Comedy Magic

(Continued from last month).

I hope that the examples of Comedy Magic, given in last month's articles, were sufficient to set you going on the right track to thinking routines and effects out for yourself. It would be noted that the effects used, "The Linking Rings" and "The Egg and The Bag", were of the well-tried type, effects which have seen wear and tear throughout many years.

It is difficult to imagine either of those effects, in their original form, being new to present day audiences, for both of them are in the repertoires of many modern wand wielders, and therefore, when presented in the new guise I outlined, it should not be difficult for an audience to "cotton on" to what the conjurer intends the effect to be, and, when the result is something entirely different then the laugh should be entirely against the performer, and we have what has been the aim, Comedy Magic, Perverse Magic.

In the case of The Egg and The Bag, the performer has, of course, shown what the result should be, in that he has produced an egg from a shown empty bag, and later has vanished it in the same bag. The intended effect is therefore established in the minds of the audience, and what transpires after that, the apparent losing of the egg, its discovery on the outside of the bag, its later production in a fried state and all the antics with it, go to make up the Perverse Magic, Magic which is working against the performer and which should bring the laughs.

To take the other example, The Linking Rings, as I said, it is difficult to imagine an audience which has not seen, at some time or another, rings linked on and off by some conjurer, but I admit that there may be odd ones in the audience who are seeing the effect for the first time. It might therefore be wise, at the initial stage of the effect to convey to the audience in so many words just what is intended—the magical linking of the two rings. From then on your repeated failures, and the unexpected linking of the rings by themselves will bring the comedy effect desired.

In devising your own Comedy Magic then, remember that the audience must be made aware, by words or deeds, of the effect you want them to expect, otherwise the adverse result, as such, will be lost upon them. There would be very little point, for instance, in making up a paper cone, obviously empty, and later pouring flour from it on to a plate or dish. Magical maybe, but not exactly comical. Had you, however, led them to expect FLOWERS, and then, as a result you had produced flour the situation does become funny.

Patter is not always necessary to give awareness of intended effect to an audience. Actions can often 'speak' volumes. For instance, you carefully tie two silks together and deposit them in a vase or box. Then you display a third handkerchief, vanish it, AND IMMEDIATELY YOU TURN TO THE VASE OR BOX, THE AUDIENCE KNOWS WHAT YOU INTEND TO DO. They know that you will reach in and produce the vanished silk, tied between the other two. You have by your actions led them to believe, almost to anticipate, just that. So that, when the result is entirely different, and you yourself convey the impression that it is also different from what you expected, then perversity is apparent and comedy the result.

For completeness, let us briefly survey the above effect and see what contrary result we could obtain. Two silks, say a red and a blue are tied together and deposited in a small box. Next a yellow silk is taken and placed into a paper bag, the mouth of which is screwed up, and eventually the bag is burst with a loud bang.

Still holding the burst bag in the right hand, you reach into the box with the left hand, then hesitate, glance in as though you cannot believe your own eyes, and then slowly you produce the yellow silk, by itself!! You then fiddle in and around the box, and, finding nothing, you turn it upside down and bang it upon the table. Still nothing comes out. Finally, you reach up through the hole in the bottom of the paper bag and draw forth the two knotted silks, the red and the blue.

The means to the end are very simple. The box can be the usual double compartment affair, with a throw-over flap which opens one compartment and closes the other. The paper bag is easily faked. To one side of the bag, just inside the mouth a much smaller bag is fixed with a little paste. This small bag is mouth downwards and into it are tucked duplicate red and blue silks, already knotted together. On the opposite side of the large bag a second small bag is pasted, this time with the opening upwards and almost level with the mouth of the large bag. A duplicate yellow silk is tucked into one compartment of the box, the flap covered over it, and you are all set.

Knot the red and blue silks together, and tuck them into the box, throwing over the compartment to uncover the yellow silk which is hiddenThere. Take up the visible yellow silk and the paper bag and in tucking the former into the latter you actually push it into the mouth of the smaller bag. Screw up the mouth of the large bag, around the forefinger of the left hand, and withdrawing the finger, leave a hole by which the paper bag can be blown up. Squeeze the neck of the bag tightly, and burst it. In most cases the bag will burst at the bottom, but to make sure of this, you previously damp the bottom of the bag before performance.

The rest, as I've said before, is up to you and your acting. Reach in the box, produce the yellow silk, fiddle around, and then in desperation turn the box upside down (making sure the flap is secure) and bang it upon the table. Nothing comes out, and finally, you reach up into the paper bag and pull forth the red and blue silks which have been concealed inside the inverted bag all the time. This bag, being mouth downwards, makes for easy withdrawal.


Having whetted your appetite with my reference to a Comedy Magic Act in the last issue, you will be wondering when I'm going to quit the examples and get down to brass tacks. Well, here we are. As I said, it may not be possible to explain the whole act in one article, but, with your appetite whetted, let us start on the early courses and enjoy them.

How you would bill yourself in this act is a matter for you to decide, but, for myself, I wouldn't forewarn the audience that comedy magic was to be expected. Let its title be, if anything ostentatious, high sounding, and, as a sub-title on the programme, I should certainly quote that "Things are not always what they seem". This will tend to lead the audience to expect some wonderful miracles, whereas, truth to tell, things will definitely not be what they seem. For the sake of later reference the various phases will be numbered.


When the curtain rises, the performer is 'discovered', standing between two tables, or, in the absence of a curtain, he takes up his place between the tables to give his introductory remarks. The tables are about four feet apart, so that the performer, standing between them, need hardly move as he turns first to one and then the other.

1. He draws attention to a ball box or vase which is standing near the front of the right hand table and at the corner adjacent to him, that is, the left front corner of the right hand table. He picks up the ball box, takes off the lid and displays both the box and the lid, showing them to be empty. Turning to the table on his left he draws attention to another and similar ball box. Without removing this from the table, he takes off the lid and shows a red billiards ball to be reposing in the box, or as you will agree with me if you know the apparatus referred to, half in and half out!

2. He removes the ball, throws it into the air, then replaces it in the left hand ball box and puts on the lid.

3. At this stage he reiterates that 'here on the right, we have a vase which is empty', lifts the lid of the right hand vase and gets a shock when he sees the (?) ball! Quickly he plonks on the lid, as if to hide the ball and just as quickly turns to the left hand vase, stealthily lifts up the lid, but there is no ball! The ball has apparently passed from one vase to the other, but before the conjurer was ready for it. He replaces the lid on the left hand vase.

To set matters right, he turns to the right hand vase, to remove the ball, but on lifting the lid, the ball is no longer there ! Putting on the lid he turns, fearfully, this time, to the left vase, gingerly lifts the lid and THERE IS THE BALL. He removes it, throws it in the air, and on catching it, is about to place it into the vase when he changes his mind, and places it in front of the vase and almost on the edge of the table. The lid he places behind the vase.


4. Turning to the right hand vase he lifts the lid and places it behind its vase, and while he is doing this, THE BALL ON THE FRONT EDGE OF THE LEFT HAND TABLE IS SEEN TO BE TRAVELLING SLOWLY ALONG THE FRONT UNTIL IT ARRIVES ALMOST AT THE FAR CORNER, WHERE IT STOPS.

Having got through the preliminaries of 'setting' the vases, he is about to commence his effect, when he does a 'Double Take' at the left hand vase, and in bewilderment, turns to the right hand vase, but sees no ball. He picks up this right hand vase and lid, examines them, places the lid on the vase and sets it down again. He turns and picks up the left hand vase and lid, repeats the examination and finally sets this vase down, with the I'd on, and in doing so, espies the ball at the far corner of the table. In exasperation he goes round the back of the left hand table to the other side and recovers the ball.

5. If the performer is fortunate enough to have an assistant he can get an additional effect here. Just as he reaches the far side of the table and is about to pick up the ball, it starts to wend its way back along the front edge of the table until it arrives at the original spot where the performer placed it. The harassed performer dashes round the back of the table, just in time to viciously grab the ball as it arrives in front of the vase.

6. With the ball in hand and a very determined look on his face, he angrily thrusts the ball into his trouser pocket and then removes the lid from the left hand vase, only to behold the ball reposing there. Picking up the vase and ball, he gazes at them while the right hand slowly goes into the pocket to withdraw the ball he placed there a moment or two ago. Hardly daring to look at the right hand he eventually does, only to discover that it holds—a tomato. This he bites in half to convince himself that it is a tomato, and while he places the vase and 'ball' on the table and replaces the lid, he carries on eating and enjoying the tomato.

The tomato eaten, back to business. He removes the lid of the left hand ball box, to discover—no ball. He does the same with the right hand vase, again to discover—no ball. Suddenly has hand goes to the tummy, with a look of apprehension, and then with the hand held below the waistcoat edge, he draws in the tummy and allows the ball to fall out into the waiting hand. Quickly he grabs the two vases and, along with the ball, places them aside to go on with the next effect.


Let me stress at the outset that, with two ball vases and the fakes that go with them, the moves and counter moves could be literally, end» less, and some sort of restraint will have to be exercised by the performer in their use, otherwise this effect will form itself into one similar to that with the cups and balls, where the movements of the balls in and out of the cups can become monotonous and uninteresting. This routine has been skinned down to the limit to avoid becoming boring and yet to get the maximum of comedy out of it. NOTE CAREFULLY that the performer never really gets started with the effect in hand, the ball is always that jump ahead of him.

You will need two identical ball vases, with the usual half ball fake to go in each lid, and the usual full ball to go with each of them. Get them as large as possible, a two inch ball being ideal. Whether you use the old type with the numerous rims running round the vase, or the newer version where the fake is retained within the lid until a small spring knob is pressed on top, when it is left within the box, is immaterial. Either type will do, so long as the fake can be quickly picked up or left behind as the routine demands.

You will also need a tomato, as near round and the size of the ball as possible. A ball holder, a length of thread and a small flat ring. The use of this will be described later. One solid red ball is vested, and the other is held in the ball holder which is positioned, under the coat on the right hand side. The tomato is in the right trouser pocket. With the two ball boxes, complete with fakes in the lids, one on each table and within easy reach when you stand between the tables, you are all set.


1. You commence by taking up the right hand ball box, removing the lid and the fake as one, and showing the box to be empty. Refer back to (1). As the ball box is replaced on the table with the left hand, the right hand secures the solid ball from the holder, and retains it in the palmed position. Turning part left, the left hand removes the lid of the left hand vase leaving the fake in view, the effect then being that the vase contains a ball.

2. The right hand comes over to remove the 'ball', and as it does so the left brings the lid back towards the vase. Just as the right hand (with its back towards the audience) covers thv ball fake from view, the lid is lowered over the fake and the right hand brings the palmed ball to view. The movements of the two hands should be timed to give the impression that the right hand moves away with the solid ball in view, the left has merely replaced the lid. As the right hand moves away with the solid ball in view, the left momentarily raises the vase lid, taking the fake with it, and then replaces it, thus having casually (?) shown the vase empty.

The ball is thrown into the air, to draw attention to its actually being a sphere and then the movements described in the preceding paragraph are carried through in reverse. The lid is raised a little (together with the fake) and the ball in the right hand is brought round to the front of the vase. When the right hand covers the mouth of the vase the ball is allowed to recede into the palm and the lid is placed on the vase. As the right hand moves away (with the concealed ball) the lid is momentarily raised to give a view of the 'ball' and then the lid is replaced.

3. Turning to the right hand vase (see previous paragraph marked 3) this brings the performer's left side towards the audience, and as the lid of the vase is raised, the right hand drops to the side, keeping the palm away from the audience, while the left hand attracts attention to the right hand vase. The lid is lifted, leaving the fake, and when the 'ball' is seen the lid is quickly replaced and a turn made to the left hand vase, which is seen to be empty. The ball has transposed itself !

Again, with a turn to the right, the left hand uncovers the right hand vase, but no ball is there, (the fake being retained in the lid) and in despair the poor conjurer turns to the left hand vase and gingerly lifts the lid AND THERE IS THE BALL. This 'ball' is removed exactly as explained under (2) and set down in front of the vase, and the lid of the vase is replaced.

(4) We now come to the stage (4), where the ball travels along the edge of the left hand table, while the conjurer's back is turned. This is managed by simple means, the originator of which means I am unable to quote. I refer to the length of thread and the small ring mentioned under 'requirements'. The thread is attached to the ring, which is then placed at the front of the table, near the right hand corner and the thread is laid along the table, parallel with the front edge. At the far (left) corner of the table, the thread is passed under a drawing pin, which is not quite thrust home and the thread is then returned to its starting point, but kept a little further back so as not to interfere with the ring's eventual travel. A cloth is spread over the table top, and the end of the thread is passed through the cloth where the latter drapes over the edge of the table, thus being left handy for the performer to grasp at the right moment. A matchstick or a bead may be tied to this end of the thread if it is felt that it will improve matters.

The action is simply this. If the ball be placed over the ring and the thread gently pulled, the ring will travel along the table, taking the ball with it, and will stop when the drawing pin is reached. A few trials will soon show at what speed to pull the thread. If the performer's table is above the eye-level of the audience, then there is no need for a cloth, as the small flat ring will not be seen, merely the ball moving along the table. A mechanical method will be explained in my notes next month.


At this stage it will be fitting to describe the stunt where the ball returns along the table front, which effect, as before mentioned can be performed if the conjurer is fortunate to have an assistant handy. We shall again refer to the left hand table. In this instance the drawing pin is placed at the right hand edge, and two lengths of thread are fastened to the ring, each sufficient to reach the assistant in the left hand wing. The ring is positioned at the front of the table, as before, and one thread led off to the assistant. The other thread is passed under the drawing pin and this too is led off to the assistant. Thus, by pulling on the first mentioned thread, the assistant can cause the ring to travel along the table, near the front edge, at the same time the second thread is paid out, so that it travels under the drawing pin. To cause the return of the ring, the process is reversed, the second thread being pulled as the first one is paid out.

(4) To return to the routine. At the end of stage 3 the performer has placed the palmed ball in front of the left hand vase. At the same time, the left hand secures the thread, and turning to the right hand vase and while lifting the lid and placing it behind its vase, the left hand is busy pulling on the thread. The ball travels along and stops when the performer ceases to pull on the thread.

(5) This phase is covered in the last paragraph but one, and can be skipped if no assistant is available. Having recovered the ball, and then angrily thrust it into the trouser pocket, the 'ball', you will remember is again 'discovered' in the left hand vase. As though unable to believe his own eyes the conjurer naturally darts his hand into his trouser pocket to find—the tomato. The eating of this tomato (see 6), then the showing of both vases to be empty, followed by the 'tummy pains' and the recovery of the ball from the bottom of the vest should need no further explanation.

A point to particularly note is that the solid balls are never actually in the vases at all, merely the shell fakes are used here, and, having mastered the move with the solid ball explained in (2) so that the ball can be made to appear to come from the left hand vase, then it is merely a matter of raising the lids of the vases and leaving or taking the shell fake, according to whether it is necessary to show a 'ball' there or an empty vase.

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