itions focuses attention on some widespread foible or con, tion of everyday life. Their humor stems from the ^n nition, the amusement, and sometimes rehef. that com^f < that everybody else has the same experiences. of ^¿J

For example, when I read the definition of Hugging n^ *

practice of using your fingers to guide an electric plUg into when plugging in something in the dark ), I was relieved to that I wasn't the only one with this dumb habit. The a^r universal experience also explains the popularity of the And?S®3' 1(1 segments on the TV show Sixty Minutes and the writings of L, Bt>

ErmaBombeck. ^^

Manv comedians get a good laugh by doing nothing mor_ pointing to a puzzling universal experience. For example. comeH Larrv Miller says: "How does the phone cord always get so tand?, How? All I ever do is pick up the receiver, talk, and hang Up I d " pick it up, do a cartwheel foUowed by a somersault, and then ha^Tt up."

Other standup comics use universal experiences as only the starting point of a routine. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld asks his audience, "ft.« notice how you will go to the laundromat with evenly matched pairs of socks, yet when you come back you'll have one unmatched sock left over? Where do those odd socks go?" His audience laughs because every one of them can relate to the experience he has just described. He then goes further, however, by providing an answer to his own question. Socks, he explains, are the most adventurous of all clothing. They get tired of being cooped up in your drawer. They see a trip to the laundromat as their one chance to escape. Ever take your laundry out of the dryer and notice a sock tucked away in a corner after all the other clothes were removed? It was hiding, hoping you wouldn't notice, so it could make a getaway later. Ever take something out of the dryer and spot a sock clinging inconspicuously to one side? It was tagging along so it could drop off and make a break for it as soon as you neared the door. Of course, it's a tough world out there for a sock on its own. Ever walk down the street and see a dirty, rumpled sock on the sidewalk? That was a fugitive that didn't make it. While this brief summary doesn't do justice to Seinfeld's clever routine, it's enough for analytical purposes. First, Seinfeld invokes a universal human experience: missing socks. This shared experience immediately creates a bond among the audience members and intVr!!i- u 8l!dienCe and the Performer and creates audience interest ln what he is going to say next.

ab8eurdhV^>1°lta thC humorous P^ntial in the topic by offering an absurd explanation for the experience. In fact, he identifies four

« „nt universal experiences: socks missing after doing laundry diff® . . j;_ — in the dryer, socks clinging to other clothing dim-

^Swalk. He then offers one explanation "for „nT" eriences. The humor of the routine derives from he foe .ff, ** fffcrous theory can so neatly explain so many dii^^ everyday happenings. mmon,

This is an example of what might be termed the Bizarre Exnlmu,,' Formula for exploiting universal human experiences. It conJtTof invoking a trivial but universal human experience, then following u, by providing some skewed insight or theory about it. This approach?« a staple of standup comedy. It may constitute an elaborate routine « in the above example or the entire formula may be condensed into one brief gag- I recall one comedian who was talking about when he oncc worked for an appliance firm. He explained. "I was the guv who used to put that device inside hairdryers that makes you think you hear the phone ringing as soon as you turn it on."

The Bizarre Explanation Formula can be applied intact to certain magic effects. Perfect examples are provided by two prominent comedy magicians, Tom Ogden and Mike Caveney. When Tom Ogden performs the "Cannibal Cards" effect wherein playing cards placed between two kings disappear, he doesn't indulge in some corny story about cannibals and missionaries. (How many people could relate that to their own experiences?) Instead, he asks his audience, "Ever take out an old deck to play cards only to find that there are one or two cards missing from the pack?" You can be sure that almost everyone in his audience can answer yes to that question. Tom then goes on to explain the reason. Certain cards in each deck are cannibals. They actually devour other cards. That's why the longer you own a deck the more cards will disappear from it. Tom then identifies the black kings as being the cannibals in the particular deck he has and proceeds to demonstrate their anthropophagous tendencies.

When Mike Caveney does the "Linking Coat Hangers" he poses this question to his audience: "Ever go to the closet to hang up a coat and find that all the wire coat hangers are tangled together? No matter what you do, it's impossible to get them apart." Again, everyone in the audience can answer that one affirmatively. Mike has an explanation. Coat hangers are sexually insatiable. Leave them together in a dark closet for a few minutes and they immediately start to copulate. Mike then takes out a few coat hangers and proceeds to demonstrate their mating habits.

In these routines, Tom Ogden and Mike Caveney are doing exactly the same thing Jerry Seinfeld did in his comedy routine. First, they invoke a universal human experience: finding that w after dome the laundry: being unable to play Cards . «a are _

. _L1„ ---„„(.„„la I 1___________CSUgg 'Ifr

:loset ' 'IK the deck: being unable to untangle coat hangers in the cln"Uae »f4>« offer an absurd and inherently amusing explanation-'th Th«i ¡T cape; the playing cards get eaten by other playing hangers copulate. ^ to,,

However, as magicians, they can then go on to do somethi comedian can't. They can actually "prove" their bi2

comedian cyo <■■ — - > "«Mr oizarre tu ^ttlj, demonstrating how cards vanish as soon as they're placed i^6® V the kings or how coat hangers link up as soon as they're alio "1 each other. " DWed near

In addition to the Bizarre Explanation Formula, coined" exploit universal human experiences with another approa "f"? a!»> the Bizarre Solution Formula. The comic identifies a proy ter,> virtually everyone in his audience has experienced at .-rjrn^V'""1

Then he offers an amusing solution to the problem.


The solution is amusing because, although absurd, it makes a kind of sense. For example, I once heard a standup comic t 'it'16'' about the deplorable state of emergency medical services He k! served that the average response time for ambulances in m , emergencies is forty minutes. His solution: Put ambulance attends"^ in pizza delivery tracks. They get there in thirty minutes and iftk ' don't, it's free. ' ej

This formula is easily adaptable to magic. Instead of offering a bizam Bolution to a universal problem, the magician can offer a maEical solution. A perfect illustration is the presentation for "The Gyp.» Thread" devised by Lonme Chevrie and popularized by Charles Green. The performer talks about dental floss and how, whenever the roll runs out, one is invariably left with a piece that is too small to use.

Bather than let this go to waste, his solution is to save all these little pieces and magically weld them together into one piece that is long enough The pertormer iUustr0teg this WLonj lald t

ST uaoss' breakillS it into little pieces, then magically iusrng them back into one long piece,

^ tC1Cks 3re adaPtable to presentations as masical men Where aT""" J™^^ C°nslder the Plot used ^ mBny <"»

coins that J, Se~deilc,mination coin is transformed into smaller transformed'Z,ssme am0«nt, for example, a half-dollar solution to the liters. This could be presented as a magical lane of a , ™on PMdicament of driving into the exact-chanjc change you thought y™ hj di8C°Ver y<>U d°n,t ^ ""

. fl0f the strength of invoking universal experiences in a ind'ca jg the faCt that, often, when a Btandup comic describes a ptescntatl° man experjence in setting up a gag, the audience will univer, Bv even before he gets to the punchline. Erma Bombeck start to lauggmile from readers just by asking, "Why does the bread can ®d on the floor jelly side down?" Calling to mind the always lan ^ entertaining. If you can add comedy or magic, or starting point you'll have an unbeatable combination. t0 1k about comedians should not lead you to assume that this ta -cnce ia Quly of value to the comedy magician. While universal w p0tential of this approach shouldn't be overlooked, our ^h humor ^ that universal experience can lend meaning prime ^"if universal experience is, by definition, shared experience, to an ePs. experiences bring people together. This type of and sna ^ helps draw the audience together and deeper into the presents a ^ providing the audience with a means of relating performance.^^ ^ own ^ves, you „ make them care about

"hot you're doing.

■ e T0U an example of a non-comedy use of universal Ut S" in nresentation. It's a presentation devised by Jay Sankcy experience ' *^^ ^ better knDyJn Hounted for ^ Baser if one has ever tried building a card castle. This is, Paf;t something that almost everyone has done at one time or * if' HTthen goes on to warn of unforeseen dangers in this £££ Everyone has heard of haunted castles. Well, even card raBtles can become haunted.

, ce huilt a card castle that became haunted and, even though he iB(ik the castle apart, the deck remains haunted to this day. To prove Ms c aL Jay performs the A1 Baker effect. This is not a comedy his cla m day pe mQre description-but it

"ect more of a point by relating it to the audience's own experiences.

Finally, here's an example of how universal e=e an effect that already has another source of mearnn« to amp y ] meaning. In my gambling lecture 1 demonstrate the secoi^ introduce the demonstration by saying, played blackjack and realized «»'«^¿^J^^diL

after you got you wouldn't have busted or that it you card the player before you got you would have had a blackjack^

Blackjack is one of the most popular card games that high school and college students play it_ 'IWore ^

virtually everyone ill the audience will be able to rec the common but frustrating blackjack playing experience cribed In fact, whenever I ask the question I ahv, heads in the audience nodding. I then go on to explain how a cheat could use a second H* , himself the card the player after him should have gotten,* ^ the plaver before him should have gotten. (Instead of W'^i solution or a magical solution, we have here a crooked soil ** common problem.) Now the second deal becomes important „ to a because it is a means of cheating at cards, but because it is a "0t cheating that would have come in handy in many situat7*an8'« spectator can readily think of from his own experience. "8 H*

Invoking universal human experiences, like the other sou« meaning we've discussed, provides the thinking magician »¡n?8 * more tool he can use to answer the question that is implicitly every audience: "So you're going to do a trick; why should I care?'


Surrealism as a category of magical meaning is difficult to define. ln fact, I'm not sure that "surrealism" is the most accurate name for what I have in mind here. But since I can't think of a better one, it'll have to do. Rather than worry about terminology, I'll concentrate on clarifying the concept through examples and analysis.

What I have in mind is a popular concept in modern close-up. The common thread that ties all such effects together is the tendency to play with the very nature of reality. I think the best way to explain what I mean is through examples. There are two themes that recur in surrealistic effects. The first is the suggestion that symbols are interchangeable with reality. The second is the notion that reality itself is malleable.

Symbol vs. Reality: In David Roth's "Stamp Trick" he takes out a rubber stamp, an ink pad, and a piece of paper. The rubber stamp reproduces life-size images of a half-dollar. After stamping three half-dollar images on the piece of paper, the performer folds the paper in half and tips it over. Out roll three real half-dollars. When the paper is unfolded it is now blank.

Replacing the half-dollars within the folds of the paper, the paper is unfolded to reveal that the half-dollars are gone but the three stamped images are back. The images become reality, then reality again becomes the image. Jerry Andrus uses a similar idea in "Mylar Mystery a trick where a picture of a yellow ball on an acetate sheet turns into a real ball when the sheet is rolled into a cone.

QuTck^Lt!1' T the Symbo1 and reality interchange is provided by a quick card trick performed by Rafael Benatar of Spain. He shows a 122

„f BDades and asks the audience what you cot if .

deXwn. Naturally, the answer is a nine. He'now turn T * 8UC "SeTupside-down; as he does so. it visibly «h^*^.** The Arabic numeral six is. after all, only a of

8articular reality, specifically, a particular quantity But in tK a Jrnagic. when you change the symbol by inverting ^^"i quantity in this case, the quantity of p,p8 on a card-also cW^ Paul Gcrtner has a card effect m which a spectator selects the thro* 0f hearts. When the performer attempts to locate the card ? produces instead the two of hearts. On being ,nformed of hia ^ introduces a small red self-adhesive sticker in the shape of a he'art He attaches this to the center of the deuce, making it look like a th™ of hearts. However, when the card is handed to the spectator he find« that it really is the three of hearts.

If desired, the Gertner trick could be brought full circle like the Roth trick. The performer could take the three of hearts back from the spectator and peel off the center heart, being left once more with the heart adhesive sticker and the two of hearts. Symbol becomes realitv then reality reverts to symbol. Yet another example of this concepts the "Twilight" coin trick in which a coin's reflection (symbol) becomes a real coin, then reverts back to a reflection.

A slightly different approach is taken in Roth's "Portable Hole." In this case, a round piece of black felt is introduced and called a portable hole. Clearly, this is not really a hole but only a two-dimensional representation of a hole, not unlike using a drawing of a hole. Yet when things are dropped into the felt "hole" they disappear just as they would if they had been dropped into a real hole. Here the symbol of the object does not turn into the real object as in the "Stamp Trick"; rather the symbol functions just as if it were the real object. The same is true of Dick Koornwinder's "Crazy Cannon." After having had a card selected and lost in the deck, the performer draws a small cannon on a pad of paper. Aiming the drawing at the deck of cards, he "fires" the cannon. A loud explosion is heard. On spreading through the deck, the selected card is now found to have a hole shot through it. Once again, the symbol of the object functions exactly the way the real object would have.

In David Harkey's "Pop Art," the paper with the drawing of the cannon is rolled into a tube. The cannon is then fired, causing smoke to pour out of the tube. When the paper is unrolled, the drawing is seen to have changed; the mouth of the cannon has actually been blown off by the explosion. Thus, the interchange between symbol and reality has been taken one step further.

Darwin Ortiz

This cartoon connection provides a key to the apD surrealistic magic. Cartoons have always had a 8nd He children. Their logic seems to make particular „8pecii>l J.N0( Magic, at its best, awakens childlike wonder in6"8® 1(5 eln 1 ><■ realistic effects do this by seemingly validating the k^Oc^S world.

Does the surrealism angle in magic really consft meaning? The concept behind substantive meaning' Substant will be more powerful if it deals with a subject that an eft Surrealistic effects deal with the very nature of reality ¿S '^Port^

of anything more important?


Subtext is a concept that arises often in film criticism. It refers to hidden message that a film conveys to an audience beneath ft surface of the story it is telling (the "text"). The subtext is literally ¡J "underlying message."

For example, most of the current crop of slasher horror movies carry a Puritan subtext: teenagers shouldn't have sex. (That's usually when the madman sneaks up and hacks them to pieces.) In the 1950s, many science fiction horror films dealt with outer space invasions in which the aliens took over the bodies of normal people and used them to infiltrate the Earth. This carried a 9trong xenophobic subtext. The message was: "Don't trust foreigners. They may look just like you and me, but inside they're different—and dangerous!"

In terms of the presentation of magic, subtext forms another dimension of the subject of meaning. It differs from the overt meaning derived from the text of the trick only in that subtext is a subliminal message that works without the awareness of the audience—and often without the awareness of the magician! Yet it can be a potent source of meaning for an effect.

No form of magic relies more heavily on subtext than mentalism. Consider A1 Baker's "Chickenfeed," a standard opening effect used by many mentalists. The performer has a member of the audience stand. He then writes a prediction on a notepad. The spectator now counts the loose change in his pocket. It comes to, let us say, a dollar and thirty-seven cents. The performer has someone read his prediction. It says, "$1.37." The text of the effect is, "The performer knows how much change a person has in his pocket."

If this overt text were the only message the trick carried, it would be a trivial exercise. After all, of what good is it to know how much change strangers are carrying around? If that were as far as the 126

Strong Magic t the performer would be demonstrating a strange but gutter w^je'nt rather like being able to wiggle one's ears. pointl0sS ^ subtext of the effect says much more. In the spectator's pj0wever. ^ ^^ knows that he has a dollar thirty-seven in his mind. son cket probably knows that he has a comb with three right luP th in his jacket pocket, a shopping list from his wife in his broken n j{ey tQ hj9 mistress' apartment in his left hip shirt po^oW'thing8 start to get interesting. The subtext of this effect pOCketJohnny Carson says. "The great Karnak sees all, knows all." you just can't keep any secrete from this guy.

. naiiy there is not much distance from conceding that a man ^m°know what's in my pockets to conceding that he can know what's 0311 . diary, and from there to conceding that he can know what's in ^soul A tongue-in-cheek patter line I sometimes use in my m"Vformances is, "The implications are frightening." This line actually -mns up an important element of my approach to presentation and also conveys the essence of what subtext is all about: implications. A comparison of several seemingly similar effects provides a good illustration of the importance of subtext. Card predictions may be divided into three categories: (1) the performer predicts a card that the spectator thinks of (for example, by means of an "Ultra-Mental Deck"); (2) the performer predicts a card that the spectator physically selects (for example, by means of a forcing deck); (3) the performer predicts a card arrived at "randomly." (For example: "Name a number between ten and twenty. Fourteen? Okay, count off fourteen cards. Fourteen is composed of a one and a four. One and four add up to five, so count down to the fifth card.")

Many performers will see these effects as very similar. (You know the type. The guy who says, "The methods are different but the effect is the same, and laymen don't care about method.") But the fact is that the second version will play stronger than the third and the first version will play stronger than the second.

This is partially because laymen intuitively sense that the more physical procedure involved in arriving at the card, the more opportunity is created for the performer to influence the process. But it's also because each version carries a slightly different subtext. The third version says that the performer can control random processes— impressive! The second version says that the performer can control my actions—disturbing! The first version says that the performer can control my thoughts—frightening!

An excellent insight into the subtext of escape effects was provided by ames Randi in a recent magic magazine article: "Escapology has one hmg going for it that probably made Harry Houdini such a superstar

ingful effect, in one case an impressive demonstrnt the other a mystical mystery. atl°n 0f

«kill and

Strengthening a Subtext: Let's look at a coimi strengthening a subtext that is already inherent in °f eXaUD] seen that mental effects generally carry a subte ^ "

whatever psychic power is being displayed actu*n lmpW J* hpvond the boundaries of the demonRtrQt;„_ .%

wiiaicvci k'J----- >------ ------- "«piayea actuall beyond the boundaries of the demonstration h ' 6xte»d8 Consider an elementary example of underscoring Perfe«hJ thrnnp'h natter. g this - ^

through patter.

"Out of this World" is one of the strongest effects in card ma one of my favorite tricks. At the conclusion of it I always turn? ** person who has just successfully sorted the reds and black« * comment that, if she has any tips on the stock market, the rest J'1 would be very interested to hear them. This line gets a chuckle b more importantly, it communicates the notion that this card e£ has uncovered a power within the spectator that may w ramifications far beyond the sorting out of cards.

Finally, I'll give you an example where considerable thought and analysis were required before I finally identified the subtext at work in an effect I was performing. This then allowed me to further strengthen that subtext.

The multiple card location effect of the type popularized by Eddie Fechter had never particularly appealed to me. It always seemed to me that the quickie-type location in which the spectator chooses a card and the performer finds it by means of some snappy flourish was a boring effect. I figured that repeating the effect eight times in a row would be eight times as boring.

But after seeing Michael Skinner receive a very strong reaction with an effect of this kind I decided to experiment with the plot. I put together the "Nine-Card Location" which appears in Darwin Ortiz al the Card Table. I quickly found that the effect had an enormous impact on an audience. I finally had to recognize that having nine cards selected, then finding them in rapid-fire succession, had a psychological effect on an audience far different from performing nine separate pick-a-card tricks in a row.

In part. I think this stems from the fact that the audience correctly senses that the problem of controlling the cards becomes far more difficult in a multiple location. With the deck being shuffled and cut m the course of locating each card, there would seem to be a great thenearlier 8ele?tioMk * ^ ^ 8elections in the pr°CeSS °f

"ulText Vhn0\her imP°rtant element the 8uccess of the triCk ¡VS

• ne structure of the effect is that all nine cards are se

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