Comedy Magic

april, 1955

page 9.

but it does remain that the non-exposing magician can and frequently has done just that. He has not burned his boats behind him, the exposer has. Far from being Comedy Magic this kind is undoubtedly Deplorable Magic.

From all of which you should have gathered by now that the type of Comedy Magic which will raise the most laughs is undoubtedly, PERVERSE MAGIC. Magic which 'goes wrong' to the utter chagrin of the performer, Magic which turns out differently from that announced, again to the apparent bewilderment and embarrassment of the conjurer.


What type then, can one style to be truly Comedy Magic? And the answer is, of course. Magic which, IN ITSELF, is funny, magic which will still raise laughs even though the accompanying patter be delivered in dead serious vein, indeed, very often ,t can be said that the more serious the patter, the greater the laughs, as witness that master of Comedy Magic, the late Van Hoven. Magic which will raise laughs, even though presented in utter silence.

The latter type, I grant you, is rare indeed. The former can, with careful study, be almost made to order, for, as I shall endeavour to show later on, much of it depends upon SITUATION, and situation can be created. I quoted above "Magic which in itself is funny" and at the risk of contradicting myself I will agree that there is not much that is funny in the rising of a card from a pack, but if the card happens (?) to be one totally different from that the performer 'wills' to rise, or one which appears with its back to the audience, then the SITUATION is funny. There is perhaps, not much that is comic in the appearance of a cigarette between the performer's fingers, but if, at the time of the appearance the performer is endeavouring to do something else and the cigarette keeps getting in the way, then the MAGICAL SITUATION is funny.


SO PERHAPS AT THE OUTSET I SHOULD HAVE DEFINED COMEDY MAGIC AS—MAGIC WITH COMEDY SITUATION. It may be that some will be of the opinion that I am splitting hairs, that I am straining at a gnat, but one must surely see that there is a vast difference between, say, an act wherein a number of magical effects come out as planned, to the accompaniment of comic talk, that is, straight magic with funny patter, and an act wherein the magic which does happen is entirely different from that which the harrassed performer is seriously trying to bring about.

The earliest exponent of this type of magic is, or was, to the best of my knowledge, that once prolific writer, Charles Waller, and the examples he quoted in h.s books and magazine articles were all "specially designed" for the job, concocted to do exactly the opposite of what the performer said they would do. And the idea seems to have remained that Perverse Magic has to be devised, as such.


So far as my reading of magic takes me, it doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone, that almost any standard effect can be taken and converted into PERVERSE MAGIC. Some individual performers may have discovered it for themselves, but they don't appear to have disclosed their methods and results in print, or at least, very rarely.

One rare example (I cannot just recall where it was published) entailed the tying together of two silks and the vanish of a third one, say a green one, from a paper cone. When the two tied s lks were whipped from their tumbler a third silk was seen securely tied between them, but—it was not a green one ! It was, say, yellow ! When the performer's discomfort had cooled off a bit, and as though to prove that he wasn't wrong after all, the balled up paper would be recovered from the floor, burst open and another yellow silk pulled therefrom, just to prove that, after all it WAS a yellow silk which the performer 'vanished'. Comedy Magic without doubt, but, I regret to say, with a touch of exposure attached to it. Or maybe it wasn't exposure after all to place a green silk into a paper cone and later pull forth a yellow one ! I dunno !

The late Dan Bellman published something on similar lines with a torn and restored tissue paper theme, the restored paper never being the same colour as the torn piece. Maybe a few more instances such as these could be unearthed, but all told they would still be few in number. A good friend of mine, who aspires to being a Comedy Conjurer (not, as he himself put it, a magician with

Comedy Patter) complained that the field of search for material such as he needed was very small indeed, but I am hoping that, after having given him a preview of some of these notes, he wJl find the field very much enlarged, indeed I know that he is well on the way to forming a Comedy Act much after his own heart. He will be anxiously scanning these articles, for after giving him the 'formula' I promised that some concrete examples would be published in the "Magic Magazine".


The 'Formula' consists in simply taking any standard, or depot made trick,or your own invention, for that matter, and, literally, pulling it to pieces, in readiness for reconstruction. Some effects will actually submit to being reversed. Others will 'go one way only', quite a few, you will find, will only 'reconstruct' exactly as orginally intended, and very little comedy or situation can be got out of them. These, of course, you will discard, but of the others, you will have quite a good choice to work from. Those which readily submit to a reversal of effect will be easy to reconstruct and the actual reversal of the effect creates its own 'situation' . Effects which can only be worked one way, may prove a little more difficult to reconstruct, and situations will have to be created and sandwiched in as the routine proceeds.

As, however, we seem at the moment to be writing in the abstract, perhaps an example or two will serve to show what is meant. Take, for instance, The Chinese Linking Rings. Not much room for Comedy here, you will say, other than, perhaps, a little by-play with the spectators, the laughs coming because the assistants cannot link the rings as you do. To date, I can only recall one diversion from this 'do-as-I-do' routine, which was designed to get a laugh, and that was the late Arthur Dowler's (a grand fellow) gag wherein he threw a group of rings out to a spectator (?) for the purpose of examination, only to have them thrown back completely distorted and ruined !


Let us assume however that you don't want to leave the stage and furthermore, you don't want to pass any rings out to be examined and tested. Good ! You're original already ! At least you are different! You take up from your table two steel rings, one in each hand, and you clang one against the other to prove their solidity. Now you confidently slide one across the other, breathe on the parts of the rings which actually cross one another, smile and nod approvingly, and LET GO OF ONE OF THE RINGS. CATASTROPHE ! ! It falls to the floor with a crash. You look non-plussed, BUT—the audience will smile.

You try again, and fail, so—you put the two rings on the table, comparing them with two others already there, and then having decided that you must have picked up the wrong pair by mistake, pick up the second pair and you repeat the process of trying to link one ring into the other, only this time, as you let go one ring, you are at great pains to catch it in its fall. You are losing confidence in yourself, you are not so sure that this pair will link and you take precautions to see that the released ring doesn't reach the floor. And, it doesn't! Neither does it link to the one in hand ! You finish up with these two rings in the right hand.

Again you examine the two on the table, and then, doing a sort of startled double take, you gingerly raise one ring from the table AND THE OTHER ONE FOLLOWS. The darned things have linked themselves ! ! You are so surprised that you drop one ring from the right hand, but it doesn't fall to the floor. No! IT TOO IS LINKED TO ITS COMPANION RING! The darned things won't link for you but they'll do it for themselves. PERVERSE MAGIC INDEED.

So you finally drop them in a heap on a chair or table up (or side) stage, and you are about to proceed with the next item, when again you are drawn to the four heaped rings. You gingerly pick them up, one by one, AND ARE UTTERLY DUMBFOUNDED WHEN YOU FIND THAT THEY CAN BE PICKED UP SINGLY ! You shrug your shoulders and give up.

The how-it's-done part of the business doesn't matter a lot, but the acting and routine do, especially if the effect is to be worked silently. Patter, in the form of exclamations of surprise, desperation, etc., will help a lot, but facial expressions are all important. Try to convince yourself that you do actually want to link the rings, (although you know very well you won't!) and try to be really disappointed and chagrined when you realise you have failed. If you can convince yourself that you really want to link the rings, you'll act the part alright.

Now to the how of it—so simple ! Indeed you will no doubt have already guessed it. Two key rings and two single rings, that's all. Just pair them as a key and a single for each set, and you're set too ! And if you can't manage to link a pair as you place them on the table, and to drop one through the slit into the other ring as you hold them in your right hand, then please forget about Comedy Conjuring, indeed, you'd better forget about Conjuring altogether !



One further example may suffice for this month, so we'll deal with the Egg Bag, or to give it its proper title the Egg and the Bag. I can quite visualise you saying "But, there's always plenty of Comedy with the Egg Bag Routine. Everybody does iti" Maybe there IS comedy in the usual routine, it does get laughs, I grant you, but the magic is all 'strictly to plan' magic, not the type of which I have spoken, PERVERSE MAGIC. But your last remark, "Everybody does it" hit the nail right on the head, everybody does do it, so—let's be different.

You take the egg bag, show it empty in the usual manner by turning it inside out. Then showing the hand to be empty, you reach in the bag and produce—an egg. You plainly replace the egg, then turn the bag inside out and back again, the egg has gone. GOOD. It works ! So you take a slight bow and the audience applauds, we hope.

You proceed to bring back the egg. You go all round the inside of the bag BUT—NO EGG! and do you look dismayed ! You turn the bag inside out (as though maybe you've had it the wrong way round all the time) and start to feel inside the new made bag. Try as you will you can find no trace of the egg. You look at your right hand. No egg. You feel in your right trouser pocket. No egg.

You swop the bag over to the other hand, look at the left hand. No egg. You feel in the left trouser pocket. No egg. BUT BY NOW THE AUDIENCE SHOULD BE CONVULSED WITH LAUGHTER, FOR ALL THE TIME YOU ARE SEARCHING YOUR HANDS AND POCKETS. THE EGG IS IN FULL VIEW TO THEM— STUCK ON THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG . . . OUTSIDE.

Again, the secret is simple, but it is really the acting which will count. The egg has half a snap fastener fixed to one side and the other half of the fastener is sewn on the inside bottom on the bag. When the hand goes in to bring forth the egg. the latter is brought from the secret pocket, and the snap fastener connected, ready for turning the bag inside out later on. You carry on searching (?) for the egg, then in desperation, you turn the bag inside out, exposing the egg to view, but you carry on searching in the newly formed bag. Then you must act the rest.

To go further, you suddenly twig what the audience is laughing at, you hurriedly grab the egg. turning the bag outside in in the process, and then push the egg through the secret opening, a la the normal vanish, and once again you are the confident accomplished performer, for you show thr bag to be empty, the egg to have vanished. No to bring it back again.

You fiddle around in the bag, and the audience fully expects that you are going to lose it again, for you hurriedly glance up at them With a sort of 'would-you-believe-it' look, and the laughs will come. Then slowly, very slowly, and with a wry face, you withdraw the hand, AND THE EGG. As the catalogues say, the audience should howl with laughter, for it is an egg alright, BUT IT IS A FRIED ONE ! (One of the latex type, which has quietly reposed in the pocket of the bag all the time, and which has not impeded any of the other operations with the normal egg).

Having eyed the egg with disgust, especially after smelling it (!), you grab a plate and place the fried egg thereon, laying it carefully across the plate, flat. You pick up a pepper pot, ready to dust on a little pepper. WHEN THE EGG SLOWLY REARS UP ON THE PLATE, AS THOUGH IN PROTEST AND DISGUST !

So you put the pepper pot down, and the egg slowly sinks to normal on the plate, flat. You try again with the pepper pot and again the egg rises, this going on ad. lib., until finally you remove the egg from the plate, very gingerly, and TRY TO PUT IT BACK IN THE EGG BAG. I say TRY, because it appears to have stuck to your fingers. Eventually you get it into the bag, turn the bag inside out and the bewitched thing has gone. You spread the bag flat on the floor, wipe your feet on it and then KICK it out of the way.

When wiping your feet (or boots) on the bag, you, obviously, avoid the ordinary egg which is there, unless you can manage to use a rubber one. The Rising Egg would be brought about very simply indeed. A wire arm, or a strip of tin, painted the same colour as the plate, is so pivotted that it lies across the centre of the plate. This arm. or strip, is continued very briefly, under the plate, so that a slight pressure on the protruding piece under the plate will cause the strip on top of the plate to rise, taking the egg with it. This 'motive power' is widely known and fairly simple. And that's about all there is to it—plus asT have repeatedly pointed out, the acting.

That will have to be the lot for this month too, but I hope that I have been able to interest you in PERVERSE MAGIC and to show you enough to encourage you to evolve your own. However, next month I hope to deal with a full act of PERVERSE MAGIC, ending with a riotous climax, which should be right up the street of anyone who really loves Comedy Magic and is prepared to work and rehearse to make it perfect. It may be that I shall not manage to crowd the whole act into one article, and if not, then it will be continued the following month, but I think it will be worth waiting for.

Yours Magically,

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