More New Rules For Magicians

At the end of each broadcast of his HBO show, Bill Maher details new rules he feels should be mandatory for improving the collective quality of life. In November, I wrote a Vanish article featuring my magical version of Bill’s New Rules premise. I had a great reaction to the piece and many positive responses from readers. Frankly, I was somewhat surprised that I didn’t ruffle a few more feathers with some of my rules. Maybe I will do better his time. So ladies and gentlemen, in a spirit of sincere helpfulness, I would like to present my latest list of “Eight More New Rules For Magicians.”

Rule #1.  Try to remember what century this is.

When you look at the design and nature of magic props, it isn’t difficult to guess when some of them made their first debut. The Victorian era is clearly stamped on some items. (Yes, I’m especially looking at your change bags, and they frequently look like they were retrieved from the Egyptian Hall in one of those old-fangled H.G. Welles time machines.) If you really must use outdated props, have some style and arrive at your gig in a classic model T Ford. The other side of this coin is those “futuristic props” that look like leftover items from the old “Lost In Space” series. Why not go for a happy medium and think seriously about using props that look contemporary. If your props look like they represent the year you are performing in, they may well look less like “props” and more like items that you happen to be using on stage.

Rule #2.  Because you are a mentalist doesn’t mean you can read minds.

Nowadays, more mentalists and mind readers seem to be around than magicians. I guess it is just a sign of the times; I remember the time when you could count the number of dedicated mentalists on your fingers. Not any more. Many of these mentalists will try and convince audiences that they achieve their results by an unusually profound understanding of psychology and a powerful mastery of neuro-linguistic programming. No, guys, it’s usually a combination of tricks, switches, phony wallets, fake books, and electronics. I have noticed something of a trend amongst certain mentalists to get a tad arrogant about what they are doing. Don’t get carried away and believe your website. You are not wiser or more intelligent than an audience member who buys into your bullshit, so don’t give them “profound life changing advice” about their problems. It is all trickery, just like magic. As entertainers, we’re not descendants of philosophers or psychologists; we’re descendants of court jesters.

Rule #3.  (Pretty much) stop asking for free tickets.

There are occasions when it is just fine to ask a friend if you can attend their show on a comp ticket. Sometimes, that same buddy is looking for extra seats to be filled. If you are lucky enough to get a comp, arrive on time, be polite, and tip well. However, there are plenty of other occasions when you should just reach into your pocket and pay for your damn ticket. If you are taking up a seat that a paying customer could fill, you should think carefully about asking for the comp. If it is an ongoing show, you should inquire what performance would be the best for you to attend. The Magic Castle has a strictly limited amount of free guests, and any performer who appears there will attest that 90% of their guests want to visit the club on the Saturday night of their engagement, so be considerate. If you ask for comps from a performer you don’t know expecting free admission to their show because “I am a magician” does not cut it. 

Rule #4.  If you arent funny, dont tell jokes.

Not everyone is funny; this is an honest to God truth. Comedy may not be pretty, but it shouldn’t be painful. If you are not a naturally funny performer, then put away that Bob Orben joke book and instead find a trick that creates a humorous situationNo—this does not include doing the Baffling Bra Trick even if you do it with a guy! There are plenty of strong tricks with compelling situation comedy spliced right into their DNA. Why not skip the one-liners, but make a written note of any funny comments/observations/ad-libs that come up during your performances, and make sure they’re a regular feature of the effect. Eventually, you will end up with a humorous, laugh-filled sequence that doesn’t feature a single joke.

Rule #5.  Realize that most magic props arent great investments. 

The old joke is about the magician who panics in case, after his death, his wife sells his magic props for the dollar amount he told her he paid for them. Magic is not an inexpensive hobby or profession. A paper bag filled with new props from the magic store can often be carried with two fingers and still support a hefty price tag. I usually react in profound shock at the incredibly high sums paid for old props/books/posters at the latest Potter & Potter auction. My initial reaction is often to run to my magic room and survey the shelves for that special something that I might harvest for the big bucks. Sadly, I am left face to face with the realization that I am just not a savvy magical collector; I’m merely a magical accumulator. Damn! However, the good news is that there is a healthy secondary market for non-collectible magic props. Just remember to keep your auxiliary props protected in a Ziploc bag, complete with instructions, and perhaps you may break even on your purchases.   

Rule #6.  If they ask for 20 minutes, do 20 minutes!

Go on, be a professional. There may be a reason that the buyer asked for 20 minutes. Because the act is going over well does not constitute a legitimate reason for doing 40 minutes. It is a sterling exercise in self-discipline to stick to your running time and, at worst, will result in you getting home 20 minutes earlier and not irritating the act who has to follow you. Just as importantly, if the audience is not responding enthusiastically, don’t bail on your 20-minute show after 15 minutes. Feel free to ignore this ‘New Rule’ if the following act is something really annoying, like a mime. 

Rule #7.  Quit picking on David Blaine.

Why is it that picking on David Blaine is considered fair game in the magic world? The guy did a fantastic job of coming up with something new in magic. The scorn that some of magic’s top performers have poured upon Blaine seems more than a little like sour grapes. I have read quotes from people who should know better, saying that he doesn’t perform any magic you couldn’t buy for $50 in a magic store. Let’s see how many people out there can spend fifty bucks at Tannen’s and become an international phenomenon. We should be grateful for the fresh burst of enthusiasm, and new demographic David has brought to magic audiences worldwide. One last thing, dont ever reveal Blaines tricks to laypeople—let them spend those fifty bucks for themselves. 

Rule #8. Dont be a Jack of All Trades” on your business card.

A magician’s business card is still a powerful tool for booking future gigs. However, many magical business cards try to convince buyers that the person who presented it to them can perform stage shows, banquets, corporate events, kid’s parties, close-up, Illusions, walk-around, television appearances, and keynote speaking. This scattershot approach just looks amateurish and desperate. It no longer costs an arm and a leg to print an excellent business card. If you must proclaim yourself as an expert in all these fields, visit GotPrint online and get a series of different (and different looking) business cards, each highlighting a specific magical talent. No one who plans to book a magician for a corporate show is impressed that he can also make balloon animals. On a related note, if you want to book corporate magic dates, do not, repeat not, have a business card feature tacky clip art of a rabbit in a hat. You’re welcome! 

~ by Nick Lewin on February 8, 2022.

4 Responses to “More New Rules For Magicians”

  1. Nick, Well, these are hard thoughts, pieces of mind that

    People won’t or will not accept  because of the past; and things drilled into them from day one. Sorry, this damn society creates new ways of thinking and dealing with each other. Thank you for your hip, daily, and insightful wisdom.  (and that goes for your take on that wonderful, professional, piece that our mentors believed in….”The Baby Gag.” P.S. You remind me of a Miami Vice mafia LORD. Love and Best Wishes, TG.


  3. Yes, I agree with you on the statement that you wrote, “nowadays more mentalists and mind readers seem to be around than magicians.” Mentalists can read people’s minds predict what they want and what they will do next. This is a skill that has been used for centuries and is still widely used today. Thank you for sharing this blog. It was a great blog to read

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