Improving Your Comedy Magic Show…..
The following posts are taken from a recent article I wrote for Vanish Magazine. If you don’t get your free monthly download of Vanish Magazine you are missing a wonderful and FREE resource for magicians! Check it out at www.vanishmagic.com
Sadly there are no hard and fast rules you can apply to shaping or improving a comedy magic show. What is perfect for one person can be disastrous for the next. The only real fixed rule is that the more you perform the better chance you have of really improving your show. With a manipulative or illusion show a mirror and a video camera can go a long way towards refining and perfecting your performance. It is one thing to master the mechanics of the magic you are performing, however, putting comedy into the mix definitely complicates the rehearsal process and introduces an X factor. Constant performance is the only key that allows you to incrementally develop a timing that incorporates the inconsistencies that live audiences bring to the table.
Forty-five years of making a living mixing magic and laughs have definitely given me some heartfelt insights into the process of making this particular synergy work. The decade I spent headlining in comedy clubs was a wonderful training in making sure that the comedy in my show was as strong as the magic it contained. It is one thing to get laughs performing magic but quite another to really master both individual disciplines and achieve a blend that doesn’t sell either element short. The good news is that a strong comedy magic act can be immensely commercial and highly bookable. Lay audiences love to laugh; in fact most of them far prefer the experience of laughing to that of being fooled. Many magicians tend to forget this reality point; we particularly enjoy the experience of fooling and being fooled or we probably wouldn’t have become magicians in the first place; lay audiences are much less unified on this point.
What I want to do in this article is to set down a few steps that are well worth considering for the performer who wants to take his or her act to the next level. These steps and observations are based on performing experience I have made during a lifetime in magic and also spending quality time with world-class performers. I truly believe that serious thought about them will improve the quality of any comedy magic show. Do not forget though that however beneficial it is to think about things, it is only by putting those thoughts into application that you can really move forward. While these steps are primarily directed towards improving a show for a lay audience the basic principles hold true for performing to an audience of magicians. However, in this regard I will pass on some great advice I was given by the great Ken Brooke; “If you want to be a professional, never trust a magician’s response to your show or you will end up cutting out the bits that real people enjoy the most and adding things that mean nothing to non-magicians.”
One important thing to remember as you improve your act is that a strong magic show is never a static thing. It is the sum total of the person you are at the moment you are while performing it. I have seen many fine manipulative acts that mold a perfect 12-minute show and then continue polishing that same performance for decades. This really doesn’t work in the comedy field, and yet I see many comedy magicians who take the same approach. Times, attitudes and sensibilities vary very quickly when it comes to “funny” and need to be considered on an ongoing basis. “The Baffling Bra” may have been a viable piece of material a couple of generations ago but is scarily out of tune with contemporary times. No, I am not influenced in making this statement if you tell me, “It still gets laughs in the show!”
One of the chief complaints about comedy magic shows from serious bookers/buyers is the outdated nature of much of the comedy incorporated in the show. The last thing you want to do when presenting yourself as an entertainer is to look like someone who is out of touch with mainstream or contemporary audiences. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel, but you do need to realize that a great deal of comedy magic is very dated and needs to be freshened up. You don’t need to burn your Robert Orben books but you might want to seriously limit your jokes from it and then update them! Saying, “My act works the way it is (and always has) so I‘m not going to change it,” is a sure fire way to avoid improvement.