook. So if you don't
think a routine of yours could fool magicians, consider whether
refining or eliminating a move, or a weak moment, would take
it one step higher up the "mystifying" scale.
Typically, performers who have achieved some degree
of success fight the idea of critically viewing a tape of their
performance. "I hate watching myself," several have said to
me. I know. I do, too. But you will have to break through that
psychological barrier.
Finally, the most important aspect of videoing yourself is
the repeated viewing of the tape. The first one or two or five

times you watch it, you will be watching yourself. (My, how
clever am I! And witty, too!) Only after you pass that stage will
you be able to see-dispassionately-what really happened.

Find a Mentor or a Trusted Friend

As thorough as I've tried to make this book, it can never
fully replace a live human who observes and evaluates your
specific performance. Each of us makes our own unique
missteps, miscues, and mistakes. We each have blind spots for
the soft spots in our acts. My goal, and yours, is to keep those
weaknesses down to the barest minimum.
As magicians, we have unique needs. A theatrical director
can block the action on stage for maximum effect, but in
magic there is always a flaw in the action-the trick itself-
the workings of which must remain undetected. So, while a
theatrical director might say to an actor, "Turn to your left at
that moment," if your hand is stealing a load just then, that
turn to the left might be less than wise.
That's where a friend in the know helps. He's the one, and
with luck the only one, who will tell you when you've flashed
the coin or awkwardly palmed the card-flaws that may not be
apparent even on video.
This friend can serve you in one other subtle but powerful
way: he can sit in your audience and overhear what people say.
He can mingle unobtrusively afterward as well. The snippets
he picks up, or subtly solicits, are the most real and most
honest reviews possible. (Are you ready to hear what people
really say about you? Gulp.)

Raise Your Level

From age eight to eighteen, my son Daryl actively
participated in the highly competitive world of "Juniors"
tennis. By age twelve he had developed all the basic strokes,
and by the time he was in his late teens, and over six feet tall,
he-any of his peers-could have taken the court with any of
the world-class touring pros. Daryl would not have won any


games against the professional, but he could have won points,

and if you had sat in the stands and watched them play just a
few minutes, you could not have easily discerned that the pro
was levels above the teenagers. Tennis, along with many other
sports, ranks players. Daryl, for example, achieved a ranking
in the top 20 in the Eastern states division: a clear, specific,
numerical rank.
Consider, for a moment, the idea of ranking magicians
with that type of specificity. Absurd? Not at all. Figure skating
combines athletics and entertainment, and the judges must
subjectively assign a numerical value to each performance.
In theory, a panel of magic experts could do the same for our
shows. As you may know, the judges at FISM and other magic
competitions do in fact apply an objective set of criteria to rate
the performers.
If magicians or mentalists were all given a regional or
world ranking, where would you rank against your peers?
If you were ranked 307th in the world, what could you and
your coach-your director-do to get you into the top 100? The
top 50? The Top 10?
In tennis, the strokes of the leading juniors look the same
as those of the top pros. Minor differences set the two groups
apart. To move up in the rankings means increased dedication
and working with a coach who cajoles, inspires, and chips away
at the smallest defect in each type of stroke-defects only the
most practiced and experienced eyes can see.
There's no reason we can't have the same dedication to
detail in magic.
Most "good" magicians are like Hershey's chocolate bars:
perfectly acceptable to those who have never experienced better,
but less than they could or should be. Without benchmarks,
any competent performer can be a Hershey bar; he or she
can please a fair share of the public. But I say that's not good
enough. Every time you perform you represent the Art as a
whole. Raising your level helps all magicians and mentalists.
Here's another reason to strive to be better. Suppose you
perform for an audience of one hundred people. At the finale,
sixty respond enthusiastically. I can assure you, it will appear


to all-including you-that your efforts were a great success.

Now suppose you make a change or two as a result of suggestions
I give you, and the number of raving fans jumps modestly
from sixty to seventy. Suppose also that among the ten new
converts to your fan club is the decision-maker for a different,
more prestigious organization. As all pros know, every show is
important, because you never know what new leads might come
your way. In this example, that small incremental increase in
your popularity might pay off exponentially.
No performer wins the hearts of 100% of the audience 100%
of the time. But why not try?
For you, Raise Your Level may imply becoming better when
you perform for your magic club. Or it may mean boosting your
annual show-business income from the low six figures to the
rarified million-dollar club.
Never settle for good enough. Sweat the details.
Raise your level.

My Aha! Experience
An entertainment epiphany smacked me in the face at
an unlikely event: my son's bar mitzvah party. I had booked
award-winning magician/mentalist Tim Conover to entertain
the guests. As I stood off to the side preparing to introduce
Tim, I realized this audience was unlike any other I had stood
before. I knew everyone! I knew them well. And they knew
me. Many had known me most of my life. They knew I was a
magician and mentalist and they also knew for sure that I had
no special powers.
Up until that very moment, audiences for me were singular:
an audience, a single mass of strangers to be molded. This
time, for the first time, singular became plural. Everywhere I
looked, I saw an individual, each with his or her own history
with me, and each with a specific expectation of entertainment.
Now in a few moments, Tim would be coming out to do forty-
five minutes of mentalism for this assemblage of my uncles and
aunts, my cousins, my friends, and my neighbors. How could
poor Tim convince them he could do miraculous things?


That's when it hit me: the three words that crystallized my

thinking about entertainment:
They don't care.
They don't care about you, the entertainer.
They don't care about your sleights or years of practice.
They don't care about your magic award.
They don't care about Dr. J.B. Rhine and his ESP
experiments at Duke University.
They don't care about whether it's OK to mix magic and
They don't care whether you use rare Thayer props or cheap
rubber chickens.
They don't care if you invented your tricks, or they are
older than dirt.
They don't care whether you sing, manipulate coins, tell
jokes, produce doves, read minds, or play zydeco music.
My aunts and uncles, cousins, office colleagues, and
neighbors didn't care what Tim Conover was about to do, and
that made them exactly the same as any other audience.
They cared about themselves. They wanted to have fun.
They wanted a special experience. They wanted to be moved,
emotionally touched in a new way. The medium that day-
mentalism-was not the message; the medium was irrelevant.
Tim Conover's personality was the message, not his "tricks."
The fact that his effects did, in fact, fry their minds happened
only because of the messenger.
Put another way, I know I could have, with a couple of days'
preparation, performed most of the same routines Tim did.
But lacking Tim's years of experience with those routines, and
lacking his confidence born of hundreds of previous successful
performances, the performance would have faltered. My forty-
five minutes would have felt like hours. His time onstage flew
by. He was the magic, not his props, not his effects.
Now, years later, I still hear compliments about his show.
Until I introduced him, the audience neither knew nor cared
about Tim Conover and his awards, let alone his mental


miracles. He pulled them into his world, and from the first
moments, along they went, willingly.
Too many magical performers make The Big Mistake: we
think that people do actually care about the stuff I listed above.
They don't, and they won't, until they can relax because
they know we're taking them on a first-class journey to our
world, the world of entertainment.

Say It Loud:
"I Entertain and I'm Proud!"
You are a special person. You, the entertainer.
Look at the people on the street, in the next room, at the
office. Those kind souls never experience the adulation and
admiration that flows over you when you successfully complete
a routine. Having everyone around a table focus their attention
on you, or hearing your name announced and walking out to
applause, sets you apart from the multitudes who provide
valuable social services and products, but not entertainment.
Non-entertainers can neither understand nor appreciate
the thrill of the successfully executed moment before an
audience, one which you envisioned, nurtured, hatched, and
which now brings you some delicious combination of smiles,
gasps, laughter, and applause.
We can luxuriate in those reactions, but behind the scenes
we must work diligently to earn them, so that we can keep
complacency at bay.

Look to the Stars

Every performing style can be successful, I believe, as long
as certain fundamental criteria are met. You will see those
criteria in the chapters on Reactions and The Six Pillars of
Entertainment Success.
Lance Burton and Mac King are close friends, and both
achieved huge success on the Las Vegas Strip. Yet their styles
could hardly be more different. Derren Brown, David Blaine,


even Uri Geller, all present forms of what we in the business

call mentalism, and again, their presentational styles vary
There must be common elements that allow each of these
performers to achieve entertainment, while still maintaining
his individual style. We will be examining those elements later
In these pages you'll see a particular focus on three
performers whose work transcends the stereotypical magician
or mentalist: David Copperfield, Kreskin, and David Blaine.
Each has achieved that rarest level of success: his name is
widely recognized by the public. [Younger folks no longer know
Kreskin. But he was a fixture on American TV talk shows
during the 1970s, '80s and into the 1990s. He had best-selling
books, regularly sold out large venues and his name, The
Amazing Kreskin, became synonymous with "mind reading."
And he's still working today.]
Aside from their fame and financial success, they share
one additional trait: intermittent derision from segments of the
magic and mentalism communities.
Now here's the interesting phenomenon. I have a small
circle of friends in those communities who have risen to
the top of their field. Not one of those successful performers
(and in this case I measure "success" by a continual flow of
repeat bookings) ever knocks Copperfield, Kreskin, or Blaine.
Invariably, it's those whose careers have been stuck in neutral
who scream the loudest, "Why is he on television?"
Before I go on, let me assure you, I do not nod approvingly
and robotically at everything done by these three stars. Far
from it. To name just a few issues I have with them: I look
askance at the opening fifteen or twenty minutes of Kreskin's
live show, which is mostly just name-dropping, nor am I a
fan of his quirky body movements, and especially his bizarre,
outsized handshakes.
Copperfield, especially in his later TV specials, throws in
suggestive jokes that fit neither the moment nor the persona
he's built up over the years. [Happily, that's no longer the case.]
And Blaine, well, not many of us have seen him do a live
show without the miracle of editing, so I have no clue as to


how successful he may be in front of a live, paying audience.

[OK, we found out-sort of. Blaine toured a live show in 2018
and received rave reviews. However, it was not a traditional
"magic" show.] Nonetheless, from time to time, we're going to
examine what these three (among others) do right. They also
suit my purposes here because they provide me with a common
focal point: if you bought this book, you're likely to have seen
them perform, either live or at least on video.
Kreskin, Copperfield, and Blaine: hugely successful
performers of vastly differing styles. Certain common
denominators allowed them to leapfrog their competition, and
I've attempted to unearth those denominators for examination.
But be assured, my goal in this book is to make you the best
you, not an imitation of me or of any particular performer
whom I happen to admire.

Too Much of a Good Thing

From Singapore to Sri Lanka, from New Jersey to New
South Wales, planet Earth groans under (or from) mountains
of palming coins, silks, thumb tips, Hippity-Hop Rabbits,
and more decks of cards-marked, stripped, roughed and
smoothed-than you can shake a break-away wand at.
Yet sadly, most magic sucks.
Always has, always will. It's pure demographics.

Full-Time Professionals

Part-Time Professionals,
Advanced Amateurs

Magic Club Members


The title "full-time professional" covers a wide swath

of experience and levels of success. Some "pros" earn barely
enough to cover the rent, while a few top-tier professionals file
CEO-level tax returns.
Those in the middle tier of the pyramid also vary
widely in their abilities to entertain. Some indeed possess
superior technical skills, poise, charm, and can entertain
extraordinarily well. The lucky men and women at the top
of the pyramid always have the distinct advantage of being
in front of audiences more often than the part-timers and
the hobbyists. Nothing replaces experience. No matter how
well you practice a trick for yourself, it will be different when
performed for strangers. And the tenth time will usually see
a marked improvement over the first time. It's been said that
the amateur performs different tricks for the same people and
the pro performs the same tricks for different people. And each
time you perform the same trick, you grow from the experience.
All the handwringing about the "sorry state of magic" is
a silly exercise in futility. The above pyramid also applies to
writers, musicians, painters, actors, mimes, and jugglers. And
it always will. So, to those who lament the fact that so much
of magic stinks, I say, get over it! Some people collect stamps
fanatically for a lifetime, others do it and stop after a year. So
There's nothing special about magic as a pastime. If the
majority of practitioners use magic as a pleasant diversion and
nothing more, that's their business. They will always be the
majority and that fact must be accepted. To the worriers, I say,
worry about yourself. Each person must find his or her own
level of passion and commitment.
I'll point out too that a large number of successful
performers remain unknown within the larger magic world. As
was my own case prior to the debut of this book, they are out
in the world doing shows, but not lecturing, writing, inventing,
or doing shows at conventions. Conversely, some of the names
we all know and love may or may not be making a good living
from the public. Have respect for, but don't be overly awed by,
those who ply their craft primarily for their peers.


And by the way, the fact that you are reading this book
speaks directly to your sense of dedication to the art, and your
desire to boost your skill level.

What volatile college basketball coach Bobby Knight (now
retired) lacked in social skills, he offset with his transcendent
knowledge of his sport. In the book A Season on the Brink, by
John Feinstein, Knight tells his players that when they are out
on the basketball court "you play against your own potential."
Got that? Not your opponents, or the refs, or even the
blunders or wizardry of your teammates. You play against
your own potential. It's the same for us in the entertainment
game. Every day, in every part of the world, tens of thousands
of meetings, conferences, parties, trade shows, and other
gatherings take place. Your potential to find an audience is not
a function of your competitors and their programs. Your main
opponent in your life as an entertainer is you-your potential.
Master your own domain, and eventually your competitors,
real or perceived, will fade from your consciousness.
If you must worry about something, worry about the
mediocre among us. An inferior performer hurts you more
than someone who filches a line or piece of business from your
act. Bad acts, like raw garlic, linger long after the experience.
A weak magician or mentalist poisons the job market for other
magicians and mentalists, and the toxic effect can last for
Conversely, strong acts boost demand. Kreskin surely
helped me and other mentalists get work in the 1970s and '80s
when he was one of the most frequently booked guests on the
major TV talk shows. Las Vegas didn't turn into a magic Mecca
until Siegfried and Roy demolished the long-held stereotypical
image of magic acts.
You have a limited amount of energy and time. Don't
waste a drop of either on things beyond your control. Be the
best you can be, and you'll eventually find that your only real
competition is yourself.


The Dangers of Success

Many times during my years as a full-time performer, other
performers made a special trip to catch my show (what greater
compliment could there be?). They came because they felt they
might learn something, and surely, watching others perform
for lay audiences always is a wise idea, as long as you watch
critically. I willingly met with fellow performers after the show
and sat, Buddha-like, sharing my thoughts about what they
had witnessed onstage.
My comments may or may not have been cogent or useful,
but I now realize they lacked objectivity. Out on the road, the
performer spins a cocoon around himself. The more success
he achieves, the more shows he does, the more isolated from
critical thinking he becomes. He does his show and when he
walks offstage, the only comments he hears are laudatory.
"You were amazing!
"We loved your show!"
"I haven't had this much fun in years!"
Unless you really screw up (set the birthday kid on fire, cut
the boss's tie-for real, go thirty minutes over your allotted
time), no normal person ever says an untoward word. After a
few years of this, you lose the fear of failure you had early on
in your career, and the urge toward introspection dissipates.
That's dangerous.
While you may be as good as they say you are, your attitude
should always remain, "I'm not as good as I can be."
Trust me. I know lots of top pros. They can all be better,
so the mantra "I'm not as good as I can be" certainly applies
to you.

Scattered through these chapters I've placed a few of
the moments that pop to the top of my consciousness when
thinking about entertainment in our field. Not necessarily
a listing of the "best," these are performers or performances
that affected or touched me more profoundly, or more
memorably, than others.


A Personal Entertainment Highlight:

Al Flosso-
The Miser's Dream
The diminutive man known as the Coney Island Fakir
played a major role in my development as a magician. During
my teen years I spent many happy Saturday afternoons in
his ramshackle excuse for a magic shop, surrounded by dust,
decaying props, and some of the greatest magicians in the
world (although I knew none of them at the time). Sometimes
Al was the kindest man in the world, giving me deep discounts
and taking me and other young magicians out for a fancy
New York dinner. But say the wrong word (Tannen's, for one),
especially in front of potential paying customers, and he would
launch into a ten-minute full-throated tirade.
I saw him perform his signature piece, the Miser's Dream,
in person only once, and even though it was many decades ago,
when I was in my mid-teens, it remains indelibly etched inside
my skull. He had volunteered to do a banquet benefit show
for FAME (Future American Magical Entertainers), the teen-
magic group to which I belonged. My mother, who had no great
affection for my hobby, graciously volunteered to drive me into
Manhattan and stay with me for the luncheon.
The memory I have is more than his poking around the
hapless young boy from the audience, producing coins-plus
various other items that should not be on a young boy-
virtually non-stop. No, the bigger memory is of my mother
laughing, laughing so hard she could barely breathe, laughing
and wiping away tears. I had never seen her in that state, not
before, not after. A magician was making her laugh like that!
That day marked the beginning of her acceptance of my
chosen hobby-or perhaps more accurately, the lessening of
her displeasure.
Thanks, Al, for that day, and for the ensuing years I spent
in your dirty, dingy, and glorious magic shop.


Personal Entertainment Highlights:

In the years since 2003 I've seen a ton of magic and
mentalism. In general, the news is good. There are now,
perhaps more than any other time in history, outstanding
performers in every genre.
Here are a few names that, as with the original
"Entertainment Highlights," stand out in my memory.
In random order:
Derek DelGaudio's In & Of Itself An impactful piece of
theater interspersed with stunning magic, it became a long-
running hit Off-Broadway. As the New York Times wrote;
"But here's the real wizardry: The show works. Beautifully.
Tenderly. Astonishingly." And it was directed by Frank Oz.
Another example of the power of a true director. (A curious
aside: what's with the letter D? So many of the superstars of
modern magic seems to have a special affinity for that letter
as an initial initial. David Copperfield, David Blaine, Doug
Henning, Dynamo, Derren Brown, and Derek DelGaudio.)
Colin McLeod (Colin Cloud) in The Illusionists.
David Gerard's live mentalism sets.
Gerry McCambridge. Vegas-style mentalism personified.
Hannibal. Simple, small-prop magic that brought me to
Zabrecky! Originality personified.
Eric Dittelman on America's Got Talent. And his lecture for
the PEA about the behind-the-scenes drama was a separate
Marc Spelmann on Britain's Got Talent.
Tom Stone as both performer and lecturer at MagiFest.
Rune Klan as both performer and lecturer at MagiFest.
Eric Mead's lecture on Tim Conover's work with the Cups
and Balls.
Juan Tamariz. Finally saw him live in 2015. Now I

Steve Bargatze. Hilarious in unexpected ways. (And his son,

Nate Bargatze, is a terrific stand-up comic.)
Mike Pisciotta behind the bar at The Magic Castle. Some of
the purest magical moments imaginable.
Asi Wind. A top-notch stage performer who repeatedly
astonished me in casual one-on-one settings.
David Williamson. With kids. On stage. Unequalled.
John Archer. If you haven't seen him live, you haven't seen
Lior Manor. If you haven't seen him working for a lay
audience, you haven't seen him.
David Kaye. Brilliant for the kids, hilarious for the adults.
Ben Seidman. His full-evening show masterfully combines
conjuring skill, comedic originality, and finely-honed
Andrew Goldenhersh-at Monday Night Magic. The best
surprise in a magic show I've ever experienced.
Shin Lim. He's reinvented close-up magic. (I wrote that
before he appeared on, and won, America's Got Talent.)
Ding Yang at MAGIC Live 2018. Her magic was so good, so
unexpected, that she received a standing ovation the next day
when she came out to talk to us.
Justin Flom. His "residency" in Nashville. A masterful two
hours of creative, high-energy magic.
Michael Carbonaro on The Carbonaro Effect and on stage.
Steve Cohen. His long-running high-end hotel gig.
Ray Anderson at Esther's Follies in Austin. Brilliant magical
The Magic Castle. Everything at the Castle.
Plus a special deep bow of respect and recognition to:
Adam Trent. Anthony Blake (Spain), Apollo Robbins.
Bill Cook. Bill Herz. Billy Kidd. Brad Ross. Carisa
Hendrix. Caroline Ravn. Chad Long. Chipper Lowell.
Danny Orleans. Doug McKenzie. Eric Jones. Frederic
DaSilva. Harrison Greenbaum. Jacene Dickson. Jason


Bishop. Jeff Hobson. Jessica Jane Peterson. John

Lovick. Jon Armstrong. Karl Hein. Kevin King. Kostya
Kimlat. Laura London. Mark Toland. Mat Franco.
Michael Kent. Michael Weber (regrettably, not related).
Nick Diffatte. Ryan Oakes. Scott Deming. Seth Kramer.
Steve Brundage. Woody Aragon.
Every one an exceptional performer, each dedicated to their
craft, and most importantly, good people. (The day this book is
printed I will smack my head because I left equally wonderful
people off the list-including you, no doubt! So, apologies to
* * *
Finally, a special nod to Congressman Mark Pocan. He
has a lifetime commitment to magic, and an even stronger
commitment to making life better for the people of Wisconsin
and America. He's become a good friend, one who shares my
passion for politics and magic.


Section II

"Items that precede ... and
indicate, suggest, or announce
something to come."


Chapter 2

The Hierarchy of
Mystery Entertainment
From our side of the fence, we do "effects." From the
spectator's side, our routines fall into one of three broad
1. Puzzle
2. Trick
3. Extraordinary Moment
While the lines between these categories are exceedingly
blurry, most magic performed around the world falls into the
first category: Puzzles. The spectator intuitively knows that
what he has just seen is, to one degree or another, impossible,
improbable, or just weird. She can't figure it out, but she assumes
that if she knew the secret, she too could perform it too.
A trick is a demonstration of perceived skill, and therefore
is more impressive than a puzzle. I say perceived skill because
the audience doesn't care whether the signed card found its way
into your wallet via a beautifully executed one-handed palm or
one of the "no-palming-required" methods. Either way, you got
it in there by some unknown manner so you get credited with
possessing a highly specialized and secret skill.
Overwhelmingly, professional magicians perform Tricks.
That's not a pejorative statement. Tricks have the ability to
thoroughly and satisfyingly entertain. The pantheon of magic's
elite thrill their audiences with wonderful Tricks.
An Extraordinary Moment leaves no room for explanation.
The viewer gasps for air rather than grasp for a method. Skill
is not an issue.
A perfectly executed Balducci Levitation is an Extraordinary
Moment. Four Jokers that change into four Kings may elicit
cries of"No freakin' way," but it's not an Extraordinary Moment;
it's a terrific Trick.
A good number of the routines on David Blaine's first couple
of TV specials attained Extraordinary Moment status. He


rendered speechless many of his spectators. As magicians, we

know that few of his effects required more than a moderate
level of manual dexterity, yet again and again the reactions
approached religious ecstasy. (I understand that we saw what
the video editors wanted us to see. That's not the issue. What
we did see was a series of extraordinary reactions.)
Close-up performers have more opportunities to deliver
Extraordinary Moments than stage performers. The physical
separation between the stage and the audience
works against his achieving anything more than Tricks. It rn.ay
be awesome, wonderful, and hugely entertaining, but stage
conjuring will always, with only the rare exception, fall within
the Trick category. And top-flight mentalists tend to perform.
Extraordinary Moments more than magicians.
What do you do? If you perform. puzzles exceedingly well,
you can be the life of the party. You can also make a living
behind the counter at a magic shop.
People enjoy puzzles: anagrams, crossword puzzles,
brainteasers. They're fun. They're also corn.rn.onplace, and
rarely reward the with a lasting career.
Superb Tricks, and the occasional Extraordinary Moments-
those should be your goals.

Bona Fide Magic

What if you could perform. real magic? You wave your hand
and a cork floats up to your fingers. You rub torn pieces of paper
together and they become whole again. You put three coins into
your hand, close your fingers around them. and only two coins
remain. You reach forward and produce a card from. the air.
What if you really could do those things?
Would you do them. in front of an audience?
And if you did choose to work your miracles for an audience,
what would your demeanor be?
Perhaps that would depend on how difficult any particular
feat was.


Would your audience become emotionally involved by

watching you?
Emotions lubricate the entertainment engine, and in
upcoming chapters we'll be examining techniques for boosting
the emotional content of your routines.
Emotions generate real magic.

Stalking the Extraordinary Moment

The stronger the magic, the less need for "showmanship."
The typical Cups and Balls routine involves a cascading
series of mini-climaxes. Balls appear and vanish and reappear-
here, then there, then back again-all capped with a kicker
ending. The best performers of this classic effect use charm and
wit, along with their magic, to hold the audience's attention.
Compare that with Blaine's TV presentation of The Raven
coin vanish. A young teenage boy out on a barren lot somewhere
in Middle America ... a coin on his hand is there ... David waves
his hand over the coin, and the coin is not there. Vanished!
The boy stands, transfixed, perplexed. After a long moment, he
softly mutters, while still staring a his hand, "Cool."
Between the best Cups and Balls routine and Blaine's
Raven, which will be remembered a week later? The spectators
at the Magic Castle enjoyed the balls mystifyingly coming
and going-that is, the tricks-while that scruffy kid had an
Extraordinary Moment: a coin disappeared from his hand! No
props, no "moves" that he was aware of, not one word of useless
Warning: Do not take this as invitation to copy Blaine's
style. His laconic, half-stoned persona probably fits you like
a cheap suit on a humid day. I just want to point out that
Extraordinary Moments can be brought forth from props and
effects you already own.
It's you who makes the moment trivial.
It's you who can make the moment extraordinary.


Magic for Magicians vs. Magic for

Everyone Else
When you read a magic book or magazine, if the description
of the "effect" goes on for more than a couple of sentences, it's
probably best done for other magicians. Laypeople want direct
plots. Anything else is magical masturbation, done because it
makes you feel good, and no one else.
What do people remember? It's easy to find out-just ask
someone who recently saw a magician or mentalist to tell you
what they saw. You'll hear responses similar to ...
"This guy put a nickel and dime in my hand and when I
opened my hand the dime wasn't there anymore."
"He had this girl look at a word in a book and he told her the
word she was thinking about."
"I picked a card and
... he told me what it was."
... it jumped into his pocket."
... he tore it up and put it back together."
"Siegfried put Roy in a box and covered it for a second and
then Roy was gone and a tiger was there!"
"She floated!"
Take a look at a magic book or magazine and see how m~ny
effects could be described that succinctly. Typically, you see card
tricks that involve red cards from blue-backed decks, counting,
weak climaxes, and convoluted plots that force the audience to
follow the action closely.
That's magic for us and our buddies. It won't get you repeat
Consider this excerpt from an interview with David
Blaine that appeared in Newsday, the Long Island, New York
newspaper, on November 7, 2002. Reporter David Behrens
wrote the story, and the interview took place in Blaine's New
York City apartment.


[Blaine] produces a fresh, unopened deck of cards.

When the deck is thoroughly shulfled, he fans the cards and
asks one of his visitors: "Think of a card."
He places the deck on the arm of a chair and he will not
touch the deck again. The visitor is instructed to pick up the
deck, hold it in his left hand and announce which card he
"The three of hearts," the visitor says.
"Now cut the deck somewhere in the middle," Blaine says.
The deck is cut and the top half of the cards set aside.
"That's your card," Blaine says, indicating the top card on
the lower half of the deck.
The visitors are silent, astonished.
The card, naturally, is the three of hearts.
Now, first fight the urge to analyze the "how" of the effect.
Newspaper reporters are no better than others at accurately
remembering all the details of a trick, so this may not be exactly
what transpired.
The important issue here is that, as in most of Blaine's
magic, overt "show business" never makes an appearance, and
the plot-think of a card, cut the cards, that's your card-could
not be more to the point. The spectators had an Extraordinary
Moment. They sat "silent, astonished."
The stronger the magic, the less need for showmanship.
The corollary, naturally, must be that weaker magic requires
more help from the performer, and that's where lack of natural
talent rears its ugly head. If you're not an extroverted, funny,
or dramatic person in real life, you especially need to raise your
showmanship level for your less-powerful effects. (You'll learn
how later on.)
Most performed magic is weak, and is best performed only
for others interested in the art.
The best performed magic and mentalism have always been,
and always will be, direct, immediately understandable, and
compelling enough to be recalled days later.
How much of your show fits that description?


The Trivialization of Magic

Routines tumble down the above hierarchy (i.e.,
Extraordinary Moments become Tricks, and Tricks become
Puzzles) because of the attitude of the performer. When he
treats a trick-or any magical moment-as easy, commonplace,
or anything other than special, he dulls the impact of that
routine. A trivial stunt by definition cannot be special, yet we
see this attitude every day in magic.
A specific example: On the website for L&L Publishing I came
across a video clip from one of the most respected performers
and teachers in magic, Michael Ammar. The website blurb
said: "Michael Ammar does the impossible as he performs 'The
Floating Lifesaver' in this clip from 'Easy To Master Thread
Miracles' Volume 3."
Here's what we see: Michael, standing in front of the usual
L&L audience of excessively enthusiastic and good-looking
young adults, starts by saying,
You know, when I was growing up, my favorite candy was
a Lifesaver, you know ... and I used to eat these little things
and think, "Why are these 'life savers'?" I mean, 'cause as a
kid I'm just like, well, these must, like, save people's lives,
and I didn't realize it was like this little thing that you would
throw overboard and everything. But Lifesavers to me always
represented this really amazing, uhhh, possibility, you know,
so I thought I'd do something with a Lifesaver.
Now let's see, I'm gonna see if I can't get it trained here ... let's
see ...
And he whistles at the Lifesaver as if it were a cute pet and,
sure enough, it moves, then floats around in front of him and
finally it floats all the way up into his mouth.
After the candy floats up to his mouth, he laughs along with
the spectators, and says, "Isn't that neat?"
Now, lest you misunderstand my comments, this is a
brilliant and baffling effect. (And my guess is that Michael does
not perform in this manner for paid gigs.) The candy truly floats
around in wonderfully mysterious ways.


But what's with the patter? It's a stereotypical version

of what many close-up performers say, but it's not especially
funny; it doesn't tell the audience anything fascinating or clever
or interesting. Instead, it almost mocks the magic itself by
momentarily shifting the focus to the young Michael and his
sweet tooth arni--his questions about candy. Then the hackneyed
ploy of whistling at an object before it moves, which may play fine
at children's shows, but serves little purpose when presented to
"But Lifesavers to me always represented this really amazing,
uhhh, possibility, you know, so I thought I'd do something
with a Lifesaver."
Why did they represent an amazing possibility? It's a non-
sequitur that is suddenly thrown into the patter.
"So I thought I'd do something with a Lifesaver."
"Do something"? It sounds so casual. Not mysterious, not
funny, not dramatic, it's the type of remark that might be said
by an interior decorator-"Let's puhleeeze do something with
that window treatment!"-but it's not terribly appropriate for a
miracle worker.
Again, this trick is a piece of strong magic. It's the
presentation that squelches a potential Extraordinary Moment
into a very nice Trick.
Think about every word you say. Analyze your every action.
This is not a quick process. I watched that brief clip several
times before I began to appreciate its strengths and the potential
areas for improvement.
You want your presentational skills to equal or exceed your
magic technique. Both goals require time, dedication, and effort.
All magic, at its core, is a Puzzle. Presentation-and
presentation only-is the lever that elevates a Puzzle to a Trick,
or a Trick to an Extraordinary Moment.
Raise your level.


Chapter 3

There is only one purpose for doing anything in front of an
audience: to get a reaction.
Whether you're a singer, comedian, musician, poet, or
magician, if they stare blankly back at you, you failed. Doing
something for your own pleasure may qualify you as an artist,
but recognize that the entertainer requires specific audience
So the question becomes: What reactions do you want?
What reaction do you want for the trick as a whole?
What reaction do you want for each moment within the
You have not completed your work on a routine until you
answer those questions.

The Big Three

As performers of mystery entertainment, the reactions we
most value are:
1. Rapt Attention
2. Laughter
3. Astonishment
(Applause, another form of reaction, may follow any of the
above.) Ideally, every moment leads to one of these reactions.
And anything that fails to deliver a sought-after reaction
is filler!
All performances have filler material. Sometimes it's the
necessary explanations about why you're about to do what
you do, or it may be the instructions needed to accomplish the
trick. Other times it's the transition from moment to moment,
or from trick to trick.
Regardless of the type of filler, it's an absolute fact that
successful performers reduce such material to its absolute


To put it another way, if I'm not enthralled, amused, or

amazed by your words or your actions-and I mean every
word and every action-I'm on my way to being bored, and
Entertainment will shortly be leaving the building.
In subsequent pages you'll read about specific instances of
well-known performers inserting useless, off-target filler into
their routines. We all do it. But with a disciplined approach to
our scripting and performing, we can nip and tuck our way to
leaner, tighter routines.
When I talk about "necessary instructions," I mean phrases
such as:
"Please remove a card from the deck."
• "Step over here and examine these three rings."
"Say, 'Stop' as I flip through the pages."
Necessary explanations:
"Scientists use these strange symbols to test for
extrasensory perception."
"The envelope hanging from the ceiling has been
securely sealed and in full view from the time I began."
"This is a Samurai sword, used by nimble warriors in
ancient Japan to slay enemies and open envelopes."
When you write out your script (see the chapter on
Scripting and Rehearsing), and when you watch yourself on
video, rigorously assess which words and, equally important,
which actions are needless filler. Separate those filler words
and actions from the words and actions that progressively
drive you toward your desired reactions.
The best magicians and mentalists continually weave their
audiences through the Big Three reactions. They seamlessly
move from Laughter to Rapt Attention and then on to the
climax, the moment of Astonishment.
The broadest category of the Big Three Reactions is Rapt
Attention. It's easy to know if you've hit this target: just look
at the audience. Are they deeply engaged in your words or
actions? If you don't have the full attention of all, you've missed
this target.


You can walk down many paths on your way to achieving

the Rapt Attention reaction. Your words may be:
- Engrossing Stories, especially those of a personal
- Unusual or Useful Information
- "Strange but true."
- "Here's how card sharks cheat you."

Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak.

People react to people. We respond when we see another
person's emotions.
David Blaine's first TV specials broke new ground in the way
they showed us-the viewers-the reactions of his audiences
(sometimes an audience of one). Blaine and his associates
snubbed the usual TV-magic-special focus on the performer
and his skills. Instead, they allowed us to bask in the gleeful
and often awestruck reactions of those who witnessed his feats.
More than anything else, it was this single decision by Blaine's
creative team-focusing on the reaction more than the trick-
that catapulted his specials into the ratings stratosphere.
Magicians often fail to grasp the value of reactions and
they make one of two major mistakes:
1. They don't allow the reaction to fully develop. They
move too quickly to the next moment of the routine.
2. They don't put the "reactor" in a position where others
in the audience can see and hear the reaction.
Mentalists especially fall victim to this syndrome: they talk
to people who remain seated in the audience. The performer can
see the look of astonishment, but few others can. Much better
to have the person stand. That way the rest of the audience can
share the excitement of the moment.


People relate to people. We laugh when others laugh, we

cry communally, we feel the embarrassment of a volunteer's
awkward moment on stage, we empathize greatly with people
we know, and only somewhat less so with strangers. Again, the
team behind the Blaine TV specials understood this. Magicians
watched the first special and saw Blaine perform a double lift
and a top change, and then they exclaimed they could do it
better. What did the rest of the world see? Something brief
about two cards changing places-but mostly they saw a locker
room full of Dallas Cowboys pro football players recoiling from
what they saw and then laughing and slapping each other in a
moment of great and shared joy. Onscreen, the reaction lasted
far longer than the trick.
The entire show followed that format, and the high audience
ratings led to reruns and further TV specials. Actions and
decisions that had magicians scratching their collective heads,
delighted the public.
The Blaine team sold the sizzle, not the steak. That works
in advertising, and you ought to let that adage guide you as
you polish your performances.
Whenever possible, sell the reaction, not the trick.

Fizzle vs. Sizzle

A few years ago I attended a public performance of a
preeminent writer and theorist about all things magical.
His forty-minute set consisted exclusively of card tricks, and
during that time I looked to my left and to my right and in
just my one row I saw two people sleeping! And I saw others
in the audience nodding off as well. This state of affairs set off
a chain reaction, as it became clear to all that the audience's
reaction was increasingly subdued. Quiet begat quiet.
What went wrong? First, much of his show was set up as
an implicit challenge-I will fool you and you won't be able to
catch me-but few in the audience cared to take the challenge.
In the upcoming chapter on the Six Pillars of Entertainment
Success, you'll read about the need to Communicate Your
Humanity. He didn't, and the audience reacted with chilly


Then too, I wondered, what's the point of his show? Rather

than homing in on the above Big Three Reactions, the subtext
of his show seemed to be:
I can do things with playing cards that you can't. Here, let
me prove it to you. Now let me prove it to you again. One more
time, but slightly differently. Still not convinced? Then I'll prove
it to you ten or twenty more times.
Zzzzzz ...
Here's a performer who has mastered the technique of
magic, but not the Magic of magic. And of course, he's a typical
specimen on the magic scene.
One might say that his target reaction was Astonishment.
He certainly achieved astonishment from time to time. But his
forty-minute set, taken as a whole experience, failed to achieve
solid Entertainment for too many of those minutes.
His setup for each trick rarely targeted either Laughter
or Rapt Attention. That is, when explaining what he was
doing, or about to do, he was infrequently funny, and almost
never Heartwarming, Fascinating, Dramatic, Charming, or
anything else that pulled the audience into his world. Personal
involvement came into play only for the few spectators who
joined him onstage.
His filler material overwhelmed the desired reactions of
his words and physical actions. In the following chapters, we'll
examine what he, and you, can and should do to avoid the
problems he created for himself.
Instead of demonstrating "effects," let's make Magic.


Chapter 4
The Six Pillars of
Entertainment Success
Psst. Hey, magician guy. You like secrets, don't you? You
want secrets? I got 'em. You are about to read the true and
eternal secrets of entertainment success.
OK, they're not "trick" secrets. These are the secrets that
count, that separate the wannabes from the arrived. These are
the steadfast secrets that no masked magician can expose, for
the true performance secrets are just that, secrets of theatrical
performance, and not the flimsy methodology of mere deception.
Here is your roadmap, your can't-fail guide to success as an
entertainer. Use these pillars to take the measure of your act.
These Pillars revealed themselves after hundreds of hours
of analyzing the work of performers at the top skill levels,
and-specifically-asking why this particular routine is
successful. And why other routines, sometimes offered by those
same performers, fall short.
Nebulous at first, the keys to entertainment success
coalesced into six supernovas, and that's what you'll find below.
All successful entertainment in our field is built upon these
pillars. As you view videos of yourself and become your own
director, let these tenets help you raise your level.
For us as mystery entertainers, it is not enough to fool
people. There must be more. The more is entertainment, and I
want you to achieve maximum entertainment.
Toward that end, I present to you the real secrets of the
Real Work:
1. Master Your Craft
2. Communicate Your Humanity
3. Capture the Excitement
4. Control Every Moment
5. Eliminate Weak Spots
6. Build to a Climax


1. Master Your Craft

Once, back when I was a newly hatched professional
entertainer, a much older, fairly well-established magician
came to see me perform. After the show, he laid a few nice
compliments on me and then, seeking to pass on some wisdom
from experience, he told me, "Remember, it's not what you do,
it's how you do it."
Well, yes. And no.
What he meant-and many others have said or written
similar sentiments-was that the presentation of a trick
overrides the trick itself. That's true, assuming you execute
the trick perfectly.
Without technical proficiency, all else fails.
That applies to any artist, but as mystery workers we have
an added technical hurdle to surmount: the audience must be
fooled. They cannot be aware of the "secret something."
Even those magicians whose acts revolve around "failure"
(Ballantine being the best known) still must perfectly master
the timing and intricacies of their routines.
I hope you don't need this book to motivate you to practice,
practice, practice. Diligently practice your moves until they
flow effortlessly and automatically. Then set about the job of
rehearsing your stage movements and your lines. Master your
script. When you're in front of strangers, the last thing you
want to worry about is what to say or do next. Every word
must be the right word at the right moment.
You practice the moves first. Then you rehearse the
routine. Then you rehearse the entire act, start to finish. If
you rehearse in disjointed pieces, you don't capture the flow
of the act, and you run the risk of not noticing that certain
moments don't flow smoothly into the next. Even supposedly
simple things, such as opening a card box and later replacing
the cards, require practice so you don't fumble around. And for
just about every magician it is important that you do your final
rehearsals in the clothes you will be wearing. You don't want
to be on stage when you discover that the pocket you need isn't
in this suit.


Study the videos of yourself. Make sure you see yourself from
different angles, and during different shows. Most laypeople,
especially in close-up situations, are too nice to tell you they
saw something they shouldn't have. A coin that flashes at the
wrong moment, a hand held awkwardly when a card is palmed,
an untimely glance at a hidden billet, a dead bird plopping to
the floor (OK, you would notice that one), all work to deduct
points from the imaginary scorecards your audiences hold in
their heads.
One hesitates to quantify this issue, but it seems to me
that perhaps 80% to 90% of all problems magicians encounter
relate directly to their lack of intense and proper preparation.
So I'm assuming you've put in the requisite hours perfecting
the technical aspects of your performance. If not, all else in this
book will be for naught.
Don't be sidetracked, by the way, by Malcolm Gladwell's
pop-psych dictum that 10,000 hours of "deliberate practice" are
needed to become world-class in any field. Just strive to get in as
much practice, and as much "flight time" in front of audiences,
as you can. Remember too that the old adage "Practice makes
perfect" isn't true. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Man and Superman

Nothing in show business comes easily. It takes hard work
to look as if you're not working at all. Looking natural on stage
is an unnatural act. If you let nature take its course, when you
walk out in front of strangers your pants would be moist in
inappropriate places. So you put in the hours of practice to walk
out with your head up and shoulders back, confident in your
skills and in your knowledge of your material.
In my lectures, I frequently talked about the entertainer as
Superman, for I believe that's a useful analogy. During most
of the day, that caped superhero strolls among the populace
of Metropolis appearing to all as nothing more than a mild-
mannered reporter. A regular guy. Then, at the appropriate
moment, he becomes a better version of himself. Ever Clark
Kent at his core, when called upon to perform, he nonetheless
demonstrates extraordinary abilities.


As entertainers, we all possess extraordinary abilities-

skills and talents that other people lack. If we didn't, there
would be no reason to watch us.
Thinking of yourself as a version of Superman is a helpful
exercise. You may be a humble Superman, or a flamboyant one;
you may be a fast-talking Superman from a great metropolitan
city, or you may have a down-home drawl, but one thing you will
be is confident. Sure of yourself, and secure in your abilities.
You want to be similar to the folks down front, but with a
few special attributes and skills that flow effortlessly from you.
That's why you must practice thoroughly, if not compulsively.
People don't want to see themselves on stage, at least not
ordinary versions of themselves. They want to see Superman
(or Superwoman). They want to believe in the potential of a
Superman. The more thoroughly prepared you are, the easier
it becomes to project an air of invincibility.
Also, you can be most relaxed when you can turn on your
internal cruise control; only then can you steer your act to
unexplored territory. Only then can you confidently interact
spontaneously with your audiences.
Work at your craft. Make yourself invincible.
In the chapter on Choosing Material, we'll look at how to
narrow down your choices to the best tricks for you. Once you
find them, practice them diligently.

Do a Few Things Extraordinarily Well

Most magicians do an extraordinary number of things
Achieving your own level of artistic integrity requires
fluency of technique, for only then will you be free to express
originality. And the degree of fluency, of technical mastery, is
inextricably linked to the time and effort spent in practicing
moves and rehearsing the full routine.
This is not a handbook of conjuring technique. For that
you will embrace the best of magic's volumes, videos, lecturers,
teachers, and mentors. From them you will learn how to


misdirect, how to "change the moment," how to perform jazz

magic everywhere and anywhere.
And practice it all-performance technique and trick
technique-with care and passion.

The Road Less Traveled

As a final comment on Mastering Your Craft, let me share
a thought from the for-mentalists-only website of my late (and
brilliant) friend Bob Cassidy. In this excerpt he examines the
merits of using a deck stack that requires a quick calculation
versus using mnemonics to memorize the position of every
"But the calculation is easy," you might reply. And it may
well be "easy." The problem is that the calculation may
suddenly become very difficult if you try to do it while
interacting with the audience. Of course, you can just stand
there and stare up in the air for a second while everyone
wonders if you are having a stroke, thus adding some
unexpected drama to your act.
Or you can come to the realization that the hard way is
actually the easy way. And besides, the calculation stack is
a one-trick pony. When you learn how to memorize a deck
of cards you automatically learn to memorize just about
anything else.
Now disregard, momentarily at least, the calculation vs.
mnemonics argument (they both have merit). Did one line
jump out at you? One sentence stopped me cold:
Or you can come to the realization that the hard way is
actually the easy way.
That brilliant insight applies to life and entertainment.
The easy way leads to short-term gains but rarely long-term
The most successful performers of my acquaintance
consciously and conscientiously take the hard way, for that will
be what separates them from the herd. They are not frightened
by solitary hours of study and development, followed by years
of practice and rehearsal. Rather, they thrive on it. They


understand that seeking the easy way is the path taken by the
majority. And if you are buried among the majority, consigned
to mediocrity, or worse, accepting mediocrity, you can never be
The hard way becomes the easy way as distractions
evaporate in the heat of self-imposed focus.
And the easy way, the frittering from one trick to the next
before mastery is achieved, becomes hard as it continually
leads to false starts and unfulfilled expectations.
Which path will you take?

2. Communicate Your Humanity

Work to establish rapport with your audience immediately.
You are a stranger to them, and their moms told them to be
wary of strangers. Let them know that "we're in this together,"
and together we're going to transcend your workaday lives.
Once you manage to build a strong, empathetic bond with your
audience, you can make the dumbest mistakes, crazy external
foul-ups can befall you, and your audience will still be on your
side, wanting to see you succeed!
The likeable performer always performs with a sterling
advantage: an extra level of goodwill. Heckler-stopper lines
become unnecessary because, without prompting from you,
audience members themselves will shush the uninvited
Woe to the performer who fails to build rapport with the
folks out front. For him the audience will exit mentally, if not
physically, at the first sign of weakness. This applies equally
to all entertainers.
Here's what New York Times theater critic Alessandra
Stanley had to say in her May 6, 2003 review of comedian Bill
Maher's Broadway show:
Mr. Maher is clever and provocative, but he is no Oscar
Wilde. Behind his riffs there is a self-righteous tone that
makes him hard to like ... And a successful live performance
usually requires a secret lovability.


A secret lovability. A performer may project a gruff exterior,

yet if somehow the audience feels a human connection, they
look past the outer layer. (Consider the success of "insult-
comedian" Don Rickles.)
Further on, Ms. Stanley writes:
[Maher'sj body language is defiant, not welcoming.
It's all part of a total package: your words, your body
language, your attitude.
This advice has passed from Nate Leipzig to Dai Vernon
to all:
If they like you, they will like what you do.
It's certainly true, now and forever, that a charismatic
person in politics, sales, or show business starts with a leg up
on the competition. In this section, we'll look at the things you
can do to boost your likeability quotient.
That said, however, I also believe that communicating your
humanity, exposing who you are as a person, supersedes-or
at least precedes-likability. We empathize with many a movie
villain (Michael Corleone of the Godfather films is one classic
example), but we never "like" them. In either case-hero or
villain-the entertainment score ratchets up when we connect,
on a human level, with the person we're watching.
How might you communicate humanity? Here are several
a.) Give 'em a smile.
Smiles, the first and easiest way to communicate humanity,
require no rehearsal and cost nothing, so fling them about
with abandon. A smile says you feel comfortable being in front
of us; it radiates confidence and friendliness. An unsmiling
performer had better have an excellent reason for the look on
his face, because he's not communicating his connection with
the audience members, and he'll be seen as cold and standoffish.
A sincere smile transcends language, age, race, and
cultural differences. It's the universally understood message
of friendliness, of "I'm happy to be here, with you."
Here's a trick I use: Just before I walk out on stage I say
something funny to someone backstage. Actually, it's not


always truly funny; it may be just silly or friendly. The words

don't matter. The goal is to put a smile on my face; that's the
face I want the audience to see first. I don't want to expose
my nervousness or my preoccupation with the new bit I'm still
developing. Using this smile "trick" not only places the look
I want upon my countenance, it also helps relax me. There's
likely a good physiological reason for it, but smiling sends a
calming message to the rest of my body.
It will for you too.
b.) Tell 'em a story.
David Copperfield, amidst all the trappings of a weighty
mega stage show, tells stories (some of which, I'm sorry to tell
you, may not be completely true!) about growing up, about his
family, and sometimes about his fears. If he didn't do that, he'd
be subsumed, as are so many other illusionists, by his own
props, dancers, glitter, and music, and we'd have no sense of
who this guy is.
You and others in our field may have tired of his borderline
sappy narratives, but I would rather see him take that risk
than see him mask himself behind the music and the scenery
and the dancers and the tricks. Copperfield understands that
illusionists especially must strive to communicate a human
personality, lest they become nothing more than animated
props in their own shows.
But as with anything else, there are stories and there are
stories. Every story you tell must have as its goal one of the
Big Three Reactions. A story becomes counterproductive if it
meanders or fails to communicate something significant.
Edit your stories the way a writer would, scrutinizing each
word, questioning whether it hits a specific, targeted reaction.
Consider with care where you are headed. Into which category
do your words fall? Funny? Sad? Fascinating? Anecdotes from
your life humanize you, but be certain that they have impact.
Also, think carefully about where in your program you
place those stories. I've seen a number of pros lay heavy
personal info on us within the first five minutes of their much
longer programs. That's a mistake. We won't care about any of
that until we have developed some sense of who you are and
what you do.


c.) Acknowledge your surroundings.

At the very least, a few early words along the lines of, "It's
nice to be here in the beautiful town of Detroit Vista Hills," or
"Thanks for inviting me to be part of the Who's-Your-Daddy
Sales and Marketing Roundup," sends the message that you're
doing more than pressing "Play" on your mental tape recorder.
If appropriate, consider mentioning the physical
"What amazing portraits! Are any of those folks here
"I know it's a bit cool in the auditorium today, but together
we're going to heat this joint up!"
"It's always been my dream to perform in a leaking tent ... "
Alternatively, mention something in the news of that day-
something not depressing!
"Hey, the Mets won two in a row!"
d.) Acknowledge the audience.
Canadian mentalist Jacene Dickson, writing in the PEA
journal Vibrations, pointed out that if you can say something,
anything, about well-known individuals in the audience, or
even something regarding the audience as a whole, you bank
extra goodwill points.
They want to "hear about THEM,' she wrote, and that's
spot on. Which, of course, is why so many rock bands shout,
"How you doin', DAYTON?!" and the crowd goes wild.
So at the very least, if there's nothing else specific about
the attendees, you can always throw in a mention of the locale;
it gives them a shared sense of community while also helping
to connect you to the audience.
e.) React and respond.
During the show, look for opportunities to signal that "I'm
here for you. I'm here today, doing this show, which is different
from any other show I have ever done or will do."
Stuff happens. Use it to your benefit.
If everyone hears a loud noise during your show and you
ignore it, you seem artificial, removed from the reality of the


moment. If a waiter trips, a light explodes, a backdrop drops,

acknowledge it in some way. Your reaction might be quick and
superficial, but any reaction usually is better than none. Yes,
sometimes you will be at a moment in the show when any
deviation from your usual script will detract from the effect.
Those moments are fewer than you imagine, and you will
need to make that decision on a case-by-case basis. In most
situations, you will be better served by turning the disruption
into an advantage. (No one mastered this better than Uri
Geller. No matter what happens, he apologizes for it, implying
that once in a while his "powers" just get away from him!)
On the other hand, a sneeze in the audience, a coughing
spell, people rudely talking-these are examples of distractions
that usually affect the performer more than the audience as a
whole, and in most cases you're better served by not disrupting
the flow of your show. I've seen too many performers stop and
comment on something that I barely perceived.
The rule of thumb here is to acknowledge only those noises
or incidents that are seen or heard by at least half the audience.
e.) Reveal your humanity with emotions.
In my college acting classes, we were continually urged to
"stay in the moment." The actor, internally, must experience
what he seeks to project externally. All successful performing
artists must do the same. If we want to project surprise, we
must feel surprised. Similarly for wonder, frustration ("That
wasn't your card?"), glee, trepidation, and so on.
Do you feign interest in your act, moment by moment?
Or do you truly feel, within your core, the emotions inherent
in your words and actions? Robert-Houdin's words from the
dusty past remain true: we are actors playing the role of
(real) magicians. An acting class or two, along with reading
up on acting technique, will surely enhance your ability to
communicate your feelings.
When I was in high school I was the youngest member of a
community theater group. That experience exposed me for the
first time to the techniques of the theatrical director, and it
forced me to understand that one cannot simply read lines and
move around the stage, avoiding bumping into the scenery and
other players. Acting requires significant mental preparation


and physical rehearsal, more than non-actors realize. The

ability to reveal emotions, true emotions, is an ability lacking
in too many magicians.
You need to reveal a part of who you are, and you do that
by letting us glimpse your innards, your emotions. Acting
classes and involvement in theatrical productions help achieve
that goal.
You can also reveal your humanity with emotions by sharing
that which stirs you.
Siegfried and Roy continually talked about the "magic and
mystery... of life." They worked hard to show us, amidst their
glittering production numbers, who they are as people, what
their individual passions are, and that allowed their show to
become about much more than simply the magic. They wanted
you to feel you have glimpsed the two stars as separate human
beings. You grasped Siegfried's thrill in overcoming the
impossible, and you viscerally appreciated Roy's love for the
animals in the show.
Is there something in your act that relates to an emotion,
a passion in your life? Can you figure out a way to share it? In
Doug Henning's case, he brilliantly communicated his passion
for the magic itself! Performers who expose something of their
inner being, who share more than a series of tricks and jokes,
connect with audiences far more strongly than those who don't.
f.) Maintain eye contact.
Think about your own experiences in an audience. When
the performer looks directly at you, you feel drawn into the
show more strongly than you were just moments before. Eye
contact is universal; we all succumb to its power and we all
feel snubbed when we don't get it. As an audience member, I
understand that you cannot gaze solely at me, but I also want
you to look in my direction now and then.
The basic guidelines for eye contact are:
Try never to utter one word unless you are looking at a
pair of eyes. (If the lights are bright in your eyes and all
you see is darkness, you have to imagine seeing those
eyes out there. You must look out into the void as if you
really are talking to people you can see. Otherwise the
folks in the back feel cut off from you.)


• Don't lock on any one person for more than a second or

two, unless you have a specific reason to do so.
Don't mumble anything while looking at your props;
talk to people, not things.

Certified 100% Natural

The late Marcello Truzzi-magician, raconteur, respected
university scholar and researcher, and great friend of the
Psychic Entertainers Association-told me this story:
A guy goes into an agent's office with an elephant. "Have
I got an act for you! This elephant does the greatest act you'll
ever see!"
"Yeah, that's what they all say. What's he do?"
"Impressions ... best you've ever seen." And sure enough, the
pachyderm does James Cagney and Cary Grant and Jimmy
Stewart and on and on. And they're all pretty good.
"So whaddya think?" says the anxious owner.
The agent says, "Lemme talk to the elephant ... alone."
When the owner leaves the room the agent walks up to the side
of the elephant, tenderly puts his arm way up on the elephant's
neck and quietly says into his great big floppy ear, "Kid, I like
ya', but I got two words of advice ... Be yourself!"
Trust me, when Marcello told the story it was hilarious,
but whether reading it on paper made you smile or not, the
lesson holds true.
Artificiality in front of an audience rarely pays off, yet one
of the most common mistakes we see is the performer who acts
unnaturally. He or she tries too hard to ingratiate, or to appear
dramatic, funny, or clever. Movements become exaggerated,
speech patterns sound artificial, and the audience quickly
picks up on it.
You Communicate Your Humanity by being yourself
With rare exceptions, the most successful performers present
themselves on stage-polished, confident versions of their
offstage selves.


Often this move away from naturalness begins as

an attempt-conscious or otherwise-to mimic another
performer. Thus, when Kreskin was appearing on all the TV
talk shows, young mentalists aped his routines and, far worse,
his sometimes mangled speech patterns. Copperfield inspired
legions of smoldering, love-sick-puppy magicians. And now
we see the David Blaine knock-offs, accosting innocent park-
dwellers and street people with, "Wanna see something cool?"
I saw a stark, real-life example of this common failing at a
magic convention a few years ago. The performer in question,
a full-time professional, did what I would rate as an "adequate"
twenty-minute stage show. But the following morning, during
his lecture, his real self showed up-and it was an instantly
recognizable improvement!
This performer had layered his stage act with artificiality;
he postured and preened and feigned involvement with the
mystery and magic. His act was no better or worse than we
typically see at conventions and it was reasonably well received
by a majority of the audience.
During the lecture, however, he relaxed. Gone were the
"stage movements" and hyperactive oomph from the night
before. He just talked, with no obvious I-am-in-my-entertainer-
mode theatrics. Instead, now he spoke to us with sincere
passion about his particular specialty. He shared some brilliant
insights and he glowed in the enthusiastic response he received
from the lecture attendees. And when he brought a woman up
on stage to participate in the demonstration, he treated her
warmly and with charm; the previous night he pushed and
shoved and ordered his volunteers around.
I would not have given much more thought to his act
had I not seen the lecture. But the contrast between the two
"performances" was a bit of a shock, and it served as a great
lesson. When we in the lecture audience had a chance to see the
real "man behind the curtain," we saw unadulterated talent,
intelligence, and even better, we saw an immensely likeable
human being with whom we could connect. His challenge, and
yours, is to blast away everything that puts up a wall between
those of us in your audience, and the best qualities of your
inner being, your polished version of yourself.


Looking again at Kreskin, Copperfield, and Blaine: when

you see them being interviewed on talk shows, especially the
more informal ones, what you see are personalities remarkably
similar to the ones you see when they are performing their
practiced routines. And I believe that to be a major factor in
the phenomenal success they have each achieved.
The exception to this, of course, is the performer playing a
character. In that case, you have to Communicate the Humanity
of that character and you must do it by staying solidly faithful
to the personality and traits of that character. You cannot go
back and forth between your "normal" personality and, say, a
riverboat gambler, a clown, or as in the case of Cardini's iconic
act, a slightly inebriated aristocrat.
Overwhelmingly, however, magicians and mentalists play
themselves as they demonstrate amazing things, and for them,
the strong advice to "be yourself' applies.
All theater is based on something artificial. Our task as
mystery workers is to present only the necessary artificial
moments, and to hang those moments on the most natural

Say, Young Fella, Ain't You One of Us?

An observation here about Max Maven: In the 1970s and

'80s I expected, and wanted, Max to replace Kreskin as the
leading mentalist in America. He had (and still has) all the
tools-a vast and deep knowledge of magic and mentalism, a
solid grounding in theatrical technique, and an abiding passion
for the art form. Plus, unlike Kreskin, Max placed himself
fully into the magic and mentalism community. Kreskin rarely
acknowledged, even when face-to-face with other performers,
any kinship. So I was pulling for Max to become the face of
American mentalism.
Yet Max never had the breakthrough with the public
that I thought was his for the taking (although he did rise,
deservedly so, to the top ranks within the magic and mentalism
community). Max Maven, as a mentalist performing before a
lay audience having no idea who this guy is, fulfilled all the
Pillars of Entertainment Success, except this one. Instead


of communicating his humanity, he explicitly conveyed his

separateness from the rest ofus. With his Dracula-reminiscent
makeup and haughty bearing, he sent out a message that he
is not one of us, not a standard-issue man who happened to
develop a few extraordinary skills. And over the long run, I
believe, it worked against him. [Update: In the years since I
wrote those words, and apparently for some time prior, Max
softened considerably. These days he delivers more humor-"!
look like this all the time"-in a more relaxed manner, and
yes, much more of his humanity comes through. He's a friend,
he's still a major force in magic and mentalism, and I wish him
only the best.]
Criss Angel started his career wearing darkly sinister
makeup, yet when I saw him at a small New York theater,
despite the Goth getup he came across as a likeable young man.
Then he went through his Mindfreak stage and he turned up
the "freak" quotient. It worked for his TV show, but less so in
live Las Vegas performances. Then when I saw him in late
2018, he'd become a strange amalgam of freak and guy-next-
door. Whatever, his fans love him.
Marc Salem, arguably the most successful American
mentalist of recent decades, thrives specifically by
communicating his humanity. His Mind Games show has been
a smash hit, with extended runs in, among other places, New
York, London, Toronto, Montreal, Edinburgh, and Sydney.
His reviews (from the mainstream theatrical press, not magic
publications) are consistently raves and in many of these
reviews, the writer took space to elaborate on Marc's rapport
with the audience, his friendly, approachable manner, along
with his ability to wrest laughs from just about anything
thrown his way. While his technique as a mentalist is flawless,
clearly it's his humanity that wins him fans among those most
difficult to please-professional theater critics.
The bottom line here is that choosing to play a character
is fine, as long as it doesn't hide your humanity and thus work
against your ultimate goal of entertaining your audience.


Your Audience Wants You

You have secrets that have nothing to do with magic or

mentalism; they are the secrets that make you .. .you. That
make you unique. Anyone can show me a trick with a prop, but
only you can inject a scintilla of your life history into that trick.
You start your program as a blank slate. At the conclusion of
your performance, do we know the person manipulating the
Reveal yourself. But make it real. An audience senses
pretense the way a dog sniffs contraband; it's a natural ability
heightened by experience.
A fuller vision of you will always be a more interesting
vision than that blank slate.
To sum up this section, you Communicate Your Humanity
by answering the question, "Who are you?"
Tell me, show me.
Only then can I trust you to take me into your world.

3. Capture the Excitement

Incredible but true, too many magicians forget or overlook
the beating heart of the conjuring art.
That's why in this section I ask you, What's special?
What's special about this trick? What's special about the
climax of this routine? Often, magicians whiz right through
the key elements of the routine, and the audience is more
perplexed than entertained.
Milbourne Christopher, noted magical historian and
prolific author, knew everything about magic-except how to
present it. In its October 2002 issue, Genii ran a review of a
video, The Milbourne Christopher Memorial: Volume 1. Here's
an excerpt from that column, written by Joe M. Turner:
Another quick sequence follows in which Mr. Christopher
follows the old style of performing trick after trick after trick
in almost blinding speed. A fiash of fire and a cane becomes
two silks. The silks are transformed into a Botania ... The


billiard ball manipulations and productions are so fast that

you barely have time to figure out what he's doing before he's
on to the next trick, catching birds in a net. The birds are
promptly vanished in a Tear-Away Box and a lady jumps
out of a Doll House to finish the sequence.
We've all seen acts like that. And acts like that are why, for
decades, magic stayed firmly affixed to the bottom rung of the
show business ladder.
What's special within his act?
A blur of great magic is still just a blur. The act described
above was a blur of weak magic (or strong magic made weak);
Christopher was influenced by his predecessors and he in turn
was emulated by thousands.
What is the essence of our art of magic? It's the excitement
of doing impossible things.
You must show that excitement to your audience.
If you hold a billiard ball in your otherwise empty hand, it
is impossible for another ball to suddenly appear. Absolutely,
by the commonly accepted laws of nature, impossible. If you,
by some unknown means cause a second ball to materialize,
that's miraculous. An observer should be thinking, "It can't be!
You made something from nothing! This is the most amazing
thing I've ever seen!"
But wait. Now there's a third ball. And a fourth. And now
they're changing color. And now there are only three again.
And now there are eight. I guess what I thought was impossible
is possible. In fact, look at those balls come and go .. .it must be
easy. I don't know how it's happening, but it sure seems easy
for him.
"The billiard ball manipulations and productions are so
fast that you barely have time to figure out what he's doing
before he's on to the next trick ... "
A blur. Nothing memorable. And nothing will be
remembered a day later.
Capture the excitement. Show me the difficulty. Explain, in
words or gestures, why the magic part of your trick is magic.
Not a puzzle, not a science experiment, not juggling, but magic.


Do you throw away the strong moments of your act? You

may, because the strong moments have become mundane to
you. After years of hanging around other magicians, after
having performed your favorite tricks hundreds of times, it's
understandable that you may no longer see the magic in your
Fight that tendency.
Look at Kreskin, Copperfield, and Blaine. Everything they
do is special.
They rarely toss out the quick comic aside (mea culpa: that's
a line of attack near and dear to my own performing style).
They believe that what they are about to show you is beyond
belief; in many cases, it appears to be beyond even what they
can believe!
You can be sure about this:
Anything you treat as trivial will receive a trivial response.
Did the pen pass through the dollar bill? How did you
react? With a smirk? A smile? A look of wonder? A look of relief
that it happened?
Your reaction to the moment steers the audience's reaction.
Remember, in most cases your onlookers are seeing
something for the first time in their lives. Strange as it may
seem to us, they need you to help them appreciate your skills.
Let me explain. Can you juggle? If you can, you know
that juggling three rubber balls brings smiles-but juggling
three chainsaws elicits applause. Juggling three chainsaws
while they are running brings gasps followed by applause. The
audience understands, without any help from the performer,
that the latter stunt carries a great degree of difficulty-and
danger-and they reward the mountebank accordingly.
But when watching a magician, the audience has no reliable
frame of reference for difficulty. Which is the more impossible,
reaching into the air and producing coins, or bending a spoon
by lightly touching it? There can be no answer, for each defies
logic and physics.
The Miser's Dream effect can be achieved with pure manual
dexterity, while magic catalogues offer a multitude of devices


to accomplish the same feat (as perceived by the audience)

with little or no sleight of hand required. Which production
of money from nothing is better, the "pure" or the mechanical
method? Obviously, it depends on the performer's style and the
entire framework on which the routine is hung. A spectator
has no way of giving credit-or deducting approval-for either
Put another way, the spectators. have no way of knowing
that any particular moment of your show is special.
Unless you tell them.
Kreskin has understood and exploited this insight from the
earliest days of his career. When he performs the linking of three
borrowed finger rings, he tells the audience, in several different
ways, that what they are about to witness is unique, and he
will probably take the secret to his grave. And who among the
lay people watching can question his statements (outrageous
as they may be to magicians)? His version of the trick is special
because of the very fact that he tells them it's special.
Many magicians perform this routine; few make it into a
theater-filling moment of high drama. Most magicians reduce
it to a good trick at best, but goofy, oddball Mr. K. elevates it
into an extraordinary occurrence that some witnesses recall
years afterward.
On the other hand, the more trivial the trick, the more
you must increase the entertainment value of the surrounding
I love seeing or reading about performers who wring solid
entertainment from the simplest, Robbins E-Z Magic catalog-
type tricks. It's done everyday. Shopping-mall Svengali Deck
hawkers draw in the crowds doing feats that we all know can
be learned (technically) in minutes, because their machine-
gun patter makes it impossible to look away. They make simple
tricks exciting.
Which parts of your routines are trivial? Which stand out
and will be remembered a week later?
Something special happens in every magic trick. Find it.
Emphasize it.
Why should I spend a slice of my life watching you?


4. Control Every Moment

Every moment counts. You cannot permit the minds of your
audience to wander.
In tennis (and other sports as well), coaches urge their
students to "Play the ball; don't let the ball play you."
Translated to show business, you must play the audience,
and never let the audience play you. Every moment when you
stand onstage, you must control the action. Understand and
accept that from time to time gremlins will work their slimy
machinations upon your carefully rehearsed program. Don't
panic. It's a part of show business to have things go wrong.
Screw-ups happen to pros and amateurs alike, and how you
handle those moments when the microphone cuts out, or the
lights flicker, or you realize you pulled the wrong cards out of
your pocket, are moments that separate the winners from the
losers in show biz.
Nothing ruins a show faster than when your audience
knows, or even suspects, that you have lost control of the
Understanding that truism, you must gird yourself to
never lose control. Disciplined practice sessions and performing
experience will always be the best teachers in these situations,
but you can ease the learning process by preparing for the
Here are a few tricks of the trade to help you maintain

And Then I, Umm, Like, Said to the Guy...

You lose a bit of control every time you insert hesitation

into your speech pattern. Every ummm, uhhh, ehhh, drawn-
out "well," or any of their many equivalents, immediately tells
the audience that you have, however briefly, lost your way.
Avoiding those hesitations is not a difficult skill to acquire.
First, acknowledge your tendency to speak the way we all
speak in social situations. And then recognize that performing
demands a higher degree of fluency. Putting it succinctly, your
awareness of the problem is more than half the solution.

So, when you reach a moment when you are unsure about
what to say next. . .pause! You will sound thoughtful and wise.
Insert an ummm, and you sound, well, umm, how should I put
this? Let's see ... umm, well, like one of those nice, but regular
folks out there in the audience. After all, they could get up on
stage and sound frightened and unsure and wimpy-and not
in control of that moment.
Is that what you want? Hell, no! Make sure you don't sound
like that. S-1-o-w d-o-w-n and think, if you must, but never
let them know, not even for a split second, that you have lost
control of your own speech patterns.
A facile and confident flow of words is inextricably related
to the time you spend rehearsing your script, and we discuss
this in greater detail in the chapter on Scripting.
Superman doesn't hem and haw. Clark Kent does. Which
are you?

Use a Lower Gear for More Traction

If you do sense that the bond between you and your audience
has too much slack, you can do what many performers do:
increase your energy level (speed things up). Or better yet, you
can slow down.
You may be surprised that I urge you to slow down. In
fact, that was one of the best tips I learned back in my college
theater days, and I have used it often. When I feel the audience's
attention on me is slipping away, it frequently is because I've
been running for too long at one level: high energy. By simply
s-1-o-w-i-n-g d-o-w-n, and lowering the volume and pitch of my
voice, the audience snaps to attention.
The change of pace, and nothing else, alerts them that
something new is happening on stage. Frequently, that's all I
need to put me back in command.
I recall seeing a performance by Anton Zellman, one of
the leading, and highest-paid, trade-show producers and
performers in America. He is a super-smooth showman (in the
best sense) and his memory and mentalism demonstrations pull
in the crowds from the trade-show aisles. On this particular


night he was doing a stage show. In every way, it was up to his

high standards. But then he called up to the stage a woman
who was the wife of an old friend of his and the texture of
the show changed ... for the better. Suddenly he began talking
conversationally, as opposed to the precision-made speech
patterns he used up until that point. I could feel within the
audience around me a renewed and heightened interest in the
performance, and it was due, I believe, to his softer, friendlier,
and, yes, slower voice.
It would have been a mistake for him to have used this
voice throughout the program. It was the contrast that brought
the audience's attention to a new, higher level, one that would
not have been achieved had he continued to perform all the
way through with his usual high-energy approach.
I acknowledge that the more common fault is working or
talking too slowly. In the next section, "Eliminate Weak Spots,"
we'll examine how to know when you've got to speed up, and
how to do it correctly.

Never Apologize to Your Audience

Remember, they don't care. Entertainment is about escaping
reality, so resist the temptation to explain your problems. They
don't care. You are Superman, and Superman doesn't suffer
from colds or back aches, from lack of sleep. They don't care
about problems backstage, or that your kids kept you up last
night, or about any illness or other personal problems. And you
should never send their attention to any glitches in the sound
or lighting systems, as many performers do.
The temptation to apologize or explain can be huge and
compelling. I know from experience. I've had backaches that
made me wince with every step. I performed days after my
mother died when I was only twenty-six years old. I have
chronic asthma and once in a while it kicks up during a show.
I've gone on with no sleep in days, with high fever, with stomach
cramps, with severe allergies (not all in the same day!). For
those reasons and more, I want them to know why I might
have a bit less energy than usual, and I've told them, and only
after too many years did it finally sink in: they don't care!


Not only do they not care, but by apologizing or explaining

away some problem, you lower yourself a notch. An apology is
kryptonite to your Superman image: it weakens you.
There are two exceptions:
1) you apologize because you must, or
2) you apologize to get a laugh.
If the start of your show has. been delayed beyond a
reasonable time, you offer a simple, direct, and honest apology
in order to negate negative vibes. That's an apology with a
If something is obviously out-of-the-ordinary-you're
wearing a cast on your arm, you're limping, you have laryngitis,
you're performing in street clothes because your suitcase was
stolen-then you have a reason to offer an apology. So you do
it-succinctly, and with humor if possible.
Or you apologize for a punchline.
Kreskin explains to his audience, early in his show, that
he bumped into a ladder (''A ladder moved in front of me.")
and hurt his knee. Then he says, "You're probably thinking to
yourself, 'If Kreskin is such a great mentalist, why didn't he
see the ladder coming?"' Kreskin has used this gag for years,
so there must be a purpose. And the purpose is clear: he gets a
laugh while at the same time he acknowledges his fallibility-a
useful ploy at the beginning of a 90-minute mentalism set.
Now, as Kreskin might say, "I know what you're thinking."
You're thinking that the advice to Never Apologize doesn't
mesh with Establish Your Humanity. Not true. You Establish
Your Humanity in a planned, deliberate manner, a manner that
reveals who you are .. .in the best light, of course. Apologizing
for external problems brings you down a notch, down into the
audience, and you never want to drop down (figuratively) and
join the audience. They should be looking up to you, literally
and figuratively.
And certainly, never apologize for cutting something from
your act. No one knows what you intended to do, so why tease


Radiate Control
From the moment you walk in front of the audience, you
want them at ease with you. People feel comfortable when they
believe they are in the presence of someone who knows what
he's doing, who sends out vibes that say, "I'm your Captain, I'm
in command, and you can place your confidence in me."
Anything that sends signals of insecurity must be
avoided. Here are a few tips for avoiding telltale signs of a
person not in control (you can check for them on your video):

Don't pace! Walking back and forth as you talk signals

insecurity. Stand your ground. When you do move,
move with a purpose. Anchor yourself, internally and
Don't shift your weight nervously from side to side.
Don't sway or rock.
Don't fidget with the microphone, the mic stand, the
cards or any prop. In fact, you should avoid touching
anything-your table, the lectern, props, volunteers-
until the moment you need to. A touch should be a
deliberate and necessary motion.
Don't keep your hands jammed in your pockets.
Don't repetitively clear your throat or cough nervously.

Are You Looking at Me?

You can maintain control with your gaze. In fact, you must
be aware of the entire room. Continually scan the audience,
not only for the eye contact, but also to ensure that the people
on the periphery remain as involved as those up closer to
you. As soon as you do see anyone drifting away-mentally
or physically-pump up your attention to that section of the
room. Make them aware-without doing anything that may
be obvious to the others in the audience-that you're bringing
them back into the action.


Here's how:
Look at them just a bit longer as you talk.
Smile directly at them.
If you reach a moment when you would normally make
a gesture out toward the audience, allow your arm to
point in their direction for just an extra second or two.
Unless they're sloshed or otherwise oblivious, they'll
usually get the message.

Excuse Me?
For stage workers especially-except for when it suits your
purpose-never respond to an intentional interruption from
the audience: a question, a statement, a joke, or any remark
from a heckler. Because if you do respond, you grant permission
for the next interruption.
I have seen too many performers break the flow of their act
by needlessly, and unproductively, responding to something
that didn't require a response. Don't fall into that easy trap.
Unless you have developed a rapier wit and sure-fire comebacks,
ignore, ignore, ignore, despite the temptation to appear witty
or friendly.
This advice is less viable for close-up workers, especially
table-hoppers; after all, you've encroached on their territory.
In that case it's you, not they, who must fit into the flow and
ambience of the setting.

Dominate Me. I Like It!

And finally, you Control Every Moment because that's what
your audience craves.
So many people have humdrum lives-or as Thoreau said,
"lives of quiet desperation''-and they have real problems and
crave a release (however temporary) from their everyday ennui.
They want to connect with the possibility that there actually
might be a Superman who can accomplish miracles. That's
what Houdini gave his audiences and that's why he became so
much more than a music-hall entertainer.


People want to believe there is something beyond, a

something that imposes its own order upon the universe. By
controlling your environment in a way they cannot, you give
your audience optimism and, perhaps, something to which
they themselves might aspire.

5. Eliminate Weak Spots

Here's an interesting, highly generalized observation:
amateur magicians perform too slowly, and advanced amateurs
and newbie professionals perform too quickly.
The amateurs perform slowly because they fail to put in
the requisite rehearsal time and practice, and so they end up
fishing for the right words. Or the right cards. Or birds.
Advanced amateurs and new pros perform too quickly
because they have not yet developed confidence in the impact
of their routines.
Before we go further, let me be crystal-ball clear about my
position here: Faster is almost always better than slower.
Slow works only if you have the audience fully fixated on
your every word and action. Slow is much more difficult to pull
off successfully, but slow can be much more effective. More on
that later.
For the most part, if you successfully erect the first four
Pillars, you won't have weak spots. For the most part.
Eliminating weak spots may become the biggest payoff of
having a video of your performance. Once you have a video and
can see what the audience sees and hears, you can begin to
intelligently gauge the flow of your program.
As you watch yourself on video, be prepared to edit your
act ruthlessly. Chop out unnecessary words, delete sentences
that fail to move the routine forward, demolish whole routines
if they fail to get the hoped-for response.
Make every moment important to the flow of the
entertainment. Not most moments.
Every moment.
Every second.


Watch each segment of your show over and over. With

repeated viewings, you begin to see the flaws, the needless
words, the hesitations that impede the flow. Use the remote
control aggressively to break your performance down into ever-
smaller segments: five minutes, three minutes, thirty seconds.
You think that's asking too much? Consider the musician,
who follows a precise set of instructions-hundreds or
thousands of notes-each thoughtfully placed to build upon
the preceding note. Every note, encompassing a tiny slice of
time, demands precision. A false note jars the senses and ruins
the effect of the music, so the musician rehearses the task of
perfecting these minuscule moments in order to achieve the
perfect whole.
Why should magicians do less?
When I say that you must consider every second, I'm neither
kidding nor engaging in hyperbole.
To illustrate a couple of examples of missed opportunities,
I'll describe part of what you can see on Spectators Don't
Exist, a video of above-average table-hopping routines by
English magician Jon Allen (major kudos to Jon, by the way,
for showing us his routines performed out in the real world
for unsuspecting people; would that all magic videos did the
In a floating dollar bill routine he calls "Ghost," he starts
by asking, "Do you believe in ghosts or anything like that?"
He gets a couple of mild responses and then never brings up
anything about ghosts again. Obviously, he intends to imply
that a spirit of some sort makes the bill move, but he fails to
communicate that to the viewers. He should either follow up on
that theme or not bring it up initially.
He asks that the borrowed bill be signed, and while that
happens he takes a wine glass from the table, turns it upside-
down away from the table to spill out any last drops and says
to no one in particular, "I'll make sure this is empty and dry; I
could drink it but I won't ... ," and then places it back down. It's
a few meaningless words, a few weak seconds in which nothing
is accomplished.
Perhaps he could be more proactive in that moment, possibly
by looking at the woman whose glass he is taking and saying


something like, "That's a perfect ghost trap! May I borrow it

for a moment?" Almost anything that keeps him in control of
that moment will play stronger than turning away and talking
to himself.
The missed opportunity to control that moment lasted just
three or four seconds, and the balance of the routine played
well. Most magicians would be thrilled to get the reaction Mr.
Allen achieves. My point here, and throughout this book, is
that good is never good enough.
Raise your level.

Speed Kills
Years ago I read one jazz critic's assessment of how you
can tell good musicians from great musicians. The good ones
dazzle listeners by playing notes with blinding speed, while
the greatest musicians play only the necessary notes.
It's the same in magic. We have no shortage of technically
skilled practitioners, top-gun flyboys who seek to dazzle us with
their rat-tat-tat displays of deft sleights and flourishes. And
we have a surfeit of word wizards who ply us with bada-boom
bada-bing patter, rarely pausing to let the audience catch up
and appreciate their cleverness. Both can entertain audiences,
and be labeled good or very good. More commonly, however, we
see speed demons smash one moment into the next, and their
spectators lose interest. (A blur of great magic is still a blur.)
When that happens, the magician will be at a complete loss to
understand why repeat bookings don't materialize.
You will have weak moments if you try too hard to impress.
If you tend to move along at a fast clip, that may be, for you,
vastly better than allowing the pace to flag. Just be aware that
in a longer show, say fifteen minutes or more, you may want to
slow down now and then, not only to change the texture of the
program, but also to allow yourself to play the necessary notes,
those that deliver the strongest emotional punch.
Excepting those born and raised in the Southern part
of the United States, the majority of professional magicians
speak too quickly (As a New Yorker, I know that's a tendency
I personally must constantly guard against). It's probably


because we know the words, we've thought about them over

and over. And familiarity breeds speed.
The spectator is hearing your words for the first time. Don't
garble them. Don't rush them. Watch your video and listen to
yourself as a spectator listens. Try to judge if every word is

The Pause that Refreshes

Pauses, at the right time, and done with a sense of control,
add power.
Never confuse an intentional pause with a weak spot. A
moment is weak if it adds no meaning to the effect. In a strong
routine, there may be moments when no one speaks, but never
"dead" silence. Silence is deafening if you are searching for a
prop or you are at a loss for words.
On the other hand, a dramatic pause just prior to the
climactic moment may be the final booster rocket needed to
launch the effect into a higher orbit.
You may not enjoy reading this, but not everyone pays
attention to your every word. Minds wander. Attention
becomes diffused in spite of, or sometime because of, intensity.
I've seem people sometimes fall asleep at rock concerts because
of the sameness of the sound level, just as people fall asleep
while the TV blares but then wake up when the loving spouse
turns it off.
A pause in your act is the TV being shut off. It jolts. And it
can jolt your audience in a manner beneficial to your success.
Pauses also become effective when used to signal the inner
struggle-the difficulty-of the moment. And we must never
lose sight of the struggle; after all, if failure is not a possibility,
what's the point?

The Magic is Rarely Enough

Finally, you will have slow spots if all you have going for
you is the magic, because the magic is rarely enough. You're
going to amaze me? OK, and what else?


It goes back to: what reaction do you want from each

moment? The climax is just one part, often a small part, of any
trick. Magic at magic conventions is so often boring precisely
because the routine has been crafted to showcase the "magic"
with little thought or effort going into the "everything else."
The magic is rarely enough. Make me laugh, or charm me,
or transfix me with the drama, or dazzle me, or fascinate me ...
and then amaze me.
You will lose your audiences if you expect them to wait
patiently for the payoff.

6. Build to a Climax
''Always leave 'em wanting more" is a show biz saying that
needs to be rethought. The original intent is correct-you
never want to overextend your welcome. But you cannot leave
your audience "wanting more" because you failed to provide a
clear-cut conclusion. If your act is a conveyor belt of tricks, and
it suddenly stops, your spectators will feel cheated; they want
more, they want a final punctuation, a "period," (or better yet,
an exclamation point) that gratifies, satisfies, and fulfills their
expectations of your entertainment experience.
That's why each routine must build, internally, to a climax,
and the entire act must build, inexorably, to its highest point.
To an outsider, and certainly to many magicians, it would
seem that the very nature of magic makes the advice to build
to a climax with each trick superfluous. After all, every trick
comes with a built-in climax: your hand is empty, now there's
a coin in it. A card is selected, and then it rises from the deck.
Setup, climax. One follows the other.
However, there's a huge difference between having a
climax and building to a climax. Too many performers make
the assumption that the audience will, in essence, climax with
the performer.
Well, in magic and in lovemaking, there's a chasm between
real life and what you read in the magazines.
Each trick must be thoughtfully constructed to build, as
with an old-fashioned wooden roller coaster-click-clack-


click-anticipation. And the program as a whole must send

them back to their lives with a blast-in-the-face rush.
Although this section stresses the importance of your
final routine, in truth it's typically more difficult to find ideal
openers. Your first few moments set the tone, telegraph your
style, and cause the audience to decide if they're going to
psychically invest themselves in your performance. Ironically,
while finding your ideal opening effect may take years, an
experienced performer could theoretically mold almost any
piece of decent magic into a strong climax. For example, I've
read that Michael Skinner developed a dynamite routine with
the classic "toy" magic trick, the Ball and Vase. A Svengali Deck
could be the basis of a dramatic blindfold card stab routine.
Truly, any effect that usually receives a strong reaction can be
your climax, if you properly ramp up the presentation.
Surprisingly to some, the climax of your show is not
necessarily your most amazing effect. In fact, sometimes there's
no effect at all at the end! The climaxes of some of the best shows
I've seen are nothing more than the performer gathering all the
warmth and energy in the room and placing it upon himself.
In one of my Personal Entertainment Highlights, for example,
you'll read how consummate mentalist Gil Eagles dramatically
closes his show (actually, just a few moments before his final
bow) with the removal of a blindfold. No fireworks, no music,
no wham-bang "closer." Just a slowing down of the excitement
with a commensurate outpouring of affection from performer
to audience, and from audience to performer. It's quiet, but it's
a rush nonetheless.
Simply put: for any climax to be effective it must be set
apart from the body of the show.
I can't design a killer climax for you, but I can provide some
basic guidelines:
If you perform at a leisurely pace, increase the energy.
If most of your show is fast-paced, slow down.
If you use music, either stop the music (temporarily) or
dramatically change the music.
If you don't use music, bring music in at the finale.


And other techniques:

• A reprise of an earlier feat, but this time with a twist.
- Faster (or slower)
- More difficult (new hurdles to overcome)
• A return to "failures" or "mistakes" which had been
done straight or as gags, and are now brought to
successful conclusions.
Whatever you do, make certain that your last minutes
with the audience stand apart from all that came before. Even
simply announcing, "I'd like to close my show for you tonight ..."
may serve the purpose perfectly. It sets up the expectation that
something extra-special is about to unfold, so close attention
needs to be paid.

Vary the Texture

A number of leading magic writers contend that, in
structuring your act, it's of the utmost importance that each
section appear progressively more difficult. Bull! Each section
has to flow into the next, and each must stand on its own. If a
particular piece increases the suspense, or supposed difficulty,
that's fine, but achieving an interesting texture for your
performance as a whole is the desired goal. You can still build
toward your final climax by using various moods, each having
its own charm, or power, or fascination.
Copperfield, as with many other illusionists, typically
starts with a startling appearance; later on he moves to quiet
close-up routines or silly kid-show stuff (albeit high-end, silly
kid-show stuff). He is not progressively performing more
difficult or impressive feats.
Gourmet chefs find the right mix of textures and colors:
sweet against acidic, crunchy atop velvety. We too need to
throw surprises onto the plate. Forcing yourself to make each
trick stronger and more powerful as the show progresses can
be counterproductive. Focus instead on making each piece fit
the whole, the flow, the desired internal structure, with the
understanding that the audience fully expects your final piece
to be your best.


Heighten the Impossibility

When discussing climaxes we must look back to Capture
the Excitement. You will build the best climax to any trick
by carefully extracting the moment where the magic happens,
and whenever possible, helping the audience to understand
why what they are about to see is .. .impossible.
Experienced performers instinctively know, or learn,
how to ratchet up the drama. Among the infinite pick-a-card
tricks, virtually all start with the performer either knowing
the identity of the card prior to its selection, or learning the
identity or location of the card within seconds of its return to
the deck. At that point, the issue is: how will I reveal what I
know? You could simply announce, "You chose the Three of
Yeah, you could, but you won't.
Or you could take the spectator's wrist and-by giving
careful instructions for her to first think of the color, then the
suit, then the value-attempt to ascertain the identity of the
card by your highly developed ability to read clues from her
pulse. Same trick, but now you have built a little playlet and
heightened the perceived difficulty.
Almost any trick can be made stronger simply by thinking
about how you can make it appear more difficult, more
Ricky Jay closed his Off-Broadway hit show, On the Stem,
with a multiple card-selection routine. It was nothing more
than a string of standard pick-a-card/here's-your-card effects.
But there was nothing run-of-the-mill in the way Ricky built
the pace, the drama and bang-bang-bang/ excitement with
each revelation.
Lance Burton is a master at Communicating His Humanity,
a talent he called upon for the climax of his first TV special. He
just sat on a stool, center stage, talking softly to the audience
as he performed a charming Torn-and-Restored Newspaper. No
flash, no explosions, no monster trick, just one human sharing
a moment with his audience. And it worked beautifully.
John Carney, in his outstanding contribution to the
literature, The Book of Secrets, tells of a significant lesson he


learned from the late Michael Skinner. It had to do with what

Skinner called "The Magic Moment," that instant in a routine
when the magic happens as a result of something the magician
Sometimes Michael would create an anticipatory tension
in what he would call the "exaggerated pause." Just
previous to revealing the vanish of a coin or the change of
a card, he would sometimes stop still and quiet, his hands
hovering frozen over the object. He would hold this pause
for five seconds or more, to the point where the silence felt
almost uncomfortable. He would then snap his fingers and
reveal the effect of his intense concentration. The dramatic
suspense created by this pause provided a focus and
anticipation that increased the effect many times over. In
this way, he had made it known that this phenomenon had
not just randomly occurred. As a magician, he had caused
it to happen. He had created a "magic moment."
Carney called Skinner "the finest all-around sleight-
of-hand magician in the world," and it's clear that Skinner
understood the overarching concepts required to successfully
entertain with close-up magic. Those concepts apply equally
well to all other branches of magic.
Skinner, in concert with all the best magicians, didn't throw
away the moment of magic; he built up to it and presented it on
a silver platter. Here is the magic!

On Multiple Climaxes
In multi-phase routines, or multi-climax routines,
there must be a dramatic progression. Magicians love Coin
Assembly-type effects. I wonder if we're fooling ourselves
about the true impact of any effect loaded with mini-climaxes.
What's the point? That a coin travels invisibly from under this
card to that card, again and again? Or are we demonstrating
our dexterity? In either case, the entertainment value-the
surprise moment-often diminishes with each revelation.
Here's what John Northern Hilliard had to say on this topic
in his classic book, Greater Magic:


[The] Tarbell rope trick, although a masterpiece of magic,

has a weak finish because you have repeated cutting and
restoring two or three times. Where is your climax? The
first restoration is the surprise moment, the second· and
third are repeats of the same surprise and are, therefore,
less surprising each time. All these new tricks of twisting
and turning yards of rope, with dozens of loops, don't mean
a thing from an audience point of view. The simpler the
trick, the better. You have a rope, you cut it in two, rejoin it
and throw it out. Finished! No loops, no complicated moves,
apparently just a little miracle.
I have seen a few presentations of Coin Assembly effects
and (fewer still) long rope tricks that were entertaining, so it is
possible to pull it off. For any multi-climax trick to be effective,
though, there must be something beyond repetitive magic, and
usually that something is fun. When fun equals or exceeds the
magic, you hold the viewer's attention.
One of the best examples of this is a beautifully
presented version of the Miser's Dream. In my first Personal
Entertainment Highlights, there's a snippet about Al Flosso's
presentation of this classic. He did the same trick many times,
producing coins from impossible places, but the element of
great fun-and surprise-never left the routine. And of course,
current masters of the Miser's Dream like Jeff McBride and
Andrew Goldenhersh perform the routine with great skill and

Climax Fast, Climax Slow

In the Denny & Lee Performance video (from dennymagic.
com), you can see how Denny (who was beloved by many and
who left us in early 2019) and Lee took a piece of standard "box
magic," the Substitution Trunk, and without excess glitter or
speed turned it into an ovation-inducing finale.
Slow? In the time it took for the metamorphosis to take
place, The "original" Pendragons (Jonathan and Charlotte)
could do their act, cook dinner, and vacuum the den. Yet the
audience gave Denny and Lee an enthusiastic standing ovation.
Why? Denny's handling of this classic completely lacks the


speed and finesse so common among TV-special magicians.

Instead of speed, he emphasizes the impossibility of the stunt.
At his insistence, audience volunteers banged and slapped
away at all sides of the wooden crate. They checked out the
canvas bag, and the rope, and the locks. And at the end, when
Denny emerges from the canvas bag, a palpable sense of Wow!
courses through the audience.
It comes down to this: the Pendragons communicate a show
that says, "Look how cool we are!" There's nothing wrong with
cool. The public wants to see cool people. That's why People
magazine exists.
Denny and Lee, on the other hand, implicitly asked, "Do
you want to see something really amazing?"
The Pendragons take your breath away; it takes longer
to say "instantaneous" than for the switch to occur. They
deserved all their accolades. I just want you to be aware
that the trappings of a full Las Vegas main-stage act are not
required to thoroughly entertain your audience, and that
you can take a piece of "standard" magic and build it into an
ovation-producing climax.

One True Climax Per Audience, Thank You

While some performers lack a strong climax for their show,
others make the equally egregious mistake of having more
than one; that is, they set the audience up to believe they are
seeing the grand moment, and then the program moves on to
yet another, unrelated trick. That's a big mistake.
You can take the audience to the mountaintop only once.
Keep going, and you risk falling off the edge. When I watch
a movie, a play, or a magic act, I feel slightly cheated when I
realize the climax ain't the climax; I have invested emotional
collateral in that moment, and then, when it's clear there's
more to come, I hold back from fully enjoying the next "climax"
because I've been burned once.


All's Well That Ends Well

Shakespeare, as usual, figured it all out. If your show ends

on an up beat-if your audience is thrilled, laughing, crying
from heartfelt emotion, astonished to a degree that takes
them beyond all that has gone before-you win. Mistakes
are forgotten, faux pas recede from memory, launched into
obscurity by the thrust of your clima.ctic moments. We humans
are a forgiving lot. Make us feel good before you send us back
to our real lives, and you will be remembered fondly.
That is why you invest extra time, effort, and creativity
into delivering the absolutely strongest climax possible.
Nail your climax!
* * *
There you have it: the Six Pillars of Entertainment
Success--specifically for magicians and mentalists. Yes, an
enlivened government-policy-wonk grandmother can enthrall
her investment-professional audience without Capturing the
Excitement or Building to a Climax.
We cannot.
For us, to achieve maximum entertainment, we need all


A Personal Entertainment Highlight:

David Berglas-ACAAN
At first, back in the 1970s, it was known simply as "The
Berglas Effect." Then a name was attached: "Any Card at Any
Number" (ACAAN).
As the legend spread, various innovators attempted solutions
and nowadays we see excellent versions of ACAAN performed
with some regularity. Many in our field, however, are somewhat
puzzled by all the fuss over one card trick. After all, at its core it
is nothing more than a one-out-of-52 card trick prediction, and
we have thousands of those. A great trick, to be sure, but still,
isn't it just one of many good effects?
Well, no. As performed by David Berglas, it fully deserves its
legendary status. What follows is my experience (a version was
originally posted years ago on the Genii Forum) with Berglas ...
* * *
This is my most personal Extraordinary Moment. It
occurred in the mid-1970s at a magic convention in the Midwest.
My magic and mentalism buddies have grown weary of hearing
this story, and possibly even doubtful that the retelling matches
the reality. Nonetheless, this is what I remember.
Berglas, Britain's "International Man of Mystery," had
starred in the evening stage show and a highlight of the show
was his now-legendary Any Card at Any Number routine. It was
stunning. Now, the only way I could have found a card trick to
be stunning from my far-away balcony seat was for him to place
impossible conditions on the situation; the pack stays in full
view at all times, the volunteers are selected in a truly random
fashion, and the idea that every choice is not only freely-made,
without any restrictions, but also that they could change their
decisions at any time. And there had to be no way he could have
manipulated the cards.
As far as I can recall, that is a reasonable description of what
he did. He pulled it off with his unparalleled showmanship and
it was a major highlight of the evening "gala" show. But that's
just the beginning of the story.


The following afternoon, as I roamed the dealers' booths I

encountered David pitching some product. (I think it was as a
favor to a friend.) I recall little of that conversation except that
I brought up the card "trick" (I may have even used the word
"stooges." How rude of me!) and the next thing I knew he had
placed a deck of cards, unboxed, onto my outstretched palm.
And then he said three things to me.
He asked me to "name one of the cards."
Then, "Please say a number from one to fifty-two."
And finally, "From the top or bottom?"
Now, while I may have forgotten some details about the
routine, what I recall with great clarity was this-I began
laughing. Laughing nervously-and thinking-or perhaps
saying aloud-"This can't happen. I am a professional magician
and mentalist. I know how this is supposed to end. I know all
the basic techniques! You cannot make this happen! The cards
are in my hands!"
And yet, he calmly continued.
"Five of Clubs did you say?"
"Seventeen was the number?"
''And you said from the top?"
"That's right."
"Please deal sixteen cards from the top of the deck onto
my hand and then stop."
"... fourteen ... fifteen ... sixteen."
"Is the next card the seventeenth card from the top?"
''And the card you asked for was the Five of Clubs?"
Did he stop talking at that point? Did he verbally request that
I turn over the next card? Did he just smile? I don't remember.
What I do know was that he never touched the cards.


The seventeenth card, the Five of Clubs, stared back at me

from my own, undoubtedly sweaty hand.
Over more than five decades I have sought out magic and
magicians in locations around the globe. I have been fooled with
some pleasing frequency, bewildered now and then, but only one
trick stands apart from all others; this is the only trick in which
I recall not only the "effect" of what happened, but the affect
it had on my nervous system when he asked me to give him a
number from one to fifty-two.
The next day, over lunch, he did it for me again.
* * *
For many years, I knew of no one else who experienced what
I just described. Finally, however, I found out that at least three
highly knowledgeable and respected members of the Psychic
Entertainers Association, Charles Reynolds,Marcello Truzzi,
and the great Israeli mentalist (and dear friend) Lior Manor,
had virtually identical one-on-one experiences with "The
Berglas Effect." They all told me that they too were gobsmacked
in exactly the same way I had been.
* * *
A postscript. In May 2017, I told this story to Derren Brown
as we enjoyed lunch at a fine New York restaurant. He smiled
and asked, "Have you read the Berglas book?"
I hadn't. And I realized at that moment that I probably
won't. Some mysteries are too good to spoil.


Section Ill

"The state of having been made
ready beforehand; readiness."


Chapter 5
Scripting and
Writing a Script: Just Do It
Industrial shows occupy a unique niche in show business.
Some of the most talented actors, writers, singers, dancers, and
musicians in the land specialize in this branch of the business,
and they can earn excellent money without making a dent in the
public consciousness. From time to time, a firm hires an actor
to play a magician for one of these gigs. He learns the script
(frequently written by a magician), does the show, and moves
on in his career. For him or her, the role of being a magician is
merely another job.
For every other person who sees themselves as a magician,
the pursuit of magic began, with varying degrees of passion, as
a hobby, a pleasurable pastime. Something you would do for free
(shhh, don't let outsiders know that).
Now here comes Weber saying you should write out a script
for your performance. Not only that, I'm exhorting you to expend
as much effort on your script as the writers of the industrial
shows do for their non-magician actors.
Yes, I know; that smells like work. And work don't jibe with
"I won't do it, I tell ya!"
Calm down, and let me tell you why you must.
In my own life, in both my business and entertainment
careers, I always rebelled against the common advice to:
"List your goals, your strengths, your weaknesses."
"Write down where you see yourself in five years."
''Name the five biggest roadblocks to your success.
Yada, yada, yada. For years, anything that remotely
smacked of New Age psychobabble, even these modest requests
to focus my energies, sent me into a fit ofl-don't-need-to-do-this!


My mistake. Looking back, I now sheepishly admit to myself

that the times I did get off the couch and write things down
always paid off. Big time.
Writing a script forces you to think, slowly, word by
torturously-pulled-from-your-brain word, about where you're
headed, and what your audience should expect from you. For
just one example, the physical act of putting words on paper
prevents you from going from Point A to Point C without
considering Point B.
Put simply, writing helps you bring your routine into
sharper focus.
But writing it all down is just step one. Next comes the
rewriting, the polishing.

Write. Fix. Repeat.

Eugene Burger, beloved creator, performer, and teacher,
urged all performers to write out their routines. In "Thirteen at
Dinner," (originally published in Genii in April 2000 and then
reprinted in an October 2017 tribute after his death), Eugene
made it clear: "Good writing is rewriting."
He tells us that after getting the first draft down, when he
starts the editing process, ".. .I experience the deepest enjoyment
from my involvement with magic. Here, for me, is where the
real joy appears. I repeat: Good writing is rewriting."
So get your routines down on paper. It may not be fun, but
do it. (To make it easy on yourself, use the dictation feature
on your smartphone.) Do it carefully, writing down both the
words you will say-the dialogue-and the actions you will
take. Later, after a few hours at least-or better yet, after a
few days-go back to your written words and you will see them
with a fresher perspective.
In my financial business, I write a good deal of marketing
material. Every time I write a new marketing piece, I'm certain
that it's a gem at birth-and then I look at it a few days later
and wonder, "Who wrote this crap?" Time works in your favor as
your thoughts marinate in your skull. Your subconscious mind
dices and chops, and invents variations on the original theme.


If you don't write a script, details will most certainly escape,

and those details can make the difference between good and

Be a Marksman with Your Words

Remember the Big Three reactions? Every sentence you
utter, every word, should be aimed at one of these narrowly
defined targets:
I. Rapt Attention
2. Astonishment
3. Laughter
Plus, when required:
4. Necessary Instructions or Explanations
That's it. Anything not fitting one of these targets is
most likely fluff that hurts your show. And I mean anything:
unnecessary words weigh you down and dilute your impact.
As you write and rewrite your script, check it against the
four targets. Edit out as much as you can without causing severe
damage to the routine.
Remember also that clarity of purpose is essential to
achieving the third Pillar of Entertainment Success ("Capture
the Excitement"). Choose and structure routines so that no
doubts linger about what you are doing and why you are doing
it. You dampen excitement if the audience is confused about

Actions and Dialogue

When you write your script, you must include the words you
say and the actions you will take. If you really get serious about
this, you might invest in specialized scriptwriting software
to facilitate the process, but for most performers any word-
processing program will suffice.
Don't neglect the actions. Sure, Shakespeare left us almost
no stage directions, but you ain't no Bard of Avon. The more


detailed your script, ·the better. Again, the aim here is to

get you thinking about the minutiae that at first may seem
Is the egg bag in your left hand or your right? If it's in your
right hand, and you invite a spectator up on stage, you must
transfer it to your left at some point so you can shake hands.
Do you want to do that? Will it look as though you are doing
something sneaky during the transfer? Perhaps it's better to
have the bag in your left hand earlier. Where do you want the
spectator to stand? That may depend on whether she'll be asked
to reach into the bag. And since most people are right-handed,
do you want her to extend her arm out to the side, or will she
be forced to cross over her body, which may cause her to turn
sideways to the audience. Is that OK, or not?
Details, details. The more you consider at this point, the
fewer surprises are likely to pop up and bite your butt in front
of strangers.
Once you've finished the writing, read your dialogue out
loud. Then read it aloud again.
And again.
It's part of rehearsing, so you need to do this anyway. Each
time you go through this exercise, vary some aspect of the
reading. Change the pace, search for awkward phrasings and
opportunities for humor, think about what might be extraneous
to the action, and what might enhance it.
When it starts to feel comfortable, get out your voice recorder.
Speak exactly as you will on stage: same pacing, same
inflections, same pauses, same projection. If you've never
done this before, you will likely feel terribly self-conscious and
awkward. That's normal. Plow ahead anyway. Each time you
record yourself, the task becomes easier.
Now leave it alone for a few days. When you go back and
listen to yourself, close your eyes and become your audience.
Do you sound natural? If you detect even a hint of artifice
or forced humor, note it on paper immediately, but continue
listening so you get a full overview of the presentation. Then
start reworking-by rewriting-the dialogue.
And for best results, repeat the process several times.


Reverse Engineering
We all have routines that we've been performing for some
time. In such cases, it's useful to record the performance and
then transcribe your words onto paper (or, more realistically,
a computer screen). This exercise is especially useful for close-
up and walk-around performers who may not easily be able to
video their acts.
You can't assume that, merely because you've done a
routine many times, it's reached its highest level of perfection.
Seeing the words on paper will offer a new perspective, and an
opportunity to infuse new life into the performance.
Once you've transcribed the routine, the process becomes
the same as for a new routine: analyze, rewrite, re-record.

As mentioned, in addition to the words you will speak, write
out-in as much detail as you can muster-all the actions you
will perform on stage.
Assume you're going to force a name using a change bag. If
you're lazy and look for shortcuts, you might write your script
this way:
I hold up the transparent change bag. Spectator reaches into
bag and removes one slip.
Well, that's better than writing nothing down at all. Now
let's assume you take performing seriously. In that case, your
script for the same sequence might read:
Spectator stands on my right. I hold up change bag in both
hands and glance to see that the force side is facing the
"In a moment, I'm going to turn away. When I do, I want you
to reach into the bag with your left hand, remove one slip of
paper, and then, without looking at it, place it into any one
of your pockets. Are you ready to reach into the bag? OK. I'll
turn away."
I turn my head to the left.


"Now you turn away." (She will probably miss the bag
because she's now not looking.)
"No, no, get your hand in the bag first, otherwise you'll keep
When I feel her hand in the bag, with my head still turned
''Do you have one slip of paper? Are you sure it's only one?
OK, now place it into one of your pockets. Have you done
Details, details. Sweat the details. There's no downside to
careful planning at this stage.

For My Next Trick, I Have a Deck of

Cards Somewhere ...
You must pay particular attention to your transitions.
The change-over from trick to trick is your Achilles' heel. You
become most vulnerable to losing the attention of your audience
when you release the dramatic tension (the climax) and then
proceed into new territory. Preparation for-and scripting of-
these moments is your only shield.
Therefore, when writing out your words and actions,
• What are you going to say in each transition between
tricks? You cannot simply put props away and then
have dead time while you pick up the props for the next
bit of business. You must do or say something to keep
the audience focused on you. You must control these
• Where are the props for the trick just ended? Write out
how to dispose of them.
• Where are the props for the next trick? Specify how you
get to them.
The goal is to have your transitions as interesting, as
entertaining as the tricks themselves. Not easy, but the best
pros do it.
Do you?

Thanks for the Memorize

Some performers worry that committing a script to memory
removes the spontaneity. That should be a groundless fear.
First, virtually all successful performers, actors, magicians, and
comedians say the same words, in more or less the same way,
night after night. They have mastered the art of making the
rehearsed sound fresh. (You will learn some of their tricks of the
trade in the chapter on Your Voice.) Second, locking the words
into your brain is the very thing that allows you to intentionally
veer off course now and then, secure in the knowledge that you
can scamper back to your meticulously thought-out script.
When rehearsing your script, you must practice saying your
lines aloud. At first, you will feel self-conscious. Get over it.
There is no way around it. Merely hearing the lines in your
head never suffices, because speaking requires some degree of
breath control, and that, however minutely, affects your body.
Your movements must become inextricably linked to
your patter. And vice versa. Practice to the point that patter
automatically triggers moves, and moves trigger specific words.
As I point out in the section on "Control Every Moment" (part
of the Six Pillars of Entertainment Success chapter), you must
consciously avoid words and sounds that reveal uncertainty:
"ummm, uhhh, well," and so on. The ability to have your words
flow smoothly from your mouth comes directly from the time
you spend rehearsing.
For many, "rehearsing" means going over the words in your
mind. That's not good enough! You have to say the words aloud,
preferably into a voice recorder. And once you feel your script
is complete, you should get into the habit of rehearsing without
stopping. No matter what, keep going. You need to learn to
think on your feet, (or, for you table workers, on your butt) and
part of that training is pushing through the stumbles. Each
time you do it, you'll improve your ability to improvise.
Practice is the repetition of the actions, the moves. Rehearsal
is the repetition of everything the audience sees and hears.
As performers skilled in the art of deception, we practice the
tiniest of movements, repeatedly, until that exquisite time when
they require no thought at all. Only then can we do what all


other performers do: rehearse the entire presentation. Once

again, our only goal is a performance that requires an absolute
minimum of conscious effort.
Having your presentation as fully memorized, practiced, and
rehearsed as possible is important because, as any experienced
performer can attest, we think better when we are relaxed-or
at least less terrified.

Ah, the Profound Irony of Magic.

Magic is an art form different from all others in a most
fundamental way.
The dancer, the musician, the actor, the graphic artist, the
writer, all practice and refine their crafts, then send them out
into the world with the full intent that you see, feel, hear every
nuanced detail of their efforts.
Contrast that with say, a master of the classic pass. Years
of solitary development and practice, and it reaches its supreme
level of perfection only when no one recognizes its existence!
Damn, that's got to be frustrating!
This dichotomy between private, long-term practice and lack
of public acknowledgment hurts magic. Here's why: unlike other
performing artists, the hours and years mystery artists spend
repeating hidden moves-while resulting in strong technique-
deprive them of the time necessary to develop presentation
Let's start changing that. Give equal time to the things
your audience does see.

Build a Brick House

The script is your home base, your safe house.
Once you are standing on stage and the give and take
with the audience begins, the script can recede. At first, you
take baby steps, into the exciting and dangerous world of the
extemporaneous remark: the ad lib.


But wait!
Did your brilliant rejoinder fall flat? No problem. You just
mentally dash back to the performer's best friend, your script;
born, bred, and nurtured by you-like a Saint Bernard on an
Alpine mountain-it stands by patiently, ready to pull you back
to safety and coherence.


Chapter 6
Choosing Material and
Developing the Act
Magic that pleases magicians is magic that pleases a
narrow stratum of society: adolescents. For that's what we are.
All of us. Your actual age is irrelevant-if you are reading this
book you're an adolescent at heart. We like figuring stuff out.
Puzzles, oddities, and anomalies appeal to us and challenge us
in agreeable ways.
But lo, they're not like us, those citizens sitting out there
looking up at us expectantly. We have to consciously force
ourselves to put aside our own predilections and prejudices and
seek out those tricks that have wide appeal.

Mind Blowing or Mind Numbing

We all recognize that some tricks baffle more than others.
Unless you rely totally on comedy, you want to choose the
strongest, most powerful effects you can get your hands on.
That may mean making the painful decision to jettison
some of your favorite routines.
Which leads to one of the weirdest observations about our
magical world. It's the phenomenon that occurs only at magic
lectures. The guest speaker performs a trick and polite applause
ensues. Then he explains the method-a really cool method-
and suddenly everyone snaps to attention and begins forming
mental images of squeezing this great new effect into his act.
Stop! If the trick itself didn't grab you, that's it! A weak
trick remains a weak trick, no matter how brilliant or devious
the method. So unless you radically rework the effect into
something superior, forget about it. Look elsewhere.
Never perform a trick if your primary motivation-
consciously or subconsciously-is the coolness of the method.
That's the tail wagging the dog.
Always think about the effect on the audience first, and then
consider whether the method leads to entertainment.

Here's Derren Brown's take on this, as seen on his

outstanding video for magicians, The Devil's Picturebook. The
host on the tape refers to the Oil and Water card trick as "a
classic in magic." Derren responds matter-of-factly, saying,
"Magicians seem to like it." Then he adds, "Oil and Water leaves
me cold as a plot; it's an example of the cards doing something
as opposed to the performer being something or communicating
Derren (and Eugene Burger and others as well) encapsulated
an endemic problem in magic: the performance of tricks that
put the focus on the props, rather than on the performer. I
don't think he meant to be harsh, but in the broadest sense,
"Magicians seem to like it," with the "it" being either the props
or the cool method, is an indictment of our fraternity I am
willing to make.
I enjoy Tenyo's puzzle-tricks, but I also recognize that
everyone viewing, for example, the "Blue Crystal," gives full
credit for the mystery to the plastic thing, not the warm-blooded
me. (Yes, I know there are now full-blown routines for these
props, which purport to return some of the glow to the magician,
but I have yet to be convinced of their effectiveness.)
Whether performing a Tenyo trick for one person or a
stage-filling illusion for thousands, given a choice between
presenting a magical thing or a magical you, it should be clear
which is better. You want all memories of your performance
wrapped around you and your brilliant talent. They may later
recall your dexterity, or your other skills, or your humor, but
your overriding goal is to, as Derren says, be something or
communicate something. Something wonderful.
The props and the methods are your slaves. Master them.

Performance Trumps Trick

The trick or routine is just a fragment of the entertainment
process. A small fragment.
You probably don't want to hear that; you've spent a fortune
on books, props, videos, and conventions, and perhaps even
private lessons. You just know that one "killer" effect is all you
need to turn you into a star.


But it never works out that way. The trick is important, but
performance trumps the trick every time.
Want proof? Take a look at The Amazing Kreskin during
his heyday on American TV, a period spanning the 1970s and
'80s. He routinely used one of the simplest and, to my mind,
least deceptive card forces known. Commonly called "Crossing
the Cut," or the "Cross Cut Force" it forces the top card using
nothing more than time misdirection. Yet there he was, making
miracles out ofit ... or at least that's what you would have thought
from the reactions of the TV talk show hosts.
Or how about Blaine "biting" a quarter? The trick part of
that effect is just a step up from a department-store magic kit
or the Johnson's Products catalog, yet Blaine sells it as if it's a
On the other hand, any night a magic club meets you can
see the latest, greatest, and cleverest techniques, performed to
new heights of boredom and ineptitude.
Wonderful tricks stink if performed poorly. Simple tricks
astound in the hands of a smart showman.
Performance trumps trick every time. A weak trick can be
elevated by a strong performance, never the other way around;
weak performances are little improved by the strength of the

New Tricks, Old Tricks

The familiar American greeting, "Hi, what's new?"
invariably elicits the response, "Not much; what's new with
you?" Except in a magic shop. Ask "What's new?" there, and the
dealer takes you seriously. He springs into action because we in
the magic fraternity appear to be allergic to "old" tricks.
How shortsighted of us. New certainly has its place, and our
craft requires innovation to thrive. But never overlook a trick or
routine merely because it's familiar to you.
Your audience does not know what you know.
"Old," in show business, is better interpreted as "tried and
tested." Consider embracing the classics, but put your own spin


on them. Hoary gags and routines live to ripe old ages precisely
because they work, and as entertainers, our mission is to show-
and-tell things that connect with our audiences. That's more
important than "new."
Naturally, not every old chestnut works for every performer
in every situation. Use tried and tested routines and gags
sparingly, and only those that comfortably fit your style.

My Tricks, Your Tricks

As for the argument about originality, that's a quagmire of
scholarship (sloppy or intense), pride, ethics, and commercial
interests. Your "improvement" is my theft, or vice versa. Here's
what we know for sure: little in any art form is truly original.
Everyone builds upon the past. Understand, however, that if
you pilfer a line or bit of business without permission, it is theft.
And in many cases, that theft is unnecessary, because most
performers are flattered when asked for permission to use a brief
bit of their show. What you don't want to do, ever, is appropriate
large chunks of another's act, not only for the reprehensible
ethics such actions represent, but also because there's a strong
likelihood that the stolen material, which looked so good in the
original show, will flop when shoehorned into yours.
In one of my PEA workshops, I said something that was
subsequently quoted several times by others: I believe the average
American will see a live performance of 0.5 mentalists in his or
her lifetime. I also believe the number is only slightly higher
for professional close-up and platform magicians, meaning that
most Americans will die without ever having seen one of us in
the flesh! So a bit of clear-headed pragmatism ought to seep into
the discussions around what's completely original and what's
not, and which line or bit is mine and which is yours.
Here's a personal example. You probably know the now-
common tactic among mentalists in which the performer
recites the alphabet (or numbers) so that he can "pick up" on
some perceived tell, using either mental sensitivity or physical
observation. Weird as it may seem, I believe I'm the one who
originated the tactic.


It was developed for a routine I did at the first PEA

convention back in the 1970s; Bob Cassidy picked it up from me
(with permission) and his influential performances were seen
by many. And so it spread.
I made my case about this to Max Maven, widely recognized
as a leading magic and mentalism historian, and he wrote
back, "I'm quite comfortable saying that you warrant credit for
establishing the premise within our field." Master mentalist
Ross Johnson expressed a similar sentiment to me.
So what do I do about the widespread "theft" of my technique?
Nothing. Because there's nothing to be gained.
Gil Eagles, as I said in the Dedication, "taught me the magic
of sharing." Truly, giving freely is usually a good thing. It helps
you. It may takes years for good karma to circle back to you,
and yes, sometimes there is no payback ever.
Other chunks of my act were "borrowed" without permission,
and I admit it hurts when someone says to me, "That was just
like Mr. Blankety-Blank did here last year." But over the course
of a career, truly, it didn't have a negative impact on me.
And despite the pain, don't let yourself become overwhelmed
with indignation. Trust me, you will be far better off channeling
your energy into moving your act and your business forward,
not looking backward in anger. That gets you nowhere.
Let's look at this hotly argued issue a bit further ...

Original Sin
Among stand-up comics, stealing a line or bit of business
from another comic is just slightly less egregious than murder.
That high standard, however, clearly wavers in other performing
The Beatles freely admit that their signature high-pitched
wooo, used in several of their early hits, was "an homage" to
Little Richard. Did they ask him for permission? Not that I
know of.
All Blues, and then Rock and Roll, are rife with standard
chord progressions. And we like that, because sometimes


familiarity breeds contentment. But we recognize the sad fact

that much of that music was directly inspired by black musicians
who received little or no credit or compensation.
In our field, it's almost impossible to be completely original.
Within both magic and mentalism we are working with a limited
number of plot lines: things appear or vanish, they move or
float, we tell people what they are thinking, we restore broken
things, etc. So no matter how valiantly you strive to separate
yourself from the pack, invariably some parts will overlap with
what others have done. Or what others are doing.
Regardless, you need to work toward originality. Over time,
the dividends will be enormous.
In sum ...
Don't steal. When in doubt, leave it out.
• Whenever possible, ask permission.
In any instructional videos or books you put out, strive
to give full credit.

Destination: Astonishment
Now, unlike in the past, magicians can see before they buy:
even those living in remote regions can access online video clips
of many tricks being performed, and seeing is almost always
superior to reading an ad. Of course, in most cases the dealer
demo shows us the mere potential of the trick. But not always.
I've found several cases where the dealer, through no brilliant
insight, manages to demonstrate a routine that rises above more
practiced and elaborate presentations. The reason? The trick
has been stripped to its bare essentials, and ends up stronger.
I saw a friend of mine, a highly advanced amateur, perform
Dean Dill's stunning rope-and-ring penetration, "Dean's Box."
He preceded it with a brief discussion of the history of spirit
cabinets and related topics. It was a good, solid presentation, yet
it failed to ignite the sparks he expected. This trick, after all,
is an astonishing mystery that, unless they know the specific
principle involved, badly fools most magicians. Sometime later I
saw a video demo of this trick and I can tell you, the dealer made


it much more powerful by simply pointing out the impossibility

of what he was about to do, and then doing it. [I wrote that
before magic demo videos evolved into mini-movies, replete
with dramatic music, gorgeous people, and strategic editing.
Lots and lots of editing. Nevertheless, the premise still stands.]
The dealer headed straight for the "astonishment" reaction,
and got it, while the intelligent amateur sidetracked us with
less-than-riveting information.
A brief digression: The raging controversy over the value
of learning magic from books versus videos is a waste of ink
and trees. It's like asking, "Which is better, a knife or a fork?"
Both are useful tools in delivering balanced nutrition, and your
intake of magic information ought to be similarly balanced
between books and videos. Videos show you the desired result,
books provide the details and rationale. End of digression.

Strong, Stronger, Strongest

The average magician knows hundreds, maybe thousands
of tricks.
Your audience, sorry to say, may not have time to see them
If you're booked to perform for a specified amount of
minutes, you've really got to cut back. So with limited time, it
makes no sense to display anything less than your ''N.' material.
Fortunately, there's an efficient way to decide which material
stays and which gets booted: watch your audience.
If you don't feel you can perform and observe at the same
time, ask a trusted friend to do it for you. Specifically, ask a
friend to pay more attention to the audience than to you, to
take mental or actual notes about which tricks garner strong
reactions, and which result in wandering eyes and whispered
Once you have a strong act, break in new material gingerly.
And rarely.
Keep only the killer routines and the funniest bits of


And please refrain from using "sucker" tricks. They've

become tiresome even to the casual magic fan and they are
rarely worth the feeling of resentment, however slight, that
they engender.
The same can be said for any trick where the magician
succeeds and the spectator doesn't; we like them more than the
public does. Which is why many performers who do Bank Night
routines now have figured out ways to reduce or eliminate the
sting of loss.

Props. Get Real!

The days of props that have no counterpart in real life-
props that exist solely for a magic act-are numbered. With
all the great tricks available to you, it's just dumb to use any
contrivance or prop that screams, "The trick happens here!"
Blaine uses no overtly magic props; Kreskin has, but rarely.
And even in Copperfield's mega-stage show, you see large
amounts of recognizable objects: motorcycles, giant "industrial"
fans, couches, exploding buildings, and lots of innocent-looking
Recognizable objects, whether for close-up or stage, will
always connect more effectively with an audience's psyche than
a three-sided screen "adorned with colorful Chinese characters."
Blow up your Botania, deep-six your Dove Pan, and trash
your Tear-Away Box!

Exposure: Indecent?
Some magicians, especially over the past few years, steer
away from choosing material that has been "exposed" on
television. From my perspective, yes, indiscriminate exposure
is a bad thing, and 13-year old "teachers" on YouTube and the
masked morons on television are very bad.
Mentalists, by the implied nature of their extraordinary
demonstrations, stand to suffer the most from television
exposures. But how many working performers, including


mentalists, have ever been truly, irreparably damaged by

exposure? Not Uri Geller (who's been "exposed" thousands of
times), not David Blaine, not Kreskin, not Marc Salem, and
certainly not Dunninger, even when his alleged methods were
published on cereal boxes.
Consider this: today, and every day, perhaps a hundred
performers will "expose" Slydini's "Paper Balls Over the Head."
The entire audience, with one notable exception, will see a
very clever method for making a wad of paper vanish, and this
rampant exposure has been going on for decades!
Yet, ten years from today, you can be certain that it will still
be a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.
So let's plug leaks when and where we can, but never lose
sight of the fact that it's the performer that makes the trick,
not the other way around. Choose your routines because they're
dynamite in your hands, and no one will give thought to the
clowns behind the masks.

Second that Emotion

Do you know why you vote for one political candidate over
another? Or why you choose a particular automobile? You want
to tell me you make your choices logically, but study after study
shows us that people make decisions emotionally, then justify
those decisions logically. The advertising industry is built
on that thesis. [And for further insight into this topic, I can
recommend the book Brand Seduction: How Neuroscience Can
Help Marketers Build Memorable Brands, written by Daryl
Weber-yes, my son.]
Emotions lubricate the gears of the entertainment
experience. Without emotions, you're doing a lecture. Whenever
possible, choose and develop routines that conjure emotions.
Boris Wild, the talented French magician, does an
elementary pick-a-card, here's-your-card trick that grows into
an emotional bit of theater. I won't give too much away except to
say that he employs lush music and a loving gaze into the eyes
of his female participant. The emotion of the moment, with its
hint of amorous involvement, lifts this presentation above the
prosaic and dry demonstrations we normally see with cards.


What can you do to inject emotion into your material?

Finding the hooks is not an easy task; you won't find them
in the directions for the tricks you buy. But think about what
sights and sounds affect you; chances are good that they might
affect others as well.
With thought and imagination, you can overlay an emotional
component upon many standard tricks. Is the key that moves in
your hand from the house where your aunt died mysteriously? Is
that confetti, or a reminiscence of the first time you saw snow?
You goose emotional reaction by using:
• Music
- A time when you were frightened
- Memories of a lost romance
- Happy or sad thoughts about pets
Sights or sounds of a personal nature (from your past or
from the generic past of people in the audience)

Audience Participation
Back when I made most of my income from performing on
the college circuit, I continually attended conferences of NACA,
the National Association of Campus Activities. Sometimes
I was chosen to appear as one of the "showcase" acts, and
sometimes not, but either way I made it a point to see many of
the other performers. The variety of immensely talented people
appearing on those shows repeatedly delighted and surprised
me. (The public has no clue about the vast number of unknown
but talented people out there in the show business universe.)
After years of seeing this parade of future stars I noticed that
few tactics pleased audiences more than getting them involved.
Audience participation. Done in almost any manner, it boosts
a show to a higher level. Comedians, jugglers, certainly many
music acts, and even mimes, creatively concocted methods to
turn spectators into participants.
You should too. Not hokey bits that make adults feel as
though they're at a kid show, but quality pieces of business that


get them feeling "we're all in this together." I'm not referring
here to situations that require one or more volunteers to join
you on stage, which, of course, are fine. Rather, I want you to
consider bits of business that involve people who remain seated,
and which, at best, engage the entire audience.
You'll be in good company. If you've ever caught a Rolling
Stones concert, you saw Mick Jagger, a man who knows a thing
or two about crowd control, flapping his head and scrawny arms
and leading thousands in a sing-along! You can't always get
them to do what you want, but if you try, sometimes they will.
Billy Joel never leaves out "Piano Man," and he always stops
playing while letting the whole audience sing acapella; same
with Paul McCartney and "Hey Jude."
Working as a hypnotist and mentalist, I made frequent use
of audience participation. They attempted to send or receive
thoughts en masse, or were "trained" to applaud the hypnotized
subjects on my cue. These tactics are powerful tools for pulling
every audience member into the world you create on stage.
That's why I suggest you look for those tricks and routines
that provide the opportunity to bring your show out to the
people looking at you. And even when you do use just a few
people from the audience, be sure to involve spectators from all
parts of the room.
Don't go overboard. Reserve audience participation for
special moments within your program.

Warning, Dangerous Tricks: Proceed

with Caution
I may well be in the minority, but I hate tricks that put
someone at risk. I find the idea of putting a volunteer's head in
a guillotine offensive, no matter how uproarious the gags. We
live in an imperfect world where surgeons, surrounded by other
healthcare professionals, remove the healthy kidney, a world
where the most brilliant engineers in the world can't design
a fail-safe space shuttle. Accidents happen. You just proved to
me that the blade slices asunder the head of cabbage. Now I'm
supposed to be amused that the poor fellow's neck is in danger?


Or is it no danger? What exactly am I supposed to think? Here's

what I think, and what is going through the minds of at least
some others in the audience: "Yeah, it's funny, but what if... ?"
Accidents happen.
And I feel only slightly less at ease about Russian Roulette-
type routines where it's the performer who's risking death or
serious injury while we watch. During the months I've been
writing this book I've learned of two performers severely injuring
their hands while attempting the "covered knife/spike" effect!
[And in the years since, there have been many more stabbing
accidents, including a couple where the spectators' hands were
Can you not find equally compelling material that places no
human in a dangerous situation?
You can if you try.

Four Case Studies

Case Study #1
Ripped & Restored
A while back I could not attend a magic convention in New
York, so I asked a friend to pick up something new and amazing
for me (I'm not immune to the "new and amazing" bug). He
returned with an excellent choice, a DVD of Yves Doumergue's
Ripped & Restored from Meir Yedid Magic.
The effect: a card is freely selected, signed, torn into
quarters, and then restored, one piece at time. At the end, the
card is handed out.
Obviously, I won't tip anything here. I will tell you that it
requires very little setup, the moves are not difficult, and it
fools everyone. In short, it's an outstanding piece of magic, and
if this plot appeals to you at all, you'd be foolish not to buy this
Now here's the reason I'm writing about this particular
routine: the "live performance" shown on the DVD was shot a


year or so earlier at a close-up session at a magic convention,

Magic on Manhattan. As I watched the "Performance" section
of the video, I suddenly realized I had been there, in that very
audience, watching as the video was shot! Yet the routine, done
live for me just a few yards (meters!) from my face, had left me
cold, unmoved, and uncaring.
At the time, this book was not yet conceived, so I was truly
just another spectator. Certainly, I had no idea how the card
healed itself, but I didn't care. In the way it was presented, it
was a puzzle, and solving the puzzle offered me no reward. Why
should I tax my brain?
The performance in many ways was typical of how tricks
such as this are presented, and so it becomes useful to break it
down into its component moments for closer analysis:
1. Yves had a man in the second row, just off the center
aisle, select a card.
2. The man remained seated, and since I was seated three
rows back, I immediately lost contact with the action.
The still-seated man was asked to sign the card, and,
during the approximately twelve-second signing process,
Yves just stood center stage, quietly waiting. (During
which time I was probably thinking, "Where am I going
for dinner?")
3. The card was returned to Yves, and he tore it into quarters.
Hands moved, covering the card for a split second now
and then, pieces restored, more hand movements, and
the card became fully restored. All accompanied by a
line of patter that basically told us what we were seeing.
It lacked drama; it lacked theatrical focus; it lacked any
emotional involvement. The patter added nothing interesting to
the effect.
Yet once I watched the DVD explanation, I remembered that
the method, the handling, the subtleties, and the routining of
this effect border on brilliant. So without doubt, this has the
potential to be an extremely strong piece of magic. (David
Copperfield tore and restored a rare baseball trading card on
one of his television specials; it was packed with emotional


Every piece of magic we perform is a playlet, a little piece

of theater. Accordingly, we have to consider exactly what we
are trying to communicate with our words or actions: Drama?
Farce? Comedy? Tragedy? Spectacle? A playlet must have a
climax, and for us that's easy: it's the moment of the magic.
But it also needs more: an interesting exposition leading to
the climax. The script for Yves' playlet said to me: something
interesting will happen, but you'll just have to sit quietly, pay
close attention to what I'm doing, and you'll be rewarded with a
surprise at the end.
That's not enough!

Case Study #2
A version of a Larry Jennings "Jacks Sandwich" effect,
demonstrated by the late Daryl Easton, a beloved and renowned
close-up magician.
This is another clip I first viewed on the L&L website and
it's a perfect example of magic for magicians. It's executed
beautifully and as cleanly as this method allows. Yet for me,
a few points would be deducted from the "artistic merit" score.
The effect: the two one-eyed Jacks are removed from the
deck. A card is selected and returned to the pack, which is then
shuffled. Daryl holds the two jacks in one hand while the other
hand holds the pack. As the cards from the pack are allowed
to dribble from his hand to the table, Daryl stabs the Jacks
into the falling cards, separates them, and shows the face-down
selected card sandwiched between the face-up Jacks.
Let's go over it, moment by moment.
He ribbon spreads the cards on the table.
"Would you do me a small favor? Take any card from the
pack ... "
"Would you do me a small favor?" in the middle of a formal
routine is an overly and falsely friendly phrasing that has an
undertone of condescension.
"Please place it back into the deck ... That's a great spot."
What's great about an adult putting a card on top of the
half-deck in Daryl's hand?


"Now I'll shuffle the cards so even I don't know where it is ... "
OK, now assuming this is not the first trick of the day, (and
assuming this wasn't meant as a joke-it didn't come across
that way) it's been established that Daryl knows his way around
a deck of cards. The card is returned where Daryl says it should
be placed: on top of the cards in his extended hand. "Now I'll
shuffle the cards so even I don't know where it is ..." How many
intelligent onlookers will swallow that? Fifty percent? Eighty
percent? Maybe twenty percent? It's guaranteed not to be as
high as we might prefer.
"What was your card? The Three of Clubs? Ladies and
gentlemen, the Three of Clubs!"
Again, this is a good trick, and Daryl was one of our finest
But in the vast universe of trickdom, why choose a routine
that requires you to handle the cards in this manner? Many
sophisticated onlookers will place this, on my Hierarchy of
Mystery Entertainment, between Puzzle and Trick. They won't
know what's going on, but they will know that Daryl handles
the cards differently than they would if they tried to recreate
the same plot. They won't know how he got the selected card
between the Jacks, and they may not even care, because
clearly he does something, ever so slightly (sleightly?) out of the
ordinary when the selected card is returned to the cards in his
If your goal is to entertain with magic, not with dexterity
or flourishes or juggling, stick to the cleanest, strongest effects.

Case Study #3
A Dull Trick Steps Up.
Here's a trick that breaks some of my rules. It's a
borrowed-deck trick (good) with lots of procedure (not
good). But it has redeeming qualities that merit attention
The instant download of Where It Has To Go by Rick Lax was
released by Penguin Magic in the summer of 2018. (The promo
trailer does not show the full routine.) Had I read its description
in a book I would have turned the page and never thought about


it again. However, Rick performed it for me and small group of

pro magicians at a party a few weeks prior to the release and it
badly fooled-in an entertaining way-all of us.
On the video download Rick fully explains the steps to make
the trick work. Then, when you think he's done, he comes back
to tell you about a subtlety to make it better. Then he adds
another, and another. And it is the totality of those little twists
to a barebones plot that lift the trick to a higher realm.
Clearly, he and his team shepherded this routine from its
early stages through to what I saw at the party, polishing it
again and again. They thought deeply about every step; what
could go wrong, what could be improved, and importantly, how
to boost the magic and entertainment content of what easily
could be a very dry trick.
It was a stark reminder:
Developing the mechanics of a trick is only the first step!
The mastery of the "how" must be followed by understanding
and conquering the "why" of a trick. Why should your audience
care, why are you doing this and not that, why are you not
getting the response you expected?
We learn from the explanation video that Rick worked
with several other magicians to hone this rather simple effect
to achieve maximum impact. Clearly, collaborating during the
early stages, with folks you trust, is a desirable habit.
And extra recognition to Rick for his acknowledging those
who helped him on this particular routine, along with credit
for the thinking behind the trick. That was done at the end of
the video. And surprisingly, for me at least, even on the website
following the "sales pitch'' for the trick, it says ...
Special Thanks and Credit to:
-Justin Flom, Andrei Jikh, Tyas Frantz, Kyle & Mistie
Knight, Ed Marlo, John Bannon.
-Ed Marlo Automatic Placement, Faro Notes (1958)
-John Bannon, "The Thirty-Second Sense", Destination
Zero (2015)
We need more of that kind of unambiguous crediting in


Case Study #4
A Beginner Learns a Classic and Teaches a Lesson.
Kathy Daly [still] serves as the vice president of my wealth
management firm, Weber Asset Management. She's a woman
with a hair-trigger sense of humor and, after working for me
"too damn long," a casual interest in magic. A few years back,
prior to our December holiday office party, she asked me to
teach her a trick to perform for our colleagues and their spouses.
I chose the Invisible Deck (it's sold in malls across America,
so don't harangue me for "exposing" a classic). Between the
dry-aged steaks and the cheesecake, she performed the trick,
including all the hackneyed "invisible deck" gags, to a good
reaction, and per the normal script when something amazing
occurs, one of our group urged her to "Do that again!" Now, in
mentoring her, my first and only magic student, I neglected to
stress the dictum that my inner twelve-year-old magician now
silently bellowed: Never Repeat a Trick! So in her innocence
she completely disregarded centuries of conjuring dogma and
she blithely complied. I was appalled, but the train had left
the station. She dispensed with the "invisible" deck shtick and
simply put the cards below the table, requested that a card be
named, and showed that, yes, that card now was reversed in
the deck.
Whoa! The response was stronger than the first time. So
naturally, yet another of my loyal staff demanded, "Let me
name a card!"
"No, No!" I called out over the din of the restaurant. But
there was no stopping her now. She was feeling that which turns
us on about magic: she was the center of attention, receiving
accolades for accomplishing something unfathomable, and she
liked the feeling.
And so, for a third (and final) time, she performed the effect,
now stripped down to its absolute minimalist presentation, and
the reaction, rather than diminishing, grew.
Why? Because the trick is pure. Name a card. Look,
that card is the one card I turned face-down in the deck. No
handling, no suspicious moves. Everything Kathy did was
exactly-exactly-what she would do if she were to demonstrate


this phenomenon for real. Her casual behavior with the cards
blocked any suspicion about the deck. No one said, "Let me see
those cards!"
* * *
There are a gazillion tricks out there. Ninety percent are
crap. That still leaves-what's a gazillion divided by ten?-a
supertanker full of direct, powerful tricks. Go find them, and
banish everything else.
In the financial world, as Kathy Daly can tell you, investors
frequently want to hold onto a downtrodden stock until it gets
back to the level they paid for it. But that stock has no memory,
nor any emotional attachment to the investor. If it's worth
$10,000 today, that's it. Where, the investor must ask, is the best
place for that ten grand going forward from today? Likewise,
the magician must be cold-hearted about his material. Don't
marry your stocks, and don't foolishly fall in love with a trick.
The investment in a stock or a trick either pays off or it doesn't.
Don't allow your emotions to get in the way of clear-headed
decisions about what's best for you.

Start Naked
My thinking about developing new material has evolved over
the past few years. Let's assume you want to present a trick you
bought or that you saw in a book or video. I now recommend that
you do a stripped down version, one that is exactly, or almost
exactly as performed by the developer of the trick.
Here's the rationale. And as usual, it's based on having
critically watched hundreds of performers.
Every trick, even the "easy to master" tricks, require specific
steps, strategies, moves, words, etc. For the magic to happen
you have to be certain that all the stuff is done correctly. We've
all had tricks fail, especially in the early days. That's why you
need all your attention focused on the mechanics of the trick.
The cute/funny/dramatic playlet you write for the routine
undoubtedly sounds brilliant inside your head. And it may be,
so to ensure you don't forget your brilliant thoughts, write them


But accept that it might fall flat. If that happens, was it the
trick that sucked, or the presentation? If you combined the two,
you won't know.
The biggest step any of us takes, in anything, is from zero
to one. That step from thinking to doing is everything-and
everything after the big leap is incremental. That's why I urge
you to set your clever presentation aside for the first three,
or ten, or twenty times you perform a new routine. Let the
mechanics of the trick solidify in your head and hands. Allow
the movements and words to be shaped by the reactions of your
At some point you will feel completely at ease with the basic
presentation-and it might be a short time-that's the time
when you can start to adorn the routine with your personal
style and cleverness.
On a related note ...

Art for Art's Sake?

At MagiFest 2018, Ben Seidman stopped me in the corridor
to ask my opinion about a question a young magician had asked
him. The teen wanted to know how to add "art" to his card trick.
Tough question. And the basic answer is-See above: Start
You are a magician. You know how to do magic tricks. When
you consciously attempt to overlay "art" onto the trick, you turn
yourself into a playwright, a dramatist.
It's an admirable ambition. But do you have that very
different, and difficult, skill set? Are you truly a reasonably
good playwright, or a good creative writer?
You may be, but why force the issue? Instead, present the
best barebones version of the trick you can muster and then
let any storyline or bits of business, artsy or fartsy, develop
organically over time.
The desire for ''Art" in your act is a worthy goal, but definitely
not required for maximum entertainment.


To illustrate this point; Matthew Furman is virtually

unknown within the magic community, but he's one of the most
commercially successful close-up magicians in the New York
City area. I know his work because he's been hired several
times by my friends and relatives, with no input from me. When
I first saw him out in the real world I was taken aback by his
minimalist work (no jokes, no "patter" or stories). He just does
strong magic, non-stop, and he doesn't even get much applause.
But they love him. Yet few knowledgeable magicians would see
Art in his work.
So you can have Art (however you define it), you can have
entertainment, or both. Neither is required to achieve the other.
Regardless, if you do the strongest version of any trick, the
Art is in the magic itself-the Art of Magic.

Flight Time
All the dogged practice in your home can never substitute
for actual performing in front of a real audience.
So, get out there! Offer free shows. Work on your new
material at senior citizen centers, libraries, charities, open mic
nights, or anywhere you can stand in front of live people. My
pal, magician/comedian Harrison Greenbaum, does more than
600 shows a year; some are free, some are only ten minutes,
but, as he points out in his lecture, he uses every show as an
opportunity to hone the act. His doggedness, I can attest, has
paid off. And my good friend Eric Dittelman created his own
show Amazeballs in a dump of a venue just to get new material
up on its feet in front of real audiences.
Jerry Seinfeld told the New York Times (10/27/18), "Real
comedians want to go on every single night."
Is that how you feel about your magic? If not, why not? If
you don't want to be in front of an audience as much as possible,
please rethink your career decisions.


Colin and the Cloud

Mentalist Colin Cloud (McLeod), as I write this, has been
touring the world, off and on, with The Illusionists for more than
four years. During that time, because he has to and because
he wants to, he's developed new material (he's a brilliant
innovator), but unlike the rest of us he often is testing new stuff
in front of 1,500 people! Wisely, he's developed a support system
to help the process.
Specifically, he records his shows and then he uploads the
videos to a private YouTube channel. The private link to that
channel is then shared with the very small group of people he
trusts to give him reliable, detailed, and honest feedback.
This clever technique was not possible in the past. Now it
is, and you should develop your own mini-network of trusted
advisors, people who may be anywhere in the world.
And speaking of The Illusionists-I saw (and enjoyed) the
show on Broadway twice in one week. Despite the same stars,
the same theater, the same music and lights, some parts played
stronger, and some weaker in the two iterations. Which serves
as a great reminder that when developing your act, don't be
overly dejected if a new routine or line doesn't immediately land
with the impact you expected. Unlike The Illusionists, most
likely you'll be performing in a different venue, with a very
different audience each time. Meaning, that new bit might kill
the next ten times you do it.
If you have faith in what you developed, nurture it and give
it a bit of time to hatch.

Look Homeward
Every year, new magic-in the form of tricks, books, and
videos-comes hurtling at us at an increasing speed.
Is that good or bad?
Answer: it's not good. To sum up this chapter on Choosing
Material: stop!


Stop your treasure hunt (or is it a scavenger hunt?) for

your Killer Effect. Whether you bought this book or borrowed
it, it's a good bet you're not a beginner in magic. Slow down.
Breathe. Focus. If you've been into the mystery arts for even
just a few years, your home undoubtedly holds enough books,
lecture notes, tricks, and videos to provide a lifetime of fruitful
study. You don't need to choose new material from the dealers;
you need to rediscover the material that at some point in the
past delighted and excited you, and compelled you to make the
The time you devote to thinking about, and then buying,
a new trick is time you are neglecting something you already
own. The rush to accumulate new holds back the perfecting of
Better to rediscover all the good ideas you have encountered
during your travels through the magic world, and which have
found a place in the notebook you keep for this purpose.
You do keep a notebook (paper or electronic), don't you?

A Personal Entertainment Highlight:

Del Ray
at the Card Table
As with so many in our field, I tend to know of those
compatriots who publish or invent, and little of those full-
time performers who are out on the road earning a nice living.
Somehow, the name Del Ray had escaped my attention, other
than being a Florida town, (Delray Beach) up the road from
Boca Raton.
That changed years ago when I performed inside a tent at an
outdoor fair put on for the employees of a major pharmaceutical
company. After my stage show, I was told that there were
fortune-tellers and a magician in another tent, and so I ambled
There I saw a quiet, slightly stooped, older man holding
forth at a large wooden table. At first he seemed to be just
another card magician, but what I didn't realize was that I had
wandered into the middle of a non-stop four-hour set. Yes, he
used cards, but he was doing card tricks I had never seen before.
A mechanical bird and other small toy animals appeared and
moved around; they were finding selected cards and I quickly
realized I had no idea how any of this was happening! Groups
of people came over, thoroughly enjoyed his presentations, and
then moved on (many attractions were vying for their attention),
but I stayed for at least an hour, and don't recall seeing any
trick repeated.
All the tricks were done with a playful, understated style
that charmed every onlooker, none more so than me. I introduced
myself during a rare quiet moment, and he was pleasant, but
the flow of new, ready-to-be-floored spectators never ceased, so
I had no opportunity to converse in depth. If he took a break, I
never saw it. He seemed to gather in new energy and enthusiasm
from each new group, and he never showed the slightest sign
of faltering. It was a remarkable display of showmanship, deft
technical skills, stamina, and the pure joy of performing.


In the years since that day, I learned that, among large

segments of the close-up magic community, Del Ray is a legend,
and that afternoon made it clear to me why.
[Del died not long after this book was originally published.
I'm fortunate have seen him work in the real world.]

Section IV

"One who enacts (a feat or role)
before an audience; gives a
public presentation."


Chapter 7

Your Appearance
Dress for Success
Whatever style you choose to express, spend some bucks to
look good.
Take your cue from Hollywood. Stars look good-even when
they shouldn't. In the Hollywood blockbuster film, Romancing
the Stone, Michael Douglas and Katherine Turner trek across
the desert with hair perfectly coiffed. If you give it a moment's
thought, it's incredibly silly, but the public likes seeing people
who look better than we do in real life.
You are a star when you take the stage. Show me that you
respect me (unless you're a rock star-then show me that you
don't give a damn about what I think).
Dress appropriately for the occasion. Tuxedos, so common
among magicians in the past, now shout "cheesy lounge act"
in all but those few occasions where all the other men are
similarly attired in penguin-wear. The old rule stands: be the
best-dressed person in the room, but don't be overdressed.
Successful corporate magician Bill Malone understands
this. According to the October 2002 issue of MAGIC magazine:
"One day," says Bill, "I looked around and saw what these
people were driving, the way they were dressed, what kind
of jewelry they wore, and I realized right away that it was
all kind of a game. If I wanted to play, too, I had to look like
they do, so I immediately bought new clothes and stuff One
of the things I needed to fit in was a Rolex, but I didn't have
the money for it. So I started giving magic lessons, and I
kept giving them until I saved enough to buy one. It was all
part of the game."
I agree totally, except about the Rolex. Thanks to my entry
into the investment world, I get to pal around with some pretty
powerful folks from time to time, and Rolexes, believe it or not,
no longer carry the quite the cachet they once did. Just be sure
that, whatever timepiece you wear, it sends the message you

And if you have to give magic lessons to upgrade your

wardrobe, start advertising.
This rule applies regardless of the venues you work. Even if
you feel appropriately dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, make sure
your T-shirt and jeans are the most upscale ones in the room.

Hands and Nails

A discussion on a magic site discussed the poor appearance
of a well-known performer on an instructional video:
"I was amazed and SHOCKED to see how chewed-up/
infected/ bruised (the magician's) fingers were. When they
came in for the close-ups on the explanations, each hand
had at least 2 or more fingers that really looked awful. And
this from a guy who works for big bucks doing close-up."
That's sad-and sadly, not uncommon. Stage performers
should have decent-looking hands and fingernails, and close-
up performers must have hands that don't call attention to
Look at your hands. Do you see anything that looks bad?
If you do, remedy the situation. And if you do work close-up,
and especially if you work for the big bucks, be aware that it's
become somewhat common to see men getting manicures. It
could be a good investment.

Dull, scuffed shoes can be seen, and will be noted, by more
people than you may realize. I have seen performers in tuxedos
walk out with scuffed street shoes. That tells the audience,
"This is someone who doesn't do the big gigs."
Women especially tend to notice shoes. (Sorry for the overtly
sexist comment, but women typically tend to be more fashion
conscious than men.)
Spend a little extra for top-quality, comfortable shoes that
are in style now. And keep them clean and polished.


If possible, don't wear them. If laser corrective surgery
isn't practical or doesn't appeal to you, consider getting contact
lenses, at least for your shows if not for full-time use. (When
I performed full-time I wore one-day disposable contacts, a
major breakthrough in convenience for the traveling performer,
because you have nothing to carry except the lenses.) Your eyes
communicate with the audience, and glasses block or reduce the
twinkle in your gaze.
If you must wear glasses:
Get the most stylish frames you can afford. And
remember, styles change every few years.
Pay the premium for the thinnest, lightest, most scratch-
resistant lenses available. Cheap lenses look cheap; you
don't want that.
• An absolute rule for glasses-get non-reflective
coatings on your lenses. During one of my lectures for
the PEA, I literally received gasps from the onlookers
when I switched back and forth between glasses with
and without the glare-blocking feature. The difference
cannot be appreciated until seen, well, eye-to-eye.
Clean your glasses just before your show.
If your glasses slip down your nose, there are two ways
to push them back up. You can either use your forefinger
applied to the center of the bridge, which looks dorky,
or you can use two fingers on the side to lift and push,
which looks better. Better still, get your specs adjusted
so they don't slip. (If you push your glasses up, please
don't use your middle finger ... unless you are trying to
make a specific point.)
All that being said, glasses can also be an artistic choice
or could be part of your brand. Just be sure that's a conscious


Yes, I know, this seems hopelessly outdated. I don't care.
Carry a clean cotton handkerchief in your back pocket every
time you go onstage.
Three reasons:
• In your entire career, you may never sneeze on stage,
but if you do, whipping out a handkerchief looks much
classier than using your sleeve.
• You handle props, and props can chip or splinter and
make you bleed. Again, a handkerchief beats your
clothing for sopping up body fluids.
• Most importantly, as the old commercial used to say,
"Never let them see you sweat."
And you will sweat. You sweat because you're nervous,
because you're moving around, and because you're under lights.
Stage lights bake performers (fast-food restaurants keep their
McGlops warm under lights that look suspiciously similar to
stage lights). Use your handy 100% cotton handkerchief to pat
yourself dry. It's not a pleasant topic, but I would rather see a
performer use the hanky than drip perspiration on the stage,
his props, or (yuck) his volunteers.
Lastly, never blow your nose into a handkerchief, not
onstage or off! It's completely unsanitary. Use tissues, and only
in private. No one wants to see or hear that.

Your Jacket
Button your jacket before you walk out. Check that your
lapels are straight and that the pocket flaps are tucked in.
You can open your jacket later in the show, but start out
looking your best. A suit jacket, and especially a double-breasted
jacket (which goes in and out of style), flopping around when
you walk to the center of the stage signals "I'm not all that
concerned about being here."


Your Shirt
(The following applies strictly to male magicians. I certainly
am not qualified to offer fashion tips to females, magical or
otherwise.) Aside from reminding you to wear a clean, pressed,
in-style shirt that goes with the rest of your outfit, there's only
one thing to know about shirts:
Never wear a short-sleeved shirt with a jacket! It is
acceptable to wear a short-sleeve dress shirt with a jacket only
if you are a NASA engineer, a high school math teacher, or a
member of those few other professions for whom the description
"nerd" is taken as a compliment.
If it's unbearably hot, take your jacket off after you begin. If
the room is warm, the audience will forgive you.
And if you are over 40 and thinking about going on with an
untucked shirt, don't.


Chapter 8

Your Voice
"My formula for success? Rise early, work late, strike oil."
J. Paul Getty
Yes, J.P., luck plays a considerable role in the success of a
performer. For just one example, where your Mum happened to
pop you out and grow you up makes a difference, because you
will sound like your neighbors. That may be fortuitous, or it
may be unfortunate. Some of us have naturally pleasing voices,
some don't.
An off-putting accent, a whiny voice, a too-slow or too-
fast speech pattern: all present obstacles that must first be
recognized and then modified. Careful analysis of your videoed
presentation is, again, the first step.

My Favorite Voice Trick

Here's an exercise to illustrate a supremely practical and
important technique I learned back in my speech-major days.
We'll use words that appeared in John Northern Hilliard's
classic book, Greater Magic. Below you'll see a lightly-edited
version of a script for the trick "The Problem of the Three
Coins," which, as Hilliard writes, is "exactly as presented by
the well-known mentalist 'Mahendra,' who in private life is Mr.
Frank B. Sterling."
Read the following paragraph (don't be concerned with the
content or grammar; this is apparently what played well in the
1930s and '40s). Then read it again, out loud. Make an effort
to hear yourself as you speak and try to remember what you
Being a mentalist, you expect me to read your minds. Of
course, I make no pretension to supernatural power and I do
not claim actually to read your mind UNLESS I can get your
mind thinking along the lines I wish. In other words, I must
make your mind susceptible to my own mental impulses.
For example, ask me to tell you what you are thinking of at
this moment and I cannot tell you. No person can do that.


Anyone who tells you he can read your mind, under such
circumstances, is a fraud. I do not say it never will be done.
BUT, if you think along certain lines it is true that I may
be able to reveal your thoughts. To do this, I shall use what
psychologists call the principle of associated thought ideas.
Perhaps the simplest form of the experiment is with money.
People have no trouble in associating ideas with money.
Finished reading? (You took the lazy way out and didn't
really read it a second time, aloud, did you? See that? I am a
mentalist!) Whether you truly read the lines out loud or just to
yourself, chances are you paused at the commas and periods,
just as you were taught to do in elementary school. That's fine
for everyday life, but not so fine for the entertainer. Our goal is
to stand apart from the ordinary, and to be more interesting
than the average Joe. You increase your audience's interest in
your spoken words by using that great tip I picked up in college:
Ignore Punctuation!
Ignoring most of the punctuation provides two benefits:
first, it makes you sound more natural, more conversational. No
human converses with friends in perfectly punctuated sentences
and paragraphs. Your spectators are your friends-or will soon
become your friends, we hope. If you speak the way you were
taught to read aloud, you will not sound natural; you will sound
as though you are reading.
Second, by inserting unexpected pauses, you break the
normal patterns people expect, and that simple ruse makes
you more interesting. Predictability is poison! Predictability in
anything we do becomes boring. As entertainers, we seek to
continually surprise our viewers, in ways big and small, and
changing expected speech patterns is one small way to help
maintain interest.
I don't know whether they do it consciously or not, but I can
tell you that all leading news broadcasters ignore punctuation
as they recite the words they read off the teleprompter. Not with
every sentence, but most. Prove it to yourself by listening to
them and picturing the written sentences as they speak. And
certainly, actors learn to speak in a manner that sounds like
real-life speech.


Now let's get to the type of exercise I was taught when I was
a speech/drama major in college. Below you will find the same
patter, but this time presented with a different speech pattern,
brought about by ignoring much of the written punctuation.
Some points to keep in mind as you read it:
These may not be the pauses that fit your style. They
work for me, but only trial and error will produce the
correct comfort level for you ..
• You may find it difficult to say these lines as you see
them here. That's to be expected. It takes some work.
It's called rehearsal. You will not feel comfortable doing
it at first (if you prefer, think of this exercise as learning
a new sleight!).
• Many of the pauses, as indicated by the line breaks, will
be quick, almost imperceptible, perhaps accompanied by
a tilt of the head, a raised brow, a hand gesture, or an
• And remember, this is only a learning exercise to help
you break lifelong patterns. These are not your words;
they are someone else's words for a routine you will
probably never perform. Forget about the actual words;
just go with the flow of it, and have fun with it.
After you read through it once or twice, proceed to the next
section where you will learn the next, equally important step in
this technique.
Being a mentalist, you expect me to
read your minds.
Of course, I make no pretension
to supernatural power
and I do not claim actually to read your mind
UNLESS I can get your mind thinking
along the lines I wish. In other words,
I must make your mind susceptible to my own
mental impulses. For example,
ask me to tell you what you are thinking of


at this moment and

I cannot tell you. No person can do that.
Anyone who tells you
he can read your mind, under such circumstances,
is a fraud.
I do not say it never will be done.
BUT, if you think along certain lines
it is true that I
may be able to reveal your thoughts. To do this,
I shall use what psychologists call
the principle of associated
Perhaps the simplest form of the experiment is with
People have no trouble in associating ideas with
After you've decided where your pauses will be, your next
step is to decide where you are going to vocally add emphasis.
Don't do this in your head; mark the relevant places on your
script. Take out a pencil and underline what you think are the
key words. Then read it aloud, after which you will undoubtedly
make changes.
Do not skip this vital step. By consciously calling your
attention to specific words in your script, you reduce the need to
think about "showmanship" later on. The underlines, you will
find, do the thinking for you.
Being a mentalist, you expect me to
read your minds.
Of course, I make no pretension
to supernatural power
and I do not claim actually to read your mind
UNLESS I can get your mind thinking


along the lines I wish. In other words,

I must make your mind susceptible to my own
mental impulses. For example,
ask me to tell you what you are thinking of
at this moment and
I cannot tell you. No person can do that.
Anyone who tells you
he can read your mind, under such circumstances,
is a fraud.
I do not say it never will be done.
BUT, if you think along certain lines
it is true that I
may be able to reveal your thoughts. To do this,
I shall use what psychologists call
the principle of associated
Perhaps the simplest form of the experiment is with
People have no trouble in associating ideas with
Finally, you put it all down in a condensed format, using
slashes (/) or ellipses (...) to indicate your own personalized
Being a mentalist, you expect me to ... read your minds ... Of
course, I make no pretension ... to supernatural power... and
I do not claim actually to read your mind ... UNLESS I can
get your mind thinking... along the lines I wish ... In other
words .. .I must make your mind susceptible to ... my own ...
mental impulses ... For example, ... ask me to tell you what you
are thinking of. .. at this moment and .. .I cannot tell you ... No
person can do that ... Anyone who tells you ... he can read your
mind, under such circumstances ... is a fraud .. .I do not say it


never will be done ... BUT. .. if you think along certain lines ...
it is true that I...may be able to reveal your thoughts To do
this .. .I shall use what psychologists call the ...principle ... of
associated ... thought ... ideas ... Perhaps the simplest form of
the experiment is with ... money.... People have no trouble in
associating ideas with ... money.
Again, this is a learning exercise, one which is difficult to
translate onto paper, and it probably did not feel comfortable for
you. (I don't remember specifically, but I imagine it felt equally
strange to me when I was taught this technique back at Hofstra
University.) It will feel much more comfortable when the words
are your own. What I can tell you with certainty is that this
works for me, powerfully.

Change the Em-pha-sis to a

Different Syl-la-ble
Closely aligned with the above exercise, Ignore Punctuation
is Change the Emphasis.
This is the technique I use to keep myself sounding
fresh and in the moment. Some sections of my show contain
words I have said, in exactly the same order, hundreds of
times. Consciously varying the placement of the pauses and,
particularly, of the emphasized words, forces me to stay alert.
I don't lapse into a mental sluggishness, a common malady of
successful performers who say the same thing night after night
after night.
To demonstrate, we'll use a chunk of patter from Chuck
Hickok's eminently practical book, Mentalism, Incorporated.
These are his opening lines (if ever words are subject to the
dreariness of repetition, it's our opening lines). Below you will
see three versions of these two short sentences, each with the
emphasis placed in different spots. In all three cases, you "say"
the same thing, yet each delivers a slightly different message
to the listeners.
I'm delighted to be here today and have the opportunity to
talk about and demonstrate some untapped powers of the
human mind. My interest in the untapped powers of the

YouR VoicE

mind can be traced back to something that happened to me

on the day of my tenth birthday.
I'm delighted to be here today and have the opportunity to
talk about and demonstrate some untapped powers of the
human mind. My interest in the untm;rped powers of the
mind can be traced back to something that happened to me
on the day of my tenth birthday.
I'm delighted to be here today and have the opportunity to
talk about and demonstrate some untapped powers of the
human mind. My interest in the untapped powers of the
mind can be traced back to something that happened to me
on the day of my tenth birthday.
If you don't perform on a regular basis you may not appreciate
the importance of this technique. But for those who sometimes
feel they must grind out "another" show, this skill is invaluable
for keeping your presentation garden-fresh.

Talk in Color, Not Black and White

When you view your video of yourself, what do you hear? Is
your voice as flat as the road from Enid, Oklahoma, to Paris,
Texas? Or do your listeners get to enjoy some interesting verbal
scenery, with undulating twists and dips?
If you speak anytime during your performance, your voice
must be considered with at least as much gravitas as any
move, feint, or prop. Fortunately, you don't need to purchase
an expensive book of secrets from a magic shop to learn how
to turn your voice into the effective communication tool it must
become. Help surrounds you. Just start listening analytically
to professional speakers.
One of the best sources for inspiration was the HBO TV
show, Def Poetry. If you think poetry is a singsong recitation
of rhyming lines or dry, dense phrases filled with obscure
references, you've never seen this powerful show. The mostly
young poets spew rage and humor, sarcasm and sensuality,
history and contemporary issues with rarely matched passion
and vocal intensity.


Using only their voices and, to a lesser degree, their

bodies, they communicate an astounding range of emotion
and personal, bottom-of-my-soul information. Watch them and
learn the power of the spoken word. [As an alternative source
of inspiration, search for poetry slam videos.]
Though you may never approach the oral fervor of the Def
poets (I actually cannot imagine any magician or mentalist
sounding like them but, then, I never could have imagined a
David Blaine), still your goal is to vary your:
• tone
• volume
An entertainer's voice needs color. Watching old-fashioned
black-and-white television broadcasts was fine until color came
along and we realized that was (usually) better. A college
lecturer's voice needs merely to deliver information: the black-
and-white picture. You are a delivery system for full rainbow-
spectrum emotion.
As you view your video, look for opportunities where you
can inject your warmth, turn up the vocal intensity, pause for
emphasis, lower the volume for dramatic effect, or otherwise
use your voice to raise the impact level of your effects.
And for my younger readers, please avoid the Valley Girl
syndrome that has infected so much of a generation-the
rising inflection at the end of a sentence. Because that's, like,
ineffective? And, you know, not a persuasive way of, like,

Ya Gotta Get do Woids Right

You talk with an accent. Everyone does. You may sound
"normal" to your friends and neighbors, but travel to a
different part of the country, or another country, and folks will
know you're not from there. In most cases that's fine, but not
always. As a New Yorker, I had to make a concerted effort to
talk slower when I performed in the southern parts of the U.S.


Fortunately I had friends down south who told me (more than

once!) that I needed to slow down to be understood.
Bigger problems, however, tend to occur when a performer
appears in a different country, even one whose natives speak his
or her language. Not only is the accent different, many words
are, as well.
When, for example, a Brit appears in the States, they need
to be cognizant of words and phrases that should have been
confiscated at Customs. There will be puzzled looks when she
mentions the interval (intermission) or the stalls (orchestra
seats) or any of hundreds of other words or phrases. The same
caution, obviously, applies in reverse.
And accents can have unintended consequences. In New
York I saw a U.K. performer repeatedly ask a woman on stage
to be in touch with her memories. It was a wonderful mentalism
routine, expect that to this Yank's ears (and to others, I'm sure)
it sounded as though he was talking about her mammaries.
Which would lead to a completely different show.
Also, just as some American accents sound harsh or
uncultured to others, so too do certain British accents. If you
count "one, two, free," or you ask your spectator to "fink" of a
number, you send a message to your audience about yourself.
You may be fine with that message, but generally, if you know
you have a strong regional accent, you just might be holding
yourself back. Every major city has voice coaches to help you
lessen your distinctive accent, and as one who studied voice and
accents in college, I can tell you it's not terribly difficult.
Then too, there are the cultural differences. Another well-
known European performer asked the American on stage to
separate two objects on the table "by about 30 centimeters."
Confused, the nice woman put a yard between the items. Half
the audience laughed, half were equally clueless. (Americans
are metrically challenged.)
The solution is to rely on a trusted native friend who can
either sit in the audience taking notes about linguistic missteps
or can do the same watching a video of your show.
Most of all, magicians who perform in their second (or third)
language should seek assistance from natives.


Hear the Voices

Finally, open yourself up to inspiration. It's everywhere,
freely available and close at hand. At your local library, haunt
the audiobooks section and learn why authors like Stephen
King and John Grisham demand that certain voice talent be
featured when their books are turned into performances.
Check out the work of readers such as Michael Beck, who's
read more than a dozen of John Grisham's novels for the audio-
book trade, and Frank Muller, who's done the same for Stephen
King. While you're listening, ask yourself what makes these
readers so successful, their work so compelling, with nothing
more than an author's words and their voices? Once you begin
doing this, you'll be well on your way to taking your voice
[Special thanks, by the way, to the talented magician
and mentalist Kent Axell, who voiced the audio version of
the original Maximum Entertainment for Vanishing Inc. I'm
pleased to report that he received universal praise for his work.]

Chapter 9

Language Skills
Hackneyed: being worn out by overuse so as to become dull
and meaningless.
Do you want your words to be dull and meaningless? Then
stop saying what other magicians say.
You are a writer. Even if you ignore the advice in the chapter
on Scripting and even if you never commit your words to paper
or computer screen, as long as you speak to your audience with
pre-planned words, you are a writer.
Writing is mind-to-mind communication. You, the enter-
tainer, send your thoughts out through your mouth, whereas
the novelist types them for readers to read. In both cases,
entertainer and writer, one mind seeks to connect with another.
The professional writer knows that every word counts.
Excess words allow minds to wander. The professional writer
crafts his words, and then an editor refines and polishes.
Entertainers rarely have a director, let alone the luxury of an
Writing is easy; good writing is hard. I know that to be true
from tortured experience. For ten years I wrote an investment
newsletter, Weber's Fund Advisor, and I received laudatory
letters saying my publication was one of the better-written
financial services. If that was true, it was more a reflection of
the sad state of financial newsletters than on any literary skills
I possessed. I always felt that whatever meager writing talent
I exhibited stemmed from my being a good reader, and I kept
rewriting my eight-page newsletter (which contained mostly
charts and graphs) until what I read no longer embarrassed me.
As entertainers, we must write clearly. Before anything else
can happen, our audience must know what we mean. That's
why you must relentlessly drive yourself to fashion your words
with precision.


Words and Phrases We Can Do Without

Every word you utter can affect your audience, so you must
strive to eliminate words that add nothing-or worse, confuse
or in any way detract from your targeted reactions. Hackneyed
words tarnish your aura.
Please read this section carefully. If you do magic and you
talk, you almost certainly say some of these hackneyed phrases.
Here are some of the most common overused or misused
words and phrases:
"How is everybody doing tonight?" or "Is everyone
having a great time?"
What answer could you possibly expect from these trite
questions? And many in your audience are thinking, "Really?
That's how she starts her show?" At best, those questions do
zero to establish your cred as a performer; at worst, they make
you look cheesy and boring.
"What's the name of your card?"
That phrase, used by every magician at some time in his
or her life, has little meaning for laymen. I have seen, just
during the time I've been writing this book, [and many times
in the ensuing years] spectators look confused when asked this
question ... and especially if English is not their first language.
Cards do not have names! Only magicians, and no one else
on earth, would ever ask about the "name" of a card.
The exception, of course, is when you do a trick ("The Phil
Trick," for example) where the cards actually do have names
written on their backs. Instead, ask. ..
"Which card did you select?"
"What card are you thinking of?"
"Do you remember the card you saw? What was it?"
You can, however, ask a spectator to "name a card." In this
case, name is a verb, and it works.
"Say, 'Stop' as I riffle through the cards."
When did you ever hear a non-magician use the word riffle?
The correct answer is never. You might "flip" through the cards.


Or you could just ask your participant to, "Say, 'Stop' as I go

through the cards." Or just, "Say, 'Stop ..."'
"... try..."
Magicians and mentalists perennially begin effects by
announcing, "Let's try something." "Let's try an experiment."
"Let's try..."
The word "try" and its siblings-attempt, endeavor, take
a shot, take a stab-are weak, flaccid words. Think back to
The Empire Strikes Back, when Yoda forcefully directs Luke
Skywalker to "Do or do not. There is no try."
Yes, in some cases you do want to hedge your bet and "try"
allows that. And it may be brought into play to boost tension, by
implying that this may work for you tonight, or it might not. You
are saying to your audience, in effect, "I sure hope you're here
on one of those good nights when this works!" (Escape artists
thrive by casting doubt on the outcome.) So if you want to play
that note, use it. Just be sure you're not using it because that's
the way it was written in the instructions for the trick.
Derren Brown says "try" frequently on his TV specials. It
plays well for him because he works so strongly that he actually
needs to throw some uncertainty into the mix, if for no other
reason than to vary the tension level. When he says he wants
to try something, you get the feeling that this may well be the
moment when you will see him fail. The same holds true for many
mentalists who give the impression that each "experiment" they
do (and I'm not a fan of "experiment" either) is something where
the outcome is in doubt.
For most other performers, including almost every magician,
the audience has little or no doubt that they will succeed, so the
"try" becomes superfluous at best, and because your audience
may feel an undercurrent of unnecessary verbal deception, it
may start to sound as insincere as it in fact is.
A silk (or polyester) cloth is not a "silk." It might be a cloth,
a piece of cloth, a silk cloth, a bandana, or a kerchief, but the
term "silk" is not used by normal folk.
"Here's a bit you may enjoy."
A "bit" connotes lower-end show biz. At least say, "Here's
something you may enjoy."


Show normal people the cube we call a die. Ask what you're
holding and they will say a dice." Our "die" may be correct
English, but it is not commonly known. You might say with a
friendly smile, "two dice, one die," to avoid confusion.
"For my first trick ..."
Why would you say something so obvious? Ditto for "For
my next trick. .."
"For my next effect ..." is worse still. What, to a
layperson, is an effect? It's a meaningless filler word that takes
you nowhere. (Ricky Jay repeatedly used the word "effect" in
his show, Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants. However, in that
context it fit because he was giving, in essence, a history lesson
about magic, and so it affected the desired effect.)
"Magic tricks ..."
Which is stronger?
"I do magic tricks." Or, "I do magic."
Anyone can do tricks. Take it up a notch. Eliminate the
word "trick" (or "tricks") whenever possible.
Or looking at in another way, if a lay person learns about
your special talent, they'll likely exclaim, "Oh, you do magic!?"
Few will say, "Oh, you do tricks?"
"Just like that."
As in, ''And I threw the coins into the invisible hole, just ...
like ... that." Tedious, meaningless, and when repeated more
than once, boring. If I can see what you just did, it's redundant
to tell me you did it "just like that." Or "The rings escape from
the ribbon, just like that." Or, "Place your hand on the cards,
just like that," which can sound patronizing.
And when the spectator does as asked, the "just like that"
is often followed, enthusiastically, with either "Great!" or
worse, "That's fantastic!" (British performers substitute
Unless you're going for a laugh, when you bray "Fantastic!"
or "Wonderful!" or "Brilliant!" to a spectator upon completion
of a simple request, you have just told that person that you
assumed her incapable of following your instructions. And
the more enthusiastic you are, the more explicit your message

If you must indicate that the person has done what you
want, think of other ways to signal your satisfaction, without
demeaning them. Perhaps a simple "Thanks" or just a quick
"Perfect," said as an aside.
"Just so."
"I'll place these cards over here, just so." Again, it adds
nothing; it's just so much filler.
"Would you like to change your mind?"
That's a cliche, and come hell or high water, cliches should
be avoided like the plague. I'm sick and tired of them. Think
outside the box!
It can also seem slightly insulting to participants,
suggesting that their original choices were poor ones, or that
they're incapable of making good choices the first time. Be more
specific about the options for changing their decision. "Should
I continue dropping cards?" Or, "I'm going to offer you one last
chance to choose a different envelope. Do you want the one you
have, or one of these in my hand?" These phrases have more
power than the overused, "Do you want to change your mind?"
or any of its variations.
Any variation of "Is that fair?" As in, "You cut the cards
while my back was turned. Is that fair?" This immediately
sets up a challenge; you have now told me that I must evaluate
whether what you just did is "fair" or not.
Fair how?
By what standards?
Fair to whom?
And most important, why should I care? What's in it for
me if what you do is fair, or ...what? Unfair? Much better to
be specific, as cited above in, "Would you like to change your
mind?" The obvious exception to this is when you are in fact
laying down a challenge, as in an escape act or when doing
what mentalists call "test-condition" effects.
"Are you sure?"
In my life, I'm "sure" about my love of family, I'm sure that
I never want to miss my return flight home, and I'm certain
that I want the stock market to move higher over the long-term.


Those are things about which I'm sure. Now you come along,
offer me a choice of five cards (or meaningless-to me-symbols,
colors, or envelopes) and then, when I point to one, you ask me
if I'm "sure." Sure about what? Are there dire consequences
awaiting me if I choose poorly? How carefully should I consider
my options? After all, as far as I can tell, the only thing at risk
is your smug satisfaction! Again, it's meaningless magic-speak
Most often, it's best to simply accept the spectator's judgment
and proceed. Or, if you do have a legitimate desire to build up
the suspense, use specifics: "Later tonight, you may think back
on this moment and wonder if I influenced you with my hands
or voice, so I'll wait quietly while you decide."
''Are you happy (with that card, where you cut the cards,
the envelope you pointed to, etc.)?"
In your real life, do people become "happy" after choosing
a random playing card? Or a random color? Magicians ask this
silly question frequently, and it never elicits anything except a
look of puzzlement.
"What made you choose ... ?"
In the countless times I have seen magicians and mentalists
ask this question ("What made you choose the circle?"), have I
ever heard an interesting response? Not that I can recall.
Again-as with ''Are you sure?" or ''Are you happy?"-it's
silly cliche filler that confounds spectators. Either don't ask, or
add something new, as in, "The circle is typically chosen by sex-
starved pot abusers." Now you can ask, ''Are you sure you want
the circle?"
Kreskin says, "No way, shape, or form," way too often.
It's a bloated cliche, but many mentalists and magicians picked
up on it and now use it as well.
Any variation of "Let me show you the first trick I
In a concert, would a professional musician ever announce
that she was going to play the first tune she learned?
In the brief time I'll be watching you, I don't want to see
what you did as a kid, a beginner. I want to see the tricks that


took you years to master. Would a theatrical agent, who has the
moral authority to request something specific from you, ask to
see your first trick? No, she wants to see your best stuff. The
audience can't and won't ask you, but they too want your best.
Don't make them feel cheated.
Of course, you could perform your first trick if you preface
it with something interesting or dramatic, as in, "This was
taught to me by a famous magician who made me swear to keep
it a secret!" You could say that .. .if you can say it with conviction
because it's reasonably true.
"What I'd like you to do is ..."
"What I need you to do is ..."
"What I want you to do is ..."
"What we're going to do is ..."
Skip it. Drop it. Stop it. Just get to the point.
Those phrases are the most overused phrases in magic,
especially in close-up magic. It seems like everyone says them,
and it's because ... everyone says them. You see a performer you
admire say those words, and so, without conscious thought, you
do the same.
On the Big Blind Media website you can view the trailers for
routines from the Out of Sleight video by Cameron Francis. The
first one I watched was Creation. It's a pretty good, sleight-free
trick, and Cameron is a pleasing, attractive performer. But over
the first 90 seconds he says variations of "What I want you to do
is ..." five times. Once would have been too much.
What I want you all to do is ... stop saying those words.
"Do me a favor and ..."
That phrase might be tied for most overused. A young pro
magician showed me a card trick and said those words six times
in the two-minute routine. I wanted to say, "Do me a favor and
stop saying that!"
Again, just get to the point. Politely.
The correct time to say, "Do me a favor" is when you
actually are asking for something out of the ordinary: "Do


me a favor and go into the audience and find someone with a

hundred-dollar bill." Regardless, the phrase should be used
infrequently, certainly no more than once per ten or fifteen
minutes. Or never.
"If you would ..." As in, "If you would, stand over here."
I don't know who started this, but it's spreading rapidly.
Some pros now say it constantly, and as with "Do me a favor,"
it needs to be used sparingly. Or never.
"I'll tell you what."
No, don't tell. Show. Or do.
This is a common phrase used by American sports
announcers ("I'll tell you what, that guy gives 110%!") and it's
completely meaningless. Unfortunately, we've now begun to see
it used by magicians.
Nervous magicians follow every action with this word
(which is technically an incorrect version of "all right," but
we're dealing with spoken English here). "You can see the cards
are well mixed, alright?" "I'll place each card in an envelope,
alright?" Are those nervous Nellies waiting for a response? I
hope not.
Or its variation, "Right?"
"I'm going to roll this newspaper into a cone ... Right?" The
first time I saw myself on tape, it seemed every fifth word I said
was "Right?" And that's so wrong.
It's not okay to ask that with great frequency. One well-
known mentalist ends far too many of his sentences with that
meaningless query and others have picked up on the habit. It
signals insecurity.
"... and with any luck, the final coin will now have joined
the others."
As Tina Turner might say, "What's luck got to do with it?"
It's another stale phrase that we use without thinking-one
which, if we do give it some thought, implies we're not in control
of the magic.


"For the first time ..."

As in "For the first time, what was the word you were
thinking of?... the card you saw?... the time on the watch?" It's
another cliche that you say because you've seen hundreds of
other magicians say it. Which is why you, perhaps for the first
time, need to be original. If you've scripted the routine properly,
they should be well aware that the information about to be
shared has been secret up to that moment.
Or say, "No one knows the card in your pocket. When I say
three, please show everyone ..."
"Anyways ..."
It's used as a transition, when you go from one thought to
another, What you mean to say is ''Anyway..."
"Now let's make it a little more interesting ..."
Usually said to indicate a higher degree of difficulty, or, in a
gambling situation, higher stakes. But if you have to announce
to me that something is "more interesting," it probably isn't; the
words are unadulterated filler. If the next moments truly are
more interesting, you should trust that your spectators possess
sufficient brainpower to realize that for themselves. Tell me
specifics about what's coming next, not banal generalities.
"Would that be a miracle?"
"... and if your card appeared between the two Jacks, would
that be a miracle?" It would be more of a miracle if magicians
weren't so glib with the word "miracle."
You are a magician; you are supposed to do amazing things.
Save miracle for the most, um, miraculous moments. Better yet,
never use it. It makes you sound trite and, sorry, cheesy.
Remember, finding a card is, at best, a one-out-of-52
proposition. Amazing yes, but miracles ought to rise far above
that. Turning water into wine is a miracle. No card trick is a
"Does that make sense?"
This phrase that has popped up in recent years and is
popular with young, urbane, male close-up magicians. It's
commonly used during routines that require close attention.
Don't ask smart folks that question; it's somewhat demeaning.


And if you've been clear about your actions, it's unnecessary.

Worse, since it's spreading rapidly in the magic world, you
immediately signal, "I'm like that other guy you saw." And that
makes no sense.
"Let me ask you a question."
No, let me ask you a question. Why don't you just ask the
damn question? What do you gain by prefacing your question
with a filler sentence? Nothing.
A possible exception: you can say, "Let me ask you ... do you
remember the first girl you kissed?" In that situation, because
you are going to ask a personal question, it might make sense
to give them a beat to prepare.
"Shuffle shuffle shuffle!"
Unless you have studied card magic for five years in Spain
with Tamariz, do not attempt to imitate him! He says that
because it suits his style. It does not suit yours. (And even he
seems to no longer say it.)
Same goes for a frantic "Mix mix mix!"
Both phrases are becoming magic cliches. Stop Stop Stop
using them.
"Would you like to see one more?"
No thanks! (Lord, I'd love to yell that out one time!)
Whether you're a band, a juggler or a magician, don't ask
that question since we all know what's about to happen-you're
going to show us one more.
"I love it!" or "Awesome!"
It's typically exclaimed after a volunteer onstage has said
something that could be deemed cute or playful. But it often
comes across as trite. Or worse, false, because it usually is.
I don't love it. I don't even like it.
"Very unique"
Unique, like pregnant, is all or nothing. You is or you ain't.
If a thing is unique it's one-of-a-kind; it can't be very one-of-
a-kind. That's why it can't be "very" unique.
On the other hand, a person or a thing can be very unusual,
highly original, amazingly different, or special in her own way.

"These ones" as in "Keep the cards you pointed to, and I'll
keep these ones."
Just cut out those "ones." Say, "I'll keep these."
It is correct to say, "You take the red cards and I'll keep the
black ones."
"And for those of you in the cheap seats ..."
This phrase had mold growing on it when vaudeville was
young. David Copperfield can legitimately refer to cheap seats
(or at least, cheaper seats); few of the rest of us can. Use this
phrase and some people will laugh, but many others will
recognize you as a person who belongs in the cheap seats
yourself. Plus, think about it-if you actually did have different
seat prices and you made that "joke," how did you just make
those who couldn't afford the better seats feel?
At a major magic convention I heard a well-known (among
magicians) performer use this phrase twice in one short set.
Get with the new millennium!
"You've been a great crowd."
A vastly overused cliche, thanks to stand-up comics. Think
of other ways to express your appreciation to your audience.
Your own cliches.
Many performers, as they address their audience, unwittingly
repeat certain phrases. I saw one high level magician say, "So
folks, you see ..." every few minutes. Again, this is the reason
you need to record your show and watch it with a critical eye.
Eliminate your own brand of repetitive phrases.

Back to Grammar School

Whether we care to admit it or not, people judge us by our
outward appearance and by the way we speak. Everyone, no
matter how erudite, slips occasionally and says something that
may be considered wordy, redundant, or pretentious. Then
there's grammar. Among some in your audience, poor grammar
leads to an immediate "ouch," in the same way as a palmed
card inadvertently flashed. You are judged by your use of the
language, so you want to keep errors to a minimum.


Just a few samples of less-than-stellar language skills I've

recently heard from the mouths of performers:
'½t this point in time ... " should be "at this point" or "at this
time" or simply "now."
"I could care less" is careless English. When you reach
absolute zero emotional attachment to any particular subject
you are in a state where you "could not care less." To say you
could care less means that you do have feelings, exactly the
opposite of what you want to convey.
'1rregardless ... " No such word, regardless of what you may
"Should have went ... ': "Could have wrote ... " Have gone.
Have written.
"Her/Him and I. .. " She/He and I, or her/him and me, as
"Between you and I. .. " Between you and me.
If you have any fear that your grasp of English may lead to
muffled chuckles among your spectators, ask a knowledgeable
friend to watch your video to check for verbal flubs.

When I Count to 3, You'll Say It Right!

A note to my fellow hypnotists:
It's not hyp-mo-tism. You are a hypnotist, not a hypmotist.
There are a bunch of pro hypnotists out there who can't
correctly pronounce what they are or what they do. Don't be
lazy about learning to say those words correctly.
Say it right, or I'll turn you into a duck.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Magicians lie. Your egg bag isn't empty; you do in fact know
which card was selected; the solid steel rings aren't quite as
they appear.
So why lie any more than you must? Don't tell me about a
funny thing that happened on the way to the show tonight if it

never happened. I don't want to hear that "the other day a guy
said, 'Yeah, but can I see what's under the hat'," if no such guy
crossed your path recently. Magicians constantly throw in these
trivial lines and the lines invariably ring false. Save for the
occasional accomplished actor among us, the audience knows
you're fibbing, and it cheapens the moment.
Unless you're going for a strong punch line, the best policy
is to be as truthful as possible.
You can, of course, delve into a richly detailed narrative,
one speckled with fictionalized moments, which serves to
Communicate Your Humanity or perhaps to deliver Rapt
Attention. But again, that's territory for those elite few who can
convincingly enthrall us with words. The art of skillful lying
(which might be better termed as "acting") develops over years,
and you'd be wise to approach it slowly and cautiously.
And please, if you promise something, don't ignore that
promise. Here's a minor example: it's from Bill Malone's four-
disc collection, On the Loose, which I consider to be high
school, college, and graduate work on how to present a solid
set of thoroughly entertaining close-up card magic. Toward the
beginning of his terrific Three Card Monte routine, he says,
''And when I'm done I'll teach everyone how the trick works.
OK? Is that a deal?"
But he doesn't truly teach it, and at the end, sure enough, the
spectator who served as the "victim" says, during the applause,
"I thought you were going to show me how to do it!"
"Yeah, I was ..." Bill says with a sly smirk to the audience.
Many of us have done things like that. We don't need it. Let's

Raising Hands
"How many of you read mystery novels?"
"How many of you enjoy eating at fine restaurants?"
There is a virus spreading among corporate and motivational
speakers, and now some magicians and mentalists are infected
as well. It's the mindless asking for a show of hands. I find it
patronizing and annoying.


Don't ask me something if the answer doesn't truly matter

to you.
Some performers fall back on these questions because they
think it's a form of audience participation, when in reality it's
the same as bread crumbs in cheap crab cakes: filler. Your
audience craves sustenance, not filler.
I've twice attended magician and master marketer Joel
Bauer's intense, high-energy sessions, where he seeks to sign
up new acolytes (although he claims otherwise). He's a force of
nature, and you should check him out if you have a chance.
But he literally asks, "How many of you ..." every two or three
minutes, sometimes every few seconds! Not once did I see him
take any notice of the hands that went up. The people around
me looked like marionettes, with their hands flying up and
down-for no discernible reason.
Ask that question only when needed.

On the Other Hand

Here is a slightly edited 2018 email exchange on this topic
between my friend Brett Barry, a successful pro mentalist (and
originator of the smash-hit SvenPads) and me. Brett wrote:
In Maximum Ent you mention that you dislike the 'polling' of
an audience. But at Jeff McBride's master mentalist classes
over the years, this is precisely what he and Eugene, etc.,
have taught as an effective way of connecting to an audience.
In practice I have found that saying on stage "How many
have seen the movie 'Inception'?" Hands up. I then proceed
to explain briefly what the main storyline was-and why as
a mentalist it matters for what they are about to see.
Maybe I'm wrong-maybe Jeff/Ross/Eugene/Larry Hass
are wrong too? I know there are numerous schools of thought,
and your book is considered the bible on many performance
aspects. Just wondering of I am misunderstanding this rule
of the road as for me it has felt to be effective as a connector
to the audience.


Ha. Nope. In this instance I'm right and they're wrong! (Mr.
Humility here.)
As you know, I say that ideally every word has a targeted
reaction. What reaction is sought when you ask that question?
In fact, whether one hand goes up, or all the hands, it seems
like it will have zero effect on what you say next. That's the
issue. It's meaningless, and therefore qualifies as "filler."
As compared to, say, you ask that question about the movie,
and then you engage, briefly, with one or more of the folks who
raised their hand. That changes everything. It tells us you asked
the question for a real reason. Or we see you look around to get
a true sense of how the audience responded and then steer your
presentation toward that response.
[A deep bow here, by the way, to the masterful and massive
work Jeff McBride and his team have done over the years to
elevate our Art. Jeff's book, The Show Doctor, makes a great
companion to this book. And of course, losing his "Dean,"
Eugene Burger in 2017 created a hole in the magic world that
may never be filled.]
So yes, there are legitimate reasons to poll your audience.
Perhaps you truly do need to learn something about who is out
there looking at you (although it's usually too late to be doing
research once you're standing on stage). Or, as alluded to above,
perhaps you want involve a spectator who has had a specific
Or you may be using the "How many of you ... ?" query as
the setup for a joke. Mentalist Eric Dittelman asks 'Who voted
for me on America's Got Talent?" He relies on few or no hands
going up so he can deliver the punchline "Cool, that's why I lost.
The great Israeli mentalist Liar Manor works for major
corporations around the world, and he starts his show by
saying, "You hear I talk with an accent. So, I can do my act in
bad English or perfect Hebrew. How many of you want me to do
it in bad English?"
Hands go up, and the audience is smiling immediately.


Say What?
Corporate speakers use an offshoot of "raising hands" that
I find equally irritating and useless: the unfinished sentence.
They turn to the audience and wait for them to shout out the
final word or words.
As in "Many people won't touch frogs because they're afraid
of getting ... ?
Or they use a variation on that theme: the sentence ending
in "what?"
"Money is printed by governments so that we can have ...
I rarely see magicians do this, but I have seen mentalists
and hypnotists employ this strategy. It's dumb for two reasons:
1. If everyone knows the answer, why did you bother
asking? It didn't move the program along; it slowed it
2. If most people don't know the answer to your query,
suddenly we're back in school and some of us feel dumb.
Closely related to the Say What? and Raising Hands
annoyances are the many performers who ask their audience
for permission, as in, "Now we're going to play a little lottery
game .. .is that OK with everybody?" And then they wait for a
Wimpy! Superman controls every moment.
Every time you ask an audience anything, and then pause
for a response, you momentarily cede control. Be certain you
have a clear and compelling reason for your query. Again, what
reaction are you targeting? If it's not laughter or rapt attention,
delete it.

Don't State the Obvious!

When watching a performer, nothing bores me faster than
his telling me something I already know. Don't mention that
the sky is blue, that it's hot in July, and don't ever tell me, "I
have here a deck of cards."


Why are you telling me that? Do I not have eyes to see? You
tell me what you "have here" only when it's something I would
not easily recognize, as in "I have here a miniature Egyptian
sarcophagus, exhumed from deep below the Museum Store at
the Roosevelt Field Mall."
Similarly, don't tell me what you are doing or about to do.
"Now I'll cut the rope in the middle."
"I'm going to shuffle the cards."
"I'll just place the lid back on the pan."
Boring! Adults don't need to be told the obvious. So unless
you're a kids' show entertainer, just do the action, or come up
with words that add something to the moment.
And only for the sake of completeness am I bringing up the
Magic 101 advice about, "This is an ordinary deck of cards."
Never refer to any prop as "ordinary." A deck of cards, a coin,
a pad of paper, a piece of rope are all presumed to be ordinary,
unless you raise suspicion or needlessly draw attention to them.
All overtly magical props are assumed to be suspect and
can never be labeled as "ordinary." (I pray that no one has ever
uttered the words, "I have here an ordinary Zig-Zag box").


Chapter 10

How To Be Funny!
In The Producers, the Mel Brooks film and blockbuster
Broadway show of the same name, the plot revolves around a
scheme to cash in handsomely from a sure-fire fl.op (what else
could Springtime for Hitler possibly be?). If you, dear reader,
can figure out a way to show a profit from an act that goes down
the commode, here's my guaranteed formula for your success ... !
mean, failure:
Early in your act, tell a joke, preferably a weak joke, one
that you've never before told in public. When you get to the last
word of the joke, stop, smile, and stand there, waiting for the
Then, when you are ready to do some magic, change the
pace by saying, "But seriously, folks ..."
The sound you will hear at this point is the nervous shifting
of audience members in their seats. Do not let that distract you.
Your rags-to-riches death-spiral will be gaining momentum.
On the other hand ...
You may prefer jokes that trigger laughter, not groans. If
that's the case, let's steal a lesson from America's best-known
comedians. Each weekday night, TV talk show hosts face the
daunting task of finding the yuks in the daily headlines.
Look at how they typically handle new material-and of
course, in their cases, the monologues not only have never been
audience-tested, the jokes may have been reworked up until
minutes before being delivered into the bedrooms of millions of
late-night viewers.
Here's the comedic trick used by many talk show hosts-
they talk through the punch line. That is, when they arrive at
the final word of the joke, they often tack on a few additional
words. An example from David Letterman: "It was so hot
today... on my walk through Central Park this morning I saw a
squirrel moisturizing his nuts .. .it was just that hot!"


Or do as late night comedian Jimmy Kimmel does-don't

acknowledge in any way that you just told a joke. He just steams
ahead with his conversation. If they laugh, they laugh.
Either way, the worst thing you can do is to say something
you think is funny and then pause looking expectantly at the
audience, waiting for the laugh. You can do that, but only after
you are certain, based on experience, the laugh will come.

The Two Hooks for Humor

All humor in magic and mentalism acts falls into two
Funny moments that emanate organically from the
situation. This is by far the superior choice.
Funny moments meant to stand on their own, apart
from the miraculous things we do (in other words, jokes
or other "gags.")
First, let's examine category number one, which can itself
be divided in two. First up is the natural outcome to what we
do, the humor that spontaneously springs from the moment of
surprise: the Eek! Moment. Because that surprise is wrapped in
a non-threatening blanket of supportive fun, the release almost
always manifests itself as laughter. When a woman finds an
overflowing warren of sponge rabbits in her hand when she
expected only two, her surprise turns into laughs, and onlookers
laugh with her. Remove a bowling ball from a shopping bag, no
one laughs. Remove it from a thin briefcase-that's funny! Put
a beer bottle into a paper bag, then suddenly crush the bag-we
Among performing artists, only magicians can lay claim to
these unexpected, startling moments of delight. Not every trick
evokes laughter, but many do, especially when there's a visual
non sequitur (a real bowling ball from a thin case).
In addition to the shock of the climax, the best humor in
magical situations comes from the unusualness of the situation
("You want me to burn the envelope with the money inside?") or
the tension of the moment just prior to the climax (as when the
spectator says, "If I'm holding the silver coin now, I'll scream!").


The second type of humor for us is the intentional use of

words to raise a smile, and here is where we get into trouble.
If you tell jokes of any kind, and they are not intrinsic to
the trick, you'd better be certain they are of comedy-club caliber.
Make that contemporary comedy-club caliber. Benny Youngman
and Jack Carter yukked it up on The Ed Sullivan Show with
mother-in-law jokes. You can't do that, even if your mother-in-
law does wax her mustache.
We live in a time when almost any town large enough for
an airport has a comedy club, or at least a "Comedy Night" at a
local bar or restaurant, and cable TV channels beam buckets of
cutting-edge clowning into millions of homes across the globe.
Audiences know new from old, clever from pedestrian, and if
you're smart, you won't take on the comedy pros at their own
game, unless you're sure you can.
It's much better to find the fun in the situation. We have an
advantage over comedians: we do amazing things, and we can
talk. They talk, but they don't do amazing things.
Unfortunately, some of our top pros muddle their
entertainment message.
Turning again to Bill Malone's On the Loose, we see even
this top-ranked professional throw in a few "jokes" that don't fit
the spontaneous feel of the balance of the program. (To a female
spectator, "You would look good in 3D ... that's my room at the
Hyatt." To a male spectator, "What do you do for a living? ...
Oh, OK, I'll talk slower.") He doesn't need those jokes at all;
yes, they get laughs, but I don't think it's worth the (admittedly
small) price he pays. To me, they momentarily jar the mood and
detract from his image as Superman with a deck of cards. The
strong magic itself, and his effervescent personality, produce
a feeling of non-stop fun. He doesn't need-and chances are
you don't need-what many in the audience will recognize as
canned zingers.
When you do kick-to-the-head, entertaining magic (as Bill
Malone does), have faith in the magic and the humor inherent
in the magic.
All the best comedy moments in magic-every one-come
from the magic itself or the situation around the magic.


My advice: script your routines with nary a "joke" in sight.

Once you begin performing the trick, the humor will rise to the
surface on its own, and then you work those naturally occurring
laughs into your performance. This is especially important if
you are not a naturally funny person.
In my own case, after having done thousands of successful
shows, I know I can make audiences laugh. But I learned early
on to chuck all my crafty one-liners and let the magic-or even
better, the spectators-get the laughs.
If you have any sense of humor at all, funny lines will pop
out of you from time to time during performances, or one of your
spectators will spout a few words that produce a laugh. After
the show, make an effort to recall the spontaneously comic
moments, and write them down.
I never did enough of this. I would fire off some clever
remark, one that perfectly fit the moment, and during the
ensuing laugh I would say to myself, "Well, that's staying in
the show!" It was so perfect, there was no way I could possibly
forget it. Except that too often, I did. In the chapter called After
the Show, I'll remind you about the importance of consciously
making the effort to recall-and record-the ad libs and funny
moments that worked.

Get to the Point. .. Quickly

In the literature for high-end audio equipment, the term
"listener fatigue" refers to the tendency of cheaper equipment to
reduce the enjoyment of music over the course of thirty to sixty
minutes. The effect, subtle and subconscious, has been studied
and documented. A similar phenomenon takes place over the
course of your performance. Bloated sentences and puffy punch-
lines fatigue the audience.
Danny Orleans, in his Genii column on performing for kids,
once wrote about the economy of words necessary for successful
jokes. Whether for four-year old kids or bent-over seniors, the
principle stands: unnecessary words blunt the humor.
Danny offers an example: in setting up the situation for
the Break-away Fan, he chooses a girl with long hair. When


showing that the fan "works," he fans toward the girl's face
and her hair flies up. That gets a laugh. Then he repeats the
bit somewhat differently, producing another laugh. Finally, he
turns to the little boy on his other side and says, "Watch out ...
her hair wiggles!"
And those five words get a big laugh.
The way Danny describes the routine leaves no doubt that
any adults watching would be laughing along with the children.
Danny points out that wiggles is a funny word; saying her hair
moves or flies up would not be the same. Equally important, the
joke is reduced to the essential words.
A less experienced performer might say to the boy, "Did you
notice? Every time I do this, her hair goes flying up in the air?"
That would also would produce laughs, but fewer.
In humor, almost always, less is more.

Guy Walks Into a Bar, Gets More

From Less
Here's a joke I saw on the internet. First, you'll see it exactly
as it appeared, in what I would call the Corporate Speaker
Every Friday afternoon, a mathematician/physicist goes to
a bar. He sits in the second-to-last seat and turns to the last
seat-which is always empty-and asks a girl-who isn't
there-if he can buy her a drink.
The bartender, who is used to weird university types, shrugs
but keeps quiet. However, when Valentine's Day arrives, and
the mathematician makes a particularly heart-wrenching
plea into empty space, and his curiosity gets the better of the
bartender. He says, "I apologize if this strikes you as a stupid
question, but surely you know there is never a woman sitting
in that last stool. Why do you persist in asking out someone
who's not even there?"
The university nerd replies, "Well, according to quantum
physics, empty space is never truly empty. Virtual particles
come into existence and vanish all the time. You never know


when the proper wave function will implode and a girl might
suddenly appear there."
The bartender raises his eyebrows. "Really? Interesting. But
couldn't you just ask one of the girls who comes here every
Friday if you could buy her a drink? You never know ... she
might say yes."
The nerd laughs. "Yeah, right ... like that could happen!"
Now, a more professional, streamlined version:
Every Friday a physicist goes to a bar, turns to the empty
seat next to him, and asks an imaginary girl if he can buy
her a drink.
He does this for months.
Finally the bartender says, "You know, there's never a
woman sitting next to you. Why do you keep asking out
someone who's not even there?"
The physicist says, "Well, according to quantum physics,
empty space is never truly empty. You never know when the
proper wave function will implode and a girl might suddenly
appear there."
The bartender says, "Okaaay. But couldn't you ask one of
the girls who come here if you could buy her a drink? She
might say yes."
The nerd laughs. "Yeah, right ... like that could happen!"
That's 124 words vs. 202 words. It's the same joke, but
without the potential for listener fatigue created by all the
excess verbiage.
As Shakespeare told us, "Brevity is the soul of wit."

Use Humor with Compassion

Sarcasm works for the right performer in the right
situation-as long as it's light sarcasm. As with haba:fiero
pepper sauce, a little goes a long way, and a heavy hand with
the sarcasm backfires quickly. Never become hostile, and never
use humor to strike out at an audience member. Whenever
possible, turn your jokes back onto yourself.


What if your joke dies a silent death? Smile, or make a joke

about the moment, but never blame the audience. Nine times
out of ten, those Robert Orben-esque "savers" we've all heard
(or used) only dig you into a deeper hole.

Master Your Domain

Jerry Seinfeld's cinema verite documentary, Comedian,
exposes the unfunny work that happens before the laughter. It
shows us in gritty detail that casually riffing on the foibles of the
world may look easy and untailored, but those who successfully
do it for a living regularly fall prey to nagging bouts of anxiety
and self-doubt. And, importantly for the readers of this book,
they approach their work with discipline bordering on fanatical.
How fanatical? An article in The Wall Street Journal of
Sept. 25, 2017, titled "Jerry Seinfeld Breaks Down a Joke,"
contains this quote about his painstaking effort to get to the
bare minimum: "You're always trying to trim everything down
to rock, solid rock. I will sit there for 15 minutes to make it one
syllable shorter."
One syllable shorter.
A comedian's arsenal consists of words and his body. He has
no tricks to hide behind. The words, the delivery, the timing are
everything. (For more on this, Google "Seinfeld how to write a
joke" for a terrific video of Jerry explaining his work process.)
Comedians know comedy is delicate: a sneeze in the audience
at the wrong moment can ruin a laugh line; turning your head
this way for a particular joke is funny, and that way it's not.
Every gesture, every word assumes great importance.
Are you fanatical about the words you say?
Do you give your patter the same thought and practice that
you give your sleights?
If not, why not?


A Personal Entertainment Highlight:

Mac King
Mac King? The toothy, country-bumpkin fellow in the used-
car-salesman plaid jacket who teaches low-rent tricks to C-list
celebrities on TV magic specials as a bumper between the real
"stars" of magic? That guy?
Yes, that's what I thought, too, until I saw him perform live
at a magic convention. Now I understand why he has a multi-
year, multi-million-dollar Las Vegas contract.
Unlike what we saw on TV, his live show flows and
builds brilliantly. Various bits and gags continually reappear
throughout, each time increasing the laugh value. Fig Newton
cookies, as I recall, have nothing to do with anything, but
simply keep showing up at inappropriate times (as when the
participant has been "trained" to expect her selected card to be
in his outside coat pocket, and suddenly there is a Fig Newton;
then, when he seems to be finding cards in his fly, what should
appear but-another Fig Newton. And so on.). There's never
an explanation as to why they keep showing up, which makes
the incongruity of it all even funnier. And eventually the card
appears inside a small cereal box. All the while he perfectly
plays this "nice but none-too-bright guy from Kentucky," letting
his personality win over the audience, not to mention the fact
that a lot of amazing things happen while he's onstage.
His finale is the production-as a "thank you" gift-of a
bottle of beer from a cloth he's been using for something else.
Along the way, he also finds stuff in his shoe, including a stone
that's slightly larger than the shoe itself!
Naturally, he has an unending supply of perfectly matched
"lines" to go with all of this.
I remember leaving his show thinking, "Wow! This is what
professional comedy magic looks like!"
[In the years since that was written, Mac has become
somewhat of a friend. Strangely, his real-life persona is a highly
toned-down, smarter version of that guy on the stage. And that's
a good thing.]


Section V

"The articles used in a particular
activity; equipment."


Chapter 11

Sound and Lighting

For me, the biggest mystery in my beloved craft has nothing
to do with sleights, mirrors, or gaffs. Instead, I scratch my head
over the unfathomable lack of interest displayed by so many
performers regarding the sound and lighting of their shows.
After all, what is your show? They see you. They hear you.
There is nothing else! (Smell, touch, and taste rarely make an
Your show is sight and sound.
If the audience cannot hear your words clearly, if they
cannot see your hands, your facial expressions, your volunteers,
and your props, all your cleverness and hours of practice count
for naught. Why, then, do so many performers in our field-
including some top professionals!-fail to focus on these critical
I don't have an answer, but you are not going to fall into the
same trap. Proper sound and lighting are not difficult once you
begin to make them a priority.

The Early Bird Gets the Light.

And Sound.
Arrive at your venue early. That's not a suggestion, that's a
Diligently plan, set up, and test, test, test the sound and
Get to know the tech folks. Make them your friends and
allies. Always introduce yourself with a warm smile and
handshake to anyone whose expertise-and key chain-could
serve your needs.
When performing at a banquet, you also want to befriend
the maitre d' or head waiter. That person can help with the
overhead lights if there's no one else around, and can also
ensure that tables are cleared and wait staff have exited the
room before you make your entrance.


This is just one more reason why you want to get to the
venue early. The performance area is where an entertainer
earns his income (be it monetary or simply ego-gratification).
When I am setting the stage for my performance and encounter
a bit of resistance from some techie, emcee, or anyone else, I
explain-always with a smile, "This is my office; this is where
I work."
It has to be perfect for me, comfortable and practical for the
intended purpose. You may receive guileless assurances from
techies that everything is just fine. Well, to use a phrase from
the Cold War, "Trust, but verify."

Banquet Rooms
Here's a typical scenario faced by corporate performers. The
organizers put the stage area, usually a few connected risers,
in the center of what had been two separate rooms, with the
dividing walls opened up to make one larger space. And that
often creates a problem.
Each "originaf' room had its own lighting configuration,
usually including several chandeliers. But those chandeliers,
which are usually controlled with dimmers, are centered for
each original room. Meaning, when the dividing walls are
opened so that two rooms become one, the space that had been
where those "walls" had been is the darkest spot of the room-
and that's where the stage is invariably set!
I see this with unnerving frequency; the audience is well-lit
and the performer is forced to stand in the shadow!
Why, my fellow performers, do you allow this to happen?
This is just one more reason why it is so imperative that you
get to the venue early. Doing so at least gives you a chance to
alleviate this problem before it's too late.
As soon as your realize the problems, you're going to make
every effort to get things rearranged in a way that best suits
your needs.
Explain politely, firmly, and calmly, that it's very much
a win-win situation: "When I look good, we all look good."


Careful before-the-show preparation pays off in after-the-show

congratulations. Don't back down. Once you walk out there, it's
your butt on the line, not theirs.
Later in this section, you'll read an anecdote about what can
happen if you fail to follow the advice to take sound and lighting


Chapter 12

Sound Systems
The lack of appreciation for the importance of sound quality
was exemplified by an online column I came across at a popular
magic website. The author offered a fair amount of reasonable
advice regarding the purchase of portable sound systems, but
then he wrote a sentence that echoes the thinking of too many
in our profession:
"Remember: you are only talking through the microphones
so you won't require the dynamic range a singer or musician
And then later on in the same column ...
"There are several more features of PA systems we can just
summarily dismiss and save a few more bucks. First is the
graphic EQ. Remember, you are simply amplifying your
voice, not fine tuning it."
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
His last point assumes it is the quantity, not quality of your
voice, that counts. He'd be correct if your job were calling out
bingo numbers. But the entertainer delivers more than raw
information. He delivers his individuality, his emotions. With
an adequate sound system, you hear a voice; with a proper
sound system, you hear a personality. You are a personality.
Magicians and mentalists should place a high priority
on finding, buying, and using a high-quality portable sound
system. It's an essential investment, and you should purchase
the best you can afford.
The author concluded his column with:
''Just remember, for 99. 995% of you reading this, the most
bare-bones PA system you can find will be best for you, so
save that money for your next trip to the magic store!"
Follow his advice and that's where you'll be doing most of
your performing: in the magic store.


But whether you bring your own or use a provided system,

you must train your ears to differentiate between good and poor
quality sound. Good sound means your voice has texture and
warmth, and all words, in all registers, can be heard clearly.

Testing, One .. .Two .. .Three

A simple test to see if the sound system works is not enough.
Not nearly enough.
While it's best if the room is vacant during your sound
check, that's not always feasible. During your setup, do not be
shy about testing the sound system, even if people are milling
around. Ignore them.
Here are the essential tips for testing:
Speak softly into the microphone, then speak loudly.
Any problems?
• Move around the stage to check for feedback.
If using a wired mic (which are becoming increasingly
rare), check for cable length problems.
• If you have enough cable, and certainly if you are using a
wireless microphone, get off the stage and move around
the room as much as possible, checking for feedback and
dead spots.
If you are using a wireless mic, check battery levels. If
there's no way to check the actual battery level, replace
it (or insist it be replaced) with a fresh one. If it's your
own mic, replace the battery at the start of every show.
It's an inexpensive insurance policy.
• If you go into the audience during your show, you must
go down among the seats during the sound check, and
talk. And listen.
Do you use music? Check every aspect of it: the cues to
start and stop, the controls, the volume, the tonal quality
(every venue responds differently to sound).


If you're not using a wireless microphone, have someone

stand on stage and talk while you go to all parts of the room.
If you do have a wireless microphone, take it out to where the
audience will be and talk as you will be talking.
Is your voice equally clear everywhere? If not, find out why,
and see if it can be remedied. Sometimes a simple repositioning
of the speakers is all that's needed.
Sometimes the most practical solution in a large room is to
recruit other people to go to various spots around the room and
report back (yes, perhaps by shouting) whether they can hear
you clearly.
During the show you will be talking at different volume
levels; now's the time to learn if your soft phrases will be clearly
heard, or if your loud exclamations will overload the system, so
test your different voice levels.
Adjust the volume for maximum power and clarity. Adjust
the tone; in general the human voice is best served by a mid-
range setting between treble and bass. Don't fall into the trap
that plagues so many DJs: they love bass for their music, and
they pump it for their voices as well. The result is a muffled pea-
soup-thick fog of sounds that were supposed to be words. We are
among the performers who prefer to be understood.

The Beauty of the Handheld

Probably the most significant disagreement I have with
other pros is my advocacy for handheld microphones. Before
we jump headfirst into this discussion, allow me a personal
Over the years, I've received more compliments than I
deserved, but two in particular stand out in my memory.
The remarks were virtually identical, and twenty-four years
separated them. Because they were uttered by fellow professional
performers whom I respect, their words made me feel warm
and fuzzy inside, and being that their observations were much


m.ore targeted than the usual "loved your show" com.m.ents all
of us receive, the rem.arks reverberated and lasted longer in m.y
The first was from. Bob Cassidy, whose writings and lectures,
to m.y m.ind, ranked him. among the top five innovators and
analysts in the history of m.entalism.. The m.ore recent one cam.e
from. Jeff Evason, who, with his beautiful wife Tessa, present
the m.ost thrillingly entertaining two-person m.entalism. act in
our business.
After seeing m.e perform. they both cam.e over to discuss,
in som.e detail, m.y "microphone technique." They both realized
that for m.e, the microphone-the handheld microphone-did
far m.ore than amplify m.y voice. For m.e, it's a prop as important
as any I've ever brought on stage. It should be for you as well.
A fixed-position microphone (clip-on or headset type) simply
cannot offer the flexibility of a handheld! When a microphone is
stationary, you have less control over the power and dynamics of
your voice. It's a fixed distance from. your mouth, and it remains
at that distance throughout your show.
Our nearest relatives on the genealogy tree of performing
artists m.ust surely be the stand-up comics. Like us, they face
their audiences alone, usually with material they've developed
on their own. Yet unlike m.ost of us, they almost always opt for
a handheld microphone-at the comedy clubs, where they m.ay
not have m.uch choice, and on the m.any TV specials that feature
Here's a fact: whether at clubs or on TV, the vast majority of
stand-up comics perform. using a handheld microphone.
Do you think that's because they don't know what to do with
their hands?
No, they chose the handheld because of the control it affords
Yes, I know. You're a magician and you need to use your
hands. I also know that in m.any cases it is perfectly feasible to
rework parts of your act so that using a handheld is no longer a
problem.. I too need m.y hands during m.y act. But I blocked m.y
routines so that:


The microphone is on the mic stand for much of the act.

At that point, both hands are free to point, gesture,
display props, or do most anything, or
I hold the microphone in one hand and do "stuff" with
the other hand, or
I could hold the microphone in my right hand with my
fourth and fifth fingers, leaving my thumb and first two
fingers free to work with my left hand, or
I could momentarily place the cordless mic in the
handkerchief pocket of my suit jacket and still have it
angled toward my mouth. or
I could, in a rare and brief moment, hold the microphone
under my arm while I use both hands, or
You could use an around-the-neck holder. (More on this
in a moment.)
At all other times I simply hold the microphone and talk,
unencumbered and in total control of my voice.
Sound like trouble? It's not. It merely takes some planning.
Consider all the hefty advantages ...
A handheld can give you a commanding presence; you talk
loudly, but hold the microphone away from your mouth, creating
an illusion that you have raised your volume more than you
actually have.
Or you bring the microphone closer and talk softly. Suddenly
you have created a sense of warmth, which again may be an
illusion because the actual volume may not have changed all
that much.
But best of all, a handheld allows you to whisper. You bring
the microphone right up to your lips and whisper.
And do you know what happens when a performer whispers?
The audience perks up. They instantly know you are about
to tell them something special. A breathy whisper, delivered
slo-o-w-ly, with your lips right up against the microphone, can
be a sledgehammer tool in the right hands at the right moment.
For example, try whispering the line ...
"I really don't think this is going to work. Pray for me."


That line can be dramatic or funny, depending on who

delivers it and the circumstances. The point is, when said oh-so-
softly with the microphone held up close to your lips, it contrasts
powerfully with your previous patter.
Yes, you can do all those techniques with a fixed-position
microphone-talk loudly, talk softly, whisper-but they won't
have the same impact. Not even close.
Then too, there's the problem of dealing with volunteers who
join you on stage. Here's the typical scenario when the performer
works with a headset or clip-on microphone.
''And what was the word you selected out of thousands?"
"Elephant! Just as I had written on this board! Thank you
very much!"
Volunteers talk to you onstage in a conversational voice.
Why wouldn't they? They are talking to you and you are no
farther away than anyone engaged in normal conversation. And
they almost surely don't know how to project their unamplified
If you use a clip-on, is there a way around this problem?
Sure. You simply ask the volunteer to speak into your lapel.
Yeah, that's classy.
On the other hand-literally-when I hold the microphone I
control who gets heard and what gets heard. And as you know,
you seek to Control Every Moment.
Then there's the particular benefit for magicians of the
handheld microphone-the stage whisper. Momentarily drop
the microphone to your side and your sotto voce instructions
or questions will not be heard. Mentalists especially can take
advantage of this technique (the Dunninger ploy). Again, that's
a powerful tool not easily available to the clip-on addicts.
And now we come to one of the gilt-edged reasons for using
a handheld: you can Capture the Reaction.
Recall the importance of Reactions, as spelled out in Section
II. If you have a volunteer or two on stage, they become the
eyes and ears of the audience, and we assume you brought them
onstage to astound them. When the climax occurs, some people


erupt in a clearly seen display of emotion. But others deal with

astonishment internally, offering few visible clues about how
you have scrambled their brains. For those moments, nothing
beats having a handheld microphone, which you deftly move
into place with perfect timing and which catches the softly
uttered "holy shit ... "
The audience long remembers those moments.

Respecting the Spectator

There is sometimes a huge gap in show-biz logic when I watch
a performer who is wearing a clip-on mic talk to a volunteer on
First, realize that your voice will be noticeably louder than
the volunteer's voice. Now let's consider the possibilities. Are the
spectator's responses not important? Or just not as important
as what you, the star, have to say? If the responses are not
important, why did you ask the spectator anything?
Yet I have seen this breach of judgment from performers at
every level. You can't have it both ways; the spectator's voice
either is or is not important. Make a decision about this, and
then choose your microphone.
At the very least, if not using a handheld mic, repeat what
they said into your microphone so the rest of the audience can
hear it.

A Tip of the Mic

Yes, I get happy when I see a pro use a handheld microphone.
But I get sad when they use it incorrectly.
Here's what happens too often: a spectator is on stage, the
performer talks to her, but he keeps the mic pointing at his own
mouth even when she talks!
When you use a handheld, be sure to tip the mic toward
whomever is talking. This concept should be obvious but
apparently it's not. So try practicing the mic movement with a
mic (or pen) in your hand; get used to moving the mic back and
forth as needed.

Mic Stand or Mic Holder?

Or both?
Years back I was not a fan of the around-the-neck holder
for handheld mies. The mic protruded too much and made the
wearer look like a carnival pitchman. But things have changed.
Now you have two much better options: The Gim-Crack
Microphone Holder and Nick Lewin's Ultimate Microphone
Holder 2.1.
Professional performers designed these devices for guys
like you, magicians who need to use both hands. You can check
them out online.
Pro tip: For any such around-the-neck mic holder, be sure
it's black. And then wear a dark tie. Maybe even a black or dark
shirt. Since the base of most microphones is either black or dark
grey, the mic will blend in and it, along with the around-the-
neck holder, will be far less noticeable.

Pros Know
Jeff McBride, Eric Leclerc, Christopher Carter, Ben
Seidman, and Michael Kent are just a few of the top working
pros who use handhelds. There are many others.
And add Max Maven to the list of leading pros who are
handheld proponents. Interestingly, Max told me that not only
does he use a handheld mic when performing, he actually prefers
the corded versions. He says, correctly, that they are more
reliable and less prone to audio problems than cordless mies
and to his ear, the sound is richer. I don't hear the difference,
but I am perfectly happy to work with a corded mic. As with
Max, I grew up in show business using corded handhelds and
so he and I and others from our generation have always been
comfortable with them. We never felt the need to cut the cord.


Gear for Workers

In my opinion, the best microphones for stage performers
are the Shure "SM 58" line, the ice-cream-cone-shaped mies.
Here are a few of their considerable features and benefits, as
listed in a catalog:
frequency response specially tailored for speech
steel mesh ball grille with integral 'pop' filter that
minimizes wind and breath percussive sounds
an on/off switch (in the PG58 model); (By keeping your
thumb on that switch you gain even better control over
stage whispers.)
Plus, as Nathan Coe Marsh pointed out to me, there is "the
insane durability of the SM 58; there are a ton of YouTube
videos of people hammering nails with an SM 58, driving over
it with a truck, etc. and it still working."
Next best is the cylindrical Shure SM57. Both the SM57 and
the microphones in the "58" line are appropriately and correctly
described in catalogs as the "workhorses" of stages and studios,
and as "true audio legends." [Strangely, I wrote those words
almost 20 years ago and yet they are still true!]
The microphone stand will usually have just one available
clip to hold the mic, but that might not be the best one for
your purposes. It is a good idea to carry different clips to
accommodate different stands and different mies, as well as
differing connectors. (The "58" line microphones are superb at
minimizing the sounds created when you put it on or remove it
from the microphone stand.)

To Mic or Not to Mic?

A question for you: you've been hired to perform for an
audience of fifty people in a room just large enough to seat them
comfortably. Do you set up your sound system?
At New York City's wonderful Monday Night Magic, a typical
audience consists of approximately 100 to 180 spectators and


much of the time they do, in fact, have a full house. Many of the
performers go on without using any sound system to amplify
the voices.
Would you?
You shouldn't. It's a major miscalculation to work without
a microphone in such situations. Some performers with whom
I spoke at Monday Night Magic told me they didn't use the
sound system because the room is small enough for their
voices to be heard by every patron. And they're correct-they
can be heard. [They have moved to a new venue since those
words were written. Now, perhaps because of the different room
configuration, or perhaps-dare I say it?-because of this book,
virtually all MNM performers use a microphone.]
Performers who go on without a microphone miss the
bigger issue. When you're on stage, you don't want to be equal
to the spectators. You want to be figuratively larger than they
are, more in control of every element than anyone else in the
room. You cannot adequately control a laughing, responding,
applauding audience without amplifying your voice. Period. If
you think otherwise, you are fooling yourself.
The microphone allows you to goose a laugh into a bigger or
more sustained laugh by tacking on a secondary booster joke
just as the laugh begins subsiding. This is a technique I use
in every one of my shows, and it would be impossible without
a microphone. And the same applies to talking over applause;
without a sound system, you must wait for the sounds from the
audience to dissipate, and that once again means you are ceding
control to something external. Plus, if you do happen to have a
heckler, the person with the microphone always wins.
Audiences are accustomed to hearing amplified voices. You
adjust the volume, beforehand, so that you obtain just the vocal
boost you need without overpowering anyone with sound waves.
Other than in a true close-up situation, you should always
amplify your voice.

The audiovisual guys assigned to the hotel banquet hall
where you'll be performing are often charming folks who

sincerely want to help you look and sound your best. Don't be
lulled into complacency by their friendly demeanor. And don't be
intimidated if they come on with an I-know-what's-best-around-
here attitude. They are not entertainers, they are geeks. Sweet,
well-intentioned geeks, perhaps, but geeks nonetheless, and
they don't know what you know.
Here's a scenario I encountered frequently: if the A/V staff
has access to four, six, or more portable speakers, they will
gleefully place all of them around the room, including at the
back of the room facing forward, so the sound shoots at the
audience from all directions. That's bad. The speakers should
help focus attention on you. Sound coming at the audience from
everywhere seems to come from nowhere in particular.
Sometimes a room does require multiple speakers. More
likely, however, a quality system consisting of a muscular
amplifier and just two speakers, properly set up prior to the
show, can easily project your voice and music from the front
stage area to the last row. And by using just two speakers, you
achieve the effect you want: the sound projects forward from
near where you are, and that helps ensure that you remain the
center of attention.
Two top-of-the-line PA speakers from any of the leading
manufacturers, coupled with a compatible and properly
powerful amplifier system, can be configured to fill all but the
largest auditoriums. I regularly took this approach in college
auditoriums holding one thousand or more spectators, with
perfect sound quality and quantity. That is a better approach
than placing more speakers around the room.
The A/V guys from the venue, or from the outside firm
brought in just for the occasion, will fight you on this. They
have the equipment, and they will want to use it. They might
even goad you with "other performers love it." That's fine for
other performers. They may not know what you (now) know,
or need what you need. Or they may not care the way you now
care about proper sound. You may need to finesse your way
through, but keep in mind, when the show is over it's you they'll
remember for better or worse, not the sound guy.


Speaking of Speakers
During the years since this book was first published, audio
science has taken great leaps forward, and I want to alert you
to two of my favorite PA speaker systems.
In late 2003 the Bose Corporation smashed the look and the
very concept of Public Address systems with the introduction of
its Ll line. From a distance, it looks like a tall thin pencil. Yet
its sound quality and wide coverage is extraordinary.
I can tell you from personal experience that my first-
generation Ll (now discontinued) filled a country club ballroom
with better sound than most standard, and far-bulkier, PA
boxes. Even better, as a hypnotist, I placed the column directly
behind the middle of my row of chairs that would hold my twelve
volunteers, and amazingly, feedback was never a concern. Plus,
despite what you might assume, the person directly in front of
the speaker column was not blasted with sound.
Here's what the Bose website says about the Ll Model 1S:
High-performing, powered, portable two-way loudspeaker
system with a 195° H x 10° V nominal dispersion designed
for the production and reproduction of live music, music
playback, speeches and A/V sound reproduction.
12-driver articulated line array produces wide, uniform
sound coverage throughout the entire listening area-even
off to the extreme sides.
Consistent front-to-back coverage, 12 drivers mounted
in a vertical line array produce less drop off in sound
pressure level per doubling in distance than a conventional
point source.
For a full description of the the Ll and all its various
configurations visit the Bose website.
After Bose brought out the Ll, other manufacturers
produced similar looking PA towers. I've heard several and in
my opinion the sound quality does not match the Bose.
For smaller audiences, say, fewer than 100, I can recommend
the Anchor Audio AN-lO00X+. Once I bought that unit, I was
able to put an entire PA system-speaker, amplifier, cables,


extension cords and microphone, into a small over-the-shoulder

duffel bag. Only the mic stand has to be carried separately. I
typically didn't even bother with a speaker stand (although in
truth that would be better), I merely placed the Anchor box onto
a table or chair off to the side.
While the sound quality does not approach that of the Bose
system, it was still better than most similar small PA boxes and
it is perfect for those situation where I don't need to-or want
to-carry the larger and heavier Bose.
The Anchor speaker, and certainly the Bose Ll, are more
expensive than most of the PA systems advertised to the magic
community, but you get what you pay for. As said above, sound
quality is supremely important.
And lastly, Bose and other firms now make small Bluetooth
speakers (check out the Bose Soundlink Micro) that fit in
your hand and sound terrific. They can be perfect for close-up
workers. Just place it on the table and go. Some of these small
units pump out surprisingly tight and smooth bass notes, filling
the space with quality sound. So now there's no reason those
performers can't benefit from music as well.

You must hear what the audience hears. I never understand
why so many performers overlook this simple requirement.
If you don't have audio monitors and the house speakers are
placed in front of the stage, you will have a tendency to talk too
loudly. Insist on monitors. Without monitors, you will not hear
what your audience hears; they hear sound emanating directly
from the speakers while you hear your voice reflected back at
you. That puts you at a substantial disadvantage.
An alternative to using monitors is to have two or more
speakers that will serve as both the house public-address system
and as your monitors. Position the speakers on your stage so
they are as far back behind you as possible, then aim them
diagonally across the room, so that the speaker over your right
shoulder broadcasts out to the far left corner, and the opposite
for the other speaker.


Caution: The audio guy will look at you like you are a pathetic
show business neophyte who doesn't understand feedback. Be
patient with him. The fact is, with most high-quality sound
systems, you can stand almost directly in front of the speakers
without causing feedback, especially if you're using a good
handheld microphone. Condenser mies, and especially clip-on
condenser mies, will give you more feedback problems (just one
more advantage of the handhelds).
If you do have unacceptable feedback, you can try several
possible remedies. First, if possible, change microphones; they
each respond differently in different acoustic environments.
Adjust the positions of the speakers; sometimes re-aiming them
by just a few degrees will fix the problem. Also, try tweaking
the tone controls; bringing one of the treble slides down a few
notches might make all the difference.
But whatever you do, if at all possible, don't go on if you
cannot hear what the audience hears.

Chapter 13

In the summer of 2018, Joshua Jay mounted his genre-
bending show Six Impossible Things in a nondescript space
down on New York's Lower East Side. While much of it was
original, a good chunk came directly from Josh's polished
repertoire. Yet even old standby routines that I had seen before
felt new. The reason, in part, was because throughout the 75
minutes, music played unobtrusively in the background. Music
that had been painstakingly selected, and it elevated every
moment of the show.
Frankly, if I were easing my way back into full-time
performing, I would focus much of my energy on working more
music into my act. Music by itself delivers an emotional kick,
and when combined with your actions or words on stage almost
always enhances the entertainment experience. Few acts cannot
be embellished, if not significantly improved, by the judicious
use of music. Certainly, David Copperfield and his team owe
much of the success of their TV specials to their brilliant use
of recorded music. And for the past few years The Illusionists
elevate almost every moment of their spectacular stage shows
with high quality music.
In the sport of figure skating, competitors and their coaches
devote long hours to the careful selection of music to establish the
perfect mood. All great movie directors depend on the Bernard
Herrmanns, John Williamses, and Elmer Bernsteins of the
world to build plot points. In our field, little has been written
about this important subject, but that may be a reflection of the
fact that each individual performer must find his or her own
best musical accompaniment.
Music can be used to:
Cover slow moments, such as when volunteers come up
to the stage and when they return to the audience
Build tension
Enhance frivolity
Signal a climactic moment


Specific to our field, music can play a significant role in

the magical process itself, by overriding other sounds. Stage
whispers can be muffled out. You can ask a volunteer her name
and later use that information for laughs or otherwise. The
telltale noises emitted by certain effects can be concealed.
In the Reactions chapter, I wrote about targeting your words
and actions. Music, too, must be similarly targeted toward a
specific reaction. A particular piece might be:
Before you pick out your music, decide where you're headed,
and only then seek out the music that best gets you there.

Music Moves
Never forget that great music on its own affects the human
mind. It moves us, it soothes us, it uplifts us.
When we attend a classical music concert (and if you haven't
done that recently, do it!), there is nothing much to see except
the back of the conductor flailing his or her arms, and the
small movements of the musicians. And yet, at the climax of a
thrilling program we often leap to our feet, having been stirred
intensely by the sounds flowing over us.
Good music, apart from any magic you might do, makes us
happy or scared or excited. Why waste that readily available
Listen to the best-known classical music, go back to the
best known popular music, and check out theme songs from hit
movies. Each genre offers a treasure trove of emotion-packed
Find and use great music. It will be one of the best
investments of your time that you can possibly make.


Musical Miscues
As with everything else in magic, there are several types of
mistakes performers make when using music. First, there are
the inappropriate choices. Two examples I've seen:
Circus-theme music as volunteers walk up to the stage.
This feels like a slight put-down of the volunteers.
• A mentalist uses the theme from the television show
Jeopardy for his dramatic climax. The music produces
a laugh, which is good, but it breaks the tension he is
building, so for that specific time it is a poor choice.
Next is the problem of music cliches. One knowledgeable
friend pointed out that during the last quarter of the 20th
century it seemed half the magicians who used music used the
same ten or twelve pieces. That's probably correct-and insane!
The world is awash in great music, including royalty-free music.
Go find something that doesn't make you sound like the guy on
the Ed Sullivan Show in 1965!
And do we need another piece of magic performed to "Thus
Spoke Zarathustra" (popularized in the film 2001: A Space
Odyssey)? I don't think so. Same with "Mission Impossible,"
"Eye of the Tiger," any timeworn pop song that has the word
"magic" in it, and all other overused themes. (Still, if you use
one of those cliches in an original way, then maybe you're fine.)

The Hierarchy of Music

Just as with tricks, there is a "good, better, best" ladder for
music, or specifically, the way music is used in magic.
The three options are:
The music sets the mood, but remains in the background.
This is by far the most common usage, and it's absolutely
fine-assuming you have spent time and effort finding
the right background music.
The music is meant to be noticed and makes some sort
of statement about what's happening on stage (the pace
quickens, or become softer, or dramatic, or builds to a


crescendo), in reasonably tight coordination with what

the magician is doing.
The music and the act are tightly intertwined. That
is, things the magician does are precisely timed and
choreographed to the music. Vanishes, appearances,
restorations, etc. happen-ZAP-on the drum beat, or
the sudden change in rhythm, or exactly at the start or
end of a piece of music.
The audience, consciously or subconsciously, gives the
performer extra credit. The music/magic connection signals
"here is a pro" who worked hard to give us the best show. This
option is often, but not always, the most desirable and most
difficult to achieve.
For most performers, you're going to start with Option One,
and if appropriate, work up to Two. Then as you become more
professional and have more resources, you move to the Third
Be aware, however, that this music "hierarchy" is somewhat
different from the one for magic routines (puzzle, trick,
extraordinary moment): here the first or second level truly
might be what's best for you.
For example, in the intimate setting for Six Impossible
Things, it would have been hokey to move to Option Two;
background music was the best choice in that situation, and
carefully selected background music is best in many acts.

Think Outside the Music Box

The more thought you give to how you use music, the
greater the dividends. And those who look beyond the obvious
will reap the biggest reward.
In his July 2018 Genii review of Denis Behr's Magic on
Tap video set, Nathan Coe Marsh astutely details one creative
example. There is no music at all within the first 30 minutes of
Behr's theatrical close-up show, and there are only two tracks
used at all within the show.


"The first occurs during Behr's 'Oil and Water' routine.

While waiting for the cards to separate, Behr begins
to lightly drum his fingertips on the table top in a gentle
staccato. We barely hear the soft piano music that enters
and gently grows louder underneath his tapping. We have
not heard any music prior during the performance, and it
takes a moment for the brain to register what is happening.
The music almost seems to come out of the drumming of his
fingers. It is a lovely moment." ·
So we know that Behr gave serious thought to his music
selection, and then, equally importantly, he thought about
exactly how to use it.
Denis Behr found a new way to incorporate the power of
music. Can you?

Control Yourself! You're in Public!

In recent years the biggest breakthrough in sound is the
ability of the performer to control the music. This smashes the
old paradigm in which the performer depended upon either
live musicians or an audio person for the correct volume, the
timing of effects, starting and stopping music, etc. I received
excellent tips about using and controlling music from several top
professionals, including Ken Scott, Trigg Watson, Joel Ward,
and Shawn Farquhar. Not surprisingly, much of their advice
overlapped. Since Shawn shared the most detailed advice, I'm
going to present his take on the subject.
* * *
Shawn Farquhar captured the 2009 FISM Grand Prix
close-up Championship and IBM's First Place for both Stage
and Sleight of Hand.
Recording music tracks with five seconds of silence before
the music plays is a clever idea. It allows me to activate the
remote before the music begins so my hands are free and far
from the remote. I find it less likely that the audience will
discover I am my own sound person. Too often I see magicians
pushing the button in their front pant pocket and the music
starts immediately. This becomes obvious to the audience as


well. (That's a great tip, but for some high-energy performers,

the delay might not be necessary if the button-pushing is much
less noticeable. KW)
I have two remotes and every track has five seconds of
silence. One remote I carry in my vest pocket and the other
is in the edge of my prop box or corner of my side table. This
allows me to activate my music in two different ways. If I were
to use a handheld microphone I would tape the second remote
directly to the handle of the mic. This is the perfect place and
would allow easy access.
Others have used a magnetic reed switch to activate their
remotes to trigger their cues. These are generally worn on their
ankles and allow total hands-free use. Although I personally
am not a fan of this method I have seen it used effectively. The
secret was in the placement of the magnet to the remote. Both
were secured by tension bands to the ankles of the performer,
with one to the side of the foot and the other to the back. Many
make the mistake of placing them both to the side, but this
often results in unintentional activation. By placing them offset
and in some cases at different heights, the risk is minimized.
This means the performer must move one foot into a slightly
unnatural position to activate the switch. But it makes it a lot
less risky.
Regardless of where the remote is placed, there is always
a chance that a cue could be triggered accidentally. Levent
Cimkentli (one of my favorite performers; he's at LeventMagic.
com. KW) has devised an amazing holder for a remote that
secures it in the pocket and makes it easy to locate the primary
button. There are a number of internet forums dedicated to
creating devices to hold remotes and the triggering units.
It is essential to have a display that allows me to see which
track is playing and, more importantly, which track is next in
the show. In the past there were LED units that would tell you
the track number, but now with Media Monkey or Audio Ape
you can use an iPhone or iPad and see the current track, next
track, and running time. They connect using a dedicated Wi-Fi
network and can make a huge difference. As a performer who
is always changing the show order to suit the venue, client, and
my attitude, it is not uncommon for me to be uncertain which


effect is next in the show. With Media Monkey or Audio Ape I

can relax as I can easily see all I need to know.
Entry level applications such as Go Button with Audio Ape
are exceptionally easy to program. They allow the performer
to lower and raise the volume of the tracks with the remote in
addition to advancing a track. For performers who just want to
control their music, this is an ideal solution.
My favourite now is Media Monkey by Charles Peachock. It
works with your laptop and allows you to control Q-Lab. Q-Lab
is the industry standard and is found worldwide in theatres,
casinos, and cruise ships. On Disney Cruise Line it is used in
the Walt Disney Theatre and the secondary venues as well. To
be able to just plug my Media Monkey into their system and
control my entire show is amazing. I'm not just controlling the
music, but the video and any other DMX device that is attached
to the systems universe. Media Monkey is also able to control
KeyNote and ProPresenter is for those who do public speaking
and require slides as well.
When shopping for a remote system, make certain it is
operating on a band that is legal in all countries. Media Monkey
uses 433 Mhz and is legal worldwide. On October 13, 2018 all
wireless system using the 600Mhz band became prohibited in
the United States. This is a result of the FCC auctioning off the
band range. Companies like T-Mobile have purchased it and
the wireless microphone companies, cellular internet providers,
and others have been ordered to vacate the space or face fines
and criminal sanctions. This means if your wireless device uses
any band from 614 to 698 Mhz it may currently be illegal.
Thanks, Shawn.
* * *
Nathan Coe Marsh, writing for the Charles Peachock blog,
offers additional highly practical ideas about handling audio
However you decide to control your music, your main goal is
to not draw attention to the process. The music should just flow,
seamlessly, into your act.
* * *


To be clear, I am not endorsing any particular product, nor

have I independently verified any of the above recommendations;
all music control devices and software have their fans. (Media
Star from Promystic, Audio Ape, Media Monkey, and Cue
Command from Deceptively Simple, were the controllers
mentioned most often when I asked around.) Electronic products
evolve quickly and leapfrog each other, so do your due diligence,
and then invest in the system that best meets your needs. I
can't imagine you'll ever regret it.
* * *
As much as I'm urging you to incorporate music into your
act, I acknowledge that in certain specific cases, no music is
the better choice. For example, if you have a reason why words,
from you or from audience members, must be heard clearly,
performing sans music could well be your best option.
Then too, if you use music through all or much of your show,
silence can become a dramatic attention grabber.

Soma Shows the Way

Hungarian magician Soma (pronounced SHO-ma), captured
the 2009 FISM Grand Prix Stage championship. His winning
act skillfully used music throughout and he has much to say
about magicians and music.
Not long after that win he wrote a couple of articles for a
magic magazine on how to incorporate music into a magic act,
and was kind enough to share some of his thoughts with me
for this revised edition. (He's working on his own book on this
subject, so look for that when it's out.)
First up from Soma, appropriately, is:

Finding the Right Music

The amount of time spent finding the appropriate music
varies with acts and performers. Sometimes I find a tune to
go with an act straight away, something I hear a song playing


randomly on the radio that I just know is the music I want when
I make those four aces appear. For other acts, it could take
weeks or months before I find the right piece. The crucial thing
is to have a sensibility for good music. When you hear it, you
have to get a sense that it's the perfect complement to your show
or trick. Enjoy rehearsing to it, working to it, and surrendering
to the feeling conveyed by the music. A musical performance can
only be complete when the performer is one with the music.

Amateur Music
Let me caution everyone against selecting music from
specialty CDs recorded for magicians. These tunes are
often poorly recorded and produced. If we're going to choose
something for our act, it should be well produced, recorded
professionally in the best high-end studio environment. On the
same note, I wouldn't encourage anyone to pick their tunes from
reputable film score reproduction CDs or amateur compilations.
Amateur music is for amateur magicians. If you want to make
a professional impression, go musically pro!

Royalty-free music sites

Royalty-free music sites, and the quality of music they
offer, have greatly improved over the past few years. I can
wholeheartedly recommend looking through those online
websites: the variety of music is overwhelming, the quality
is excellent in most cases, and the organization of the sites is
straightforward. is one great example.
Thank you, Soma.
* * *
It must be pointed out there are certain legal issues
concerning use of non-royalty-free music. Seek out competent
* * *


End Notes
• When music is used to set a mood behind a performer
who talks, too soft is always better than too loud.
If music is available to you, at the very least you should
walk off to music. Good exit music boosts the final
Similarly, it's smart to have music playing before
your show starts; it helps build anticipation for your
If it fits the moment, play upbeat music as volunteers
make their way to the stage.
• Music with lyrics can be effective, but you cannot be
talking while the singer is singing.
And lastly, this succinct observation from busy pro Michael
Kent, as published on his blog:
"I recently spent two hours editing some bumper music so
that it fit my show perfectly. The result? About fifteen seconds
of music that plays in my show under applause and my talking.
The audience never really hears it. But I wanted it to be perfect.
And though they don't recognize it, it contributes to the feeling
I'm trying to create in the room. If I didn't put in that work,
the result wouldn't be the same. The audience might not know
exactly what it was, but they'd realize something wasn't right.
It's about details."
Yes, it's all about the details, in music and everywhere else
in your act.
* * *
To sum up this Chapter:
Use music.
Use music more.
Use music better.
Use better music.

Chapter 14

["Dr. Phil" McGraw] puts in 18-hour days and talks to Oprah
every night by phone. "Of course, she gives me pointers," he says.
"She tells me, 'Take it from me, lighting is everything."'
TV Guide, Sept 21, 2002
Who knew? America's billionaire former Queen of Daytime
TV owes her fortune to the placement of a few Klieg lights.
Well, lighting may not be everything for you, but lighting
should never be treated lightly.
Here's what you do when setting up.
First, and absolutely most importantly, your stage needs
what lighting designers call a good "wash'' of light: general
illumination for every area where any action takes place. (For
this discussion, we will ignore any specific needs for darkness
you might require to accomplish the magic.) And for most
platform performers, a good wash is all they need. Um, I'm
talking lighting here.
In general, the more light the better. At an absolute
minimum, you want to ensure that more light falls on you than
on the audience. That should be obvious, but I have seen many
professional speakers, and some entertainers, ignore this basic

Some venues pay extra for an operator to aim a follow
spotlight (or followspot) at the performers. Does that work for
you? In my work as a hypnotist and mentalist, I need to work
directly with the audience, and spotlights, depending on their
position and intensity, can be blinding. So I ask the operator
just to widen the aperture as much as possible, then center the
beam and lock it into position. Usually that makes them happy
(less work), and it makes me happy.
On the other hand, spotlights-and there often are more
than one-do help focus attention on you, so you may choose


to let the operators do what they're there for. Just be sure to

get your butt up on the stage, and walk around in exactly the
same lighting you will encounter during the show, spotlights
following you and all. You can't know if the conditions suit you
until you thoroughly test them. For most types of shows, you
will want to raise the spotlights up as high as possible on their
stands so the bright lights are not shining into your eyes as
you try to make eye contact with the audience. Performers look
foolish and amateurish when they need to shade their eyes
to converse with someone in the audience. That should never
happen if you properly set the lights beforehand.
Unless needed for a specific reason, try to avoid performing
with no light other than one strong spotlight. A powerful
spotlight is harsh, casting stark and distracting shadows.
You may be better served by turning on whatever lights are
overhead, even fluorescents, if they help fill out the overall
light pattern better. (Although things have improved recently,
magic conventions have been notorious for poor lighting, and
for using spotlights inappropriately.) Unless you are certain you
specifically want the dramatic effect it provides, don't settle for
just one spotlight.
Often I asked the spotlight operator to just give me a pinkish
hue, open the iris to its fullest, aim it center stage-and lock it.
Yes, he was paid to follow me around the stage, but over time I
came to prefer a fixed light; it tended to be less distracting.

Finding the Hot Spot

If you're working without a spotlight, you face a different
set of challenges. First, where will you plant yourself for most
of your show? In most cases, lighting dictates the answer. You
want to be smack in the brightest spot on the stage.
Here's how you find that spot without bothering anyone else.
Stand where you think the most light falls. With luck, this will
be downstage center, but not always. That's why you must test
for what feels like the hot spot by moving slightly to your left,
then to your right, forward and then back. Then proceed to the
next part of the process.


To narrow it down further, step to the side and just slightly

in front of where you assume the hot spot is. Hold your hand up,
palm facing the audience, where your head would be. Now move
your hand slowly from side to side and front to back. Watch your
palm. It will get brighter or darker as it moves.
Once you find your hot spot, place the microphone stand on
it and announce, "Please do not touch this stand!" (good luck)
or, better, mark it on the floor with tape.

Re: Sound and Lighting.

Dominate the Terrain-An Object
The June 2003 Meeting of the Minds (as the Psychic
Entertainers Association calls its annual get-together) in
Calgary, Canada, was a festive, four-day event. On the final
night, Saturday, PEA members from around the world dined,
chatted, and applauded as awards were presented honoring the
commitment of its members, some of whom had participated in
the organization for its entire twenty-five years.
At the conclusion of the award ceremony, the membership
prepared to be entertained by some of their own. Of the five
acts that would be performing that night, three were full-time
professionals, performers who earn their living by dependably
delivering entertainment. The venue was a large ballroom in
a fine Calgary restaurant, complete with sunken dance floor
and terraced dining area. All signs pointed toward success.
The crowd was fully primed, crammed with friends, plus a good
number of outsiders, drawn to the event by publicity, which
included coverage on the local TV news shows.
But much of the night turned into a performer's (and an
audience's) nightmare. From the very first act, the sound system
seemed demon-possessed, shrouding each performer in a cocoon
of squeals, hisses, shriekings, and gibberings. The sound system
cut in and out, randomly but regularly, and effectively stymied
the world-class performers who struggled heroically to adjust.
The next morning, Sunday, standing before the bleary-eyed
PEA attendees, I began my annual Performance Workshop,


a "director's" assessment of everyone's performances at the

Meeting of the Minds' evening shows. When I reached the point
where I was to review the Saturday night show, I stepped to
the edge of the platform and brought the handheld microphone
close to my mouth. I felt my voice thicken and experienced deep
surprise at the sudden surge of emotion traveling up my spine. I
described the debacle with the sound system the previous night
and then said, "If I had been on the show last night, that never
would have happened."
The lecture room fell silent. I repeated myself, more slowly,
my voice a near-whisper in the charged silence of the lecture
'1/ I had been on the show last night, that would not have
Does that sound pompous? Perhaps here, on this cold page,
it does.
But my peers in the audience recognized that I was speaking
from a place of sincerity, of camaraderie, of honesty, and I was
banking on the professionalism and commitment to excellence
within our organization to get a fair hearing. It was a matter of
personal pride; the reputation of an organization I cared deeply
about had been sullied. Here was a situation that, however
unpleasant, needed to be addressed.

The Search for Remedies

In the case of the Saturday night performance at the
Calgary Meeting of the Minds, although the bulk of the audience
consisted of PEA members, at least a quarter of the attendees
had paid to see us that night. Civilians were present. All shows
matter, but when it's more than "just the guys" in the audience,
they matter more. Your reputation rises or falls every time you
step in front of an audience.
Can you imagine the word-of-mouth generated by that
Saturday night performance? Remember, as far as the audience
is concerned, there are no excuses. They arrive at a venue, pay
good money, and expect to be entertained. They will make no
fine distinctions: "Oh, the performer did his best under very


trying circumstances. How could the venue treat that nice

performer that way?" From the perspective of the general paying
audience, you are the venue. And they will no more overlook the
shortcomings of your performance than they would accept the
apologies of a restaurant waiter who offers: "I'm sorry the salad
greens are wilted. But it is not our fault. The cooling system in
the produce truck failed. All we had left were these. However, I
made sure to polish your silverware with extra care."
How generously would you tip that waiter? Would you

Where the Buck Stops

The only way that you can hope to overcome the kinds of
problems experienced at the Calgary MOTM is to own the
territory. Dominate the terrain. The performer who wants to
succeed in every circumstance needs to take every performing
situation and venue seriously and become as affably stubborn,
finicky, and particular as you are about the things in your life
that you depend upon for comfort and safety. Would you drive
around in your car without a spare tire? Continue to operate a
computer holding your list of performing dates for the coming
months without backing it up?
You must take control. Otherwise, you will find yourself
looking out across the footlights with that deer-in-the-headlights
expression on your face as the Sound System From Hell chews
your carefully constructed performance into a thing of misery.

Blessed Are the Not-Meek

It amazes me how performers who seduce, charm, dominate,
and fry audiences on a regular basis can be completely docile,
tame, and undemanding in the presence of sound and lighting
technicians on whom their shows-and the happiness of their
audiences-depend. Statements that these powerful performers
would not accept from other technical professionals, such as
automotive repairmen ("Oh, that rattle is normal in this year's
model") seem to fly completely under the radar when uttered by


the average sound and light technician. Every performer needs

to take responsibility for an event.
While it is understandable that sound or light technicians
will try to minimize their workload, skimping on the fine details
by telling you that "everything was up and working fine last
night," you do not have the luxury to go with their untested
assertion. As a professional performer, you have a duty to go
through your checklist and perform the necessary tests to
ensure your own success.
Your absolute lifeline as a performer, the only thing that
connects you to your audience, unless you happen to perform
as a mime-without music-is the sound system. Losing that
lifeline, or worse, having it turn into a spitting monster spraying
your audience with vile sonic effluvia as it did to the performers
in Calgary, is professional suicide.
When I asked one of the performers if he had done a sound
check before the performance, I was told, "Sort of." We need
look no further for the roots of the problems in Calgary that
night. Sound checks are not an optional part of a performer's
life. Like good dental hygiene, sound fiscal habits, and backing
up your hard drive, men and women who ignore these routine,
but important, parts of life will-eventually-reap the eventual
consequences of their neglect.
This was certainly true that night in Calgary.
What would I have done before the Calgary performance?
Since I was not backstage before the show I cannot provide
absolute answers. But, based on what I was told later on, I do
know this:
A number of microphone options were available. At the
moment I realized there were serious audio problems, I would
have sought out the simplest, most direct solution: a corded
handheld microphone and a microphone stand. This setup
is direct and simple. If you can solve a room's problems with
this setup, you go with it, even if you regularly use a cordless,
clip-on microphone. (Bad sound ruins a show, so you accept a
work-around solution. A few awkward moments are better than
constant craving for aural relief.)


The room had large, disco-type speakers around its ceiling

and sides and, in the rear, a DJ booth with the sound system
controls. I would have tested:
• Various mies, and for each I would have adjusted the
tone, volume, and other controls to find its optimum
Turning different speakers on and off
Re-aiming speakers
Combinations of all the above
And I would have taken these steps until I was certain I had
achieved the best solution available.
Get it right, whatever the cost in time. An audience will
barely remember a delay if it's followed by a successful
performance. But they'll forever associate your name with the
unpleasantness of having their ears horribly violated by the
Devil's Own Sound System.
Count on that-and act accordingly.


A Personal Entertainment Highlight:

David Copperfield-
I can recall only two times when I literally experienced a
visceral reaction to magic, when what I watched affected my
gut. The two could not have been more different.
One was the Masked Magician. The smarmy mean-
spiritedness of those shows appalled me as I watched them
viciously attack a centuries-old tradition that lived inside me-
magicians keep secrets-and my stomach churned.
The exact opposite end of the physical-reaction spectrum
happened during one of David Copperfield's TV specials. I saw
"Flying." It thrilled me to my core in a way no other trick has,
before or since.
The perfect magic trick is the one you would do if you were
truly a wizard. Vernon's "Unlimited Production of Silver," done
at the dinner table, or reaching into the air to produce coins, a
la Miser's Dream, both meet that criterion. My favorite close-up
effect (which evolved from a Patrick Page concept) has many
variations and names; it involves cleanly showing a stack of one-
dollar bills and then changing them into higher denomination
bills. Nothing but the bills and bare hands; when done by a
professional (close-up pro Alan Scher, now gone, gave the best
presentation I've seen of this), it's remembered for years. And
why not? It is exactly what you would do if you truly possessed
magical powers.
What powers would a genuine magician exhibit if he were
to perform before a large audience? One answer lies both in
mythology and superhero comic books. Man wants to leave
Earth's grasp, to fly, to soar, not in a mechanical contraption,
but the way a bird does. A bird thinks, in his little bird brain,
"I'm here, and now I want to be there." If he's on the ground and
wants to perch on a tree limb, he lifts his beak and up he goes.
To earthbound man, that's magic of the highest order.


David Copperfield and his team have developed some of

the slickest, most incredible illusions imaginable, and David
performs them with icy-hot precision.
Then there's "Flying".
In this perfectly executed routine, he shows us the purest
of pure Magic. No props or assistants. No tables, swords, cloth
coverings, water fountains, and certainly no brooms! The man
looks up ... and up he goes. Smoothly, he glides and swoops. And
only after he has established his mastery of the air does he
challenge the intellect by introducing hoops and transparent
boxes, which affect his airborne antics not in the slightest.
Stylishly, thrillingly, and miraculously, David Copperfield
flew, and inside my body, I felt as though I were soaring.
Watching "Flying" on Copperfield's Illusion DVD didn't
diminish my admiration of this "trick" (what a trifling word in
this case). Instead, seeing it with the sharpest video details and
highest quality audio made it ascend still higher in my view.
[In 2018, I saw Criss Angel close his show at the Luxor with
his version of "Flying." It was done extremely well. But geez, it's

Section VI

'.'A presentation, especially a
theatrical one, before an audience."


Chapter 15

Close-up Magic
The most-performed category of magic is the close-up kind.
No scientific survey validates that observation, but one need
merely peruse the magic magazines and catalogs to reach
this conclusion. (By itself, card magic, which is almost always
performed in an intimate setting, occupies the biggest slice of
the "magic-by-type" pie chart.) So while the guiding principles
and strategies covered in this book apply to vast segments of
the mystery-worker population, it makes sense to touch on some
of the special situations and obstacles faced by the armies of
close-up workers scattered across the globe.
Traditionally, the close-up worker deals with one of two
scenarios. The first is the more difficult: you walk up cold to a
group of people. They may be seated at a table, or they might be
standing. In either case, you start as the outsider.
The easier situation is the warm start: they invite you over
to their table, or they come to where you are, as in the Magic
In the first case, the cold start, your opening words take
on even greater importance than normal. Frequently you will
be interrupting a conversation, or worse, a meal, so it becomes
critical that you ingratiate yourself quickly. Body language and
attitude count more than canned words at this point. Some of
the best close-up performers don't do or say anything related
to magic when they first approach a potential audience, they
simply chat for a while and use that interlude to assess the
ambience and personalities of the group. Experienced workers
are flexible enough to read the vibes and adjust the repertoire

Pleased to Meet You?

Close-up workers often perform a continuing series of short
sets, and that very fact can lead to performance fatigue. You
must be aware of that tendency, and fight it. I hate seeing, as I
have many times, a performer who in any way conveys a feeling
that he's done his seven-minute set fifteen times in the past two
hours, and now he appears bored or distracted.

Don't let that be you. Get your energy level up, every time,
before you approach a new group. Every group may include
someone important, and every group may include a fuddy-duddy
who will complain to the higher-ups if he is less than pleased
with you.
So smile! Establish your human identity. Start that process
by introducing yourself: "Hi, my name is Bob and I'm the
magician here tonight. Do you have a minute for something
amazing?" (Or "cool/ interesting/out of the ordinary?")
Connect with me and the people I'm with. If you know you
interrupted us, smile and apologize for the interruption (this
appears to be an exception to my "never apologize" rule, but
at this point, those folks are not yet your audience) and then
immediately go into a strong, quick opener.
Do not say, "Would you like to see a trick?" Anyone can do a
trick. You do miraculous things.

"You Want Me to Pick Another Card?"

Too many close-up workers don't vary their effects enough.
You can be wonderfully entertaining doing a parade of card
tricks, as long as the plots don't overlap. Each new effect, card
or otherwise, must showcase some new talent, skill, or "power,"
or develop a new plot.
First I'll find your hopelessly lost card.
Then I will make it magically jump to another location.
Now I can play poker with you and, despite your choosing
who gets which cards, I still manage to win every time
(perhaps softening the "loser" message with Harry
Lorayne's clever running gag, "I want you to win").
The key here is that, aside from the method, each trick must
feel as though you're showing them something quite different,
even if it really is not. I've seen magicians do entertaining ten
or fifteen-minute sets that were based on little more than the
repeated use of well-executed double lifts, yet each effect took
the spectators into new emotional territory.
Surprise me, then surprise me again in the way you surprise

May I Borrow Your Wife ... I Mean,

Your Watch?
One advantage the close-up worker has over the stage
performer is the ability to borrow items from onlookers quickly
and easily. Magic with my watch, my pen, or my ring will always
have a head start over conjuring with your watch, your pen, or
your rmg.
Borrow objects when you need to, as long as it does not
slow down the pacing or become a burden on anyone. If you
need to borrow something that is not immediately at hand, do
something-talk, juggle, or perform a quick trick-while the
object is being retrieved. Never just stand around while the
woman fumbles through her purse looking for the dollar bill
you requested. Dead time sucks the life out of entertainment, so
ensure that you do something that keeps the focus on you, not
on the hunt for the greenback.
By the way, please don't neglect to return borrowed items!
Think that's ridiculous advice? Not long ago I brought a neighbor
to a New York City magic show. The magician borrowed my
friend's $10 bill and did the usual "sucker" bits of business.
Suddenly, he was taking his bows and exiting the stage! My
friend looked at me ..."Isn't he supposed to give me the money
back?" Later, while we happened to be dawdling on the street
outside the theater, deciding where to grab a bite to eat, the
magician turned up with the bill and said, "I knew I'd find you
out here." Yeah, right.
My guess is that we weren't the only ones in the audience
who noted this lapse, but we probably were the only ones who
knew the debt actually was repaid. Not a great impression to
leave on an audience!

May I Borrow Your Hand ...

The Clean One?
In general, the strongest tricks are those that happen in the
hands of the spectators. (In my early days when I was doing


mentalism on cruise ships, I incongruously included an interlude

with sponge balls! A woman shrieking in surprised delight
is a reaction that's hard to top, so-despite conjuring dogma
against mixing magic and mentalism-it stayed in my program
for several years.) Magic books and catalogs are jammed with
in-the-hand tricks, and the wise close-up magician develops one
or two such killer routines.
A few basic guidelines must be observed when touching
Be sure your hands are clean, and that no one has seen
you blowing your nose or doing anything else off-putting.
Be sure the objects you place in the hands appear
reasonably sterile.
Treat the spectator with respect. I have seen magicians
manhandle hands and arms when placing sponge balls
("Hold them tight! Tighter! Higher!) or other objects into
the spectator's grasp.
Give extra attention to your verbal instructions. If it is
imperative that the hand not be opened prematurely,
look right into her eyes and say, "Don't open your hand
until. .. !" If she does blow the ending, understand it was
your fault, not hers.
Finally, on the subject of magic with borrowed objects,
a mini Personal Entertainment Highlight goes to Gregory
Wilson's On The Spot video. Every routine on this two-disk set
is performed out in the real word, and with only a few minor
exceptions, everything is truly impromptu; no cards, just items
real people have about them. All the routines are good, and
some are great, but I mostly love this video because of the
reactions Gregory gets from the spectators. I laughed when
he did his version of Slydini's Paper Balls Over the Head for
a couple of young women at an outdoor bar, then I laughed
during the "explanation" in the studio (using an eye-candy
model/actress) and then I laughed the most when, to close the
first disc, he was back out at a different bar and did it again
for another young woman and her friends. Her gentle but
increasing frustration at various objects (not just paper balls)
mysteriously disappearing from view simply becomes funnier
and funnier. Gregory's magical "moves" on this tape show us


nothing groundbreaking, but his people-management skills,

and the joy he elicits from his spectators, serve as admirable
targets for our own entertainment aspirations.

Don't Blow It
A small object-a coin, a ball, a pea-is placed in the
magician's hand. He blows on his hand and the object vanishes.
Let's stop doing that. It's a little weird. A grown man ought
not be blowing on his hand. Nor should a woman.
There are other ways to make the magic happen. Find them,
or make up your own.
On the, um, other hand, you are probably okay to ask a
spectator to blow on your hand, providing it's done in a playful

"And All I Gotta Do Is ...

Act Naturally"
The performer who works in intimate settings must, more
than others, avoid pretense, unnecessarily loud speech, and
overly dramatic gestures. The best close-up workers I've seen
blend into the ambience and rhythms of the room. You can
be hilarious without resorting to clownish behavior, and by
appearing to be a normal human being your tricks seem even
more amazing.
Listen to what they say to you and react to it, just as you
would in any typical social situation. If you act like a robot,
you'll be treated like one. People respond to each other, and you
should never break that line of normal human interaction.
Never stop a spectator from talking, especially if you're the
one who's moved into their space. They want to be part of the
fun, and you have no moral authority to stop them, certainly
not at first, and usually never during your time with them.
Take control, but be aware that the more intimate the
setting, the more subtle and understated you must be. Not


everyone understands the dynamics of the show-biz situation

the way you do, and this is especially true for close-up and walk-
around performers. By what right do we performers expect
anyone to adhere to our concepts of proper decorum, especially
ifwe have thrust ourselves into a group? We have no such right,
so we must bend to fit the dynamics of the group we're joining,
invited or otherwise. After a while (and if you're good, it could
be after just a minute or two), you can begin to exert control.
Never intimidate. At all costs, avoid words, facial expressions,
and gestures that in any way suggest displeasure. These lead
to tension, and tension subverts entertainment. Always remain
polite and friendly.

Chapter 16

I love tennis, and have spent a ridiculous fortune on lessons.
But to the glee of my opponents, I [still] stink at it. I blame this
distressing lack of skill on the fact that I took up the game in my
forties. My bad habits were unbreakable, so I never developed
the strokes my son mastered by the time he was ten.
A similar phenomenon exists when a performer branches
from magic into mentalism. It seems the more years a person
steeps himself exclusively in magic, the more difficult it becomes
to understand the dynamics of successful and entertaining
Mentalists are well aware that within the general magic
community, many believe the phrase "entertaining mentalism"
is an an oxymoron. (And some of my PEA buddies would be
pleased if I allowed magicians to continue believing that.)
Magicians who deride mentalism tend to know the art from
seeing it performed in magic settings, and I am the first to
agree that in those settings it usually is boring and difficult to
That's not the mentalism I care about and love. If you
haven't seen the modern masters of the field performing for lay
audiences-Gil Eagles, Marc Salem, Lior Manor, Ross Johnson,
the Evasons, Gerry McCambridge, Chris Carter, Jon Stetson,
Guy Bavli, Haim Goldenberg, Sidney Friedman, Craig Karges,
Banachek, Alain Nu, to name just a few of many-you have
no idea how powerfully mentalism can affect and entertain an
That said, great magic can be equally compelling and
powerful! If you are a successful magician, don't shoehorn mind
reading into your show if it doesn't feel natural to you-and
from my experience, it won't feel natural to most magicians.

Blame Blaine
When the Psychic Entertainers Association first convened
in New Jersey in 1978, magicians and mentalists were oil and


water; they didn't mix. Literally. In fact, there was noticeable

animosity between the two groups. Magicians sneered that
mentalism was boring, and mentalists thought the same about
Four Ace Tricks and almost anything else to do with cards.
Magicians studied Bobo, Vernon, Hugard, and so on. They
sessioned with cards and they had thousands of other books
and magazines. Our world for reference was much smaller.
Mentalists studied Corinda, Annemann, Hoy, and a handful
of others. We anxiously awaited our monthly issue of Bascom
Jones's Magick. We didn't care much for card or coin tricks.
Then two things changed the landscape forever: David
Blaine and technology.
In 1997, Blaine's first TV special scored huge ratings. In
that show he did straight magic. But in his second special two
years later he performed some intensely strong mentalism, and
magicians took notice. Who could blame them? (And around the
same time, Derren Brown became a TV star in the UK with his
Mind Control shows.)
Then, advances in technology, first with desktop publishing
and then with miniaturized electronics, allowed magicians to
perform miracles that Annemann, Dunninger, or Corinda could
only dream of.
The problem is, those dreams became nightmares as effects
were bought on Tuesday and appeared in shows on Thursday.
Or Tuesday night.
Too many magicians thought mentalism, which frequently
requires little or no manual dexterity, was "easy." They didn't
grasp that in many ways mentalism requires more thought and
preparation than magic tricks.

Don't Dilute
In an email sent in May 2017, prodigiously inventive Jay
Sankey starts a promo video for his for Mind-Bending DVD by
saying, "When magic students ask me for advice, I always tell
them, 'Mix in a little mentalism with your magic'."


Ugh. Jay means well, and his suggestion fits right in with
what's been happening in the magic world, but it's misguided.
Mentalism is a demonstration of a very special skill. It is not
"magic" as perceived by most people.
Know this for sure: Mentalism within a magic show is
diluted mentalism.
Put another way, mentalism within a magic show is seen
as one more magic trick. If you think otherwise, you're fooling
Conversely, sometimes a bit of magic within a mentalism
show can add fun, but the mentalist ought to let the audience
know that now he's doing something apart from the rest of
his show. "Here's something I learned years ago while I was
researching the art of mystery." Or something similar.
A few top mentalists, including Dunninger and Kreskin, did
a little magic within their longer shows, but for most mentalists
the smarter path is to leave the magic at home. Resist the urge
to show your other talents. Less is more.

Et Tu, Tamariz?
To illustrate the limited understanding of mentalism
strategies among magicians, here's a quote from Darwin Ortiz's
incredibly comprehensive and overwhelmingly right-on-target
book, Strong Magic: Creative Showmanship for the close-up
A very subtle use of the accidental convincer is provided by
Juan Tamariz in a book test taught in his The Five Points
in Magic. He wishes to force the seventh word on page 106.
Having forced the page, he tells the spectator to add the
digits of the page number to arrive at one word on the page.
Since one, zero, and six add up to eight, he tells her, she
should look at the eighth word.
Naturally, someone in the audience is bound to point out that
one, zero, and six add up to seven, not eight. The performer
responds by saying, "Of course, you are right ... excuse me!
It does not matter: the seventh word." Through a cleverly
staged accident, the performer has convinced the audience


that he could just as easily divined the eighth word or, by

implication, any other word in the book.
Here we have two major figures, Ortiz and Tamariz, each
a highly respected performer and philosophizer in the magic
world, writing about mentalism and veering wildly off course.
This is mentalism as presented at magic conventions. None of
the mentalists cited above would ever perform this routine-at
least, not as written.
What's wrong?
Mentalism, at its most effective, should be presented as
if the performer truly could do what he claims (and I will tell
you, not everything working mentalists do is a "trick" in the
magician's sense of the word). So, in demonstrating what we
would call a book test, a real mind reader would ask you to open
a book to any page, focus on one of the words you see there, close
the book, and he would then reveal the word. The further one
deviates from that ideal, the less convincing it becomes.
In mentalism, "convincing" correlates strongly with
"entertaining." If the audience just assumes it's all a magic trick
(I deal with the subject of disclaimers later) the entertainment
value plummets. That, in large part, is why mentalism causes
eyes to glaze over when performed at magic get-togethers:
magicians refuse, or are genetically unable, to suspend their
disbelief. Plus, magicians cherish clever moves and gimmicks,
and mentalism usually has neither.
The Tamariz routine, in just those two brief paragraphs,
fails for several specific reasons:
No real mind reader would ask that digits be added
together. If you don't immediately accept this concept,
skip this chapter.
A mentalist, by implied definition, is a person with
superior mental abilities. Would he have trouble adding
one, zero, and six? And since the routine, as presented,
suggests that he stumble over the simple addition, he
looks momentarily foolish. Who would want that?
(Although it may work for Tamariz, thanks to his
hyperkinetic stage persona.)


• "Naturally, someone in the audience is bound to point

out that one, zero, and six add up to seven, not eight."
This assumes that:
a) the audience is paying close attention,
b) some brave soul will risk embarrassing the star of
the show by pointing out how foolish (see second
bullet, above) he is, and
c) said brave soul is certain he himself won't be
All in all, it's too big an assumption.
Moving on ...
The page has been forced; the routine has already
moved away from the ideal book test. Now another level
of complexity is tacked on to arrive at the word.
The spectator is asked to count to the eighth, or seventh,
word. What's happening while that counting is going
on? Usually, nothing, because the performer can't risk
distracting the spectator and causing a miscount.
Regardless of the situation, in some cases the spectator
will miscount and end up on the wrong word. A working
mentalist, or anyone else hoping to present entertaining
mentalism, cannot take that chance.
One or two of the above "problems" may be acceptable,
but in this case we just have too many. All magic gains in
entertainment value when the plot is direct and unencumbered
with detours, and this dictum is particularly true in mentalism.
This Tamariz routine will mystify many viewers, but it also
imparts a psychological residue that "something's amiss here."
Strong, entertaining mentalism is clean mentalism: "Think
of something; I'll tell you what it is."
Ironically, directly after the two paragraphs on the Tamariz
routine, Ortiz writes about another pre-planned "accidental
convincer" used by the late German mentalist Punx. Until his
health failed, Punx was a member of the PEA, and he performed
for us on a couple of occasions. He was a true mentalist.
The convincer he used, as cited by Ortiz, was of a different
magnitude. Punx would sometimes unfold a billet and turn


it 180 degrees before reading it. In fact, the billet was blank,
and Punx was "actually reciting from memory the spectator's
writing which he previously glimpsed," the implication being
that the writing was upside down when he first unfolded the
paper. That move, the turn of the paper, aligns perfectly with
the actions we might see if the routine was performed by a
person-psychic or otherwise-who simply happened to open
the paper and saw that the writing was upside down.

* * *

What Not to Say

Yes, I have a whole section devoted to phrases magical
performers should steer clear of. But mentalists have their own
linguistic potholes to avoid. Here are the most common ...
"We didn't set anything up, did we?"
Far too many mentalists use variations of that line. In most
cases you accomplish nothing by making those statements. In
fact, you probably do more harm than good.
First, you are implanting an idea of what might have
happened. ''Ah, maybe some of the people he uses were told
what to say or do."
Second, some in your audience will think, when the person
"agrees" with you, "Well, yeah, that's exactly what she would
say if they were secret accomplices."
As your show progresses, your audience should be on your
side. They ought to have a sense of trust that people from the
audience are random selections. But suddenly you say, ''And we
haven't set anything up beforehand, have we?" and up go the
skeptics' antennae.
If you feel you must say something to establish that this is a
"clean" spectator, at least stay away from the cliches that other
performers use.
"We haven't met before, correct?" (Which can lead to
awkward moments if you actually had briefly met the person,
innocently, somewhere prior to the show.)


Perhaps say, "You had no idea you would be participating up

here tonight, correct? But now that you're here ..."
Or, "I chatted with several people before the show but I'd
rather use other folks. The gentleman there in the red shirt, we
haven't met, have we?" That accomplishes the same thing as
the cliches without making it a big deal.
You can say, "We haven't met before, have we?" if someone
looks familiar and you need to know that before asking that
person to participate.
You ask those cliche questions because you've heard them
from others. As a pro mentalist myself, I can assure you that
leading mentalists rarely or never ask those questions-they
just choose folks from the audience and get on with it.
You should do the same.
"Is there an R in the word?"
Never ask if there is a particular letter in the thought-of
word. Anyone can do that! Be authoritative.
"There's a B in the word, isn't there?" If you're wrong, you're
wrong. So what? Mentalists should never be perfect.
As in, "The last time I did this trick, a woman said ..."
If you hold yourself out as a mentalist (or any of its
variations), be that.
Magicians do tricks, mentalists do ... something different.
You gain nothing by saying trick, effect, magic, magician, or
anything similar. Those words detract from your character.
If you are using a pack of ESP symbols, or cards that have
the names of animals, cities, movie stars, songs, etc., you should
never say "cards." The word cards is for card tricks. Instead,
"Choose a food."
"Concentrate on the song."
"Mix up all the symbols."
As you may know, mentalists have strong opinions about
whether or not to use playing cards at all. I fall squarely in the

middle. Card routines can be effective, but often you'd be better

served by using something other than standard cards. After
all, which has more resonance for any normal human, the Six
of Clubs, or a food, a person, or a vacation spot?
Often we see the mentalist bark out that word ...yet the
volunteer on stage has nothing specific to concentrate upon.
She's holding a hidden card, a sealed envelope, a coin randomly
chosen from many but, as of yet, unseen. What in the world is
she supposed to concentrate upon?
That request only makes sense if the person already has a
specific thought in mind.
"Hold out your tongue."
Said during a routine where envelopes are used, it's meant
to get a laugh as it becomes clear that the performer is about to
use that tongue to seal the envelope. Yes, it gets a laugh, but as
with the Bra Trick, this gag needs to be permanently retired.
It's gross on several levels. Plus, fans of a certain TV series
"about nothing" will recall how George's fiancee died from
licking envelopes, and you don't need that memory popping up
in your show.
"Make your mind a blank."
Have you ever done that? No you haven't because, unless
you're a severely serious meditator, or asleep, you can't. And
even if could achieve instant nirvana now and then, you couldn't
do it on command, with strangers watching you. So either don't
say it, or ask for something more achievable, like ..."Relax.
Breathe deeply..."

Explaining Away the Mystery

Classic mentalists of the past-Dunninger, Koran, Fogel,
Kreskin, etc.-made little or no attempt to give "rational"
explanations for their miracles. They just read your mind,
period. That started changing in the 1980s in large part
when my friend Marc Salem began saying he used "body
language" cues to help him decipher what was going on inside
his participants' minds. Marc had in fact been a student of a


pioneer in the field, Ray Birdwhistell, an anthropologist who

coined the term kinesics, meaning "facial expression, gestures,
posture and gait, and visible arm and body movements." And
Salem convincingly built parts of his presentations around that
Marc Salem used his deep knowledge of the field to
reasonably, and entertainingly, figure out what people on stage
were thinking. (Marc also appears to have originated the "lie
to me" technique.)
Now it seems every mentalist feels the need to explain "how"
they accomplish certain feats. "Body language" has become the
Ambitious Card of Mentalism. Everyone does it.
But those mentalists may be working against themselves.
The "magic" dissipates if we "know" how you did it.
David Corsaro, a respected part-time performer, told me
of the time he did a short mentalism set for fifty of his office
colleagues (David is a marketing exec and a busy magician,
but mentalism was something new-ish for him). In talking
with them afterward he realized that they loved the standard
mentalist routines, but he got no particular feedback on his
"which hand is the coin in?" routine.
So he pressed for further insight into their thinking, and
what he heard was "Well, you told us how you did it."
Yes, he had explained to them he was closely watching their
body language. "Did you see how his shoulder dipped right
there?" "Did you notice the blink at that moment?"
And that was all they needed. They now "knew" how it was
I'm not saying you shouldn't use body language or similar
explanations in your mentalism. Just don't go overboard with
it and be aware that many of your mentalism buddies use the
same approach.
Bottom line-if you give too much of an explanation, it's no
longer amazing.
It's just science.


Why Did You Tear Up My Card!?

As implied above, there's an assumption by many mentalists
that the spectator wonders-if you are a mind reader, why do
I need to write anything down? And now that I wrote it on my
business card, why did you rip it into all those small pieces?
Or, further, why am I picking a word from a book? Why am
I limited to just the colors on that board? Why am I hiding your
coin and not my coin?
You can struggle with nice pat answers to those questions,
or you can do as I-and most of my professional peers do-just
get on with it.
Yes, some in your audience of three or three hundred will
have those questions, but most, by a wide margin, will just go
where you take them. They are seeing something well outside of
their usual experiences and if that's the way it's done, so be it.
Go ahead and justify your requests or actions if that feels
right for you. Just don't be overly concerned with reasons why.
They don't care.

C'mon, Get Real

Mnemonics. Rapid math or day/date calculations. Chess
knight tours. Magic squares.
Back when I was performing full-time most of the guys knew
something about each of those systems. No one used them all,
but many used some. (That's because we treasured our Thirteen
Steps to Mentalism; Corinda gave us all a solid grounding in
true Mentalism.)
I certainly did. The first twenty minutes of my mentalism act
was a "Giant Memory" demonstration: a large board, numbers
1 through 10 down one side, 11 through 20 down the middle.
People raise their hands and when I call on them they say one
of the numbers and anything in the world "that can be touched."
"You might say, number fifteen, chair. Or eight, table." Then
the volunteer from the audience would write the word next to
the number,


"Now folks, you can give us words like table or chair. But
you can make this much more interesting. It can be anything in
the world you can ... touch. That gives you like a billion choices."
When a word was given, as the volunteer "scribe" was
writing it next to the called-for number, I asked for specifics.
"What type of table? Dining room? What style? Ah, Mid-
Century Modern! You have excellent taste!" Then the adjectives
were squeezed or abbreviated onto the board as space permitted
and all the while I'm facing front, never looking at the board.
I'll stop describing the act here. Just know that this was my
bread-and-butter routine, the one that for years got me booked
into shows across America. It was all legit. All mnemonics. (And
on cruise ships I did two shows for consecutive sittings, with
less than one hour in between. So the hard part was forgetting
the first show's words!)
And I sometimes did The Chess Knight's Tour, which was
similarly impressive to lay audiences. (A few years back I wrote
the instructions for Lior Manor's brilliant variation of the Tour.
Go find it and buy it.)
Today we rarely see any of those true mind-power
demonstrations. Which is too bad. The irony is, they look far
more difficult than they actually are, although they certainly
do require developing some very real skills.
If you want to stand apart from the ever-growing, world-
wide population of mentalists, consider going back to the future.
Being knowledgeable about mnemonics, by the way, does
not necessarily mean you must overtly demonstrate that skill.
There's a good chance you have seen top mentalists use it and
you were never aware of that fact. Many use the techniques
for purposes other than exhibiting Super Memory or something

Few topics are as hotly debated within and without the
mentalism/magic community as disclaimers. It seems that
a preponderance of the magic community seethes when a


mentalist fails to issue a strong disclaimer about his or her

alleged abilities.
They should find a better outlet for their energies.
On the TV special, Hidden Secrets of Magic, the big closer
was Lance Burton being "buried alive" in a casket, hands and
feet shackled, under six feet of dirt. For his last words before the
stunt began, he looked solemnly into the camera and warned
viewers not to try a similar stunt because, "If you do, you will
Interspersed throughout the show were scenes of the history
of the "challenge" and Lance talking about the need to fight fear
and panic. In all ways, this was presented in the same fashion
as Blaine's ice stunt and Copperfield's "Tornado of Fire;" that
is, a legitimate stunt, which, while exceedingly difficult, could
be mastered with proper training, preparation, and know-how.
But, unlike the Blaine and Copperfield stunts, this was a
true magic trick.
In this case, did Lance have a responsibility to let his
audience know he never really was six feet under? Did the
documentary-style build-up to the climax cross the line between
reality and theater? Surely, for some viewers, it did, and they
believed that a human can truly survive after being buried
under six feet of soil.
But if we agree that Lance, in what was clearly a "magic"
show, did no harm (and I don't think he did), then what harm
can there ever be in a mentalist picking up the vibes, thoughts,
feelings of his audience, while on stage?
It comes down to this: the mentalist has no responsibility to
either educate or enlighten. His job, especially when he's being
paid, is to entertain a group of people. Assuming no one in the
audience alters the course of his or her life after viewing one
of our shows-a valid assumption I make after decades in this
field-what's the problem with not warning that "this may not
be exactly what it seems"?
Looking at it from the opposite point of view, I can think of
little that might be gained by the use of a forceful disclaimer.
You can spend hours carefully crafting your disclaimer, but I
assure you, for most people, ten minutes later, and certainly the


day after your performance, no one will remember the tiny slice
of your time on stage devoted to setting the record straight.
They just don't care. If you are amazing and they can't fathom
any explanation, your disclaimer, delivered early in your show,
carries as much weight as cotton candy on a windy day.
A forcefully voiced, unambiguous disclaimer slashes the
mentalist's premise to shreds, and Extraordinary Moments
ratchet down to become Tricks, or likely, mere Puzzles. The
entertainment experience suffers, and no one gains.

On a Related Note ...

The first time I attended a production at Monday Night
Magic in Manhattan, noted writer and magician Jamy Ian
Swiss closed the show. He was preceded by talented mentalist
Docc Hilford who did a "card reading" act. During Jamy's
stint he threw in remarks that were sometimes sly, sometimes
mocking about the abilities of the "psychic" entertainer, none
of which would surprise any reader of his prolific and erudite
writings. Other mentalists in the audience posted what they
saw in various online forums, which led many of my colleagues
in the mentalist community to pounce on Swiss for his stance,
saying, basically, "He was a jerk to have done that."
They're wrong.
He has the right to say anything he wants. As a performer,
the moment he takes the stage, he is free to offer his view of
the world, because that, in part, is what an artist does. Any
artist-graphic, musical, magical, or otherwise. He shares his
vision. If his vision mocks, satirizes, inflames, or exalts, well,
that's part of theater.
From Aeschylus to Albee, theatrical experiences attempt
to educate, elucidate, poke fun at authority, question belief
systems. A drama professor of mine back at Hofstra continually
told us, "Anything is acceptable in theater, except boredom."
If Jamy Ian Swiss, or anyone else, chooses to alienate a
particular performer (or type of performer) for what he sees as
a larger good, we have to accept it. You don't have to agree, but
when it's your turn to step onstage, that's the time when you
can share your vision.


Mental Magic
Aside from disclaimers, another raging discussion among
mentalists is the "mentalism vs. mental magic" controversy. In
general, mental magic uses more props. Also, the plots in mental
magic tend to be more convoluted. Mental magic straddles a
netherworld-not quite pure mentalism, yet a step removed
from traditional magic.
The best of the working mentalists use only the most
innocent of props-"invisible props." Invisible in the sense that
the audience barely notices their existence-paper, pencils,
ordinary tables, books.
Mental magic uses items that more overtly draw attention to
themselves-unusual stands, clocks, bags, boxes-and as such,
performers in this category have to work harder to establish
credibility. I won't go into a long discussion of this here; I just
want to point out the pitfall of choosing this approach as opposed
to the more bare-bones presentations.
Magic dealers sell mental magic. You need to refer to books
to learn the purer strains of mentalism.

Nothing to See Here

Mentalists, and magicians doing mental magic, often
use gimmicked pads, forcing boxes, forcing bags, etc. But too
many performers make the mistake of sending unnecessary
attention to the prop.
Generally, the ideal way to use these props is pre-show, so
it remains truly invisible to all but one or two members of the
That, of course, is not always possible. In that case ...
Craft your script so that the absolute minimum attention is
sent to the prop.
The prop must be incidental to whatever is happening;
it should quickly fade into the background and become


All your words and actions should send attention anywhere

except to the special prop or gimmick.

Descartes Before the Horse

Sometimes bright mentalists lack logic.
When you say to a man from the audience, after a moment
of intense concentration, "Jerry, the name of your first girlfriend
was ... Dolores, correct?" you have divined something that is one
out of thousands.
You cannot, therefore, minutes later exhibit the same
struggle getting a spectator's star sign. That's one out of twelve.
Similarly, if you hand the spectator your own slim notepad
which has a different celebrity on each page you can't sweat and
strain saying ..."I get the feeling it's a man, correct?" (One out
of two.)
"He's in show business, right?" But we all know you know
the male choices! Astute audience members will silently mock
you for your naivete about that moment.
You don't have to strictly script your show so that it's a
smooth ramp up toward ever more difficult feats. I do urge you,
however, to give your audience credit for grasping the difference
between a small number of choices and a massive universe of
Whenever possible, perform mentalism that fits the latter
description. And try to put the easier feats in front of the more
taxing ones.

* * *
The mentalist suggests or reaffirms what the mind can do; he
sells the possibility that strange things are afoot in the universe.
All leading mentalists manage to do that without resorting to
what had previously been known as overt "showmanship." They
allow the miraculous "effects" to speak for themselves.


Chapter 17

"Silent" Acts
My comfort zone has always been helping performers who
talk during their acts. Nonetheless, after writing the original
book I've watched lots of magic (again, only professionals) and
a few consistent Director's Notes for non-talking acts have
First, some benchmarks. The iconic non-speaking magic
stars of my youth were Cardini and Channing Pollock. They
were true international stars. Today, their acts feel somewhat
dated, but in their time, they represented the peak of non-
speaking magic.
And as mentioned earlier, Jeff Sheridan was my best friend
for a number of years in my late teens and early twenties. Jeff,
who always considered himself an artiste as much as a magician,
performed a truly silent act. No music, no sounds other than
the ambient street noise (he frequently performed in New York
City's Central Park) or noise from wherever he happened to be.
And his sleight-of-hand technique was flawless.
Although their acts were quite different, in each we see
economy of movement. Every action, no matter how seemingly
small, had a reason, a motivation. Nothing was superfluous.
They set the bar high.
Here then are a few common problems in acts where the
performer doesn't speak.

Unnecessary Movements
It all comes down to this: Move with purpose.
Any unnecessary movements hurt your overall impact.
As implied above, all the best silent acts make not a single
unneeded move or action.
Yet how often we see ...
Props lifted for no reason.
• A small table, chair or prop moved from here to ... a few
inches from here.


Lapels or ties straightened repeatedly.

• A step taken in this direction, and then back again, with
no purpose.
Just as every word spoken should be targeted to a specific
reaction (economy of words), so too must every action. This is
especially true for wordless acts. Being that all attention is on
you as you move about the stage, you must strive for economy
of movement.
Even your gaze must be targeted and not random.
The solution to this problem is simple: more and better
practice, combined with careful studying of videos of yourself.

Dancing. Or Prancing.
Do you make any movements that could be considered
"dance" moves? If you are not a trained dancer, or haven't taken
serious dance and/or movement lessons, there's a good chance
you will look awkward.
Men, sorry to say, are particularly vulnerable to ineptitude
when moving body parts.
There are two solutions. Either study with a qualified
choreographer or dance teacher (and don't do your dance moves
in public until given the green light by your teacher), or don't
try to dance. Instead, move with purpose and as much grace as
you can muster.

What Are You "Saying"?

Many silent acts assume that we in the audience are closely
following the flow and the logic of the actions. But we're not.
The balls, the silks, the coins go here, then there. Stuff happens
and you look at us with a quizzical look that implies ...what? It's
not always as obvious as some performers think it is.
So when you pause with a "Can you believe that just
happened?" look on your face, you may in fact be communicating
with a smaller portion of the audience than you realize.


Generally, it's better to eliminate those attempts to mime

specific communication with the audience; let the magic do the
Plus, many of those glances, smiles, "Look here" movements
have become magic cliches. And you know what I think about

Music Blunders
We've already had a whole chapter on Music, but here I want
to touch on specifics about music in non-speaking acts.
A common gaffe, and one that needs immediate fixing, is a
gap between selections. Nothing screams "amateurish'' louder
than having one piece fade out and a few awkward seconds
elapse . . . before the next piece starts. Even if the gap is one
second, it's too long.
If you perform in pantomime to music, there should be a
seamless flow of music. One piece flows into another with no
gap, no noticeable change of pace or volume. Do, in other words,
what all good DJs do. Unless, of course, there is a clear artistic
reason for a moment of quiet.
Similarly, no piece of music should randomly end during a
routine. Every set piece must begin and end with its own music.
Either fit the music to the routine, or fit the routine to the music.
Or, if that's not possible, the music must be timed to the
beginning and end of each subsection within the routine.
When and if there is a change of music, we in the audience
must know it was intentional. In other words, a pause or sudden
change in the music can be effective-but only if the audience
perceives that the pause was put there for a reason. The reason
might be to signal a meaningful change in the direction of the
routine, or as an attention-gathering device. Whatever it is, we
must feel the break has a reason and is not merely sloppy.


Cliche Choices
There are untold numbers of music selections to choose from.
Why then do so many magicians fall back on music cliches?
Here's an easy rule for you: If you have ever seen any other
act use a particular piece of music ... don't use that music! Find
something else that sets you apart from the other guys.
It's really not hard. And finding new music selections for
your act can be immensely enjoyable. After all, you're listening
to music!

Applause Cues
Don't signal for approval every time you do anything
magical. It quickly becomes tiresome.
We see this in non-talking magic acts and almost nowhere
else in show business. The nod, the stopped movement
accompanied by the smile, the outstretched hands. In other
words, the implied, ta-DAH! Literally, it is as if a Cups and
Balls performer signaled for applause with every appearance or
vanish of a ball.
Save your applause cues for the truly stand-out moments of
the routine.

Desperately Seeking Spina

Finally, I can offer no better advice for non-speaking
performers than this: seek out Joanie Spina's MAGIC magazine
columns. In both text and video, Joanie, who was a renowned
magic choreographer and director, took a deep dive into the
techniques she developed over many years of working with
some of the biggest names in magic, including several years as
David Copperfield's choreographer and co-director. She was a
woman of vision, a true artist. Her death at age 61 was a loss to
magic in ways that will never be known.


Here's how to find her gems of wisdom: has a free, fully-searchable index of all
issues of MAGIC. That index will tell you where any particular
article is (and you can easily search by author). However, that
won't get you to the actual article. For that (from Genii itself):
"You can subscribe to Genii: The Conjuror's Magazine, and
along with your digital back catalog of Genii, you'll also get
digital access to all 301 issues of MAGIC Magazine as long
as you're a subscriber."
Do it. Joanie left us too soon, but thankfully her knowledge
and insights live on. I don't agree with everything she said, but
overall she was extraordinary. And now Genii is providing you
with easy access to her brilliance.


Chapter 18

Dealing with Spectators

Singers, dancers, musicians, and most comedians can
run through their complete acts in an empty room and then
do exactly the same performances in front of a packed house.
We can't. Most magicians, and all mentalists, interact with
members of the audience. They become parts of our show, often
important parts, and that's why we need to conscientiously
consider the ways in which we treat them.
Or mistreat them.
The one time I visited the now-shuttered but once-enjoyable
Caesar's Magical Empire in Las Vegas, the magician working
the close-up room was a name known to all who regularly read
the magic magazines. Not much about that show remains in
my memory, but I do clearly recall this: for his entire set he had
two spectators with him at the table, and he never asked their
They were props, no more important to him than any card,
coin, or sponge ball he used that night.
To me, it felt as though he had insulted those two civilians,
who were nice enough to risk embarrassment by accepting his
request to sit next to him. Don't forget, volunteers have no idea
what the "professional entertainer" has in store for them. They
are doing you a favor, a big favor, by offering themselves up for ...
what? They don't know.
This performer not only failed to ask their names, he never
thanked them for being part of his show, never acknowledged
their presence in any sincere way. That attitude muted, I'm
certain, the audience's reaction to him.
Unless you set something up prior to the show, your
volunteers have no idea that they will be in front of an audience.
Those people are your guests. Treat them as guests, never as
props to be manhandled.
When you meet a person socially, you extend your hand
with a smile and say, or imply with your body language, "I'm
pleased to meet you." On stage, no one is there to introduce you
to your participants, so you must ask for their names. Not to do
so sends a signal to the more socially conscious in the audience


that either you don't care about your guests, you consider
yourself more important than them, or your mama never taught
you basic social niceties. In any of those cases, you lose.
If possible, let the volunteers get the laughs. Laughter is
laughter, regardless of its source, and all laughter is a desired
reaction. Plus, you look even better by allowing the rookies to
share the spotlight with you.
Finally, and I'm writing this again because I've seen pros
do it too often, never put down your audience. Especially if
it's because you are annoyed about something. Trust me, your
hostility, no matter how it may be couched in humor, brings you
down a notch.
The only exception would be if you are absolutely certain it
will get a big laugh. Even then, know that you are playing with
Similarly, avoid the temptation to put down any audience
member, no matter what they've done, whether they are on stage
with you (and fooling around), or still seated in the audience.
If you're playful and you are sure it will be taken as a light-
hearted moment, go for it. But tread lightly, and as it says on
bottles of hot sauce, "Use sparingly."
The audience will judge you by the way you treat their
colleagues, even if they are colleagues only in the sense of being
fellow audience members.

Asking for Volunteers

When I was a young teenager, I read a book on doing magic
for children. (The author, I believe, was Bert Easley.) One piece
of simple advice from that book stayed with me forever, advice
that too many performers seem to have missed:
Never announce, "I need a volunteer."
Say that at a kids' show-up to and including college
kids-and you'll be swamped with volunteers. (But at least
the eighteen-year-olds won't all run up at once and tug on your
When performing for adults, one of two things happens if
you declare, "I need a volunteer."


No one volunteers, which leads to an awkward moment as

everyone avoids eye contact with you, hoping you'll choose some
other unlucky soul. Or you do get some hands raised, and you
realize too late that those people are the ones you least want
sharing the stage with you.
When you announce that you need someone to join you on
stage, the kind folks staring up at you have no idea what is
about to happen. (And frankly, at some shows I wonder, "Why
would any sane adult offer themselves up for what appears to be
certain humiliation?")
When doing magic or mentalism, it's vitally important that
you choose the "volunteers." (This does not apply to hypnosis
shows where, for ethical and perhaps legal reasons, it's
imperative that everyone knows the volunteers came up of their
own volition.) You want to Control Every Moment. If you ask for
a volunteer and no hands go up, the audience at that moment
controls you!
If possible, scan your audience prior to the start of your
show. Within even just a minute or two you should be able to
get an idea about who you might want on stage and who you'd
be wise to avoid.
Be wary of the various methods for randomly choosing
volunteers, such as tossing a paper ball into the audience. That's
excellent for those occasions when you simply want a piece of
information which all would agree is impossible for you to know
beforehand, (for example, "Please call out a number between
one and fifty."), but it's a poor idea for selecting volunteers to
join you on stage. Again, it places control out of your hands, and
you might quickly find yourself regretting the capriciousness of
the toss.
An exception to the above advice is if you are Derren
Brown-or any other person who is standing in front of people
who paid substantial money to attend. They are primed and
excited to be there, and so there is much less risk in the random
choice of spectator.
Once you've made your request for a spectator to join you,
do not accede to any request that you "pick someone else." If
you do cave in, the next person will say the same thing. And the
next. Instead, assure your chosen spectator that she is perfect


for what is about to take place, then say something along the
lines of, "I guarantee you'll feel comfortable and you'll have a
great time! Come on up .. .it'll be fun!"
That said, common sense has to reign. There may be
legitimate reasons why a person can't or won't come up, and
you have to assess the situation quickly. Be adamant-up to a
point. Never make any person feel uncomfortable.
The skill of choosing the right person develops over time. In
general, the person who desperately wants to join you on stage
is the last person you want.

Please and Thank You

Please, say "please" when asking that something be done.
And "thank you" at its completion.
Thank you.
If only it were that simple. The fact is, too many performers
forget common courtesy during a performance. They order this
woman to "stand here with your arm out," and that man to
"hold this ... higher... higher!" The audience measures you by the
way you treat their comrades, so be mindful of your manners
and respectful at all times. That is, unless your name is The
Amazing Johnathan, in which case you can do pretty much
whatever you please.

Clear Directions
People's minds wander throughout the show, even when they
are on stage as participants. Actually, especially when they are
on stage. They are nervous and easily distracted.
When giving instructions to your volunteers, look right at
them. If you are not establishing eye contact with each person
on stage, rest assured that the verbal message you are sending
is not being received.
Be clear. Be precise. Be direct and to the point. If the success
of your next effect depends on the volunteer carrying through on
your instructions, repeat the instructions in a slightly different

The most important advice I can give you about this subject is:
Look for, or ask for, nods of comprehension.
Performers who ignore this step will see their tricks get
screwed up from time to time. Guaranteed.
When dealing with a group on stage, always say something
to the effect of, "Is everyone clear about that?" Do not proceed
until you have received clear and unambiguous affirmative
responses from everyone.

Talking to Spectators
From a stagecraft point of view, when you have spectators
on stage with you, you cannot talk to them face to face, the
way you would in a social setting. You must converse while
considering the needs of the larger target of your words, the
audience as a whole. That's why you must angle both yourself and
the volunteer so that, while she can plainly see and understand
you, the audience does not feel left out.

Proper positioning:

You Volunteer



Never either of these positionings:



Magicians and mentalists need to develop good listening
skills when dealing with non-performers on stage.
"Hi, what's your name?"
"Neil Armstrong."
"Glad to meet you, Neil. Where ya from?"
"Well, I'm based in Houston."
"Fantastic. What do you do there?"
"I'm a retired astronaut."
"Great. Now would you please verify that these cards are
thoroughly mixed?"
Far-fetched? I have seen something close to this take place,
and I know it happens frequently because performers a) are
nervous, b) are focused on the mechanics of the trick, and c)
have never developed a "listening" attitude.


Listen to your guests on stage. You will look foolish if it

becomes clear to the audience that you ask questions and don't
really hear the responses. Listen. And react.

Like I Said, Listen. And React.

Were you listening to me?
Dennis Franz, Emmy-winning star of NYPD Blue, told TV
Guide why he admired Jackie Gleason:
"I remember seeing the movie Gigot on television where he
played a mute; he just showed so much expression in his face.
I think that's when I learned the importance of listening... by
watching that performance. Most actors want to talk all the
time. I learned you don't have to talk, but you always have
to listen. I realized he wasn't saying anything, but he was
breaking my heart."
Your reaction to whatever is said or done guides the
audience's reaction. An extreme example: when something funny
happens on stage, Kreskin, in my opinion, wildly overreacts by
erupting into a spasm of limb-flailing laughter, but nonetheless
his reaction increases the laughter in the audience.
That type of reaction will be more helpful to your success
than if you simply hear words and proceed. The words a
spectator says must register with you, and we in your audience
must know that they did. Don't let it appear that you are a
machine, programmed to say the same words regardless of the
context. React when appropriate.
In 2018, mentalist (and AGT finalist) Oz Pearlman invited
me to one of his public shows. Afterward I told him that he was
the most "present" performer I'd seen in years. Meaning, he
was there at the show, not, as most performers are, stuck inside
his own script. He continually reacted and responded in real
time to what was being said and what was happening around
him. Even better, he expertly recalled moments from earlier in
the show to build up later effects.
More performers should strive to develop that skill.


Politeness on stage (and you're "on stage" anytime you're
in front of an audience of any size, before, during and after
your show) extends beyond the basic "Please" and "Thank You"
boundaries. The new consciousness of male/female relationships
and personal space requires more sensitivity than was exhibited
by many of our predecessors.
Touch another person only when absolutely necessary, and
restrict those touches to the universally accepted safe zones.
When in doubt, stay away. Or ask for consent, clearly.

#MeToo and You, Too

The world shifted in 2017. When the Harvey Weinstein
harassment accusations hit the fan, the dam broke, globally,
and everyone's consciousness was raised. Victims, we now know
are, sadly, everywhere.
Meaning, you cannot do all the same jokes and bits of
business that you may have done, or have seen done, for years.
For both women and men, antennae are up. So-called micro-
aggressions, innocent to some people, truly offend others. And
among the offended might be the decision makers.
Today you need to be cognizant of:
Who you touch, and where you touch. And how it's done.
Who you look at, and where you look. And how it's done.
• And certainly, what you say.
As I write these words in 2019 it's clear that we are on the
cusp of change. Things will be different in five, ten, twenty
years. None of us can predict the changes, but they are coming.
The kids in Middle School today will be the college audiences of
the near future, and they will posses a mind-set, a sensitivity
that we cannot yet fully grasp. It behooves the forward-thinking
performer to prepare now, not later, when it might be too late.


This all applies to any combination of sexes; it's equally

wrong for a female magician to do (or say) inappropriate things.

One is the Loneliest Number

Never leave a spectator alone on stage. This sometimes
happens when the performer needs to go into the audience but
it can lead to disaster. They aren't comfortable in the situation
so they stand there awkwardly, or they mug for the audience, or
worse, and I've seen this happen, they decide to leave the stage!
If for some reason you do need to break this rule, you must
give clear instructions: "Wait right here for a moment. Please
don't move-I'll be right back."
And then make sure you do come back quickly.

Dismissing Spectators
Always verbally thank your assistants. Always. Even when
they screwed up (we've already discussed "fault"). And always
with a smile.
In almost all situations you should shake the hand of anyone
who's assisted you on stage. To dismiss them without doing so
will be noticed by the audience, and not in a good way.
Granted, there may be times when to do so breaks the
rhythm of the moment, but those times will likely be rare.
You should also ask the audience to acknowledge volunteer
assistants, again assuming that it fits the pacing of the routine.
But avoid a grandiose "C'mon folks, let's hear it for them!" if your
volunteers haven't done all that much. Save your big requests
for audience applause if and when a volunteer truly helps the
show reach a high point.
Just as you may have helped people walk up onto the stage,
when appropriate, assist them as they make their way back,
especially when there are steep steps down.


Prepare for Problems

Before you step out onto the stage, be sure to consider all
the possible problems you might encounter when dealing with
Difficult access to the stage.
The audience is too old or too young.
You need to borrow something (a bill, com, rmg,
handkerchief), but no one has it.
They don't understand you, due either to hearing or
language problems.
They screw you up, intentionally or otherwise.
Have alternative strategies immediately ready for all of
these situations.

Chapter 19

Before the Show

Easy Riders
You arrive and the room is set up the way you want, the lights
and sound meet your needs, and in the center of the performing
area sit the table and two chairs you require, all thanks to the
rider you sent to your client. (Or not. Your mileage may vary.)
A rider is a document that accompanies your Performance
Contract (it "rides" along). In the past, riders were used mostly
by performers working larger venues. No longer. Today, just
about every performer sends, or should send, some sort of
instructions about what the show needs and what the client can
do to help ensure a successful experience for all. And yes, this
even applies to those who specialize in kids' shows.
The rider does not need to be a multi-page, intimidating
document. For many performers, a few succinct paragraphs
in clear English will get the job done. Others will want more
specifics. Top-tier family entertainer Tim Hannig generously
allowed me to share the rider he sends to his clients: pkshow.
Please do not copy Tim's rider, but use it to stimulate your
own thinking about what you could send to your clients.
The best advice I can give about riders is to find people who
do shows similar to yours and talk to them about this topic.
Most will(or should) be willing to share.

Know Your Audience

You need to ascertain, if only in the broadest terms, who
will be facing you. You may pull out the same tricks for the Boy
Scouts or a senior citizens group, but at the very least, your
pacing will be different.
Beyond the age range, you want to know the type of person
out there. Business audiences are not all the same; salespeople
do not respond the same as senior management.


When performing for religious organizations, check to see

if there are sections of your act that might offend or seem out
of place. The mentalist especially needs to tread lightly here;
some groups contend that looking into the future or unraveling
hidden thoughts is expressly prohibited, and they will recite
scripture to prove their point. Don't argue with them. You're
not likely to change anyone's mind, regardless of how carefully
you frame your rebuttal.
Then there's the performer's nightmare, which, if you stay
in this business long enough, will happen to you while your
eyes are open and you're fully awake: the audience that doesn't
speak your language. You assume that the folks who brought
you in for the occasion would never let this befall any performer,
but it has happened to me and many of my performing friends.
That's why you want to ask a few basic questions ahead of time.
Then there was the time I was booked to do my hypnosis
show, and only after I stepped on stage did I learn that a large
percentage of my audience was hearing-impaired. When I
turned to the woman who booked me to ask about the situation,
she said, "Don't worry, they read lips." Wonderful, I thought to
myself; one of the first things I say to my onstage volunteers is,
"When I count to three, close your eyes ..." (Luckily, there were
enough staff people for me to pull off a successful show.)
Forewarned is forearmed. Ask these questions well before
you step onto the stage.

Who's on First?
Las Vegas magician Shimshi told me about the time he
attended a public magic show-and three of the four magicians
performed slight variations of the same routine!
I've seen similar screw-ups many times. Sometimes they do
the same tricks, sometimes it's a repeat of a joke told earlier, or
some other bit of business. And when it happens, it's terrible.
If you are on a bill with other performers, at the very least
you must all share a set list with each other. But truly, that's
not enough. You should make every effort to watch, or at least
listen to, the performers who precede you.


Why? You want to see and hear their bits, their lines, their
gags so that you don't look stupid by doing any of them. (Here's
an annoying but true statement: even if you are the originator of
a routine or a joke, if you do it after the other guy, the audience
will assume you are the thief.)
In addition, you want to see who they bring up onstage.
We've all been to magic shows where the same people (women,
typically) are brought up as participants.
It's awkward for all concerned. Take steps to stop it.

Setting the Environment

No matter how carefully you wrote your rider, things won't
be perfect. That's why you arrive early, while the room is being
set up. This is your opportunity to turn the venue into your
space, your office, your place of business. Don't blow it.
Get to know whatever staff may be assigned to the room
for your event: audiovisual technicians, the maiitre d', the head
porter who's setting up the tables and chairs, the backstage
crew, etc. Politely introduce yourself, smile, and say their name
back to them as you shake hands. Much of the time they go
about their jobs unrecognized, especially by "talent," and the
simple act of acknowledging their worth will help create an ally.
In show business, you need all the friends you can muster.
Survey the general situation:
• Are there doors near the performing area that might
open during your set?
If people need to take a bathroom break while you're on,
what will be their path? For both of the above scenarios,
try to position your performance area so you will be
subjected to the fewest distractions possible. You may
even be able to deputize one or two people to act as
Do you know where the room's lighting controls are?
Many times lights have gone dark while I was performing,
because someone unknowingly leaned against a switch.
If you know the location of those switches, you can


immediately resolve the problem. Even when you have

people from the hotel or organization doing the sound
and/or lights for you, they sometimes aren't around
when things go wrong. The more you know about the
situation, the better.
At the risk of being overly dramatic, think of your
performance as a battle for which you need allies to overcome
obstacles. Every venue presents a new set of obstacles that must
be discovered, and then tamed.

What do chairs in the audience have to do with maximum
entertainment? Much more than most performers seem to
When setting the room, remember two important things
about chairs:
• The closer together, the better. You want people to
hear the reaction of others-the laughs, the gasps, the
applause. Do what you can to bring people together.
Often the center aisle is wider than necessary. Reduce
that by putting (or have someone place) one or two more
chairs into the gap at the end of each row.
Generally, the closer to you, the better. Often the front
row is much farther back from the stage than it needs to
be. You don't want to perform for a dead space; you want
live onlookers. Again, fill that space by arranging for a
row or two to be added.
Stay in this business long enough and eventually you'll
be stuck presenting to a small crowd in a large room. That's
a difficult situation and you want to avoid it, so before your
show, try to get a last-minute approximation of the number of
people expected and have the room set accordingly. If it becomes
clear that too many chairs are set up, act immediately. First,
remove excess chairs from the back of the room. People often
have a phobia about sitting up front, and if you give them the
opportunity to wander in and sit anywhere, they'll stay in the
back, so get rid of those back rows. If the chairs are immovable,


as in a theater, rope off the back sections. If you don't have

people who can do these things at your direction, you do it!
Whenever possible, deputize assistants to actually escort
audience members to their seats, with instructions to fill in the
front rows first.
If you walk out onstage and find a small audience scattered
around a large room, within the first few minutes after you
walk out, politely, but firmly, tell the people in the back to move
forward. "You'll enjoy the show much more from the front. Trust
me; I've seen it!"
A related, high-octane tip: if you have people you need to
impress-agents, meeting planners, (potential) significant
others-be sure to seat them near the front. This applies to
virtually any live performance. Those up front experience a
different show, a better show (sad to say), than those in the
You can easily prove that to yourself at any large-venue
rock concert. Despite the fact that everyone is there because
they very much want to be, you will always see less gyrating
enthusiasm in the back sections than in the front.
There's a reason the cheap seats are cheaper.

Stairs or Steps
If you bring people from the audience to the stage, ensure
that there is an easy route for them to reach the stage. Ideally,
two sets of stairs should lead from the audience to the stage.
Walk on them yourself. Are they sturdy? If not, take action
to fix the problem. If the steps do not have handrails, and
your volunteers are women in heels, or anyone who seems the
slightest bit unsteady because of age or having enjoyed the
open bar, walk to the top of the stairs and offer your hand for
If the area immediately off the stage is dark, you might
suggest that bright or luminous tape be placed on the top edge
of each step.


If you're a professional you know this scene. You're
performing in a hotel banquet room. You are about to hit one of
the highlights of your program. All attention is focused on you,
and at that very moment someone walks in through the large
doors. Do they do what you or I would do, hold it so that it closes
slowly and softly? Of course not. They allow the big heavy doors
to slam shut. Half the eyes in the room turn to see who it is, and
your climactic moment is shot.
What to do? Top pro magician and motivational speaker Jon
Petz has some wonderful ideas about how to prevent this very
real, very common problem. Here are his words:
While some newer ballrooms have reasonably silent doors,
the bulk you encounter are the ones with the horizontal metal
bar that unlatches the door. You have to press down on the
metal bar to unlatch the door and push it open.
In reality, it usually isn't the sound of the door opening or
closing that actually makes the biggest noise. Rather, it's the
action of depressing the metal bar for the latch to retract enough
to allow the door to open.
So you have two options.
1. Remove the metal bar and pay hefty fines to the hotel or
2. Force the door latch to be in the "open" position. The
door will still open and close, but won't actually latch.
Therefore, most of the noise-making operation goes away.
How to do that? My solution may look odd, but it's very
functional. Have a roll of gaffer tape (also known as gaffer's
tape, gaff tape, and camera tape) in your tech bag. Go to the
main doors (or each door), press the metal bar in order to open
the door. Hold the metal bar down so the latch is in the open
position-then tape it in the open position. It will take two or
three pieces of tape generally to hold it down. It doesn't look
pretty, but it works.
Be sure to use gaffer tape. If you do this with any other
tape, such as duct (or duck) tape, you will make enemies, and


that venue will never let you back. Gaffer tape leaves no residue
or sticky stuff on the door when you peel it off. Most AV teams
will have it with them, and most AV people will be pissed if
you use theirs (at typically around $14+ per small roll, it isn't
cheap). So get your own. It's also great for taping down cords in
a safe way. It rips easily with your fingers as well.
To make friends, tell the banquet captain at the hotel what
you're doing. "To help your team and myself out when people
have to come in and out, I'm going to tape the door latch open.
Don't worry, I'm using gaffer tape and I will remove it when I'm
done. However, banquet captain, if you have another method you
use so the doors won't make any noise, we can do that as well."
(Get them on your side. This small trick benefits everyone).
Great tips. Thanks, Jon.

I'm not an expert on makeup, but in a moment you'll read
the advice of someone who is. My major input comes down to
this: too much is worse than none at all. If I'm sitting in the fifth
row of a theater and I'm aware, as I was recently, of the rouge
on the cheek of a male magician (not a clown!), it's a distraction.
And I will add that this section is directed primarily at male
performers; we tend to know little or nothing about makeup.
Women know makeup, although stage makeup is usually
somewhat different than daily "street" makeup.
Makeup should always be used when you have your publicity
photos taken and when you do TV appearances. For my regular
platform work, I rarely use makeup, other than the stick
makeup specifically formulated for dark shadows under the eyes
(or as I call them, excess baggage). I know several leading pros
who have a similarly minimalist approach to "cover-ups." But
in general, you do want to wear some makeup when working
under bright, full stage lights. For some, just a little powder
to cut down the reflection may be sufficient. Or, for a simple,
brainless standby used by many in the television industry (we
used it in my Brooklyn College TV days and it's still used by
many newsmen just prior to stepping before the cameras), turn
to Max Factor Tan #2, lightly applied with a damp sponge. It


obviously depends on your complexion, but that product suits

most Caucasian men. And it's a good beard cover for five o'clock
Now to the expert. Paul Alberstat is a successful full-time
performer with a BFA in theatre arts. I had read some of his
writings about makeup, and it's clear that this man knows his
stuff. Here's his mini-course on makeup for magicians and
The best makeup to use is Ben Nye Creme stick. Go to a
quality supplier, find a good match for your skin tone for the
base, a good neutral powder (a large can never
have too much powder), a light blush, and "lake" lip color (again,
this is neutral for a man). Either a brown or black eyeliner
pencil (depending on your eye color), and a white eyeliner pencil
as well (which you use if you happen to have bloodshot eyes:
lining the lower part of your lid helps to magnify the white and
remove the red ... a little tip if you are working on television or
close-up situations without any other makeup).
The reason I prefer Ben Nye Creme is that when you
powder after each step, you can literally erase any mistakes
and continue, as opposed to having to remove everything and
starting over. This is a big advantage. If it is a quality shop
you are purchasing from, they should have a specialist who can
show you how to apply everything, instructionally, which again
is worth your while.
Always apply your makeup under incandescent lights,
not fluorescent lights. The only time you apply makeup
under fluorescent lights is when you are applying makeup for
television, and truthfully, any good show will have a specific
makeup artist there to apply it for you. The light and shadows
are different when working onstage, and you need incandescent
lighting to do your application correctly.
Get a pump bottle of fragrance-free hairspray (avoid lacquer
sprays). This is used as a sealer before you apply any makeup at
all. Just spray a light covering all over your face and wait thirty
seconds for it to dry. This prevents any oils from coming up to
the surface and blotching your makeup. This is a little secret
that few know about. Those with particularly oily skin might
apply witch hazel, or any similar astringent, prior to the spray.


However, if you wash your face thoroughly right before you

apply the makeup, you probably won't need the spray (or a more
expensive oil-blocking "barrier" cream). The spray or creme is a
good thing if you don't have the facilities for washing, or if you
are in a hurry (the spray dries a lot quicker). If you apply powder
after each step, the makeup should be fine without either one.
Don't forget the cold cream (like Nivea) and a good astringent
like Bonne Bell "Ten-O-Six", as they will help immensely to
remove the makeup later. You will also need some applicator
sponges and brushes, plus some Q-tips and cotton balls.
Makeup, including street makeup, is supposed to improve
your looks, not make you look as if you are painted! As you
apply the base for your first few times, you should have someone
a good distance away from the stage judge the application for
you while you stand under those bright lights.
Finally, the best thing to do is to talk to a makeup
specialist, not a woman behind a cosmetics counter. Go to a
theatrical supply house that has a makeup specialist, or seek
out a theatrical makeup artist and pay for a consultation. Have
him or her match you with the best skin tone for you, along with
the proper eyeliner color, blush, brushes, etc. In effect, you are
having them put together a personalized makeup kit. Keep a
list of everything in a separate place, so that you will always
know what it is that you may need to replace in case something
goes missmg.
I asked Paul if any updates were needed to his original
words. He replied:
While there are a few other makeup options to choose from
it's still a matter of what works best for the individual. The
basics that I've laid out are still sound and remembering to
powder after each step is important.
When applying makeup it helps to think of a ball with a
light on it. Check where the light is brightest and how the light
fades and shadows begin is how you apply your layers. You need
to decide which features you wish to highlight. Do you want
your nose to appear sharper or smaller? Do you want chipmunk
cheeks or hide them? Imagine the bright spotlight on your face
and apply make up accordingly.
Thanks again, Paul.


Malodorous Maladies, etc.

I hate to bring up these embarrassing subjects, but the older
you get the more you realize that anyone can broadcast bad
odors without being aware of it.
You ought to shower as close to show time as is practical, and
always use a quality antiperspirant. (Some cheap ones smell
foul!) Apply it in moderation; too much and it becomes an issue
by itself. Avoid heavy doses of aftershave lotion or cologne-
what you find attractive may be repulsive to others.
Before your show, always execute a preemptive strike
against possible offending breath; you don't want the folks
onstage to back away from you. If possible, brush your teeth,
and follow with mouthwash, or, at least, chew on a breath mint
or two. In a pinch, grab some parsley garnish from the kitchen.
It's a potent bad breath neutralizer.
Check yourself in a mirror. Up close! Without being overly
graphic, check those orifices from which nasties might be
protruding. Smile wide and check your teeth. Any spinach there?
Then step back and check your total look. Are all your pocket
flaps down? Is your tie straight? Is your jacket collar smooth?
Are you doing Steve Martin's Flydini act without intending to?

Your Introduction
Don't take your introduction lightly. It's far more important
than most performers realize. The way you're introduced
immediately affects the audience's expectations. In many cases,
they have little or no idea who you are or what you do, and your
intro becomes the welcome mat, their first step into your world.
Don't blow it.
I wrote the above paragraph years ago, and now we have
research to back it up. In the September 2016 issue of MAGIC
magazine, Joshua Jay published "What Do Audiences Really
Think?" It contained the results of a carefully constructed
research study done in partnership with Dr. Lisa Grimm and
The College of New Jersey. Much of it was eye-opening and
you'd be wise to check it out.


Josh summarized the findings for the MAGIC Live 2017

General Session audience and he said, with some wistfulness
and a tinge of regret, that the single most important factor in
how an audience appreciated a magician was ... the introduction!
Bluntly, if they think you are special even before you walk out,
you immediately have an advantage.
From the article:
(We found that) when participants view the exact same clip of
an effect, enjoyment is higher when the performer is introduced
with accolades-awards, TV credits, high fees, etc. Did you get
that? The same clip is enjoyed 52 percent more if people think
they're watching someone great. An ounce of reputation is worth
a pound of presentation.
We tested for different accolades in each clip. Audiences are
most impressed by television performances. The other accolades
are appreciated about the same. However, magicians introduced
with some kind of accolade (anything at all impressive) were
more deeply appreciated.
The takeaway here is that introductions matter. As a
convention organizer, I've introduced many magicians. When
I ask how they would like to be introduced, the majority of
performers say things like, "Whatever you want," or "Just keep it
short," or "It doesn't matter." If you care about how deeply your
audience appreciates you, it does matter. Quick caveat: This
isn't a license to invent credits, just encouragement to use the
ones you've already earned. Sure, you were in the audience for a
taping of The Tonight Show. That doesn't mean you were on The
Tonight Show. (And just auditioning for America's Got Talent
doesn't give you that credit; if it didn't air, you weren't on it.

Instructions for Introductions

Even when they do know about you, the intro sets the tone
for the first few moments. Make it inviting, with just enough
information to set the mood without becoming overly self-
Now and then, someone from the venue will have already
written your introduction. Your response must be along the lines


of, "Great! Let me take a look at it just to make sure everything

is correct." Chances are it won't be great, and you'll be glad you
saw it beforehand.
Your introduction should:
Be pre-written by you, with just a hint of what you're
about to do.
Include your best credits. This is your opportunity
to have someone else brag about you ...where you've
performed, for whom, along with any honors, degrees, or
other accomplishments that might be appropriate. Don't
be shy! People like to know they are being entertained
by a "star," even if they've never heard of you.
BE TYPED IN ALL CAPS (assuming it is fairly short in
length. Otherwise, go with a large font.
Be rehearsed with the person who will be delivering it (a
possibly awkward request, so if they hesitate, back off).
Have final words that are something like, "PLEASE
WELCOME. .." The last thing the MC says must be your
If you work with an assistant, and especially if the assistant
is clearly a vital part of the show, it's insulting to the assistant if
only your name is announced. This is especially true if the two
of you appear together right at the start. If she (it's usually a
she) is not present at the opening, then a one-name intro might
be acceptable, but she should then be acknowledged shortly
after her appearance.
You need to discourage the emcee-firmly-from veering
from your words. Ad libs at this point rarely pay off.
The last thing the emcee will say is your name. Audiences
have been preconditioned to begin clapping when they hear the
name of the performer, so never place any words in your intro
following your name.
"Please put your hands together..." is old school. The
audience knows how to clap. Alternatives are:
Please welcome, the amazing ...
• Join me in welcoming to Palm Beach Correctional. ..
It's my pleasure to introduce ... Mr. Joe Blowhard!


I always tell the emcee, with a smile, "The most important

thing the emcee has to do is ... make sure the performer is ready!"
I say this lightheartedly, but I look right at them so they get the
message that I'm not kidding. Twice in my early career I was
introduced when I was nowhere in the vicinity; the audience
started to dislike me before I set foot on the stage!
If you are using a microphone that is on the stage, the
emcee must use that same mic for the introduction. If it's not
working, that becomes his problem, not yours. Also, sometimes
at a banquet the emcee will want to introduce you from the
dais. Awful idea! That would mean the audience looks at him
and they must turn to face wherever you happen to be, and that
leads to an awkward delay in getting your momentum.
A good part of the emcee's job is to get everyone's attention.
Make it clear to him or her:
"Do not introduce me until you have everyone in their seats
and paying attention to you."
If, as I said, the microphone becomes unplugged, or a squeal
of unexpected feedback sends hands to ears, or the stage lights
aren't on-those problems must be discovered while the emcee
is onstage, not after the star (you) has been introduced.
When you walk out, show the emcee respect by shaking her
hand and thanking her, by name, and then acknowledge the
audience. You might tell the emcee beforehand that you are
going to shake her hand. If, however, the emcee walks off in
the opposite direction, you either ignore her and acknowledge
the audience, or you might, as I do, just play it for a laugh by
extending your hand in her direction.

But First, Get There

My friend, master mentalist Christopher Carter, posted this
on Facebook in December 2018. It was too good, too important
to be seen only by his Facebook pals.
* * *


So you're a performer and your flight is canceled/a blizzard

has socked you in/the nearby volcano is erupting. There's a good
chance you can't get to your show. What do you do? Here is my
handy guide:
Step one: Breathe. Shit happens and sooner or later it's
going to happen to you. If it's the first time this has happened to
you, you'll probably panic and start worrying that your career
is over. It isn't. Remember that you can't control what happens
to you, only how you respond to it.
Step two: Remember your priorities. Here they are, in order:
Priority 1) Your personal safety. No gig anywhere is worth
risking your life. Sure, you're willing to do anything in
your power to get to the gig, but keep a clear head about
what's really in your power. That means driving through
the blizzard is a dumb idea. Trust me, I've tried this far
too many times. It's just not worth it.
Priority 2) Your client. Once your safety is ensured, start
looking for someone to cover for you. This is where having
a lot of friends in the business is helpful. You might have
to try a lot of people.
Priority 3) Your business interest. Notice that this comes
after your client's interest. If taking care of a client means
that I'll have to pay more than I would have gotten from
the gig, I'll do it. Obviously I'd like to find a rescheduling
option and keep the money for myself, but keeping the
client happy in the moment is more important.
Step 3: Work on your alternative travel plans. Under many
circumstances this step will be necessary for taking care of the
client. Look for whatever options will get you to the gig. Figure
out the expenses later. Will you lose money on the gig? So what!
A happy client is a future client. An upset client is one you'll
never see again.
Step 4: Assuming you can't make the gig, see if you can
Step 5: Assuming you can't reschedule, do everything
possible to find a replacement. Think you're irreplaceable?
Think again.


Step 6: Once all of the above is done, breathe again. You now
have some down time to work on other projects.
That's it. Pretty simple.
Thanks, Chris.
And now that you're at the gig ...

To Be Seen, or Not To Be Seen?

For the first many years of my performing career I stayed
out of sight prior to being introduced. I wanted to maintain that
"air of mystery." Then, as years passed, from time to time I had
no choice, for various reasons, but to spend time with audience
members before the show. After a while it hit me-doing so is
not a bad thing, and it likely helps.
Why? My assumption is that by mingling we make friends-
and there is never a downside to having friends in the audience.
Those folks will see you as a person, not a stranger up onstag~.
They will make eye contact with you and they will be smiling.
This is a personal preference, but it has worked for me,
and I've spoken to a good number of pros who have come to
the same conclusion. You probably don't want to prance up and
down the aisles before the show, but saying, "Hi" to a few folks,
in addition to gaining supporters, might actually put you more
at ease. It did for me.

Jusi· Before You Walk Out

Some performers drag themselves onto the stage looking
defeated. Don't let that happen to you. Walk out with confidence!
If you have a tendency to slouch-and the older you get the
more pronounced that tendency becomes-use this trick to get
yourself ramrod-straight. Stand with your back against a wall
or door. Straighten up so the backs of your shoes, the backs of
your calves, your buttocks, your shoulder blades and the back
of your head all touch the wall. Stay that way for five to ten
seconds. Get the feeling of everything coming into alignment,
then step away, maintaining that posture.


As the show progresses, gravity will pull you down, so make

an effort to mentally snap back to the feeling you had when
you stood against the wall. Slouched shoulders and drooping
· head signal age and world-weariness; a straight-arrow posture
signals youthful vitality and self-assurance. As an entertainer,
that's the image you want to project.
If your muscles feel tight while waiting to go on, stretch.
(Actually, stretching is a valuable pre-show habit even if you
don't think you are tight. It loosens the muscles and calms the
nerves.) To stretch your neck muscles, which tend to tighten
especially in the presence of excess nervous energy, roll your
head around. This is not the time to feel self-conscious! If people
do see you, they will assume this is what some pros do before
they step onstage. (It is.) .
Take a couple of deep breaths. You may be breathing
shallowly without being aware of it, and that won't help you.
This, from "Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics" by ABC News
Anchor, Dan Harris: "Deep breathing can mitigate the impact
of adrenaline on fine motor skills and information processing."
So seriously, take those two or three deep breaths.
Have a large glass of water or a water bottle available
backstage before you walk out, and, if you do a long show,
another somewhere on the stage. Take a final sip.
Go get 'em!

Chapter 20

During the Show

This is it. This is where all the planning and rehearsal hit
the road.
In this chapter, more than any other, what you will read
evolved directly from in-the-audience note-taking (mostly
mental notes) I've done over many years. This is my strongest
real-world advice. So please read and proceed with care:
although I comment only on those potholes and slippery slopes
that affect large segments of our art, it's prudent for you to
assume everything in this chapter began by seeing you, or
someone similar to you, perform.
Also, again, 100% of these opinions come from watching
professionals or the most highly advanced amateurs. (If I wrote
about performance errors made at magic club shows, I'd be
writing into the third millennium).

Your Opening Moments

It's useful to think of first moments in front of the audience
as a job interview. You want to be on your best behavior, to
impress from the start. Make friends with the audience. Let
them know, by your smile, your words, and your body language,
that standing there in front of them pleases you immensely.
"It's an honor for me to be here with you." You won't
necessarily say that with words; you project that feeling with
your face and body.
And you project that attitude no matter what. A microphone
that cuts out, improperly set stage lights, waiters still noisily
clearing dishes despite your explicit instructions that they be
off the floor once you begin-none of these can be allowed to
impinge upon your opening moments.
Remember, they don't care. The audience doesn't care about
the performer's problems, so to point out anything that's not to
your liking, especially in the opening moments, serves no useful
purpose and reflects poorly on you. Therefore, as I suggested
previously, you walk out with an air of confidence, ready to
smile and greet your awaiting audience.

You project a more commanding presence if you don't start

talking the second your mouth is in range of the microphone.
Wait a second or two before you do or say anything at all. Anchor
yourself. Let the audience focus on you.
Then get started immediately. That should be no problem
• You made certain that all your props were in place before
you walked out.
The microphone is where you expected it to be, and the
mic stand has been adjusted to the proper height.
If you're using a clip-on or headset microphone, you're
already certain it's been turned on.

Ewww! Gag Me with a Spoon

If your goal is to be a man of mystery, why start with a weak
gag? When I see a performer early in his set ask a spectator,
"Do you know what word I'm thinking of?"
"That's correct!"
I know it's going to be a weak act.
Similarly for a long joke. Unless you are certain the story
kills, save it for later. Leisurely openings worked on the
Chautauqua circuit, but no longer. In the age of music videos,
when nothing seems to stay on the screen for more than two
seconds, people need stimulation quickly, so get something
concrete started within your first thirty seconds.
Take a moment to get comfortable on stage, then let them
know what you are about. You might start with a strong trick, or
a quick story or joke. But don't dawdle. The audience grants you
a very short honeymoon before they mentally decide whether
this is a relationship they care to pursue.
"Strong," by the way, does not necessarily mean a knock-
'em-dead routine; it could be anything that you know from
experience works to get their attention and establish your


About Face!
Banquet performers face obstacles not found in other
situations: the clinking of glasses and silverware, wait staff
delivering and clearing food, and one other particularly
dangerous hazard ... people sitting at round tables. Some in the
audience are facing you; some have their backs to you.
When performing at a banquet, or any situation where
people are sitting at round tables, acknowledge the fact that
you cannot see everyone and they cannot easily see you.
Do not allow yourself to perform for backs of heads!
If you do, they will talk during your show, and that hurts
you. Control the situation!
After a very brief time on stage-no more than a few
minutes-say something along the lines of:
"Ladies and gentlemen, if you are not already facing this
way, please take a moment right now to turn your chairs so
you can see me and I can see you.
No stiff necks allowed! The whole show happens up here.
Trust me, I've seen this before."
Failing to make this request is a major mistake.
You may have asked the emcee to take on this duty prior to
your introduction. Sometimes that suffices, sometimes not. If
not, take matters into your own hands.

Do You See What I See?

Do You Hear What I Hear?
You've just had a woman in the audience choose a card and
you instruct her to "Show the card to everyone."
Did everyone see the card? Are you certain?
You need to presume that every person watching wants to
see and hear everything (whether it's true or not). When I'm in
the audience and I cannot see the selected card, my attention
starts to wilt. You've experienced the same feeling.


Therefore, when a card is selected and you ask that it be

shown to the audience, you must ensure that everyone sees
that card. Don't forget, you are Controlling Every Moment, and
you lose control if your spectator does not wholly follow your
instructions. Simply asking, "Did you all see the card?" might
be enough. This applies to any effect in which you have asked
that something be displayed by a civilian. Lay folks, for the
most part, lack a sense of theater. They talk softly and they
won't make their movements expansive, so you must keep your
eyes and ears attuned to the situation.
Years ago I saw my pal James Mapes, a major-league stage
hypnotist, neglect this basic tenet. During one of the strongest
parts of his program, he has a woman write on an overhead
projector as he "regresses" her to age twelve and then age six.
It's fascinating to see how her writing changes. Or it would
have been. She had inadvertently moved the projector, and
so while she and Jim talked about what she was writing on
the transparency, those of us in the audience of more than one
thousand were clueless ... he never looked up to see what we
were seeing, which was just a shadow.
When I did my Psychic Entertainers Association
"Performance Workshops," this type of problem was the
that I needed to point out the most often. These glitches can be
avoided if you accept and work toward this truth:
Anything of any importance that happens during your show
must be seen and heard by everyone.
When cards are selected, when locks are examined, when
you address anyone on stage with you or in the audience, when
an item is to be displayed:
Be aware, be aware, be aware of what the audience sees and
As much as is practical within the routine, play everything
to the widest audience possible. The back row is as important as
the front row, because you never know who's sitting there.
Sorrie performers seem to know this instinctively. In 2002,
I attended a lecture given by Joshua Jay. At one point, he was
demonstrating one of his devastating moves with cards and
realized some in the back of the room were having difficulty
seeing his hands. What did he do? He jumped up on the table!


He controlled the situation in a way I've seen few others do,

including pros with many more years of performing experience.
And this happened when he was still many months away from
attaining the legal right to order a beer!
You Control Every Moment by being aware of everything
around you.

Rise to the Occasion

Audience participation is a good thing. But it leads to a
conundrum when you're about to interact with a person in the
audience. If that spectator remains seated, you immediately risk
losing the attention of those who cannot see him or her (which
essentially is everyone not within a few feet of the person).
In general, my advice is for you to ask that person to stand
up. (Too many performers seem to think that if they can see the
face of the person standing, we all can.) If you control who is
going to participate, choose people as far back into the audience
as you feel you can comfortably manage. How often have we
seen performers continually choose and interact with people in
the front? Spread the joy around the room!
An important tip: whenever you have someone stand for
more than a short moment, move around on stage. Walk closer
to the person or, for dramatic effect, walk to the opposite side
of the stage. In either case, audience members whose view had
been blocked now will be able to see you. The longer a person
is standing, the more important it becomes that you, the true
center of attention, shift position on stage.
If you are dealing with people down front (perhaps chosen
by some random method), and what they say ought to be heard
by all, you might ask them to "Please turn around and say that
to everyone."
To sum up, two rules of thumb: if the interaction with the
person in the audience lasts more than five seconds, you should
have that person stand. If you deal with someone for longer
than a minute, it may be wiser simply to have that person join
you on stage.


Avoid Dead Time

You seek to Eliminate Weak Spots from your act, and there's
nothing weaker than dead time.
You impose dead time on your audience whenever nothing
is happening, or something is happening that fails to hold the
audience's attention (caution: a tension-inducing dramatic pause
is not a nothing moment). Cards being counted, numbers being
added, a spectator searching for a $20 bill that you've asked to
borrow... all are moments that tend to be less than riveting.
You can incorporate these moments into your show, provided
something else occurs concurrently. A recap of the action may
do the job:
"I want to remind you that these people were all selected
"She could have named any number, and she said
"The locks were provided by the Nassau County Police
Department, and then thoroughly checked by five
audience members."
Or you might sidestep dead time with a running commentary
of the action, provided that the commentary holds your audience's
interest by offering some new information:
"I couldn't help but notice that your handbag seems to
have been packed for, what, a weekend at the beach?"
"While he counts, you'll notice the graceful manner with
which he handles the cards. The result of years of dorm-
room poker, no doubt."
The best performers know that something must be
happening even when "nothing" is happening. That something
can be as simple as looking out into the audience ... purposefully.
Comedians have used this tactic with great success for as far
back as their voices have been recorded. When Jack Benny
stopped talking and slowly raised his hand to his chin, that was
his signature "nothing" that signaled what was going on his
mind, and it got a laugh. When Jerry Seinfeld rhetorically asks,
"Who are these people?" there's a laugh, followed by a pause


as we watch him consider his own question. When a mentalist

peers into the audience to find from where the thought he's
receiving emanates, "nothing" is happening, but there is drama
in the moment, provided the audience knows he is in full control.
If the audience suspects, even for a moment, that the pause
is happening because uncertainty has crept into the routine,
they will start to lose their connection to the entertainer.
Your antidote to those poisonous moments is meticulous
preparation-along with your steely-jawed promise to yourself:
never lose control.

The load of the lemon. The ditch of the billet. The pass.
In many magic routines there comes that moment when you
do something sneaky. That shouldn't be a problem, because
as a magician you have developed a basic understanding of
Why, then, do we see so many performers execute the "move"
at exactly the wrong moment, when all eyes are on them?
Go back to your script and figure out the prime moment
when attention has shifted away from you-or, more specifically,
from your hands. This problem should be evident to you when
you study that video of yourself.
In most cases, the simplest solution is-don't talk when you
perform a secret move. Perhaps ask someone a question, or give
an instruction for something to be done, then do the dirty work
when the person responds.
(The suggestion about doing the move when you are not
talking applies to platform or stage performers, and not
necessarily to close-up workers. In tight quarters, people are
more focused on your face as you talk.)
You put in the time to perfect the move. Now you have to
put equal effort into hiding the move. You cannot skip this step!


Eyes Wide Shut

Many performers, mentalists especially, cavalierly ask
volunteers on stage to stand and close their eyes. ''And don't
open them until I tell you to."
Have you ever tried that yourself? Stand in one spot for
three or four minutes with your eyes closed. Now imagine
that you're in front of an audience and you know they are all
looking-staring, perhaps, at you. And now assume that from
the start you were queasy about coming up on stage, in front of
friends and strangers.
You may feel fine, and most people will be OK with it. But
not all. Some will have had a drink or three before coming up.
Some will have latent anxiety that manifests itself at that very
moment. And older folks may have balance issues.
And any one of those can spell trouble for the performer.
If you need to have a spectator close his or her eyes, do one
of two things. Either have them sit on a chair, (which may not
be practical for your routine) or keep the request for eyes closed
to an absolute minimum amount of time. Often you can have
them open their eyes for a moment before moving onto the next
part of the routine. You might reassure them by giving them
advance notice of the time, by saying something like, "I'm going
to ask you to keep your eyes closed for around twenty seconds ..."
In other words, be considerate and aware of what they are
This same concept applies to asking your volunteer to hold
their arm out. What is easy for most people may not be easy for
this particular volunteer.

Careful Where You Step

Every time you leave the stage, or the "stage" area, you risk
losing your hold on your audience. A few performers (mentalists
Marc Salem and Lior Suchard, for example) thrive on getting
down and dirty with their spectators by moving among them.
And certainly it's not an issue for two-person acts such as the


Evasons, which has Jeff roaming the audience (and keeping up

a constant flow of fast-paced chatter-with a wireless handheld
microphone) while lovely Tessa locks the focus up on the stage.
But more often, for most performers, leaving the stage
backfires. Step into the audience where I can't see you, and
suddenly I don't care about you. Why should I? You obviously
don't care about me. If I am forced to strain to see or hear the
action, negative vibes are setting in ..
It comes back to being aware of everything the audience
sees and hears.
Too many performers believe they are increasing the
audience-participation factor by descending into the audience
when in fact they are boosting interest merely for those who
happen to be sitting near the action. Others lose interest, so,
except for when you have a compelling reason to go into the
audience, stay in control by staying up where all can see and
hear you.

Share, and Share Again

Every word you utter while in front of an audience should
matter and should move your act forward. If every word truly
is important, then don't cheat anyone out of the pleasure of
hearing those words. Other than stage whispers or words you
intentionally say off-microphone, say everything to the entire
audience, from the front to the last person in the back row.
Half-mumbled asides make those who missed them feel left out.
Be aware, too, that not every person in your audience hangs
on your every word. You may need to reinforce key points. So,
for example, if you showed the cards were all different at the
beginning of a long trick, you may want to show them again at
the conclusion, especially if an obvious solution would be that
"all the cards are the same."
If you can anticipate some of the "explanations" for your
miracles, and demolish them without sacrificing the impact of
the presentation, do so.


No "Thank You"
At the close of each trick, you may want to say, "Thank
you very much." That's fine, but I believe that phrase should
be used just once. As pointed out earlier, we strive to surprise.
Repeating "Thank you very much" becomes repetitive, since it
offers nothing new. You do not need to thank your audience after
every climax, but you do need to acknowledge the culmination of
the routine. With just a bit of thought, you can revise your script
so that the final words punch up the close: a true punchline.
You might use a recap ("I can't believe I found one card
of thousands!") or some variation of an emphatic "Yes!" to
highlight the difficulty you managed to overcome (although
actually saying the word "yes" is a bit hackneyed). If you have
volunteers on stage with you, asking for applause to thank your
assistants nicely closes the routine.
A quick tilted bow of just your head signals "Thank you"
without saying it.

Treat Your Props with Respect

Except for perhaps when you are producing cards from the
air, don't toss props into your receptacle like they are trash.
They're not. They are objects of magic and wonder.
Other than cards or coins, most of your props should be
placed, not thrown or carelessly dropped, into whatever is
meant to hold them.
Which leads to ...

Dirty Baggage
Don't you love it when you can do your show directly out of
the suitcase you traveled there with?
Maybe you should rethink that strategy. It's distracting
when we see an elegantly dressed performer taking props in


and out of a scruffy-looking piece ofluggage. It brings down the

visual appeal of what we're watching.
The answer will be different for each performer. Perhaps it's
buying new luggage more frequently, perhaps it's as simple as
shining up the case before it's placed on the stage. Or perhaps
you can redesign your show so that you never perform on stage
with your luggage.

Don't Be Ruff with Your Animals

As important as it is to treat your props with respect, it's
vastly more important to treat any living thing with respect.
From the instant that dove appears, to the moment it's
gently placed (not pushed!) into its cage, your every move should
signal-even if just for a fleeting instant-your compassion,
your love, for your living assistants.
Today there is a heightened awareness of the condition
of performing critters; many in your audience will judge you
harshly, and rightfully so, if they perceive the slightest hint of
mistreatment of birds, bunnies, puppies, or any other animal.
And that rule applies before, during, and after your show.

MC Hammered
Stay in this business long enough and you will almost
certainly be asked to he the Master of Ceremonies for some
event, so let me help you avoid the typical missteps.
Primarily, understand and accept that your role as MC is
to function as a shock absorber between the segments of the
evening. Usually the segments are acts, but not always. You
may need to deal with speeches or other business matters.
First, greet the audience with a smile and set the tone for
the evening, but don't perform a full routine before the first
act. Like it or not, once the audience knows your role, you are
not seen as the star. Plus, it's likely you didn't get the strong
introduction that you will give the other performers, so they
don't yet have a warm relationship with you. You perform right


at the start only when necessary, which typically means the

opening act isn't ready. (Shame on them!)
Don't perform long set pieces from your normal show more
than once. At all other times, you are there to hold the audience's
attention between the other acts. Again, the exception to this is
when an act needs more time to prepare.
Other than when doing your "star turn," your job is to make
everyone else shine. But don't fret about that. Do a good job as
MC and folks will regard you with equal affection.
Introduce each act with enthusiasm and, assuming they
performed well, say their name again as you walk back on
afterward. If appropriate, comment on what just happened in
order to goose the applause, but don't push too hard for a bigger
response than the audience is giving freely.
And of course, always walk out ready to fill more time than
I'll add too that often the MC becomes the de facto stage
manager, the last line of defense against chaos, so be prepared
to pull rank and get problems fixed behind the scenes.

Show Your Best Side

Never turn your back to the audience. It's rude and it
instantly breaks the connection you have with your audience.
. This rule applies to all show folks but it's especially important
for silent (non-speaking) performers. If a speaking performer
momentarily turns away from us the patter can distract us or
hold our attention. But if you are not talking, all attention is on
your backside. Which, unless you are (um ... fill in the blank),
your butt is likely not your best side!
This error most often happens when the performer picks up
or returns a prop to his case. It's simple enough to block your
movements so you avoid that awkward moment.
The obvious exception is when you go into the audience and
then make your way back to the stage, a trek silent performers
rarely make. (Hypnotists, who spend much of the time talking


to their volunteers on stage are another exception, but they too

should strive to minimize the time with their back facing front.)

Signing Off on Signing

On the day you read this sentence, thousands of magicians
around the world will ask a spectator to sign something so
they can prove that the object displayed at the beginning of the
routine is the same object shown at the climax.
It's time to rethink that process.
When you ask to have a bill or a card signed, you set up a
challenge. "Uh-oh," the spectator reasons, "I better keep an eye
on this bill because he's gonna do something sneaky with it."
If you do have a card, bill, or any other object signed, you
have three choices from an entertainment perspective:
1. Make the process of signing part of the entertainment
(not an easy task), or
2. Keep up the patter by having something witty or useful
to say to the signer or observers, or
3. Stand back and let the magic come to the fore, that is, go
for maximum impact by using minimum "showmanship"
a la Blaine.
In theory, the third choice should be the easiest one. The very
fact that you want the object signed signals that this unfolding
demonstration has serious mystical qualities. In other words,
it's a great trick. ("Lordy, lordy, how did my card get into the
envelope inside his wallet?") But it's also the most likely tactic
to result in dead time. This option works only when your target
is a highly charged, dramatic moment.
Always ask yourself, "Does the signing of the card or bill
truly add to the final impact of the routine?" In many routines,
the signing ceremony adds little, while slowing down the
I previously alluded to one example of this problem in the
Case Study for Ripped & Restored. Here's another example, this
time from Jon Allen's "Ghost" routine on his Spectators Don't
Exist video: He borrows a $20 bill, has it signed, and this is
what ensues:

Dead time while the elderly man meticulously writes his

first and last names.
• More dead time when he looks for, finds, and then
replaces the cap of the pen.
Still more dead time when Jon asks for the pen back.
• And sure enough, a few moments into the routine, the
man turns to his wife and asks, "Is that the same bill?"
It's obvious why the man asked that: at the start, Jon set
the routine up as some sort of "catch-me-if-you-can'' challenge.
Again, in the spectator's mind, Why else would he be required
to sign a perfectly ordinary object?
Then the routine gets on track and the bill jumps around
quite magically, the bill is handed back, and the group of three
applauds sincerely and appreciatively.
To most performers, that was a successful routine. And it
was! But it could have been a bit smoother.
How different would the take-home memory be if that bill
had not been signed? To my mind, not very. Paper currency is
not supposed to hover in the air and dance inside a wine glass
just inches from the spectators' faces.
The magic is this: Jon borrows a bill, crumples it up, drops
it into a glass, and, untouched, it moves and eventually jumps
through the air.
What difference does it make if this bill floats, or that bill?
A floating, dancing, hopping bill is magic. Period. Asking the
spectator to sign the bill sets up a needless challenge that
adds nothing to the entertainment value of the routine. Plus,
if you conclude by returning the bill, that, in itself, confirms its
Yes, there are routines where the mystery grows appreciably
by proving the coin, card, or bill you start with is the one you
end with. Just be certain the incremental proof of your magical
prowess does not diminish the entertainment value of the
Let's look at this from the opposite point of view. We have a
multitude of examples where gimmicked objects are not signed,
yet the magic suffers not a whit. Mike Skinner's "Ultimate


Three-Card Monte" uses specially printed cards, and all eyes

burn those three cards for several minutes. Yet, according to
Skinner, Bill Malone, Patrick Page, and others who feature
this and similar routines, no one asks to examine the cards.
Why? Because the routines are carefully constructed to give the
audience the impression that they repeatedly see all the fronts
and backs.
Suppose someone comes up with a method to accomplish
those identical Three-Card Monte effects with borrowed cards.
It's certain that some magicians would have the cards signed-
to "prove" something. Would that strengthen the effect? No,
signing would add nothing for a lay audience. (For magicians,
yes. For normal people, no.)
Lastly, if you must have the object signed, initials deliver
the same impact as a full signature and take less time.

Power Shifting
Transitions-the moments between tricks-suffer if they
are not as well rehearsed as the tricks themselves. The actions
and words that take your show from the climax of one effect to
the opening of the next are not afterthoughts! What do you do
with the card case/scissors/linking rings when you finish with
each? Do you casually toss them aside? Is that the image you
want? It might be, but is it? Or did you toss them aside because
you never thought about what message that sends?
How do you pick up those props? Where are they? How
do you get from one spot on stage to another? If you have not
worked those answers out beforehand, you will pay the price
during your show.

Whose Fault Is It, Anyway?

In an internet mentalism forum, a performer posted a
message about seeing a fellow performer who:
".. .asked the person to open the book to any page and think
of a word. When the mentalist divined the wrong word, the
person said. 'Oh, you meant a word from the book?"'


And then the writer berated the volunteer for his supposed
In the service industry, the adage says, "The customer is
always right." When something goes wrong in show biz, you'd
better believe that the audience assumes "the performer is
always at fault." The facts don't matter. The fault could have
been totally beyond your control, but still you bear the blame.
Performers too often claim-as Shakespeare alluded to in
Julius Caesar-that the fault lies somewhere other than within
In the case described above, two possible causes come to
mind. He either picked the wrong person to help, or he failed to
instruct clearly. Or both.
The instructions, as related in the anecdote ("Open the
book to any page and think of a word"), are not as clear as
many magicians or mentalists believe. A nervous or confused
spectator might think that you were going to do something else
with the book-perhaps announce the page number stopped at,
or describe pictures on the page.
Or, the spectator parsed the performer's instructions with
literal exactness:
1. "Open the book to any page." OK, I did that.
2. "Think of a word." OK, I'll think about, let's see ... my
favorite sport ... "Baseball."
Ta-dah! The performer is screwed.
Then, too, an obstreperous spectator might deliberately
exploit the ambiguity.
The solution is to foresee these scenarios and then script
your words to head off problems. So, for example, in this case:
Please open the book to any page. Have you done that? Now
please let your eyes move over that page and then focus on
just one of the words you see there ... "
Having the attitude "it's always my fault" may seem slightly
paranoid but it's an attitude a performer needs to cultivate
internally. He must actively work toward solutions, rather than
blaming the audience. A performer's attitude, when a moment
doesn't go as planned, ought to be, "I could have done something


to avoid that problem. What do I need to do next time to make

it right?"
It's a masochistic mindset, but ultimately it leads to a higher
level of success.
The temptation to blame someone or something else is huge.
Don't give in to it. As magicians and mentalists, one skill we
must possess is the ability to create clear verbal instructions
that minimize possible misunderstanding. As a reasonable first
step, avoid any routine that involves complex verbal instructions.
And always acknowledge, dear performer, that the fault lies
not in our stars, but in ourselves.

You All Know This, Right?

Here's something that at first glance may seem to be outside
the scope of this book, but it's not. I'm talking about the common
practice of lecturers at magic conventions, when, during the
explanation of a trick they pause and ask the audience ...
"Do I need to explain that?"
Or they'll look at us and say, "You all know this, right?"
This happens frequently. More than half the lecturers at a
major magic convention I attended in 2018 asked some form of
those questions.
It's time-wasting, often annoying, and more importantly, it
speaks to a larger issue than what happens in a lecture for
magicians. That is:
Anytime you're in front of any audience doing anything, you
need to put yourself into the minds of that audience.
So, in this example, when you ask, "Do I need to explain
that?" you are immediately intimidating all those who in fact
have no idea what you're talking about!
No one knows everything: not me, not you, no one. When you
turn to ask if something needs to be explained, you're implying
that this is so simple that it's hardly worth wasting time on,
and who would feel comfortable raising his or her hand at that
moment? I wouldn't ... and yes, I've been the dullard who didn't
know whether that was a Mnemonica or Aronson stack.


What's worse, invariably the lecturer will respond to the

one or two people who actually say something out loud, but it
might be exactly contrary to what the overwhelming majority of
the audience would prefer!
By the way, it's similar to when the lecturers asks, "Do you
want me to do (X), or should I do (Y)?" And again, one or two
people get to steer the ship.
So whether you are a lecturer, speaker, or entertainer,
think about what your audience is thinking. And what they are
feeling. Put yourself in their shoes, or their seats.
And continue to Control Every Moment.

When Bad Things Happen to Good

And they will. The gods that decide who shall kill today
(theatrically speaking) and who shall melt into a puddle of flop
sweat are notoriously capricious. Doves die, metal fatigues,
cards drop, and non-English-speaking spectators come on stage
to help with your Add-a-Number. Disasters, major and minor,
befall all performers eventually.
I recall a lecture given by Marvyn Roy (Mr. Electric). He
regaled us with reminiscences of a glitteringly successful
lifetime in show business, and he didn't shirk from sharing how,
despite hours of careful preparation before each twelve-minute
set, at one time or another everything that could go wrong, did.
Murphy's Law will subpoena you too one day. When it does:
Cut your losses. The sooner the better.
I have watched the quicksand of calamity suck performers
down as they unwisely struggled to put things right. Don't let
that happen to you! Instead, within moments of realizing that
something has gone dreadfully wrong, move on. You might
preface the transition with words along the lines of:
"Ladies and gentlemen, things aren't going as planned.
Fortunately, I have ... "
and advance immediately to your next routine.


What if the screw-up happens during your final routine?

Same advice: cut the bit as soon as you realize it's beyond
repair. Except now (and I'm assuming you don't have an
alternative ending) you're going to rely on your charm to steer
your ship back to port. A smile, perhaps a friendly shrug, a
quick acknowledgment that "It's just one of those things," will
Communicate Your Humanity, alleviate the tension, and help
you reconnect with the audience. You've been successful in
all else, and now you can still bring your show to a successful
conclusion. At the soonest possible moment, return to your
script and close the show, and once you do return to the script,
never acknowledge that anything went awry.
They don't care.
Sometimes, however, you might think things are worse
than they are. It's a matter of degree. As John Lovick told me,
"What I have learned over time is that when minor things go
wrong with a trick, if you just continue, the trick will usually
play just as well. Things that you think 'give away the game'
aren't always fatal, and it's best to just plow ahead. I've seen
many magicians bail on a trick when they really didn't need to."
Again, having a script you believe in helps keep you on
track, regardless of major or minor missteps.
Above all, when bad things happen, it's never anyone else's
fault. Regardless of the actual cause of the misfortune, the
entertainer can never blame the civilian or the backstage folks
(well, actually you can dump on the knuckle-dragging doofuses
who caused you harm ...just not while you're still in front of the

Yes, They Are Jerks. Too Bad.

Never insult an audience.
Never insult an audience member.
Never insult any tech person, food server, security person,
hotel staff; in other words, never insult anyone who is on the
premises, or anyone who is personally known to your audience.


We all know that the temptation to lash out at the fool who
accidentally, or worse, intentionally, ruined your pet routine,
but you must resist. Yes, you might feel temporarily feel better,
but at what cost?
I've seen top pros make these mistakes and I've been told
about others who lashed out. Sometimes the performer goes
for a laugh, sometimes it's clear he (it's always been a he) is
seriously angry. Regardless, the moment you do that you pop!
the balloon of entertainment. Your moment of discomfort flows
out into your audience and they feel it, and Superman is now
just one of them, an ordinary workaday human dealing with
the stress of his job.
When that happens, entertainment, like that balloon,

Smile, and the Whole World Smiles

with You
Don't forget to smile as often as is practical throughout your
time in front of an audience.
What happens in a social situation when you smile at
someone? They smile back at you. Similarly, when you are on
stage and you sincerely smile at the people watching you, they
spontaneously smile.
Human beings feel happy when they smile, so anything you
can do to induce smiles is a good thing. When people smile,
their brains reflexively respond by thinking to themselves, "I'm
having a good time!"
That works!

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Bro

If you're on a bill with other performers, understand that it's
always a team effort. Therefore, whether it's The Illusionists on
Broadway or a charity event at the High School, you should help
everyone shine.


So if you see something that you can help with, do it.

And that especially applies if it's something the other guy
might not be aware of-a problem with the sound or lights, an
unruly audience member, outside noises, etc. Do anything that
will lift the other performer and help him or her be their best.
Do it because it's the right thing, and do it because it will
make you look better.


A Personal Entertainment Highlight:

Gil Eagles-
The Q&A Act
I first met Gil Eagles in the Catskill Mountains, where we
were two young mentalists competing against each other in the
early 1970s. I was earning $75 a show and Gil, a few years
my senior, was raking in a jealousy-inducing $125 per, and
he often did seven or eight shows a week (this during a time
when Gil was renting a Greenwich Village studio apartment for
$80 a month)! As a budding mentalist, I had studied the texts
about acts in which the audience writes questions, hidden from
the performer's view, and the mystic gives out answers with
startling accuracy. Most of those texts had been written in the
1930s and '40s and I was certain the sophisticated, post moon-
landing audiences of the '70s would scoff and snicker at any fool
who tried to hold their attention with such antics.
Could I have been more wrong?
Over the years, I have audited Gil Eagles' show many times,
in many venues, including colleges and high-end corporate gigs
(Gil's list of repeat gigs is a highly representative sampling of
the Fortune 500, always for big money, always plus first-class
airfare and limo). There is never a moment when those around
me are not zeroed in on the man onstage. As he apparently culls
thoughts from random spots around the room while hopelessly
blindfolded with silver dollars, tape, and a leather blindfold,
bodies lean forward so that not a moment is missed. He evokes
laughter without jokes, and amazes in ways having nothing to
do with magic-text "tricks."
When he announces that he is going to answer just one more
question, palpable disappointment invariably engulfs the room.
Now, understand that Gil never gives out "psychic predictions"
about any spectator's future. He answers questions by reflecting
back information he knows about the present situation, yet in a
manner that indicates some sort of extraordinary, unknowable
knowledge. He does it with compassion, amazing skill, and
of-the-moment humor. No other performer has perfected the


Question and Answer Act to this level, and I fear that once
Gil hangs up the blindfold for good, a piece of our craft will be
permanently retired.

A Highlight within a Highlight:

Removing the Blindfold
It's a nondescript moment. At least, it should be. No music
plays, no magic or special effects of any kind take place, no
stories are told ... simply the necessary actions for concluding
his performance. For almost thirty minutes he has stood before
the audience, bereft of eye contact. Now he must remove the
blindfold and remind all that his power of vision has been
blocked beyond question.
He brings his face directly up to the microphone (handheld,
of course, on a mic stand) and ever so slowly peels the surgical
tape down, the skin pulling away from his pliable face. As
the r-r-r-ripping sound carries over the PA system, every set
of eyes stares, transfixed. When finished, his hands, holding
the blindfold paraphernalia, drop to his side. He blinks as his
eyes adjust to the light, and he takes a small bow, really just a
nod of the head. It's a non-theatrical (by traditional standards)
climactic moment of high-level impact and there is never a
sound in the audience while it's happening. An ovation breaks
the silence, every time.
When the show is over, most often the meeting planner is
immediately peppered with questions about, "When can we
bring him back?"
By the way, as Gil (who went on to become a major award-
winning motivational speaker and who is retired now) will
happily tell you, his act today is exactly the same act he did in
the Catskills for $125.
[An update: Gil performed his full 50-minute act before
some 150 laymen, magicians, and mentalists at the 2017
MindVention in Las Vegas. My guess is that much more than
half the room knew nothing about Gil or his background. In
the months leading up to the convention several of us had tried
to dissuade him from doing it. "It will tarnish your image," we


implored, reminding him that the MindVention audience is

nothing like a lay audience. They will sit there, arms crossed,
analyzing, we warned.
Plus, Gil had done the act maybe twice in ten years! Surely
he'd be rusty.
Nope. Within minutes we all knew we were watching The
Master. And as the time came for the blindfold to be removed, I
became nervous. After all, I had written-more than a decade
earlier-that this moment was special, a "highlight within a
highlight." Would my words look foolish?
As the blindfold came off and he thanked his on-stage
helpers, the entire audience jumped to their feet, cheering!
Clearly, the show wasn't over, but they needed to express their
joy. Whew. Selfishly, I felt vindicated for my close friend.
Needless to say, a few minutes later when he did end his
performance, the audience repeated the prolonged standing


Chapter 21

Closing the Show

In most cases, the final minute or two won't be remembered
well by the audience, at least not the specifics. But these
moments are intensely critical to your success. It's the feeling
you impart to your audience now that can make or break you.
No matter what happened during your time on stage-even
if you had props break, tricks fail, or jokes produce groans
instead of laughs-as you close your show, your confidence in
your abilities never falters. Never.
You are Superman, and Superman remains humble,
gracious, and in total control.
Dominate the terrain, especially as you prepare to exit.

Last Man Standing

Building to a climax for the close of your show is rarely a
straight, clearly marked road. The difficulty of navigating that
road can be seen in two consecutive postings to an online forum
in which I participate. An emerging mentalist asked questions,
yet also, to my mind at least, indirectly answered them himself.
In the first posting he wrote:
'7 want my audience to feel SAFE enough to allow their fears
and inhibitions to disappear and allow their inner child to
surface and experience the same sense of play, wonder and
involvement that a child felt at my magic show. Of course
I want them to go home remembering me and telling their
friends about me and the show. Of course I want better
bookings at higher fees but beneath all that I want them to
unlock their inner sense of wonder."
In the second posting, he pondered how to effectively close
his show with a card memory routine that concludes with two
spectators still on stage with him.
"So at the very end, when you should theatrically be alone
to take your applause, you have to deal with thanking and
dismissing two helpers."


Here is what I wrote in response:

By wanting to close the show at the moment of the climax of
the "trick" you are putting all your faith in the power of the
trick (or routine). But if you truly believe what you said in the
first posting, the audience by that time loves YOU. Therefore,
dismiss your two helpers with a round of applause, then
bask in the glow the audience will be feeling toward you.
With a few choice words, recap the wonders you brought to
their lives for a brief moments. If done correctly, all the focus
will be back on your smile, and your charm, and on you as
you thank the audience for their attention and take your
well-earned bow.
He was stone-cold right about one instinct: unless you work
with an assistant, it's imperative that you are the only person
on stage at the finale.
I thought when I wrote that last sentence for the original
version of this book that it didn't need elaboration, but I was
wrong. In the intervening years I've seen a number of top pros
suppress the power of their final moments on stage by having
one or more people on stage with them. Mentalists are the most
likely to make the mistake, since they typically need a spectator
on stage to verify that something amazing has happened.
A couple of those performers asked for my critiques and
when we changed the ending to ensure they stood alone at the
climax, the results were always better. In fact, the changes
often led to ...

Standing Ovations
An ovation is sustained applause. A standing ovation
is the royal flush of show business, the summa cum laude
acknowledgment from an audience, and every performer craves
I feel squeamish offering advice on this subject, for, in
theory, you either deserve an ovation-standing or otherwise-
or you don't.
That said, as with so much else in show business, there
are tricks of the trade for the close of your show, and there are
things you can do to boost your chances of getting the people on

their feet. I've seen some tactics so blatant they make me cringe,
even when they are meant to be funny-for example, playing
patriotic music (with or without a waving flag), or telling a story
about "my sick young son back home who will ask me when I
kiss him in his bed tonight, 'Daddy, did the nice people stand up
at the end of your show?"'
Don't do that. Please. Even if it is tongue-in-cheek.
Instead, structure your act so that you have as thrilling a
climax as possible. I know, that's easy to write, difficult to do,
but it's paramount.
Assuming you do have a strong climax:
Don't rush off the stage. Take a bow and stay there for
as long as the sound of the applause is peaking. (Once
you hear the slightest diminishment of sound, make
your exit.)
As you come up from your bow (caution: what you are
about to read borders on cheesy when done poorly; use
with discretion), extend your arms at your side, palms
turned toward the ceiling. In other words, it's the
motion you would make if you were to actually signal
the audiencfl to stand. You don't make the full motion,
you just start it. Your hands may move perhaps an inch
or two without being obvious.
If one or two people do stand, look right at them, extend
your arms toward them, and say, or at least mouth the
words, "Thank you!" These actions draw the attention of
the rest of the audience to your biggest fans, and usually
more will join the ovation.
During a discussion of the Big O with my friend, Ted
Karmilovich, Jr. (one of the most important innovators of
practical mental effects since Annemann), he mentioned that
he sometimes feels embarrassed when people start to stand for
an ovation. I recall the same feeling from early in my career,
the feeling that somehow it's not sincere or perhaps not even
deserved. The truth is, how well your show plays on any given
night is not a reliable indicator of how the applause will go at
the end, so you may in fact see people rising and applauding
after what you felt was a mediocre performance. Fight that
I-don't-deserve-this feeling!


A standing ovation is more than ego gratification; it's good

business. When someone who wasn't at the show asks a friend,
"How was he? Any good?" the person who did attend, presumably
not a professional critic and who might otherwise stumble over
an accurate summation, has been provided a shorthand answer:
"Yeah, he was good. He got a standing ovation!" Nothing further
need be said.

Section VII

"Additional information appended
to a manuscript."


Chapter 22

After the Show

The Spin Cycle
Invariably, when I happen to be present at a function for
which a professional walk-around magician or mentalist has
been hired, friends or relatives ask me, "Is this guy as good
as we think?" My internal voice answers, "Well, you just saw
him. What do you think?" But my socially acceptable voice says,
"Sure. He's excellent."
They walk away feeling vindicated that their own
impressions were correct.
Please don't underestimate the power of "spin." After every
political debate the spin doctors rush onto the airwaves to tell
us what we really saw and heard, and sometimes their messages
can have more impact than that of the spinnee.
Similarly, after each of your performances, people approach
you. They want to talk about you and what they just witnessed.
Inside the privacy of your head you may be thinking that a
couple of bits didn't "kill" nearly as well as they usually do,
and you might want to tell them so. Or maybe, because of your
innate humility, you want to downplay that "you-are-a-god"
look in their eyes.
Don't. Allow each spectator to brew his or her own
exalted recollection of your performance. Help it along. Spin
their memories toward the highlights that worked especially
strongly. If they happen to have caught you on an "off" night,
you gain nothing by telling anyone, "Thanks, but most nights
it's even better!" (I used to say something like that frequently.
And stupidly. Gil Eagles straightened me out.)
Your spectators' final encounters with you may well be the
moments they remember the longest. Buff those memories up to
the brightest possible sheen. Here are a few techniques:
· When they recall a moment they clearly enjoyed, help
them mentally replay the best parts. "Remember when
Susan saw that she was holding the five-dollar bill? She
shrieked!" (Don't tell them you see that reaction 90% of
the time.)

Play off their comments with remarks about how you

were blown away by someone's reaction. "Did you see
the look on Fred's face when he ...?" Let them think they
were privileged to be present at a singularly riotous or
special performance, one that impressed even you, the
seasoned performer.
Look for opportunities to praise the volunteers. "Wasn't
it just fantastic the way Chloe ...?"
If possible, relate what they saw to a prestigious situation.
"When I did that for the mayor, he dropped his drink!"
The entertainment process begins before you walk on stage,
and continues for as long as anyone thinks or talks about you.
Your "show," your performance, encompasses every moment
in which you have contact with an audience member. From the
time you arrive on the scene until your final exit-out the door-
you are "on." Anything you say can and will be used against
you in the court of public opinion, and you have no lawyer to
intervene on your behalf. Projecting the best image is your sole
Perception is reality. This is true in much of life, and
especially in pohti-e5 entertainment, where facts mean little
and emotions rule. Before, during, and after your show,
encourage the perception that, yes, you are good. Yes, you are a
kind of Superman or Wonder Woman. Do it gently, subtly, and
graciously, but do it.
If the situation arises, and if you are totally comfortable and
confident in your material, performing informally after your
show extends and enhances the entertainment experience. If
executed expertly, it's a strong and wise professional tactic. Your
hosts will feel that you've exceeded their highest expectations,
and their opinions of you will glow even brighter. Just be sure-
absolutely certain-that you "leave 'em wanting more." You can
erase hours of goodwill by overstaying your welcome just a few


The Postmortem
I'm about to give you one of the most important suggestions
in this book, an insight into the entertainment business that
served me well over the years:
After a show, drive home in silence. No music, news, or
That one simple step, repeated consistently, will yield
more dividends to your success than pounds of magic books or
hours of video downloads. Instead of listening to depressing
news or someone else's music, think about your show. Make a
concentrated effort to mentally replay as much of your time on
stage as possible. What worked? What didn't? Did you come up
with a clever ad lib that could be used in the future?
This stuff is gold! To let it evaporate into the ether is a sin
and a waste.
Which leads to a second suggestion:
Your phone has a voice-recorder feature. Use it.
As you go over your show in your mind, record your
. .
A day or two later, when you have a chance to listen to
the recording, I guarantee some of what you recorded will be
incomprehensible or so abbreviated that you have no idea what
brilliant message you tried to give yourself.
That's OK. In the hour or two immediately following your
show, your adrenaline is still pumping, your senses are at full
alert, and your understanding of what happened on stage is at
its most focused and fresh. Some of these self-directed notes
will sound brilliant a week later, some won't. Either way, don't
waste these opportunities to examine and reflect.


A Personal Entertainment Highlight:

Derren Brown,
Lior Suchard
Two performers, each at the top of the show biz mountain.
Derren is a household name throughout the United Kingdom
and beyond. Lior Suchard appears at high-level events around
the world, and has built an impressive resume here in the US,
including multiple Tonight Show appearances and touring
with, of all people, Barbra Streisand!
Seeing each of them, live, in front of large audiences,
impressed me mightily. Both are mentalists, yet their shows are
remarkably different. And each performer reflects his culture.
Englishman Derren Brown presents a refined, carefully
structured show. There are surprises, but we always know they
are surprises that Derren made hi:ippen.
In Lior Suchard's shows, as with most Israelis, informality
rules. He gives us the impression that he has some idea where
he's going, but today maybe he'll go this way. Or, maybe not.
That other way might be better.
Whatever, it works.

Derren Brown
As a New Yorker, I've been able to see an enormous number
of shows, big and small. I can recall many shows that were
thoroughly entertaining and deeply satisfying. Rarely, however,
do moments within shows stay with me for years. Here are
three such moments
1. A full standing ovation during a Broadway show? I saw
that happen only once. Brian Stokes Mitchell, in Man
of La Mancha literally stopped the show singing "The
Impossible Dream."
2. The climactic blackout scene in the thriller, A Shot in
the Dark.


3. Derren Brown, in London's West End, presenting

Something Wicked This Way Comes. The walk on glass.
I've seen that stunt performed many times. It's typically a
high-energy few moments, although sometimes it is presented
dramatically. Derren goes for the drama but took it to an
unprecedented level.
First he sits quietly with a plastic bag on his head. Yes,
a plastic bag. The entire audience sat transfixed, motionless,
barely allowing themselves to breathe as a nurse from the
audience, holding a drumstick, taps out his pulse onto a
Suddenly, she's standing there with the drumstick poised
over the microphone. Derren is slumped in his chair. His pulse
has stopped! He held that tableau for several long seconds. Then
he removed the bag, stood up, and woozily walked barefoot
down a length of shattered glass bottles. Still, a completely
silent theater. When he reached the other end, he stopped, and
picked glass shards from his right foot, then his left. He did
more, which I won't disclose here. At the end, he turned to us in
the audience, gave the slightest nod of the head, and the theater
erupted with approval
Unlike just about any artificial theatrical moment, here the
tension was palpable. I loved it. (I love most of Derren's theater
work.) So did the sold out West End audience.
Derren Brown, working with his frequent collaborator,
Andy Nyman, and other trusted people, repeatedly elevates
mentalism into new theatrical realms. I am happily and
continually astonished by the originality of his presentations
and his flawless execution of mentalism techniques.

Lior Suchard
Liar had been a friend for several years before I had a chance
to see him perform live.
It was January 2018. The venue was New York's "The Town
Hall" theater and all 1500 seats were filled.


More than an hour had passed when I realized that he had

complete control over the entire audience. Despite his seemingly
haphazard manner, everything in fact had a reason.
I came across an online comment about Lior that fits
perfectly: "I loved how happy Lior is, like a cute little fox, always
smiling, always beguiling."
True. Every person in the audience felt a connection to the
ebullient, energetic man performing miracles on the stage.
Jerry Seinfeld and his family were in the second row.
I was there backstage when Jerry greeted Lior and raved
enthusiastically, for several minutes straight, about how much
he and his whole family loved the show.
High praise indeed. And fully deserved.


Chapter 23

How To Give and

Receive Criticism
In recent years, as chat rooms and online forums proliferated,
the internet has been flooded with amateurs performing and
teaching magic. Some of it's good, much of it is beyond horrible.
Worse, it appears to be a closed loop-bad performers begetting
bad performers.
To various degrees, that has always been true. After all,
there are never enough quality mentors to assist all who seek
But we can change that. In the years following the debut of
this book I've helped many professionals polish their acts. That
experience (along with watching how others do it) led to this
set of guidelines for giving criticism. Or in the vernacular of
theater folks, Notes. Director's Notes.
Ironically, the experiences helped me develop something
equally important-guidelines for receiving Notes.
First, the shorthand versions.
How to Give Notes
1. Only with permission.
2. In private.
3. Keep it confidential.
4. Start with the good things.
5. Be specific.
6. Don't pile on.
7. Make it clear that this is only one person's opinion.
8. Be gentle, humble, and polite.
9. If practical, provide your thoughts in writing, but only
after you have done it verbally.


How to Receive Notes

1. In private.
2. Graciously.
3. Listen carefully, write or record the notes.
4. Never argue or attempt to explain.
5. Extend thanks for the critique, no matter how long or
short, and regardless of whether yo~ agree or not.
6. Go back to the notes after a day or two, or a week or two.
Now let's go through the rationale behind each step.

How to Give Notes

1. Only with permission.
"Hey Bill, why don't try that with a double lift instead of a
top change?" said the 17-year-old to the 40-year-old performer,
unsolicited, right after the show, in front of everyone who
gathered around the star.
If you haven't witnessed a similar scene you haven't been in
magic very long.
We are all fragile human beings. All of us. Performers,
especially newer performers, are vulnerable to ego-crushing
criticisms. Professionals are only slightly better equipped to
deal with negative comments, and especially unwanted negative
comments. Pros, however, frequently seek out honest comments
from trusted sources.
That said, no criticism should be pushed into anyone's face.
It's never easy. Even as "the guy who wrote the book" on
director's notes, I often find it difficult to speak up, and I offer
my thoughts infrequently to people I don't know well. (On the
other hand, because I wrote this book, hundreds of performers
have asked me for suggestions about their routines.)
Ideally, the performer has clearly requested your notes, so
permission is implied.
2. In private.
The recipient may say, "These are my friends. You can talk
in front of them."

No. You want your recipient at ease. He or she doesn't know

what you're going to say and they can never judge in advance
how sharp-edged your comments might be perceived. Also,
the other person(s) might feel emboldened to offer their own
thoughts, and that can devolve into a messy debate.
Plus you need to be at ease; giving criticism is rarely fun.
3. Keep it confidential.
Let them know in advance that everything you say is
"between you and me." Then stick to that promise. Never
divulge what you shared in confidence with anyone else.
Which should be easy since you know how to keep a secret,
4. Start with the good things.
Sometimes this is difficult. You focus so much on what might
be improved that you neglect to note the good stuff. And every
performance, even the really bad ones, contain some good stuff.
It might be the choice of material, the execution of sleights, the
interaction of the performer with the audience. You can always
tease out those things that are worthy of compliments and
you must always start by letting your mentoree know that you
noticed those things.
This step cannot be skipped.
5. Be specific.
"Biff, your Miser's Dream sucked."
Don't say that! Even if it's true.
Your job is to provide suggestions on the most granular level
because those will be the items she or he can most directly work
on. If there were problems with his Miser's Dream, point out
the most clear-cut errors:
The hidden coins flashed as you ...
The child felt uncomfortable when you ...
The routine had no clear climax or discernable ending.
The more specific your advice, the better it will be received.
And that, in turn, will make it more constructive. And of course,
if you can offer specific solutions, do it. Gently.


6. Don't pile on.

You may have many pages of specific moments in the
routine that you could improve. Great, but you are not going
to enumerate them all. You're going to pick a handful of very
specific suggestions. The actual number of suggestions will
depend on many factors, but certainly seasoned pros want, and
can take, clear-cut honest criticism better than those with less
experience on stage.
7. Make it clear that this is only one person's opinion
and that you may be wrong!
Actually, it's guaranteed that from time to time some of
your suggestions will be off-target, or they may be correct in
general, but not for this specific performer. You are a human
and therefore fallible.
In any case, by being honest about your own limitations
you provide a mental escape valve for some of your more biting
8. Be gentle, humble, and polite.
Every pro I've worked with has implored me to "Be honest."
Great. But no matter what they say, no matter what you say,
none of us likes being told we've made a mistake or overlooked
A routine that you perform in public is the summation of
many decisions that you carefully made. So when I come along
and say something might be wrong, that stings. Which is why
when you give notes you will be gentle, humble, and polite
during every moment of the critique.
9. If practical, provide your thoughts in writing, but
only after you have done it verbally.
No matter how astute or tuned in to your comments your
subject might be, he or she cannot mentally hold on to all your
pearls of wisdom. So you might send them a follow up letter or
email containing everything you want them to remember.


How to Receive Notes

1. In private.
See #2 above. It works both ways. Never make it awkward
for the person offering suggestions. And even after having done
it many times with many performers, it can still be a somewhat
awkward process for me.
2. Graciously.
As I just said, even for me this can be a fraught situation. So
if you allow someone to speak to you about your performance,
you too have a duty to make it comfortable for both of you. Being
good-natured and approachable helps immeasurably.
3. Listen carefully, write or record the notes.
Listening carefully should be a given. Beyond that, you
will get the most from the suggestions if you take notes on the
spot-your first reactions are likely the most valuable (but not
always). And since you carry a verbal-note-taking device in
your pocket, you'd be wise to whip your phone out and capture
the entire session.
4. Never argue or attempt to explain.
Just about every performer I've ever worked with, at some
point during this process will try to explain why she or he did
this or that, or why on most nights that routine soars, but not
the night I was there.
Wonderful. But I don't care. My job is to offer notes about
the performance I did see, not the ones I didn't see. So while I
fully appreciate the human need to ameliorate the critique with
explanations, it truly accomplishes nothing.
5. Extend thanks for the critique.
Do this no matter how long or short, and regardless of
whether you agree or not.
If the person is a normal soul, he or she felt somewhat ill-at-
ease offering their thoughts. You look better, and will likely feel
better, if at the end you proffer a sincere "Thank you."


6. Go back to the notes after a day or two, or a week

or two.
Your initial reaction to the critique is clouded by emotion, so
don't let your first hearing of the suggestions be the last word
on the process. As I told the audience at my General Session
at MAGIC Live, I know this from first-hand experience. My
friend Lior Manor told me, after seeing me do a college show,
that I should stop doing a certain joke. I knew he was wrong,
because the joke got a laugh that night, as it had for the prior
thirty years! It was only after a few days had gone by that
reality slapped me in the face and I realized, yikes, times have
changed, and the line was now inappropriate.
Work on those suggestions you accept, and re-consider those
you don't.
Be especially mindful of similar suggestions you've received
from more than one person!
* * *
No human being enjoys negative feedback. But you can train
your brain to see criticism for what it really is-an opportunity
to be better, to raise your level.
Perfection is elusive and so we all need continual feedback.
Every performance, every situation is unique. That's why
you seek out trusted assistance regularly throughout your
career. It's a never-ending process.
Plus, perfection today might not be perfection tomorrow.
Perfection here might be much less so there.
* * *
A final word on giving Notes, or being a Director for a fellow
I learned long ago to fight the urge to mold my mentoree into
a version of Ken Weber. Yes, I was successful as an entertainer
and so I surely did plenty of things right. But you are not me.
You have your own talents and personality.
As superstar chef Joel Robuchon warned other chefs: "Our
job is not to make a mushroom taste like a carrot but to make
a mushroom taste as much like a great mushroom as it can."


If you are fortunate enough to be asked to help shape an act,

go ahead and offer your best advice, but don't force the act into
your vision of what they should be. Make a mushroom be the
best mushroom, make each magician or mentalist better than
they were before you joined his or her team
Help them shine brightly in their own light.


Chapter 24

Passion and Failure

Embrace Failure. Momentarily
Magicians who tell you they never screw up are lying or
displaying early signs of dementia. You will fail occasionally.
Tricks will fail, gags will capsize, entire shows will lack the
expected enthusiasm from your audience.
Unlike other performing artists, when it comes to the magic
itself magicians have a stark binary choice; the trick will work
or it won't. The musician can hit wrong notes, the dancer
can miss a step, the comic's joke can misfire. Still, the show
continues and the mistake is forgotten quickly.
But not so for us. If a hidden gimmick falls into view, a
thread breaks, if we forget the word we glimpsed, or any of a
thousand other embarrassing setbacks happen, we don't have
much leeway. Depending on the situation, you may be able to
glide over the rough patch. Or you'll pray a beam of light whisks
you up and transports you to a distant galaxy.
This little section can't offer remedies for those situations.
Just know that when bad stuff happens, you'll survive and your
career in magic will flourish-if you use failure as motivation.
Trees and human bones both strengthen when subjected
to stress. New cells replace old ones but in a slightly different
pattern, and that serves to build a stronger tree or a stronger
Likewise, when a trick fails, deal with it as best you can,
but afterward, when you feel like sulking, instead understand
that you were "blessed" with a new learning experience and a
new promise to yourself-you will never let that happen again.
And it will make you stronger.

You've read this far into my book. You arrived here because
you care about achieving excellence in your performance. And

so it's likely you have more passion than the average magician.
It's a reasonable assumption that, while you love to learn about
new tricks, you plowed through these pages because you truly
want to raise your level as a performer.
You're not alone. In 2018, I attended a session David
Copperfield gave for the New York Historical Society's "Summer
of Magic" exhibition. During the interview, expertly conducted
on stage by Congressman Mark Paean, David spoke at length of
the highly detailed work he and his team do to refine every new
moment of his show, regardless of how tiny. "Glorious torture"
he called it.
I love that phrase. It encapsulates the journey of all
successful performers. They accept the "torture" because of
their passion for the art. It's not real torture, it's a strenuous
but glorious hike up the mountain.
Nate Staniforth possesses that passion. In his immensely
appealing book, Here is Real Magic: A Magician's Search for
Wonder in the Modern World, Nate recalls being a ten-year old
and watching his first live magic show:
"When the applause finally ended I didn't want to leave. I
wanted to stay in my seat. I wanted to live there and feel that
way again and again. If you could use your life to give people
the experience we'd just had at the show, why would you
do anything else? Children can want something with more
keening power than anyone, and in this moment-and all
the ones that followed-I wanted to do magic above all else.
Take everything else but leave me this. I will give anything."
"I will give anything." He accepted the challenge, he worked
hard and now he's touring the world doing what he loves.
Without passion, you won't practice diligently, and without
quality practice you'll never succeed.
Without passion, you won't search hard for the better move,
the smarter line, the more appropriate music.
So never lose your passion. If you feel it flickering, rekindle
the fire with visits to the magic shop, sessioning with friends,
studying a book so deeply you lose track of time, or performing
in new places. Just do whatever works for you.


In the years since the first version of this book came out,
I've autographed many copies. Early on I tried (and often failed)
to write a clever line or two for each person.
Now, above my signature, I most often write the words that
summarize my deeply-felt wish for anyone who cares enough to
read my words:
Keep the passion.


Chapter 25

And, in the End. • •

We are lucky to do what we do.
Howard Thurston said, "I am proud of my calling as an
entertainer-a dealer in magic art that involves the practice of
deception without causing harm."
We bring joy to other people. That is a gift for us, and it sets
us apart. Treasure that gift. Respect it.
* * *
We are all teachers and we are all students. We all learn
from each other. We're all in this together.
That's not poetic fluff. Despite my many decades of study,
put me in a room with any magician past the neophyte stage,
and within a reasonable time they will show me something new.
A new trick, or a wrinkle on an old one-it's certain he or she
knows something useful to me.
In what other art would that be true? Few, if any. It's just one
more reason we find magic to be permanently and continually
* * *
Doing tricks does not make you a magician. And being a
magician does not make you an entertainer.
A six-year-old boy can be taught to put a coin in a small box,
close the drawer, wave his hand over the box and show that the
coin has vanished. He is not a magician.
A twelve-year-old girl who seeks out and reads magic
books and who practices her presentations with deliberate
thoughtfulness is a budding magician.
A forty-year-old man who knows hundreds of card tricks but
never makes eye contact with the spectators is a magician, but
not an entertainer. Only by combining tricks with entertainment
skills does one become a magical entertainer.
* * *
When I was in my late teens, as I went through my hippie
phase, I taught myself to play guitar. During that time I visited


a cousin, a boy a few years younger than me, who was learning
the instrument. Unlike me, however, he was taking lessons. As
I showed him a few licks I had been working on, he stopped me
and said, quite seriously, "You're not supposed to ..."
Not supposed to? In music? Since I had never taken formal
lessons, I had no idea there were "rules." I've often thought
about that conversation.
Neither of us studied guitar with the goal of joining an
ensemble. It was merely an outlet, a fun way of expressing
something we felt, of finding and making a joyful noise. If I
successfully communicated to my listeners, how could there be
a "not supposed to"?
The artist discovers new art by ignoring the not-supposed-
tos. Or by pushing the limits of the supposed-tos. We can never
achieve originality if we walk only on the path others have
carefully trod before us. Sometimes we have to risk stepping
on a mine.
The artist awakens-or re-awakens-something dormant
within us. New hope, curiosity, joy oflife-these are the currency
of the artist and the entertainer. The artist raises our sights to
new possibilities, and she often accomplishes it by doing things
she's "not supposed to."

Where is Our Masterwork?

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Beethoven's Fifth and Ninth
Symphonies. The Beatles' Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club
Band. Picasso's Guernica. Artistic efforts that decades (or
centuries) later are recognized by critics and the public alike as
a transcendent achievement.
We in magic have no such masterwork. Yet. (It might be
said that Houdini's escapes, en toto, span the decades, but no
single routine meets my criteria.)
In my lifetime, stand-up comedy progressed from generic,
formulaic jokes to life-based observational comedy. In late 2018
a Time magazine story about the best TV comedy specials of the
year showed that comics now creatively explore and illuminate


every facet of human experience: rape, cancer, divorce, racism,

religion, and politics-nothing is off limits. (And that surely
applies to books, TV shows, and movies as well.)
Where is magic? Few of us are keeping pace with our stand-
up colleagues.
Should we? Perhaps. At some moment in the future a
magician or mentalist will go well beyond amusement and
amazement and produce a stunning routine that digs deep into
human experience; one that pierces, with a sense of permanence,
the public's perceptions about our art. (Blaine, Brown, and
DelGaudio have come the closest.)
But it must never be forced. If and when a masterwork
appears it will burst forth from the artist's heart and head,
and it will be nurtured, polished, and perfected with boundless

Summing Up
In this book, you have advice distilled from my years as a
professional entertainer, along with concentrated study of other
performers. Now, as we draw to a close, I want to recap the
themes and concepts that will keep you in control and confident
when you stand before audiences in service of your art. If you
consistently drive toward the points listed below, performing
excellence and maximum entertainment will be yours.
* * *
Continuously strive to Raise Your Level. Where you do
rank among your peers? Work to move up in the rankings.
When you are in front of an audience, Every Moment
You want to present a seamless flow of riveting entertainment.
They don't care about you; they care about their own
entertainment experience.
Video yourself! And watch your recordings. You will
never reach your fullest potential until you see yourself as
others see you.


Strive to move up the Hierarchy of Mystery

1. Puzzle
2. Trick
3. Extraordinary Moment
Use your personality and presentation skills to lever Puzzles
into Tricks and Tricks into Extraordinary Moments.
Target your words with precision toward the most-valued
1. Rapt Attention
2. Laughter
3. Astonishment
Build your act on The Six Pillars of Entertainment
1. Master Your Craft. You cannot achieve success without
total dominance of your material. Accept that the hard
way is actually the easy way.
2. Communicate Your Humanity. Tell me, with words
or actions, who you are. Show me you care about me.
Make me care more about you than your props.
3. Capture the Excitement. Which parts of your routines
are trivial? Which stand out and will be remembered a
week later? Something special happens in every magic
trick. Find it. Emphasize it. Why should I spend a slice
of my life watching you?
4. Control Every Moment. Be Superman in front of your
audience. You cannot let the minds of your audience
5. Eliminate Weak Spots. Remember that everything
you do in front of an audience either enhances the
entertainment or detracts from it. Every moment must
have a purpose.
6. Build to a Climax. Invest extra time, effort, and
creativity into delivering the absolute strongest close.
Nail your climax!
Above all, Have Fun!

* * *
If you care to, let me know what you think about all this. You
can email me at I will read your message
carefully, but please don't be offended if I don't respond. First,
I'm lazy about doing things I don't absolutely need to do. Second,
I'm busy running my business and trying to be a good family
man, friend, and neighbor. And third, did I mention I'm lazy?
* * *
"And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you
make." So say the Beatles. So say I. The love you radiate to
your audience reflects itself back on you. It's a great and noble
I want you to bask in that glory.
By intent, references in this book to my personal act have
been few. As we conclude, allow me to relate the high point of
my time on stage. The high point, that is, from the perspective
of my eyes looking out at the audience. It has nothing to do with
an explosive climax or the successful execution of a difficult
It happens toward the end of my full-evening program. The
show starts relaxed and low key, gradually building in pace until
reaching the final, somewhat frenzied moments. After I have
spent from ninety minutes to two hours on stage with various
volunteers, facing my audience of as many as two thousand, I
abruptly slow things down.
They entered as strangers, the room vast and cold, the back
rows distant. Now the room has warmed and the walls have
pulled in closer. We are no longer strangers. They know me, and
my interactions with many of them have made us, if not friends,
at least acquaintances. Connections have been established.
With perhaps three minutes remaining in my program, I
drop the microphone (handheld, of course) to my side, and, for
the first time I speak directly to the audience, my voice now
pure and unfiltered by technology.
With all eyes focused on me, and using the voice projection
techniques I learned in my acting classes at Hofstra, I send my
unamplified words-a minor joke-hurtling into the vast space
beyond the front edge of the stage. After a second or two, I see
the people in the farthest seats respond.

I do it because, within the context of the show, I'm pretending

I don't want certain people on stage to hear what I'm saying.
But to be truthful to you, dear reader, I do it because I can. It's
a thrill.
I control the audience. They trust me. I trust them. There
are no extraneous sounds. As the lion tamer lowers the chair he
had used to keep the beasts at bay, I lower the microphone and
face my audience unshielded, unaided by any tool.
It's an exquisite moment of certainty.
I do it knowing that in just two or three minutes, as I take
my bow and thank them, there will be enthusiastic applause.
Nothing "important" happens during that moment, nothing
that will be remembered. Yet it's that brief slice of my show
that gives me the highest level of personal satisfaction-twelve-
year-old Kenny Weber, the asthmatic boy who began learning
about show business in the basement of a Denver magic shop,
has grown into a man who can transport a great throng of
strangers into his made-up world.
As I write this, my evolution from plane-hopping full-time
entertainer to desk-bound businessman is virtually complete.
During the years of that transition I became surrounded by
good people who have little or no idea about my previous life,
and who certainly have never experienced the thrill of standing
in front of an audience of spellbound strangers.
They cannot begin to comprehend the majesty of the moment
I've just described.
But you can. Now I want you, if you haven't experienced
it yet in your life, to get there as well, to the summit of that
magnificent peak which can be reached by only one special kind
of person-the entertainer.
The Entertainer.

Praise for the Original Version of MAXIMUM Entertainment:
"It's the craziest thing - I've read hundreds of magic books, and
now I've just read what may be the best of them all, and there's not
a single trick in it! ...This is a true guidebook to success!"
- The Linking Ring
"Little hints and big ideas combine until literally every page is sprinkled
with priceless information!"
- Genii (Eric Mead)
"MAXIMUM Entertainment is the best book on how to perform magic
or mentalism I have ever read! ... Filled with gems and wisdom:'
"MAXIMUM Entertainment is terrific! Buy it! It should be in your
library. PERIOD!"
- MAGIC Magazine (Mike Close)
"Read MAXIMUM Entertainment by Ken Weber. Seriously. It's the
only product in existence that I would unreservedly recommend to
absolutely everyone who wants to perform magic."
- MAGIC Magazine (Simon Coronel)

Named one of the 28 titles on The Magic Circle's

"5-Foot Shelf of Magic Books"

KEN WEBER has performed at over 500 colleges and

universities, and for hundreds of corporations, associations,
and resorts. Newsweek magazine named him "one of the most
frequently requested" performers on the college circuit. The
internationally respected Psychic Entertainers Association awarded
him their most prestigious honor, the Dunninger Award for
Excellence in the Performance of Menta/ism.

ISBN 978-0-9746380-1-0


9 780974 638010