Mac: Here's a tough one. Suppose someone wrote a book that you think they have no right to write? A book filled with jokes and gags, most of which the author had no hand in creating. Maybe the "author" even says in his introduction that he "makes no claim that all of the humor in this book is my own." But perhaps he doesn't bother to list the sources of many of those jokes. He certainly doesn't have permission from all the performers whose material he's stealing.
Let's get this straight; this fellow has broken no actual laws. Still, I think this is a crime. Here's why. If I'm a beginner I learn how to be a magician by imitation. That's generally the way it works, and there's nothing wrong with it. But if I'm a conscientious beginner, I only perform stuff that I've bought, been taught by the creator, learned at a lecture, or read in a book. Let's say I buy the book in question and use a line or two from it. I should be able to assume that I have an ethical right to do so. If my ethical position is that I should only do stuff that the creator of the material grants me permission to perform, then I will be inadvertently violating my own ethical position. This of course doesn't apply only to the beginner. The majority of magic shows are performed by amateur magicians. They don't all have the time necessary to track down sources for all the material they perform. They assume that if an author puts an item into a book, then that item is fair game for them to perform. In this case, they'd be wrong.
Let's look at this from a different point of view. Put yourself in the place of the person who created this material. You know that good jokes don't grow on trees; they are the result of a real effort put forth by a real person. You know this because you've sweated and slaved over a pad of paper or a keyboard every day of your life for the last ten years to come up with the lines that enable you to put food on your table and pay your rent. Some guy you don't know hears your joke, writes it down, and sells it as if it were his own. Wouldn't you have the right to be a bit steamed? Of course you would. Not only have you not been compensated for your effort, but your material now has less value to you because there's a chance that people will have heard your material without having had to pay to see you.
Here's my dilemma as a reviewer. There is a new book that is filled with other people's jokes and gags. I think this book is an ethical nightmare and that the guy who wrote it has committed a terrible act. My opinion is that no one should buy the book. This guy does not deserve your money or your support. I fear that even if I slam the book in my review, I might inadvertently help sell books to those who'd buy it just to see what all the stink was about. I've already bought one copy of this book to review. I don't wish to be responsible for putting another dime in this guy's pocket.
I don't know if this is a good solution or not, but you've just read my review of this guy's book, but I'm not going to mention his name, the name of the book, or the publisher.
Mike: I'm with you on this, Mac, but I'm going to play Devil's Advocate for a moment. Considering the space that you have taken to discuss this book, is it fair to the readers not to give them the information so that they can (if they choose to) find the book at a convention or at their local magic dealer peruse it, and then make up their own minds? I'm thinking that we should probably list the necessary info in the "Details" area at the end of the column. Since we're split on this, let's let Stan make the call; that's why he makes the big money.
Concerning the book itself, I have a couple of thoughts that I would like to direct to our readers.
First: Just as the mere fact that you own a magic trick does not make you a magician, owning a book of one-liners does not make you a funny person. The funny people that I know are funny all the time (they may not be "on" all the time, but they are always "thinking" funny). To quote a recent movie, they are funny in their bones. If you think that the only way you can be funny is to fill your act with other people's jokes, then I would seriously suggest that you reevaluate your approach to performing. It is the over-reliance on this type of material that has so established the public's opinion of the magician as "wise-guy."
Second: There are lines in this book that, if used without care and discretion, could easily lead the audience to believe that you are an arrogant smartass. There are lines that, if used with care and discretion, could still lead people to think you're an arrogant smartass. And there are several lines that, if directed to the wrong spectator, could get you killed.
Third: If you are so desperate to be funny that the only way you can do this is to use other people's material, then sit at home and watch the 100 hours or so of stand-up comedy offered on cable each week and write down the lines you like. In a few weeks, you'll have enough for your act. Then, if you ever work in front an audience of other magicians, you can experience the joy of watching the pens fly to the notebooks when you use a joke they haven't heard before. And if you do this for a few years, you'll collect enough material to put out a book. Just don't expect to get much mercy here.
Mac: I agree with everything you said. I think before we move on we should make it clear that your last paragraph was facetious. You're not actually suggesting that people write down anybody's lines.
Practical Parlor Prestidigitation - A Lecture Demonstration By Marko
Mac: As a child, my mother had only a few rules for the family and me. One of the main rules drilled into me by my mom was, "Practice what you preach." This set of lecture notes by Marko of Spain begins with a four-page essay called "Some Preaching." This sermon blasts comedy magicians and their supposedly modern tendency to draw out the length of their tricks by adding gags, bits and one-liners designed to get laughs. He suggests that a lot of magic is naturally funny - the situation provides the laughter. Being a comedy magician myself, I actually agree with Marko that much of what passes for comedy magic isn't magic at all, and generally isn't that funny. He also criticizes comedy magicians for relying too heavily on tricks involving audience participation.
Since I wish that I had more parlor magic type routines which don't rely on volunteers from the audience, I was excited that the bulk of this 18-page booklet would reveal five routines that Marko himself actually uses.
You can imagine my disappointment when I found that of these five items, four of them involved getting up a volunteer from the audience. Also, there's really very little that's new in any of those five tricks. They are: the "Color Changing Hanky" (the sole trick without audience participation); a variation on an old U.F. Grant pick-a-card trick; a decent mind reading trick with cards; a very small addition to a brilliant idea from an early Karrell Fox book; and a routine combining the "Cut and Restored Rope" with the "Professor's Nightmare." The one thing here I hadn't seen was a force of one object out of four. Marko says that credit for this belongs to either Carl Buchelli (a Spanish magic dealer) or Horace Goldin (of "Sawing a Lady in Half' fame).
Should you buy this? I say save your money, Marko has obviously never met my mother.
Mac: If you've ever seen someone do a good job with the "Eyeless Vision," or "The Blindfold Act" as it is sometimes called, then you know how effective it can be. Many of the great mentalists use it to close their performances. Marko, a Panamanian magician now living in Barcelona, Spain, makes a good case in this manuscript for also using this trick in a "regular" magic show. That's what he's done for the past six years. Following traditional magician's tricks like the "Egg Bag" and the "Cut and Restored Rope," he closes his act with the "Eyeless Vision" trick.
There is nothing here that's new in the way of technique. Your eyes are covered with coins and adhesive tape, and then a cloth blindfold. Still, you are able to identify objects held up to you by audience members.
The most useful parts of this 12-page manuscript are in the routine that is given here (there are two or three touches which I think are great), and the simple encouragement to go out and try this type of trick, even if you are not a mentalist.
The manuscript explains everything you need to do the trick. I would recommend this wholeheartedly if it wasn't written by the same guy who wrote Practical Parlor Prestidigitation.
Mike: I concur with your assessment of these two booklets. In the Blindfold manuscript, Marko assumes that you are knowledgeable and comfortable with the techniques involved. What is really of value here is the routine, and it is obvious that Marko has performed this a lot. He offers the kinds of tips and hints that only can be learned in performance.
As far as the Practical Parlor Prestidigitation booklet, I was very surprised that Marko would set forth a thesis in his introduction and then turn right around and contradict it in the tricks he explains. A telling example of this contradiction is in the "Invisible Deck" routine, which is based on Karrell Fox's idea of making the spectator into an impromptu stooge. In this routine (which has a bunch of the same jokes that are criticized in his introduction), Marko places the spectator in a situation in which she can look foolish. He then turns around and cues a playing card to her, turning her into a stooge. I don't think this is a sound approach. If my trick hinges on a spectator "playing along" with me, I had better be as nice to her as I possibly can. Otherwise, I think she would be well within her rights to try to screw up the trick in any way she possibly could.
Mac: I think that this is a huge stumbling block to all magicians, but especially comedy magicians. There is a tendency to belittle the audience volunteer, and through implication, all other audience members. There are a lot of lines in the earlier review of the book who's name I cannot utter that put down people. I think Penn and Teller put it best in a recent interview when they mentioned that a magician once asked them, "Whose side are you on?" They responded (and I agree wholeheartedly) that unless you say you're on the side of the audience then something is horribly wrong with the way that you look at entertaining people with magic. You are always on the side of the audience.
Mike: Absolutely. I have a question for you. I don't think I'm giving anything away if I mention that you do a lot of cueing of your onstage helpers. At the same time, (and I'm thinking of the bill routine here) the spectator is going through some dues. And yet, he cooperates fully with you. Any hints?
Mike: Thanks, that helped a lot.
Mac: Actually, I think that's a really good question, and one I've thought about a lot. I do cue the guy on stage to do some things. He does get his money burnt up. But, I never ask him to do anything that he would look at as making himself look silly, and I never ask him to do anything of a secret nature while he thinks he's lost some money. In other words, all the cueing takes place either before he thinks he's lost money, or after he gets it back. Also, I really do try to be his friend while he's helping me. He didn't pay good money to be a part of my show. That's not what he was expecting. I owe him big time. Also, in my act there are two places where I use audience participation; the success of my show really does depend a great deal on what happens between those people and me. I
want those two people to like me. They are the audience members closest to the action, and the way they react to me really does influence the rest of the crowd.
Mike: I don't want to make your head swell up, but that is terrific advice, and I thank you for sharing it. Before we leave the subject of magic and humor, I'd like to ask you one more question. We both agree that simply buying a book of gags and sticking them indiscriminately into your act is not a good idea. But what if one of our readers is genuinely interested in how to write comedy? I read Steve Allen's book, How to be Funny, and found that it had some great suggestions as far as the craft of comedy writing was concerned. Do you have any other suggestions?
Mac: There is a book by Judy Carter (who used to do comedy magic) called Stand Up Comedy - The Book. It's really pretty good, although the names and addresses in the appendix, which point you to comedy club owners and bookers, are way out of date. Also, there's a guy named Gene Perret who has written a number of well-received books on writing and performing comedy.
Steve Forte's Gambling Protection Series Volumes 1-4
Mike: Steve Forte is the president of International Gaming Specialists, a consulting firm which specializes in the area of "Game Protection," and in this capacity has plied his trade to casinos worldwide. Mr. Forte also has a sensational set of "chops," which he has put to excellent use on these four videos. These are not magician-oriented tapes. They have been designed to help gamblers who play in private games protect themselves from cheats, scoundrels, and scalawags (i.e., Bob Farmer).
These tapes have been available for a while, but have been promoted only in the gaming market. The price has recently been lowered, and magic dealers are advertising them. Let me first discuss the material demonstrated on each tape, and then I'll offer some thoughts on their usefulness for magicians.
Volume 1 contains false shuffles (both overhand and riffle), false cuts, card stacking, shifts and crimp work. I was particularly impressed with the false shuffle work, and there is a demonstration of an interlace shuffle (not a tabled faro) which has to be seen to be believed.
Volume 2 continues the discussion of card artifice with demonstrations of second, bottom and center dealing, peek work, marked cards, shiners and stripper work. Again, the material and the execution are of the highest caliber.
Volume 3 finishes up the card section with demonstrations of holding out, mucking, deck switches and moves designed to cheat at specific games. The hand mucking demos absolutely blew me away. Diabolical moves, expertly performed
Volume 4 was especially interesting to me because I know very little about dice work. There are extensive discussions on various forms of crooked dice, dice switches, controlled dice shots, moves with dice cups (including a little beauty called a "Butterfly Cup"), and specialized moves for specific dice games. Again, there are moves on this tape that have to be seen to be believed (for example, the controlled dice shots).
So, the big question is: Can a magician benefit from watching these tapes? Absolutely. But bear in mind, these are not teaching tapes. The moves are demonstrated (in some cases, many times and from various camera angles) and a slow motion replay accompanies the explanation, but you are not specifically taught how to perform these sleights. But if you have any knowledge at all about the subject you can certainly figure out what must be going on. And if you are currently working on any gambling techniques, these tapes give you an expert example to work toward. I was very impressed in three ways: the quality of the production, the quality of the material, and the remarkable skill of execution. If you invest in these tapes, I would guess that you would find yourself returning to watch them again and again.
Mac: This is amazing stuff! Before I saw these tapes, Steve Forte was a legend to me, and now I know why he has the reputation he does. I, like you, found the dice stuff to be the most fascinating and devastating. I think you're right that this is because I don't know anything at all about cheating with dice. I'd imagine that the card stuff on these tapes would have the same killer effect on me if I were completely unfamiliar with that kind of cheating. As it is, I was completely blown away by each of these tapes. In my mind their chief value lies in the fact that after watching these four tapes you'll have visual proof that constant and studied practice will eventually make you a god among men or get you killed in a back room blackjack game.
Mike: I couldn't have said it better myself. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!
Mac: This is the latest in the Dover series of Self Working books written by Karl Fulves. This one has 56 "Foolproof Tricks" presented matter of factly with no hype or chit-chat. He tells you what to do, how to do it, what it looks like and, in many instances, what to say while you're doing it. Because there is no nonsense here, everything is clear and easy to follow. Each trick is pretty brief;most are under two pages. As with all of the prior books in this series, there is some good stuff here.
There are gambling tricks, tricks with gimmicked cards, rising card tricks, color changing decks, and various other kinds of card magic covered here. About the only thing you won't find included are tricks using sleight of hand. Mr. Fulves has included some tricks that, in their original versions, required some sleights. He has reworked those tricks to eliminate any sleight of hand. While in just about every case I think this weakens the trick, I don't think it ruins them.
There are some tricks here which you may have heard of: "Out of This World," "McDonald's Aces," "Excelsior Card Rise," "Simplex Card Rise," and some others.
Yikes! Those are good tricks. The question is, should these tricks be in a book written for the public and sold in regular bookstores? I think yes, it's fine. You don't go seeking out magic books in the Game section of your bookstore unless you have some sort of an interest in magic. These Self Working books have much in common with the Bruce Elliott and Bill Severn (and even Prof. Hoffmann before them) books that I hunted after when I was a kid. I would have bought this book, sat in my room, and gone cover-to-cover, learning every one of the tricks presented here. My mom and dad would have been card trick weary in a week.
The other question that I know my buddy Mike is going to ask is, "If Fulves has compiled a book of magic tricks he didn't create, how come you seem to be cutting him so much more slack than the guy who wrote that stinky joke book?" First, some of the tricks are Mr. Fulves' creation. Second, most of those that are not his have been altered in some way by him (usually to eliminate sleight of hand). Most magic tricks are built on the back of tricks that came before them. And to me the most important distinction is that, as opposed to the aforementioned joke book, sources and inspirations are doled our here when and where appropriate.
The elimination of all sleight of hand does detract from the impact of some of the tricks, and in certain cases the sleights are replaced by doing something secret under the lame excuse of placing the cards out of sight (either under a table or behind your back) in order to "hypnotize the deck" or some other nonsense. In general, though, the negative aspects of the material are few. I would say that this is a good value.
Mike: When I first received this book and noticed the caliber of material in it, I immediately screamed, "Exposure!" But then, like you, I realized that someone would have to seek out this material if they wanted to learn it; it was not being thrust in front people who had no interest in the subject. Then I thought, "This stuff is just too good to be given to laymen." Then I realized, "Magicians don't read and appreciate material, why should laymen?" I finally figured out what bugs me about this book, and that is simply that the material presented is so good that there should be a higher price to pay to learn it. There really is some great material in here.
Mac: I think that you're definitely right about the higher price. And that doesn't just mean dollar-wise. I think people really miss something when compilations like this hand out such good material and don't ask the consumer to contribute any effort toward its acquisition. As a magician, you lose the experience of stumbling upon some hidden treasure in the process of looking for material to perform.
Mike: Part of the development process in any field is the ability to go through the literature and find information of worth. If you don't go through that process in your formative years you can be hindered. The only way you know about good material is if someone else who has done the homework tells you about it.
Mac: That's also one of the negative aspects of the Money Magic videotapes we reviewed last month. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that those guys did all the research and dug up all the tricks worth doing. But, to get back to Fulves' book, when I was in high school I worked behind the magic counter at Caufield's Novelties, the only place to buy magic in my home town. At that time the first book in this series had just come our, and I found that if I demonstrated just one trick from that book I could practically guarantee a sale. This book continues in that tradition. There are about ten tricks out of the 56 presented here that I'm sure would get that sale. I'm just glad I don't have to go back to being that longhaired high school magic geek and prove it. I'm very happy being the shorthaired magic geek I am now.
The Silver Fox Strikes Again! The Scotty York Video Volume 3 By Scotty York
Mac: This is one of those times when I was glad there was videotape. I'd never seen ScottyYork before. He doesn't work many magic conventions, and I don't get to Washington, D.C. very often. I was looking forward to catching "The Silver Fox" (as he calls himself) in action. Based on this tape I didn't care for Scotty York as a performer at all. His style really turned me off. There is a warning on the front of this tape that states that it contains material and language suitable for mature audiences only. That has nothing to do with my assessment of this performance. Some of my favorite performers are filthy dirty, and maybe even vulgar, but Mr. York's manner of performing, especially the way he dealt with women, just gave me the willies.
The first half of the tape is Scotty York performing in a bar. He does a couple of gags and then gets into the performance of the tricks. In this section he performs "The Card on Ceiling," "The Panty Tear" (like the Hat Tear but a little lower), "The Ring in the World" (a borrowed ring in a nested containers trick), "Lucille" (a variation of Sidewalk Shuffle which I found confusing), "Mr. Lucky" (an oil and water variation), "Come to Casey's" (a prediction trick), and a "copper - silver" coin trick.
Having voiced my opinion about Mr. York's performing style let me say that generally the tricks are good. And, surprisingly enough, I found him much more pleasant to watch in the explanation half of the tape. And that's what you'll watch this tape for. The explanations are clear. The methods are clever, and it's obvious he cares a great deal about giving the proper credit to his inspirational sources.
In addition to explanations for the above mention items, he teaches his handlings for various sleights. These are the side steal, the Elmsley Count, the diagonal shift, the Mercury Card Fold, a card force, and an overhand shuffle control. Also taught, but not explained, is a great method for the "Bill in Cigarette trick."
The tape is about two hours in length and the video and sound quality is good. The tricks are good, and if you're not put off by Scotry York's performance, there is really something of value here.
Mike: Here's an example where video can have a negative impact. If the performance style turns you off, it would be easy to dismiss the material as well. This would be a mistake, for three of the routines on this tape ("The Ring in the World," "The Bill in the Cigarette," and "The Card on the Ceiling") were really big secrets for a long time. Those who got the "work" from Scotty kept these tricks very tight. Each of these three are worth studying in order to discover the thought and attention to detail that goes into the construction of a professional caliber routine. So my advice would be that if Scotty's style is a problem, watch the performance segment with the sound off - you'll understand what's going on - and then jump ahead to the explanations and find out why Scotty is considered to be one of the premier thinkers in magic.
Mike: During the changing of the guard here at Product Review, a number of items came into the MAGIC office. In these first three columns, Mac and I have tried to focus on items of timely interest, but there were things in the "Big Box o' Stuff' that Stan sent me which are deserving of review. Do not let my brief comments deter you. Each of these items is worthy of your attention. If you're hitting any of the summer conventions, try to track them down and see for yourself.
From Ellison Poland comes Wonderful Routines of Magic, The Second Addendum. The original WROM was (and still is) one of my favorite books. This Second Addendum is a worthy continuation. There are 57 items, mostly focusing on cards and coins, from creators such as Aaron Black, Peter Duffie, Gene Maze, Harry Milliken (whose coin transition in WROM is a classic) and Dan Tong. Well worth checking out.
Aldo Columbini's React is chock full of magic with cards, coins, ropes, balloons, thimbles and other stuff. All feature the Columbini trademark of maximum effect for minimum effort. And a helpful appendix gives you the description of 16 standard sleights used in the routines.
My favorite book of the bunch is An Encyclopedia of Lies, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural by James Randi. The subtitle of this book is "James Randi's Decidedly Skeptical Definitions of Alternate Realities." The subtitle says it all. This is an encyclopedia with attitude. If your belief system is the same as Mr. Randi's, you will find this book to be informative and hilarious. If your belief system is different, it will be far less amusing. I thought the book was great, and it is a gold mine of patter possibilities. St. Martin's Press is the publisher, and you should be able to find it at your local bookstore.
Greg Wilson's video Double Take is an encyclopedia of information on the double lift. Greg's performances, demonstrations and explanations are excellent. The tape is a terrific value for the money and, when combined with the study of classic card texts, should help you add this move to your arsenal in a hurry.
An enormous amount of information is contained on Mark Trimble's Video Encyclopedia of Silk Magic Volume 1. Mark is the author of Volume 4 of the Encyclopedia of Silk Magic, an excellent book which continues the series started by Harold Rice. This videotape draws material from all four of these classic texts. The focus is on the basics, covering such information as silk weights and cuts, silk care, silk folds (single and multiple), accessories, fasteners and single productions. This is an excellent tape and I highly recommend it.
If you have an interest in the McBrideBurger-Neale Mystery School you might wish to invest in the Magic Mystery School Video. This 25-minute video was prepared by the Canadian Broadcast Company for their "Man Alive" series. It is the most intelligent and thoughtful documentary on magic that I have ever seen. All your pals are here: Jeff McBride, Eugene Burger, Robert Neale, Max Maven and (was that?) Bob Fitch. They speak eloquently and with passion about the Mystery School project. All the profits from this video project go to the Mystery School Scholarship Fund. This is another video I highly recommend.
Old Gags Never Die, They Just Get Better Produced Department
Lee Jacobs Productions, which for many years has manufactured the ever popular "Pride and Joy" photos, has come out with the "Have I shown you a picture of my kids?" photo. The photo, of course, is of two baby goats. These are well made, the photo is cute as hell, and (if it suits your style) it's a funny gag.
Last, But Definitely Not Least Department
Jon Racherbaumer mentioned Chuck Smith's What If lecture notes in his column a couple of months ago. I cannot say enough good things about this material, so I will simply say buy it, buy it, buy it. Perhaps if Chuck sells enough of these, it will light a fire under him and he'll write that book that all of us have been waiting for.
Mac: I also have a copy of the Chuck Smith notes, and as someone who had already been fooled by some of this stuff, I was happy to come into possession of this booklet. I think it's the best thing we're reviewing this month.
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Magick is the art and practice of moving natural energies to effect needed or wanted change. Magick is natural, there is absolutely nothing supernatural about it. What is taught here are various techniques of magick for beginners. Magick is natural and simple and the techniques to develop abilities should be simple and natural as well. What is taught on this site is not only the basics of magick, but the basics of many things.