If you have been following my writings you are probably aware of the huge respect I have for the late, great Maurice Fogel. I wanted to write another brief column about this magnificent showman and try and define why he holds such a huge place in my heart both as a person and a performer.
If you never saw Maurice perform then you missed a very visionary entertainer who understood things that would not become standard thinking until several generations after his death. Fogel was more than just a ‘mindreader,’ he was an al-round entertainer with an understanding of his medium that is only now being appreciated by those of us who were lucky enough to experience his approach.
There was nothing about Fogel’s work that said, ‘Look how clever I am’, he appeared to share amazing abilities in a humorous and totally human manner. His incredibly dynamic presentation was tempered by a humorous approach that maximized the impact of his amazing feats. An audience could never have a moments doubt that this was a very real person who just happened to be performing unbelievable effects.
If an audience had a tendency to believe in psychic phenomena then they had every reason to believe that what Maurice did was genuine. For non-believers, Fogel’s humorous approach allowed them to enjoy what he did and retain a ‘wink and a nod’ about the nature of his material. To put it another way, he had the best of each and every world.
The impressive result of the ‘Fogel Approach’ was to disarm and up-end the average audience’s expectations. That to me is the most effective way to make a real dent in the audience’s skepticism about a performers ‘hidden powers.’ Max Maven and Jon Stetson are just two of the contemporary mentalists who have understood this approach and used the insight to pay great dividends in their work, and I love both of them.
Maurice managed to be larger than life and yet very much part of your life, it was a very neat juggling act that was as effective as it was endearing. No one likes a smart-ass, (though magicians love to buy their ideas) who puts their abilities beyond that of their viewers, and the same is true of any magician who takes himself too seriously. There is nothing more ‘icky’ than a magician who doesn’t realize his audience is a jump ahead of him.
Rather than appear obnoxiously proud of his skills, Fogel just appeared delighted that they were functioning and working. This created an invisible bond with his audience that allowed his spectators to become part of his triumphs. This was the ultimate ‘win-win’ way to sell believability of the unbelievable. Mentalism is now the ‘approach de jour’ of professional magicians; Fogel was years ahead of his time in his choice from the magical menu. It would be amazing to see the impact of a Fogel performance now that what he did is the mainstream of magical entertainment instead of a sideline. He would kick ass big time!
What can you take away from my ‘Fogel Revisited’ Blog? Well, if you want to know more details about my frequently expressed praise about Maurice’s approach to Mentalism then you might want to read some of my previously published writings. However it would be even better if you seek out the routines and writings about this giant of magical entertainment–there is MUCH to learn.
I was proud to be a friend of Maurice; I learned a huge amount from this remarkable performer and what I learned is more valid today than ever before. English mentalist Derren Brown is a contemporary master of mental magic but he stands on the shoulders of Fogel, who was as ahead of his time as he was part of his time. It sometimes seems that every magician wants to be a mentalist now; to paraphrase the song Fogel was a mindreader before mindreading was cool.
He was a true hero to me.