Political Correctness is not a momentary phase. Get used to it.

•June 29, 2016 • 11 Comments

BC5D4288I was recently reading a thread on a magic themed FaceBook page that was triggered by a complaint about a female audience member who complained about the use of the term “You guys…” when addressing an audience of men and women. I was more than a little shocked to hear her described as dumb. While this particular case is obviously a “tip of the iceberg” example, I am continually amazed at the myopic viewpoint the magic world tends to display in its inability to keep up with current trends. What are we—a bunch of ’50s Borscht Belt comedians caught in a Twilight Zone time warp?

The American scene has become VERY politically correct. My youngest daughter used to be incredibly apt to correct my errors in this area. She is now an English professor at UC Irvine and is amazed by the level of political correctness in her students. The world has changed and if you don’t want to be left behind, considered inappropriate, or just old–grasp this fact.AcornWorkflow-2015.01.08 13.12.40

If you don’t want to be considered old, rude, or maybe even irrelevant, then take careful note of some of these factors and perhaps re-think some of the phrases you use. Saying, “I have always said/done this,” is a pretty sad and sorry excuse for not evaluating the way you communicate. Think about how many words and phrases were used when you were younger that you would NEVER think of saying now! Jerry Seinfeld wrote a great article, well worth Googling, about this topic that is well worth reading at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/08/jerry-seinfeld-college-politically-correct-racism-sexism_n_7534978.html and now he will no longer perform in colleges because of the level of political correctness now demanded by the audience. He, of course, has enough money and fame to walk away from ANY kind of work he doesn’t want to do. Do you? Just as well worth reading is a letter that was printed in response at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-berteaux/jerry-seinfeld-politcally-correct-college-student_b_7540878.html

Comedy magic has a well deserved reputation for being sexist and politically incorrect, we each need to take a long, hard look at what we are saying and doing. I recently did, and made a few changes that were painless and appropriate. I am very glad I did and it has improved my work considerably. I’m lucky enough to still be getting “A level” gigs at great money, I want to keep it that way. If you still feel $_1that being onstage and pretending to steal a woman’s bra, while she assists you in a routine, is so worth the cheap laugh it gets you—you may be seriously out of touch. There are plenty of other ways to get a replacement laugh that are more in line with contemporary thinking, “It gets a laugh…” is not a valid response, neither is “But I do it with a guy onstage….”

For every one person who complains about politically incorrect remarks in a show, there are many more in the audience who probably feel the same way. I do a magical version of the old vaudevillian “Doctor Sketch” in my show that I have left untouched in it’s full politically incorrect glory, as a tip of the hat to a roots element in our work—however, it is a very obvious choice/decision that is nothing to do with any “ostrich head in the sand” form of failing to observe current trends.

Do you want a large (and pretty darn sophisticated) segment of your audience to think you are out of touch or offensive? Just my personal opinion, but I am a pretty savvy entertainer who has made a good living for a lot of years and plans to continue doing so until I decide to stop. Magic is pretty damn dated at best — just look at how many props look like they were designed in the Victorian era. A conscious decision to keep up with the times politically is a smart move that loses you nothing but gains a lot commercially.


 

The correct use of baggies! (just eat the damn sandwich…..)

•June 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I remember vividly the time that I saw Billy McComb at his most animated and excited; he had just been to the supermarket and bought a box full of clear plastic, zip lock, baggies. He was practically shaking with delight as he showed them to me.It seemed, even for Billy, rather eccentric to get this excited over little clear sandwich containers, but as usual when I gotthe actual drift of his thinking I started to share his enthusiasm. He wasn’t planning on taking along a ham and cheese sandwich to his next gig but had a loftier vision. Before long Billy had all the items from his vast working repertoire contained in different sized, heavy weight baggies.Each trick

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was carefully packed inside its own baggie, with every item needed for the performance contained within it.On the outside of each bag was written in felt-tip pen the name of the trick inside the bag.The main advantage of this method was of course that you didn’t arrive at your gig and find that a reel, pen, thumb tip or handkerchief that was vital to the effect was missing. In fact better still you could survey the contents of each bag without even opening it and double check that all the replaceable items, for example; thread, flashpaper, envelopes etc. had in fact been replaced.

It was such a simple and effective idea that only a genius like McComb could have developed it. Of course, being Billy, he did get a Nick,Dad,Billy_2little carried away and he extended the idea to coffee shop items. He almost always had a baggie full of miniature containers of sugar, creamer, tea bags etc. in his pocket somewhere.

On one of my very first meetings with Billy at a very youthful age, he showed me the old trick where you appear to stick a coin on your forehead and when you remove it and hand it to the spectator to duplicate your action, there is a blood red nail sticking out the back. It wasn’t the trick that Billy seemed to enjoy so much as the fact that he had fashioned a cork with a hole in it that fitted the gimmicked half crown and made it a considerably easier and safer prop to carry around in your pocket. He gave me the faked coin in its cork as a present. I didn’t realize it at the time but this was to be one of my first lessons in the art and science of packing and handling props.

I remember being highly impressed when I observed how legendary magician Piet Paulo managed to keep his working shoes ‘unscuffed’ and polished on the road by keeping theminside old socks. Simple and easy and something I do every time I pack my suitcase. The shoes packed out with black socks and delicate props from the show.

I have taken these two ideas and combined them into my current system, which involves keeping all my props inside Crown Royale bags. Of course everything looks like everything else and it isn’t half as practical as the baggie system—-however I do love those purple bags!

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Young Sparky meets Mr and Mrs Electric.

•June 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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There is a tiny group of people in the magic world that just make you feel better just by knowing them. Right at the top of this select list of truly special people were Marvyn and Carol Roy. I really don’t believe you could find two nicer people and better ambassadors for magic than Mr. & Mrs. Electric.

My earliest memories of seeing this dynamic duo was watching them on the family television set when I was a kid growing up in England. As a budding magician I remember watching in amazement at that seemingly never-ending string of lit bulbs emerged from Marvyn’s mouth. It was one of the coolest pieces of magic I had ever seen.

Years later my very first club date in America was at the Elks club in Long Beach, California. This particular booking coup was a stroke of good luck that was going to add a whole eighty bucks to my worldly wealth. I was very excited and ready to take the ‘Elks’ by storm.

The day of the show arrived and after a one-hour drive to the city of Long Beach I made myself known to the powers that be when I arrived at the club. I was directed backstage to meet up with the other acts on that evening’s bill.

It is astounding how often the bookers for these kinds of organization make irrational decisions as they go about their duties. Thisroybio3 particular booking, however, was in a class of it’s own. The entertainment committee had determined that four acts would be an appropriate line-up to entertain the members for this particular event. The booker had then inexplicably decided that the perfect selection for the occasion would be two magic acts and two jugglers.

Furthermore the committee had determined that the ideal running order would be to have the two magic acts perform in the first half of the show and after a brief break, to conclude the event with the two jugglers. Maybe they were drinking too much and instead of seeing double they were thinking double. Of course, there is no payment for the job of booking entertainment at a service club and perhaps it is bookings like this that are the reason.

Upon arriving in the dressing room I discovered that my fellow magic act to be featured on the bill was none other than the iconic Mr. Electric and Carol. I was very impressed and also somewhat astounded when Marvyn (for that is indeed Mr. Electric’s first name) suggested that he opened the bill and leave me to close the first half. I giddily felt my stock in the magic world must be on the rise. Hmmmmmm.

MarvynRoy2To cut a painful story short, Marvyn and Carol opened the show with a dynamic set that featured brilliantly constructed and highly customized versions of every single trick I was about to perform. These routines were all carefully adapted to the electrical theme of their show. My heart sank into my boots as I watched them.

Marvyn and Carol destroyed the audience with their performance. I followed and while I didn’t die on stage I was certainly quite sick! I did the floating ball; Marvyn had floated a lit light bulb. I cut and restored a rope while he cut and restored an electric cord; attached to a line of light bulbs. I performed my ‘electric chair’ and Marvyn did the Electric Chair! It was truly a nightmare for a young magician who lacked the ability to substitute anything much in his act.

After the show we went to grab a late night meal at a local ‘Bob’s Big Boy.’ Nothing in my magical experience had prepared me for the pure adrenalin rush of a post-show Marvyn Roy. His enthusiasm and expertise were all focused on helping this newcomer to see a vision and future for his show. It was a delightful avalanche of advice and magical wisdom.

Marvyn was very kind and he especially praised my version of the classic Chinese Linking Rings. Possibly this was because it was the only trick from the Electric’s show that I hadn’t duplicated. In fact, in what I later discovered was pure Marvyn he planned an entire act for me based on the theme of linking things together.

The first thing that must be done was to change my name to Link Lewin. “What you should do,” said Marvyn, warming to his jackie beat (330)theme, is purchase the Himber Ring Trick. This amazing piece of magic would allow me to link genuine finger rings borrowed from the digits of audience members.

The very next day I drove into Hollywood to Joe Berg’s magic store and made a fifty dollars deposit on the prop needed to accomplish this very trick. Thank you Marvyn, it was the best investment I have ever made in magic. Every magician needs one special trick to make his own and thanks to Mr. Electric I had found mine.

I never did change my first name to Link, but due to my encounter with this gracious and friendly master magician I had taken a huge step forward in my career as a magician. I also learned something else that has stood me in good stead over the years. I never again felt flattered at being asked to close a variety bill and like any true pro I would just say; “You know, it might just be better for the show if I open.”

I recently read the wonderful memoir that Marvyn penned called ‘Mr. Electric: Unplugged.’ I can’t say enough about what an inspiring and enjoyable book this is. Not many magic books grab your interest and hold your attention like this one.

This book is so good that you begin reading at a feverish pace, until you realize you are half way through it and then you slow down so as to treasure every story. Thank you Mike Caveney for publishing this gem. Sadly Carol is no longer with us but Marvyn is still very much part of our magic community affecting youngsters with his generosity and knowledge.

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Visiting with William. Happy Days….

•June 5, 2016 • 2 Comments

ROLL2DX-32One of my greatest joys in magic used to be visiting with Billy McComb in his various ‘Mad Magician’ residences. I have more happy memories about Billy than one would believe possible, however it was always a special joy to see the deranged magic museums he liked to call home. What follows is just a peep at two of his residences. Maybe I will expand on the list in a future article.

Billy’s apartment house in Tuffnell Park, London, was a classic example of the controlled chaos that was so large a part of the charm of the residential McComb. I have my sneaky doubts that some of his actual tenants might have had slightly more ambiguous feelings though. However with a gentleman landlord with the charm and wit of Billy I’m sure they never dwelled on the negatives.

I remember visiting Billy in the rather quirky and rambling old building once with my wifeIMG_1519 Susan. Billy had lived with us in Los Angeles for a while and so we were prepared for a certain level of confusion. What we weren’t prepared for was the visceral excitement that exuded from Billy as we entered his basement domain.

Billy had just visited the ‘Ideal Home’ expo and bought the ‘next and greatest new thing’ and couldn’t wait to tell us about it. “It is very simple, old thing” He said, “Perfect for the smaller apartments; it’s a combination wash hand basin and shower!”   The strange part was that it really kind of made sense, in a crazy way. It consisted of a wash hand basin that could slide down to floor level and a faucet that slid upwards to make a showerhead. Only Billy, with his tireless Irish optimism could have looked at this device without foreseeing IMG_1527terrible disaster.

The instillation of these devices was just prior to the flood that enveloped his apartment building and caused priceless damage to his wonderful magic collection. One thing that survived the ‘second’ great flood was the ‘Door.’ This wasn’t any door but the door to the ‘Jay Marshall Suite’ in his building. I have posted a copy of this photo on my Facebook page where you can examine it in detail and revel in the assortment of signatures that adorned it. They are a who’s who of magic.

Any visiting magician in London was casually invited to stay in the ‘suite’ and many did. Not just the famous and the infamous but the regular guys too. Everyone signed their name on the door and it became a wooden artifact equivalent in value to the Philosophers Stone, to a card-carrying alchemist. I am delighted to share a photo of it taken by my good friend, great comedy magician and all round Kiwi good-guy Mike Easterbrook. I took the rest of the photos in Billy’s condominium in Los Angeles.

Billy’s Hollywood Condo was a magic explosion in the nicest sense of the word. Piles of magic books, props, photos, priceless relics and awards were piled in dangerously teetering piles and columns throughout the condo. A small refrigerator in the kitchen was filled with the English candy bars, cookies and muffins that seemed to be the sole food that Billy existed on—other than the occasional scrambled eggs that he ate on the magic summits he held at every ‘Denny’s’ coffee shop in Los Angeles.

One thing about Billy that people might not be aware of was his total dedication to the cleanliness of the eating (and tea-stirring) utensils in his day-to-day environment. There was a part of Billy that never quite forgot his first incarnation as a fully trained but never practicing doctor. You might not want to look too closely at some of the other elements, but by God, in his establishment you wouldn’t find a fork with a potentially germ containing ridge in it.IMG_1545

This condominium was owned by Billy, however the day-to- day running of things was left to his beloved dogs. They were friendly, loving and on the wall was a sign Billy had placed that said it all. ‘I just want to live up to my Dog’s opinion of me.” As soon as Billy sat down in his comfy chair the two dogs would run at the chair and simultaneously climb to their places on the back of the chair, with each resting it’s chin on Billy’s shoulder.

When Billy had an idea, or thought of something he needed to print out for you, he would make a dash for his desk and rummage through the contents looking for something in particular. The amazing part was——he usually found it! I have tried to photograph as many magicians seated at their desks as I possibly can and the photo of Billy at his desk with this article is my very favorite. It just seems to say it all.

The printer next to Billy’s desk wasn’t your average, ‘Buy it Monday—broke by Wednesday’ kind that you buy to go with your laptop computer. It was a heavy duty and top of the line model that was one of the apples of Billy’s eye. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to make note of a topic you were interested in and then to mail you copious photocopies of invaluable information on the subject. I have boxes full of them that I 1896961_10152834943458460_2039070401720692221_nprize.

Oh, I could write for hours about the many joys of counting Billy as a friend, but the simple joy of sitting in his condo and sipping tea as you talked magic would count high on the list. There may be something more fun to do in the magic world but I am yet to find it. I wanted to use this opportunity to share some visual reminders of these special moments.

Favorite après Castle Haunts and Hangouts from the earlier years!

•April 7, 2016 • 4 Comments

RN-138-1I received an email from Steve Valenti in which he described his late night/early morning visits to the Snow White coffee shop with Johnny Platt. This particular greasy spoon probably holds many a magical memory. The clientele were as bizarre a bunch of misfits as you were ever likely to meet. Believe me the magicians who visited were the least weird!

The Snow White was (I think it still is!) located on the end of Hollywood Boulevard nearest Highland and just around the corner was the Power House Bar, which was something of a spiritual partner to the Snow White. Johnny had patronizing the Power House Bar for many decades and somehow failed to notice that it had turned into a biker bar. Steve recalls him and Johnny being the only two people in the bar without tattoos.

It was often the case that the very best Magic Castle moments weren’t actually in the Castle at all. When the final drink was served, the front door locked and your car retrieved the next decision was where to go for coffee. There was quite a selection of suitable establishments in the vicinity and I think I explored them all.

If you were lucky enough to have McComb in the group then you tended to head to the ‘Rock & Roll’ Denny’s on Sunset, which is power-housenot to be confused with the ‘Riot’ Hiatt also on Sunset. Billy would drink cup after cup of java and tell tales of magic that kept you awake just as surely as the strong coffee. Billy’s usual meal was an English muffin and scrambled eggs and when the time came to refill his coffee cup he would often balance the empty cup on his head to attract the waitress’ attention.

For Billy telling stories and drinking coffee required nicotine and the biggest battle was usually over how he obtained his nicotine fix in these various non-smoking establishments. As in most things in life Billy had a system. He would pull out his pipe and start puffing away at the Old Bruno ready rubbed shag with which it was filled. He carried his lighter in a small pouch around his neck to speed up the whole process.

Within a few minutes a waitress or manager would arrive and point out that smoking was not allowed. With the uttermost charm Billy would apologize and then as soon as they walked away would carry right on smoking his pipe. When they returned to repeat the request Billy would apologize profusely and as soon as they walked away he would light up a cigarette. Usually the cigarette went unnoticed for a while due to the pungent odor of his ‘Old Bruno’ still wafting in the air in blue clouds. When the management returned to complain about the cigarette Billy would innocently reply that he thought it was just pipe smoking that was forbidden.

RN-044-1My other favorite afterhours coffee shop was the Copper Penny on Hollywood Blvd. where I would often spend the wee hours chatting with my dear friend Jules Lenier. I would always run Jules home from the Castle and we never could quite finish our conversation before the end of the brief journey. We would end up at the Copper Penny talking magic and eating English muffins covered in butter and liberally sprinkled with salt. Jules would perform close-up mindreading effects to impress the waitress and sometimes threaten to demonstrate his hypnotic abilities. I never actually saw Jules hypnotize anyone but he always swore he could and I almost believed him.

Well, this is just a couple of my favorite places and people from the past. Don Lawton, Jack Hurlbut and Mickey O’Malley were other fabulous late night raconteurs who enlivened the post Castle early hours. Don’t even get me started on late night hot dogs from the amazing Pink’s stand in Hollywood. They are a tale to themselves.

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Finally a good (and vastly improved) Swami gimmick……

•March 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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We quietly added a very high quality under-nail swami gimmick to the utility page of our website www.lewinenterprises.com they have become very popular with mentalists who want a superb quality version of this amazing gimmick. They make some unbelievable magic and mentalism not only possible but easy!  

I have used one of these gimmicks for years both onstage and close-up and then the model I liked became unavailable! We literally manufactured this item because I wanted a similar version to the original Johnson Product item. We took the opportunity improve the design though and manufacture them from steel instead of the customary copper. This means that you can adjust the gimmick perfectly for your own nail, without the gimmick breaking. It also means that once adjusted it stays in shape! The other advantage of manufacturing this item in steel is that you can use a small magnet to assist in stealing and ditching the writer. No small benefit to a performer! The lead is also incredible fast and easy to replace with this particular design.

Many top mentalists are using this gimmick now and loving it. If you have never used a crescent nail writer gimmick there are some very major advantages to using a boon or thumb writer. you can write much more legibly, there is way less movement of the thumb and the gimmick is virtually undetectable even under extreme close up circumstances. The great Maurice Fogel, (certainly the most effective mindreader I have ever personally witnessed) had a similar gimmick on his nail at the beginning of his stage show and it remained there undetected for the entire performance!

It is generally our policy to only sell full routines at our company, however I have not included any routine in the written notes to this device. Many of the people who want this updated version of the Swami Gimmick already have their own pet routines, and the literature on mentalism is chock full of fabulous routines to inspire you. We also manufacture an identical stylus writer for performers who are hip to the amazing way this tool can be used in conjunction with carbon paper to write a prediction on a card inside a sealed envelope. We will be releasing a pet routine of mine on a future DVD that teaches a classic effect using this extremely subtle technique.

I wanted to include this very thorough response from a top French mentalist who took the time to detail his experience with our Ultimate Swami Gimmick. It is written in a wonderful blend of very exact words and delightfully French phrasing!

 

I am since 2 years now a user of swami in my performances and tested a lot of different types:

– super sharpie

– boons

– thumbtips

– 3 different types of undernails until I stayed with the indian one’s also recommended by Richard Osterlind where I buy them.

The first impression opening the USG:

– these are the tiniest I ever saw OMG. Compared to that the Indian ones look like huge cockroach !

– the quality is indeed very good the steal is very strong so I needed pliers to shape it.

This is a very good point because I was used to reshape before every performance the indian ones until they broke because of to much reshaping. Here the problem is solved the shape stays perfect even being cold.

– at the begin I was concerned with the size of the lead but I realised it matches perfectly the writing of my Moleskin pencil wich is a huge 2B pencil !

So that is also a very good point I like the fact that people can not imagin that a such tiny gimmick could possibly match my huge black pencil 🙂

– the painting is far better then the white color of the indian ones and they are usable painted whereas the indian ones not (you must remove the painting in order to be able to use them).

However I experienced a little of stickiness of the painting.

Personally I put them anyway in nail paint remover and use them unpainted.

(the color and the painting could also be improved but it is not bad.)

– the lead change is verry easy no nead of pliers or glue or any other crap in order to make stick the lead. The reciever is perfectly shaped so that the lead sticks firmly just by pushing it.

– the magnetic part is quite useful and once you have it you become addicted.

I put a little magnet in the cap of my pencil so that I can easily ditch it in front of the spectators. Verry nice!

(Also only the “nail part” is magnetic)

 

– last point the USG come all ready to use whereas the indian one’s have only 1 or two leaded and the other swami need to be made going trough a tedious procedure.

Overall the product is indeed very very good ready to use certainly the best swami I ever used!”

Best regards

Sylvain Z

 

For more details and to order our Ultimate Swami Gimmicks visit our website www.lewinenterprises.com and go to the utility page.

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How to make the first 30 seconds of your show as good as it needs to be…

•March 18, 2016 • 2 Comments

The first 30 seconds of your act is the most important. That means that the way you look and the manner in which you walk onstage are vital. If you really mean business you had better get that down immediately.

caseWear a good-looking outfit that works for the image you want to project to the audience. If you want to be Mac King don’t dress like Lance Burton and visa versa.

What music are you going to use for your entrance? Why are you using it? It is my belief that the most important use of that music is to get you in the mood to perform. Use a piece that you enjoy listening to and can move to in a graceful manner. By the time you begin your show your persona is pretty much established in the audience’s subconscious mind. Unless you plan some kind of nifty switcheroo in your character then you had better establish it quickly and effortlessly.

It is an old fashioned notion but I am a great believer in the idea of doing some deep, slow breathing in the wings. Just slow your IMG_5779breathing down and exhale more air than usual. If you concentrate on the feeling of your feet on the ground and it will quite literally ground you,
 I go a couple of steps beyond this and an hour or so before the show I do some breath work.

There is a marvelous app for the iPhone called ‘Breath Pacer’ that allows you to easily and systematically take your breathing from where it is to where you want it to be. Your whole show is fueled by breath so you might as well get it right. It is a lot more important to your show than your double lift and you probably spent a whole bunch of time working on that.

I also have a pre-show ‘warm-up’ playlist on my iPod that I like to sing along with (in a private spot of course, dear God) as I like to work on the upper and lower range of my voice. I like to add lots of texture and tones to my delivery because it can really punch up your show in a big way. Sometimes the difference between a chuckle, a laugh or a round of applause is in the mechanics of the way you deliver the line.

Live/Enchantment - 001It is useful to know how long it will take you to walk briskly to the center of the stage. This can help you tailor exactly how long your intro should be. This is especially true if you have live musicians playing charts for you. Nothing looks better than having your intro music 
end exactly as you hit the microphone stand.

The great British actor John Mills performed a one-man show well into his last years. One thing the audience probably never realized is that he was almost totally blind. They would never have guessed it from the way he walked quickly and confidently to the center of the stage and the waiting microphone. He would always arrive early at the venue and count exactly how many steps and the exact orientation of his path.

Well, there is a few thoughts that you probably haven’t heard of before. They get you to the center of the stage ready to perform. That doesn’t sound like much but don’t forget that these are the most vital moments in your show.

Just watch the way that a professional magician begins his show and then watch a non-pro do the same thing. I totally reject the concept of the semi-pro. They don’t exist in the real world only in magic clubs. Even if you don’t want to be a pro you might as well learn how to behave like one. Be kind to your audience.

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