What makes a good opening trick, what makes something a feature trick?

•March 23, 2018 • 1 Comment

                                                                         What should my Opening trick be?

 Let’s keep this answer short. It should be a foolproof effect that effectively establishes your personality with the audience. You should have plenty of eye contact with the audience and remember that unless this trick works out well then you are stuck in a hole you will probably never dig yourself out of. If you don’t win ‘em now in all likelihood you never will. The effect should be clean cut, easy to grasp and appeal to the kind of crowd you are working to. Bringing a spectator or you leaving the stage is probably a mistake this early in the show


What is a Feature Trick?

 It is vital to construct your show so that it involves texture in the tricks that make it up. These tricks should be varied in content, tempo, length and execution. This is just good theatre. Don’t perform five card tricks in a row or seven tricks back to back where you bring spectators onstage. Sorry about that last one mentalists! Create an interesting and varied mosaic of magic to entertain your audience and this construction now becomes your ground zero as a performer.

Once you have achieved the basic framework of a balanced act, then you find the one effect that achieves more impact and interest than any of the others. You will probably discover that this happens automatically. Don’t overthink it, and make sure you chose the effect that the audience likes best and not the one that you personally favor.

Polish this effect still further, add a couple of surprise touches to it, or highlight the tempo to strengthen it. It might need a few more minutes to fully develop the plot, or it might need tightening up to add to its impact. Put the time, energy and sometimes cash into turning it into a genuine feature effect in your show. Think of it as the heart of act and make sure it powerfully pumps blood to all the extremities of the show.


A series of pointers for developing and improving your magic show.

•March 21, 2018 • 2 Comments

One of the mixed blessings of gradually finding yourself a ‘senior representative’ in the magic community is that you get increasing amounts of people asking advice about the performance of magic. It is definitely true that after 50 years as a full-time magic professional I have plenty of answers.

Nowadays I feel increasingly comfortable expressing my opinions, because to have an extensive ‘getting paid to perform’ background definitely teaches one things that you can only guess about when you are first planning and plotting to make a serious living doing something that is, to most people, just a rather expensive hobby.

Whether these answers of mine are right or wrong is a totally subjective matter, but they are certainly worth seriously thinking about. You might decide I am totally incorrect, and for yourself this might well be the case. However, one thing I can assure you is that they are pretty darn good questions that are worth thinking about and then defining and postulating your own responses.

With all this in mind I have formulated a 20-part checklist if you want to be a successful comedy magician. Most of the questions and answers are highly applicable or easily adaptable to every kind of magic. I have made my living primarily as a comedy magician since the ‘60s and feel most comfortable using that genre as my primary focus, however along the way my performances have embraced every aspect of magic with the exception of street magic or busking. Therefore if you peddle your performance on the pavement feel free to ignore every word!

I have a list of 20 pointers that might well speed up your learning curve and improve your show. I will dedicate my next 19 posts to the remainder of this list.


1      “How do I book a paying gig?”

 First you get together a show that is worth booking. Not a series of good trick tricks, but a fully developed show where the whole is greater than the various parts. Then you go out and perform that show every chance you get until it is polished and worth getting paid to see. It is always wise to remember that old saying, “An amateur rehearses until he gets it right and a pro rehearses until it can’t go wrong.” While it isn’t as snappy a ground rule but I would amend this to include automatically knowing what to do when things go wrong so that the audience doesn’t realize you messed up!

When you have your show ready to go, then just start performing it every chance you get, without worrying about the salary part. The more people who see you performing a good show then the more likely you are to get bookings. The necessary back up at this point is to have a good business card, a professional website and a strong video. I often notice performers who are trying to break into the business who become obsessed with their marketing/social media plans, while most of them would be far better served by polishing every factor of their acts.



Nick Lewin and Little Jewford at The Backstage in Austin, Texas.

•February 14, 2018 • 1 Comment

I had the very great pleasure of performing with my friends Little Jewford and The Durawa Band at The Backstage at El Mercado last night here in Austin during our Valentine’s Eve/Fat Tuesday Party.  Kinky Friedman has been lucky enough for the last forty years to have double threat funny man/musical maestro Little Jewford as his onstage “sidekick” I had the time of my life working with him again—-I can’t wait till the next time! I wanted to post a couple of short clips from our vignette together. It is my 6 Card Deja Vu Routine.

We also performed a piece that I haven’t used in a long, long time! I brought it out of retirement as a little tribute to the great comedian Marty Allen. I had just heard the sad news of my old friend’s passing the night before the show. Many magicians are not aware that Allen & Rossi featured and made the Banana/Bandana routine uniquely their own back in the ’60s in their show. I thought it would be fun to take this now, all too familiar, piece out of mothballs as a specially tip of the hat to this legendary funnyman.

If you have never seen Marty and Steve in their heyday look out some old clips from YouTube and enjoy their masterful performances. Marty was 95 years old when he passed and never stopped performing live. His energy and comedic timing never faltered through the years. In this picture you will see Marty and I accompanied by Marty’s lovely and talented wife Karon Blackwell who was his partner in performance and life. We are losing so many of our great comedian’s from the Golden years of comedy and it is so sad. Marty was kind enough to be the very first guest on my ’90s Las Vegas interview show “The Entertainment Files.” I will try and locate and digitalize the footage and upload it onto my blog.

This is my (somewhat rusty!) performance of his classic routine for that same “Backstage” performance.


Magic and Social Media: the dogs bark but the caravan rolls on………

•January 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment


I thought it might be an interesting idea to take a highly organized, methodical and scientific research on a carefully selected cross section of members of the magic community about their feelings on current interaction between social media and their lives. OK, what I actually did was choose some people at random from the address book on my computer and asked them to briefly describe what they love and hate about the relationship between magic and social media. This is close enough to science for the Internet, where Wikipedia has replaced the Encyclopedia Britannica as a definitive resource for answers!

The other question I asked my participants was to give a one-word description of the synergy between magic and the social media. I learned one important thing from my research, for the most part magicians have no idea of the concept of briefly or one-word! 

I have tried to be very careful to preserve the original tone and intent of the individual’s feelings when I have had to be selective in my editing. As you can imagine there was a great deal of duplication in these responses, so let’s begin by stating that we ALL seem to love the good magic on the Internet that glistens like diamonds in the pathway. Just as emphatically, the ‘bad’ magic and exposure that clogs up the digital highway is universally deplored and despised.

The lack of any universal guidelines or governing body make it important for a little self regulation to avoid cluttering up digital landscape with magical debris. Just because you have an iPhone and an Internet connection doesn’t mean you have to post that video. Magician, writer and producer David Regal put it succinctly, “Bad magic is bad for magic – good magic is good for magic. So, if the only thing people see is bad magic, our art – which is already frequently misunderstood – is cheapened.”

I had a pretty sneaky feeling that the replies I received would be influenced, in a significant fashion, by the age of the person responding. I was largely correct in my expectations that the younger participants in my informal survey would be more enthusiastic about social media than the more mature participants. Younger folk have grown up with the World Wide Web as part of their lives and can’t imagine life prior to it. I was also not surprised to find that members of an older demographic who had mastered their part in social media were delighted to find themselves in a new society where your physical age can only date you if you choose to let it.

One veteran magic superstar, Paul Daniels, shows exactly why he is still at the very top of his game and stays there by understanding and mastering the contemporary tools. Says Daniels, “What do I LOVE about the influence that social media is developing on magic? “The biggest advantage that social media has provided for those who are in the BUSINESS of magic is that advertising, whether paid for or merely by informing the public regularly of what you are up to, increases the public’s ability of who you are, what you do, and how to find you.  I use Twitter linked to Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo, and have recently added Instagram to the mix.”

My favorite quote gleaned from the ongoing correspondence was from one of the entertainment industry’s smartest managers, Rick Marcelli, founder of The Marcelli Company. Rick has a long and distinguished career that embraces almost every facet of the entertainment industry. In a future issue I am hoping to persuade Marcelli to share more of his advice and knowledge about the role of management for the performer. Marcelli has represented actors, writers and comedians in his illustrious career, however of particular interest in this particular story is the fact that he was largely responsible for shaping and launching the careers of magician’s such as David Copperfield, Jonathan Pendragon and Rudy Colby.

Marcelli is a frequent guest lecturer at UCLA on the topic of entertainment and social media. In a recent lecture he shared a statement that cut right to the heart about the matter of age and the Internet. He said, “To many people, the Internet represents change and the older you get the less you embrace change; but the only thing worse than change is becoming irrelevant.” Powerful words. Rick has signed his last seven acts because of their presence on Facebook and each one of them is a non-American act. He is able to sit in his office in Los Angeles and book his international clients on dates across the globe. This is a phenomenon that we could only have dreamed about twenty years ago.

Says Marcelli, “I use the tools of the moment and Facebook and YouTube are the most powerful form of marketing and promotion currently available. I want to go fishing where the fish are and Facebook is my fishing rod. However as a personal manager I am only as good as the tools my clients give me and if they supply me with good video material, on social media, that I can easily share, then we have the start of a powerful collaboration.” I was interested that Marcelli in no way found his role as a personal manager threatened by the fact that performers could now promote themselves so easily via social media. “There is an entire generation of performers whose heads are buried in their computers but have never fully mastered the art of communicating on the phone or in live meeting. That is where my job begins.”

My other favorite quote from my correspondence came from Teller (I am sure I have no need to say of Penn & Teller fame) who


put his enthusiastic embrace of social media in this manner, “The world has become one gigantic magic convention.  I love it.  It’s marvelous to be able to share obsessions — to teach, learn, argue, and love — unconstrained by geography.” Another complimentary response that really hit the mark came from David Regal on why he loves social media, “Immediacy. Magic is affected by the instant distribution of ideas, methods, and plots. At its best it’s a creative ferment. In the past this could only happen at gathering spots, small groups “sessioning” or audiences at conventions. Now, the world gathers.”

 Another top magical thinker Richard Webster is ultimately very positive about the future of magic on social media, “What is the synergy between social media and magic? In one word, I’d say confused or muddled. However, I’m hopeful that long term I’ll change that to beneficial, supportive or helpful.” Geno Munari the founder of Houdini’s Magic Shops gives the key to how this development may take place, “Social media makes the successful story teller better and separates the women/men from the hobbyists.  More writing creates better writers.  Social media requires good writing to hit the nail on the head.  Hitting the nail on the head is the key to success.”

Does YouTube exposure result in increased bookings? Well according to Rick Marcelli it certainly can, and according to “The Inventor” Kevin James it did, “I first experienced its power when I was on America’s Got Talent and my Operation Illusion went viral.  Talent agents from all over the world were googling best magic on AGT and I would pop up.  I still get lots of gigs from that video.  The Social Secretary at the White House found me there!  Anything that can help you stay connected to fans is also very good.” Tobias Beckwith, author/co mystery school founder adds, “As someone marketing magic and magicians, I’m all for it. Having a good commercial promo online and available for either finding or sending to a client with just a click–that’s fantastic. More than one booker has “found” one of my clients online, and called to hire them. Gotta’ love that!”

 Social media is also a great tool after you land the gig, as illusionist Rick Thomas comments, “The ability to promote the show on a massive scale in a quick and simple way for virtually nothing.” Jeff Hobson adds, “If you’re a traveling performer and have to put butts in seats, social media is a must.  Otherwise, I think it’s mostly an interesting way to pass the time. “While on the topic of passing time, Levent quite correctly observes, “The enormous amount of time consumed by social media.  Time, which in my opinion could sometimes be better spent: reading a magic book, practicing a sleight, developing a routine, performing for people and being present in the moment.”

Another performer who has hosted a highly successful long running show weighed in. Steve Spill, creator and star of Magicopolis commented in a quirky manner, “Personally I hate social media and would never use it, but professionally I love it as an advertising vehicle to promote tickets sales to my show.  It’s like a Petri dish.  That’s a little dish where you grow colonies of germs, microbes, et cetera.  Facebook is like a Petri dish.” I’ve never thought of the social media as a petri dish but I rather like it! Other interesting and offbeat observation came from Rolando Medina who observed, “It is a perception filter,” while Bizzaro put it another way, “Quite frankly, magic and social media is the new Wild West!”

Mac King, whose Las Vegas show has become legendary, responded—“It’s not that I have a “love/hate relationship with social media. It’s that I don’t have much of a relationship at all. I don’t constantly post things. I don’t regularly check out my accounts and see what others have posted. I know that I should do more, because I know that people feel that it’s important. And I’m trying to do it a bit more often. And I know there are consequences for my indifference. Here’s an example. For the past 12 years or so I have won Las Vegas Review Journal “Best of Las Vegas” awards in at least one and sometimes as many three categories. This year they went to Internet/text voting and didn’t care about stuffing the ballot boxes; they seem to be interested in collecting emails and cell numbers for their database. I completely understand their position, but because of my lack of social media acumen and my hesitancy to campaign for an award, this was the first year without an award. Anyway, I’m trying to do better. I do use YouTube a bit for audition-type purposes and I have recently started actually paying attention to Facebook. But it’s so crazy time consuming and I have a show to do and a wife to be a husband to and a daughter to be a father to, so my time is pretty tight.” That said, in my opinion, Mac’s success as husband, father and performer make up for any award that might be missing from his wall!

Richard Kaufman —a man I enormously respect as both a writer and as editor of the iconic magazine Genii responded to my three questions with admirable economy and precision of words,

  1. I love the fact that social media makes magic available to millions of people.
  2. I hate the fact that the people who are viewing the magic on social media have no frame of reference by which to judge what they’re seeing.
  3. (The synergy) can’t be described in one word, but I can give you four: “Simultaneously wonderful and catastrophic.”

Another celebrated writer and editor Matt Field showed his ability to say a great deal with the minimum of words.

“I love the fact that YouTube allows people to see great magicians of the past, like Tommy Wonder and Cardini, whom they might not have been exposed to.  The magic boards (Genii, The Second Deal, Magic Cafe) allow for discussions to take place.

I hate the fact that poor performances and inane reviews by newbies clutter YouTube and the Magic Cafe.  People erroneously believe that a YouTube video can replace reading and learning from a book.  In one word, how would

I describe the synergy between social media and magic? Inevitable.” That was my favorite one word synopsis yet!

As I suspected when I started to gather input for this article there is a distinct love/hate relationship between magicians and the social media. However, there is a general agreement amongst those of us in the business side of marketing magic that it is a sales tool that cannot be ignored! Susanne Lewis of Magikraft Magic says, “Social media can be informative and addictive – the problem is to hold the balance and sort through the crap, picking out what’s actually worthwhile. I wish I had a pre-sorter! It works amazingly for advertisement but you have to try not to overload your customers or they run. Main statement – as much as you might hate it privately  – you can’t ignore it for your business.”

I also particularly enjoyed Todd Robbins take on the questions I posed, “P.T. Barnum stated that the public needs to have seven contacts with an idea before it makes any impact. In days past that was the job primarily of traditional media and word of mouth.  Now, social media has taken over as the primary source for the dissemination of information. In regards to magic, social media can be a blessing and a curse.  Magicians are eager for fame and social media can help bring that to them.  But magicians also fear that their secrets will be exposed, and social media is more than willing to provide that too. Because it cannot be completely controlled, social media is like fire in that it can be of great service or burn you badly.  The challenge is make it do your bidding.  And how you can be the master of social media and not the slave is a secret few have figured out.

 What makes social media so mercurial is that everyone has a voice, a vote and an opinion, and though some have more weight than others, the differences are not significant.  Social media is a high tech element of word of mouth, but unlike traditional word of mouth, social media can spread an idea around far and wide instantaneously, and the results can be felt almost immediately. Although it will constantly evolve in the role it plays and how it is delivered to us, social media is here to stay.”

I want to thank everyone who shared his or her thoughts on this very timely topic. I also think it is appropriate to note that two of my very fastest responses were from magical philosopher extraordinaire Eugene Burger and Stan Allen the esteemed editor/publisher of “Magic Magazine. Both Gentlemen told me that their interaction with social media was somewhere between zero and non- existent. The fact that their responses were so immediate reminded me that true and timely communication has little to do with social media at all. An email or a phone call can often get the job done in the best manner possible!


I just want to throw in my own two cents on the questions I posed,

What do I love about Social Media and Magic? It is so international and immediate.

What do I hate about Social Media and Magic? A lot of the writing and magic presented has no relevance and context outside of social media. It sometimes makes me want to strangle people!

How to sum up the synergy between Social Media and Magic? Well worth watching how it progresses!

 I am going to leave the final word to my wife Susan who summed it up very nicely when she described social media in one word as “Intoxicating!”

This Article was written for, and published by Vanish Magic Magazine in 2015.


Watching a magic show like a real person, instead of a magician……

•January 20, 2018 • 5 Comments

There are vey few things more uncomfortable than watching the average magic audience responding to a magic show.     We magicians tend to sit with a fairly combative look on our faces and are then more sparing with our applause than it is possible to believe. An impartial observer might be tempted to believe that we are hating every minute of the performance until after the show when everyone discusses how much he or she loved it! This general negativity is a curiously contagious approach to the business of being a magician spectator. I have certainly found myself staring glumly at a magician and primarily rewarding him with an occasional muttered “Nice.” However, this is better than making a spoken comment about a secret move during an effect, and I have seen that happen a time or two!

I know we are all primarily trying to concentrate on what is being done by the performer, however, there is a very definite give and take between a performer and an audience member, and it is important that we enter fully into our part of the allotted interaction. Sometimes I am tempted to think that there is actually a fairly meditated ungenerous decision involved in not fully responding to the efforts of our colleagues and peers. It is almost as if responding warmly to others might in some way belittle our own talents. It takes a bunch of nerve and courage to perform for one’s contemporaries, and I for one want to try and fully express my utmost enthusiasm for their efforts, rather than sitting in some form of stolid judgment.



A few thoughts on performing ethics: or things I’m saying that shouldn’t need saying!

•January 16, 2018 • 2 Comments




One of the most fascinating elements of being a magician is how much great material is published to assist you in developing your craft. Entire routines and comedy monologues are available to help you develop your show. However, this doesn’t mean that you can cherry pick jokes and routines from performers at will. Because the material is out there does NOT mean it is fair game for performers to steal. There are some definite guidelines that not only beginners, but also seasoned pros, like myself, need to remind themselves about on an ongoing basis.

If you buy a routine for cash that includes a book, DVD, script, performance footage etc. then, unless otherwise stated, you have every expectation of being able to use that material in your show. The seller is making money by selling that information and it is a fair exchange. Of course, if you have not paid for that information, and have just snagged an unauthorized dub of the DVD, then you don’t have the right to use it. In neither case do you have the right to repackage this information verbatim, or with minimal changes, and then resell it in the magic market.

All this applies just as strongly and immutably to things comedic. Just because you like a joke doesn’t mean you can take it and add it to your show. You could of course ask the performer involved if you can appropriate the bit for your own use. You might be surprised at how often he or she would be delighted by your courtesy and grant you the right to use the joke with their blessing. You might even find they help you develop and adapt the piece so that it works better for you, all of this merely because you had the good manners to ask.

Last year I removed a great many pieces of performance footage from YouTube that really served no useful purpose in being there. There is a strangely prevalent notion that if something is on YouTube it is in public domain and open for individuals to use at random. NO, this isn’t so. There are a new breed of magicians who make a living collecting YouTube clicks, however, this is not the case with non-YouTube vendors. Respect other performer’s rights and you will improve the industry. You wouldn’t go to a magic convention and steal props from the dealers table, so don’t do it with something less tangible like a comedy concept or a joke.


It is a new and more politically correct world. Adapt or become irrelevant.

•January 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the mood of the times has changed dramatically when it comes to the contemporary sensibilities of audiences. Much as we veteran performers like to bitch about the trend of politically correct attitudes that are currently so prevalent: this is what is happening at this moment in time. Nothing about this looks like it is going to change very much in the foreseeable future so you had better get used to it, or realize you are becoming a dinosaur. I have had to bite the bullet and discard several of my favorite routines and jokes in order to remain relevant in today’s market. It is no good railing against the new trends and it is much more beneficial to wake up and smell the PC coffee. The younger generations just have different sensibilities and ideas, and we have to realize that their viewpoint is more valid and important than ours. We are the ones who are out of touch with contemporary standards regarding such integral areas as sexism, racism, and other hot topics. In the words of my old friend Jack Goldfinger, “It is easier to wear slippers than carpet the world.”

The vital guideline to follow is that if you have any doubts about your material then cut it out. What was okay five years ago may

Caution – Politically Correct Area Ahead

not work today, and saying; “Well, it still gets a laugh,” just doesn’t cut it anymore. Take the time to edit and rewrite material that is outmoded. Even if the new version doesn’t get you as big a laugh initially, it will do when the line is adapted, developed, and broken in. Magic has a pretty well deserved reputation for generally being corny, dated, and sexist–don’t add to it!

I for one recognize that The Times They Are A Changin’ and want to put in that little extra time to make myself culturally relevant and acceptable. I have noticed a great many magicians huff and puff and take a righteous stance as though they are filling some vital role by fighting the growth of “political correctness” when in fact they are actually just being lazy and remaining mired in the past. I refuse to have that happen to me. As you can tell from the photo above with the great Kinky Friedman, my true heroes are not PC folk! I really think this is an issue that needs to come from the mind not the heart. The effect of ignoring it hits the wallet and the work.


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