Be Yourself, everyone else is taken!

NickLewin-DW-0041smThe title of this blog post really contains the full text and message! It is certainly not an original statement and I can’t lay claim to coming up with it. It is however a really important concept that it is always useful to remind performers about.

Magic is one of the rare creative forms where you can buy fully developed, and carefully articulated hunks of material. The fairly common jibe from comedians is that unlike a fully-fledged comedian it is possible for a magician to go into a magic store and buy a act. While this isn’t quite true, it is painfully close to being so—it just won’t be much of a show! This certainly isn’t the case with a good comedy act. The closest you could do is buy a book of jokes, and turning joke book gags into a professional act is like trying to rearrange alphabet soup into a best selling novel!

They are wonderfully different art forms comedy and magic, but when you combine them you are truly walking a bit of a tightrope. There are many magnificent routines that are immaculately thought out and detailed, which are sold to magicians as complete units. There is a correspondingly large quantity of magicians who are hobbyists and enthusiasts who quite simply do not have the time, skill or opportunity to create an entire show of original material. You can’t beat a supply and demand situation!

Hand in glove with that last statement is the fact that a great many magicians make a nice living or a nice addition to the bank IMG_1521balance by using their skills to create cool routines for other magicians to perform. I think it is fair to say that there are quite a few writers/magical inventors who wouldn’t make nearly as much cash if they just performed these routines themselves instead of retailing them to the magical fraternity.

The comedy world is a little different in so much as there are relatively few amateur or hobbyist comedians. The people who might fit into this description are usually referred to as class clowns or office wags. Without the original material needed to make it past an open mike night at the neighborhood bar a “wanna’ be” comedian’s act (or lack of it) pretty much just withers and dies on the vine. This is just the way it is, it is all about the material for a comedian, and it has to be original in this day and age.

A hobbyist magician often fails to appreciate the value that is placed on an original joke, and when I say value I am talking about hard cash! A simple original one-liner might be sold to a comedian for several hundred dollars. You can’t make a living as a comic just by dipping into a Robert Orben joke book from the ‘50s, or repeating the joke you heard Jimmy Fallon tell on the Tonight Show the night before. A comedy magician who is paying his dues can often get away with comedy that a dedicated comedian can’t. He can dazzle you with his magic or baffle you with his bullshit and get away with murder in the comedy department.

Nick-37There is nothing right or wrong about any of these facts, they are just the way it is. 90% of magicians simply do not work often enough to fully develop strong original acts, and an entire (huge) industry has sprung up to supply them with made to order material. He can buy a great routine that might even have a fully realized script that goes along with it. This allows him to cut his learning curve down immensely of course. However, there is one little problem—several hundred or thousand other magicians may have bought that same DVD or book.

The sensible thing to remember is that the routine you purchased may well be a fully finished product, but it is also just a jumping off point for the creative performer. Learn the rhythm and understand the structure of the routine you purchased (and it is important to do that—don’t change things around before you know the workings of what you are tinkering with) and then build on it. Make it your own and you will be entering a new level of skill as an original performer.

The very simplest way to make a piece of material your own is by adding your own personality to it. photoYou bought the material, however if you borrow the style, timing and personality of the person who created it then you have become something less than yourself in the scheme of things. By bringing yourself into the mix you change the entire equation and have become a co-creator, which is a very much stronger role than merely someone who performs other peoples words and actions by rote. At first you might lose a laugh or two or a little bit of impact when you initially develop and transform that purchased material, however within a surprisingly short space of time you might find something much more important—yourself.

Or to put it another way, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken!”

~ by Nick Lewin on June 26, 2015.

4 Responses to “Be Yourself, everyone else is taken!”

  1. Great stuff again Nick!
    By the way, the “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” quote is widely, and I believe accurately, attributed to Oscar Wilde.

  2. From the first day I met Mr. Lewin, back in February of 1976 until now; he has always lived AND performed by this motto. No one sounds or acts like Nicky! More on the subject: I remember reading Fred Kaps’ lecture notes from Ken Brooke even earlier where Fred remarked; “Don’t copy someone else, it will never work.” And Don Alan’s thoughts? Not enough room available. He did an entire lecture on ethics at the 1975 SAM convention in Chicago. It was something else! He even named “names” of the copyists and thieves! Very controversial AND very right! Today, the list would go on for hours!
    Thank you Nick for the great advice! I hope enough people read and heed!

  3. I have always understood that this quote was from Oscar Wilde but there is a certain question — as with so many great quotes!

  4. Thank you Tim!

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