Thanks to Billy McComb, the King of Comedy Magic (part one)

People seemed to like my short (really short!) post on comedy the other day, so I wanted to share a piece I wrote about Billy McComb and his contribution to comedy and magic. This is part one…………..

I ultimately planned on becoming a comedy magician just after I decided not to follow in my father’s footsteps as a chartered accountant. It really wasn’t too tough a decision. I loved magic, and when it came to numbers I could make one and one add up to three quicker than a quantum physicist.

Growing up in post war England made being a comedy magician seem like a logical choice. With logic like that maybe I should have been a quantum physicist! Now, being an entertainer is my life but I have no real way of proving it.

One of the best parts about being a young magical devotee in London were all the great comedy magicians you could watch, absorb and learn from. As you are probably beginning to realize nearly everything I learned about comedy magic came from two people: Ken Brooke and Billy McComb. I don’t think you could find two better or more different teachers.

I want to take this opportunity to share some of the insights I learned from Billy McComb. They have shaped me into the performer that I finally became, after I realized I could never become Billy.

You have never seen a comedy magician take his comedy as seriously as Billy did, he gave the comedy in his act the same meticulous attention he gave his magic. Billy’s timing and delivery of a comedy monologue was that of a comedian, not just a magician with time to kill. His casual asides and offhand delivery were as precise as a Johnny Thompson dove steal.

There is no question in my mind that, but for his love of magic, Billy could have been one of England’s top comedians.  Billy has noted Jay Marshall as one of his inspirational mentor so maybe it‘s no coincidence that this same statement applies to Jay in the United States.

Before we talk about the McCombical approach to comedy, let me give you some of my ideas on comedy as it applies to magic. Having made a comfortable living for over thirty-five years performing comedy magic I’ll state one thing upfront: the comedy is tougher than the magic. It can take years to perfect a trick, but you might never learn to be funny.

There are no books that teach you the ABCs of being funny and it makes no difference how long you practice in front of a mirror. Only by performing to a live audience can you improve your laugh ratio and even with copious experience this doesn’t happen automatically. Along the way you need to take a lot of notes and then you have to put the notes into application.

If you want to save time and effort and be funny, it is much easier to be a humorous magician than to perform stand-up comedy. A humorous magician is someone who lets the situation create the comedy and then comments upon what happens.

Monologue comedy is a much more exacting mistress. A stand-up comedian chooses and uses his words with the same care a surgeon utilizes in choosing where and what he cuts.  Cut being the operative word. After fifteen years headlining in comedy clubs I can assure you the way comedian’s improve their acts is by cutting out unnecessary words.

The great Henny Youngman demonstrated this to perfection when he said: “Take my wife, please.”  He packaged a set up and punch line into just four words and ended up with a trademark joke that will live forever. Brevity is truly the source of all humor.


~ by Nick Lewin on August 24, 2011.

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