Manners and Class in Magic. Not quite a rant!

This is a blog entry that shouldn’t need to be written so obviously I am going to do it anyhow! I am often amazed at how little class magicians show the audience members who assist them during their show. While this isn’t a gigantic epidemic, it is really ugly when it arises.

Every now and then you see a magician treat an audience member in a dismissive manner that really borders on insulting. Let’s put this in perspective, I consider giving them insufficient instructions about what they are supposed to be doing onstage is definitely high on this list. It ain’t right.

When someone is removed from their seat in the cozy dark of the audience and thrust into the brightly lit stage environment they need to be paid attention to. You don’t need to handle them with kid gloves but you should certainly have the courtesy to look at them and talk to them and not use them as unpaid props.

The confusion that can result from dropping the assistant unexpectedly in the middle of things and allowing very natural tentativeness and their lack of awareness of what’s going to happen and what their role is supposed to be, should not be used to garner a single solitary laugh. Act classy and the crowd will assume (even if totally mistakenly) that you are classy—- it’s money in the bank to a smart performer actually.

You shouldn’t bully an asistant by repeatedly harassing them about whether the ball is under the cup or in your pocket. The damn thing is a Chop Cup and the ball is where ever you want it to be! Are they there as a genuine representative of the audience or as a butt for laughter from the rest of the audience—who are just delighted it isn’t them up there!

If ever there was a moment to clear out any hack lines from your presentation it is when they are directed at an audience volunteer. You may not believe this but as recently as this month I heard someone deliver the old, “Give me your hand, no the clean one! Oh that was the clean one!” I will add, “Give me your left hand, no, your other left hand,” to this outdated and ‘can’t discard fast enough’ list.

Let your assistant get a laugh or two of their own, with a little bit of thought you can create a moment or two where this is likely to happen. Often your assistant will genuinely say something that is funny—-and which you can quietly make funnier with your take on the line. When this happens, make a point of selling it to the audience. Take the time to at least pretend to crack up (no-matter how many times you may have heard the response before) and say jokingly say something like, “I love it when the audience is funnier than I am!”

Having said all the above, I must be honest and admit that watching Amazing Johnathan ignore/decimate/ridicule/deride and generally bully his onstage dollar bill donor is one of my primal joys in comedy magic! However, AJ is a force of nature and has the ability to re-write any laws of good taste that apply to other performers. He is also one of the most genuinely likeable comedian magicians working today. That is why it works.

If you want laughs in your act then do something funny or write a good joke, don’t pick on somebody who is unprepared for what is going to happen; while you have the situation pre-planned and pre-set jokes galore. Look at the big picture and be funny and classy—think about the way Michael Finney involves (a very carefully chosen word there—involves) his onstage assistant during his classic rope routine.


While mentioning Michael, I want to congratulate him on the 6-month contract he just signed to appear in the new show ‘Avant Garde’ at the newly re-gentrified Plaza Hotel in downtown Las Vegas. His run begins in February and if you have the chance to catch him then DO SO. You can forget everything I’ve written here and just go watch someone who has done it right for so long that it is second nature!

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~ by Nick Lewin on January 18, 2012.

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