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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Vacation Crap

I'm going on vacation this week, so I won't be able to post again until next Saturday. There are some crazy posts coming your way in August, so stick around! We're talking about giveaways, tricks, routines, humor, reviews, and everything else you've come to expect and love at Pagliacci! Enjoy your week and make sure you come back next Saturday for some new Pagliacci goodness!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Family Crap

I was playing Family Feud when this came on the screen: "We surveyed 100 people and asked them...What do magicians do their tricks with?" This is what the final screen was:

That's right, folks. If this Family Feud survey accurately portrays what the average American is thinking (and it should be sorta close), the first think that comes to mind for 67% of Americans when they think of magicians is a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I don't know about you, but I can't remember the last (or first, for that matter) time when I saw a magician pull a rabbit out of a hat, which means either (a) most people haven't seen a good magic show or (b) most people haven't seen a magic show that they would care to remember. At least the third answer ("cards") was somewhat closer.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Criss Angel Review

When you, a magician, look at another magician performing a trick, how do you judge his or her ability? You could look at the "external": how the trick looked and felt. You would have to ignore your knowledge of magic in order to make such a review becuase you'd have to forget about the "internal" aspect of the trick in order to make an "external" judgement. On the other hand, you can focus on the "internal": how difficult the trick was and how well it was pulled off.

Let's illustrate this with an example: suppose you've just seen a magician perform an Ambitious Card routine. An external review could be this: "The magician was really funny and was able to really connect with the audience. If I was a laymen, I think I would really enjoy watching this charismatic performer. There was a lot of magic contained in the routine and a lot of great moments." An internal review could be this: "The routine was pretty easy from a sleight-of-hand perspective. I wasn't impressed with his double-lifts, nor did I think the pass was up to par. He needs more practice in that area."

The question of reviewing something externally vs. reviewing something internally rests with how you think something should be reviewed: should it be reviewed solely based on how one would receive it (external) or should you also consider everything that went into the trick, even the stuff the audience doesn't or didn't see (internal)?

When commenting on the first two episodes of Criss Angel's Mindfreak, it's hard to resist an internal review, especially since I've talked at length with many of the people working on the show. Criss didn't just do magic for this special: he wrote the script, wrote and performed the theme song, oversaw the editing of the series, and acted as a de facto Director of Photography. With only one person doing all this, it's pretty amazing the special was as good as it was. After watching the episodes multiple times, I'm increasingly impressed with how much Criss put into the specials.

But that's an internal review. The audience (including most magicians) didn't realize all that went into the special. However, the question remains to be asked: should they? With Criss doing almost everything himself, it's no surprise that one reviewer would remark that "it appears everything comes down to whatever best feeds Angel's ego at the moment" (from John Ruch on Magic Mafia). Criss also seems to be confused as to what his show is: is it a behind-the-scenes reality show, surreal art piece, or David Blaine rip-off? I enjoyed each of those segments, but I don't think that the segments flowed together well. Actually, they didn't really flow at all. You get the feeling that Criss has made a shitty collage out of the remains of true masterpieces.

In terms of the magic itself (a sort of internal perspective of the external aspects of the show), I found myself pretty stunned and impressed. I think a lot of that credit should probably go to Johnny Thompson, who was Criss' advisor on the special. (He's also the father of Criss' surreal family on the show, as well as the magician who calls Lance Burton and says, "I'm in a van with a bunch of magicians. We're going to burn one.") Some may argue that the show was "too perfect," that even though those who know people who worked on the special know that NO camera tricks were used (some stooges though), most may find the tricks so unbelievable that they suspect some kind of digital trickery. I think a disclaimer ("No camera tricks were used") would make the special stronger, but I think people realize that, unless this stuff was real, this wouldn't be a magic special (it would be a demonstration of special effects).

This was all a long-winded way of saying that (a) the specials were highly watchable despite its lack of identity, (b) Criss and his team are highly creative individuals pushing the boundary of televised magic, and (c) no matter what, the exposure a series like this provides is invaluable to professional magicians. Just make sure that you have something prepared the next time somebody asks, "Can you levitate like Criss Angel?"

Monday, July 25, 2005

Technical Crap

You may have noticed that I haven't posted in the last week. My router totally died and I haven't been able to get on the Internet all week. I'm writing from a computer at work currently, but I'm kinda pressed for time. (Yes, I have a day job, but only to occupy my time before I do magic at night.)

That being said, hopefully I'll be able to squeeze in some really good posts before my vacation next week.

P.S. Just saw the Criss Angel specials. I really enjoyed them, despite all the criticism the other bloggers offered. I will go into more depth later.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Harry Potter Crap

One of the best pieces of advice I had ever received was from Shoot Ogawa, who told me, "Be aware of what's popular - go out and see popular movies, watch popular T.V. shows, listen to popular music. These things are popular for a reason - a lot of people like them. If you want a lot of people to like your magic, then you are wise to incorporate aspects of popular entertainment." Now, I'm paraphrasing (this advice was given to me about 6 months ago), but the message is clear: if know the popular culture, you can make your magic that much more appealing and that much more, well, popular.

It's easy to find examples that illustrate the accuracy of Shoot's wisdom. There's a clear trend among the most popular magicians throughout history: Jean Robert-Houdin in the 19th century, who, unlike his wizard-robe wearing peers, wore a fashionable upper-class tuxedo; Houdini in the 1920s, who appealed to his generation's need for escapism after the Great Depression by actually performing escapes; Doug Henning in the 1970s, who acted and dressed like the Hippies of his generation while spreading their message of rainbows and free love; and David Blaine in this century, who's toned down close-up magic appeals to the voyeuristic, reality-TV generation.

Despite the obvious historical trends, many magicians allow themselves to remain blissfully unaware of the mainstream (just look at the way many magicians dress!). But here at Pagliacci, we'll help you keep up with current pop culture!

That being said, we turn our attention to Harry Potter, which is immensely popular, especially after the release on Saturday of the new book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. There's a huge market for magic acts that emulate Harry Potter and magic stores have begun to fill the need magicians have for tricks to use in these shows (check out these links: link 1, link 2, and link 3).

However, what's really great about this new Harry Potter book is that author J. K. Rowling explores the contrast between Muggle (read: non-human) magic and the real magic wizards can perform. Here are some excerpts from the book (don't worry - there are no spoilers here):

Harry left Hermione dabbing her black eye with paste and followed Fred toward the back of the shop, where he saw a stand of card and rope tricks.

"Muggle magic tricks!" said Fred happily, pointing them out. "For freaks like Dad, you know, who love Muggle stuff. It's not a big earner, but we do fairly steady business, they're great novelties." (p. 118)

Mr. Weasley was delightedly examining a pack of Muggle marked playing cards. (p. 123)

" --- and if you want people to help you, Ron," added George, throwing the paper airplane at him, "I wouldn't chuck knives at them. Just a little hint. We're off to the village, there's a very pretty girl working in the paper shop who thinks my card tricks are something marvelous...almost like real magic...." (p. 328)

You notice that "a very pretty girl" thinks that George's tricks are "marvelous" because they look "almost like real magic"? That's an important lesson in itself - if you really want to entertain, amaze, and astound your audience, you need to ask yourself, Is this what real magic would look like? If I could do real magic, would I be doing what I'm doing now? Certain tricks - like the Ambitious Card or any trick where you lose a card only to find it again - seem rather pointless. Making money appear, on the other hand, or reading somebody's mind do seem like worthy applications of your "real magic."

Betcha didn't think you'd find all these lessons in a post about Harry Potter?

New Post Crap

Sorry I haven't posted in the last few days, but there will be a really cool, Harry Potter-themed post later today!

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Dis-Obedient Die Crap, Part II

Viking Magic: Pick a village to rape and pillage, any village to rape and pillage...

(By the way, check out the pick-up trucks in the background of that photo. Really contributes to the authenticity, don't you think?)

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Magic Maker's "Obedient Die" and the problems with the magic community that allow such shit to make its way to the market. Along the way I blamed Penguin Magic (the distributor of Obedient Die, who I believe is equally culpable because (a) they should not be selling pirated tricks and (b) they should have tested the trick and, finding that it was unperformable, decided that they should not be selling it) and Viking Magic (the owner of the rights to the original trick, Badlands Bob, who I accused of overcharging for their effect and forcing customers to look other places to find a similar effect for a reasonable price). I described Badlands Bob as a "rip off" to which Ian, one of my readers (I really love my readers and I really do read your comments!), commented:

I think you're severely misusing the phrase "rip off" to describe Viking's handling of Badlands Bob. To "rip off" means to exploit, swindle, cheat, or defraud (source: Sure, Viking seem to be seriously overpricing a gimicky little die - but that's a business mistake - not a rip off. The advertising isn't misleading, it's pretty clear what you get - it's just expensive for an effect that's not particularly impressive. But they key thing is you don't have to buy it. It's not like it's a drug you need to stay alive that they're overpricing, or a monopoly service you can't do without - it's a shitty little trick. We don't have some sort of "right" to be able to buy every trick we want. As magic consumers our sanction if we think a product is overpriced is not to buy a cheap copy - it's just to refuse to buy the overpriced original.


He has a point, although I could argue that overcharging for a "gimicky little die" does involve an exploitation of the customer who purchases it expecting some kind of correspondence between his or her expense and the purchase he or she made.

That being said, I received an e-mail today (actually, the e-mail was sent on July 8th, but, because my junk mail filter thought "Badlands Bob" was some kind of porn site, I didn't get the e-mail until today when i checked my junk mail folder) from George Robinson, the owner of Viking Magic, which I now print in its absolute entirety:

From : George Robinson
Sent : Friday, July 8, 2005 8:47 AM
To :
Subject : Badland's Bob

I'd like to answer your statement about our pricing practices regarding Badland's Bob and possibly other item we manufacture. It would be nice if you contacted us first to get the facts before you slandered us with your remarks. In the case of Badlands, this was invented by P.H. Postma of the Netherlands, and NO ONE disputes this.

We PURCHASED the manufacturing rights from MR. Postma plus we pay him ROYALTIES. These royalties add to our cost. We also wholesale this item; please work backwards with us: $45.00 retail less 50% to dealers. now it's $22.50. We pay ROYALTIES of $5.00 ea., now that's $17.50, then take off for production costs and overhead and I am sure you will see that we are not getting rich. (We don't make our stuff in Thailand for $2.00 and I guess you can see why by your own statement regarding Magic Maker's/Penguin knock-off) PLUS we offer a lifetime guarantee on this product should it for any reason stop working properly, etc. And OURS WORKS! Doesn't that have some value?

Our customer service is the best in the business and we try to make the best products possible. All this adds VALUE to our product. PLUS we have the right to charge what we want, fair value for a decent product that WE OWN. We have never had a complaint on this item that we have not corrected, a policy we add to everything we make.

I hope you print this so that your site can be, to quote "fair and balanced'.

George Robinson Jr.
Viking/Collectors' Workshop

Well, let's just say that I've been, to use a videogame term, owned. Here's my response:

Dear George,

I'm sorry if you took my remarks as slander. Your e-mail was truly illuminating as to the breakdown of where all that money goes for the tricks you produce and I really appreciate that. The $45 you charge for Badlands Bob (which I never disputed was your - and only your - right to produce) seems more reasonable in that light. The one question I have is this: is it standard for a retailer to sell their tricks for 200% of the price they purchase them at? It seems weird to me (although this could just be my naivete in the area of selling magic) that the retailer makes just as much as you do for the trick which you purchased the rights for and produced.

I still think that you and Mr. Postma were wronged by both Magic Makers (who blatantly stole your trick) and Penguin Magic (who has the gall to sell a trick they clearly know was stolen and unperformable). That aspect of the post I stick to and I believe you agree. What can we do to combat this egregious wrongdoing? Is there anything I or my readers can do? I think it is our responsibilities as magicians to protect magic inventors and the companies who deal honestly with the magic community.

So, let me again apologize for not coming to you first to get "the skinny" on Badlands Bob. While I stand by my opinions ($45 still seems expensive for the effect), I don't think the fault necessarily lies with you as I insinuated (I realize now that retailers contribute largely to the price tag, which I hadn't considered and partially blamed you for).

I'm really glad you opened up this dialogue. I hope we've resolved our viewpoints!

Magically yours,

Writing my thoughts in this blog is as much a learning experience for me as I hope it is for you. And, thanks to George Robinson, I've really learned a lot today.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Ham Sandwich Crap

In one of my recent posts, Japanese Crap, I incorrectly attributed a quote to Jeff McBride, which I was alerted to when an anonymous reader wrote, "The McBride quote is originally from Henning Nelms' Magic and Showmanship." He's absolutely right.

Actually, the "ham sandwich analogy" is quoted from a lot by many magic bloggers, magic forum users, and magicians in general. (Actually, the people at the Magic Cafe only use it because they really like sandwiches.) So, I'm going to publish verbatim the exact quote from Henning Nelms.

No matter how astonishing a trick may be, it suffers from one major fault - it has no point. Suppose you could work miracles. Suppose that, without coming near me, you simply gestured toward my pocket and told me to put my hand in it. I did so and took out a ham sandwich. This would no doubt amaze me, but after I recovered from my surprise my only feeling would be, "So what?"

But suppose I say, "I'm hungry," and you reply, "I can fix that. Look in your left coat pocket." When I do so, I find a sandwich. This has a point. It makes sense. You cannot work that sort of miracle, but you can add meaning to your conjuring.

Henning Nelms, Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurors (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2000) 5-6

So remember, as Henning Nelms wrote so eloquently 36 years ago, "You can add meaning to your conjuring." In fact, it's something you must do if you want to connect to your audience and create real magic.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Gospel Crap

I guess he didn't like the new Gospel Magic section of the Magic Cafe.

And, while we're at it, I thought this guy was joking about this routine, but if you check his profile, he's actually fucking serious. Very, very scary.

Japanese Crap

Clearly, the magic video Steve Brook masterbates to.

This video showcases what may quite possibly be the coolest effect ever broadcast on television.

And no, this isn't the Japanese Girl Loses Her Head video that's been circulating around the magic blogs.

[Psst... the magician in the video is Cyril Takayama, a F.I.S.M. award winner and member of the Magic X Live, the group responsible for NBC's T.H.E.M]

Hey, you're still reading this post? Fine - re-watch the video and keep this quote from Jeff McBride (Editor from the future: actually, it's Henning Nelms) in mind (I'm paraphrasing a bit, but the point's still there): "If you produce a ham sandwich while you're out on the street, that's a cool trick. However, if your friend says, 'Wow, I'm starving. What I could really use right now is a ham sandwich,' and you produce a ham sandwich, you have a bonafide miracle."

Now if you can produce a hamburger from a Japanese sign, then, well, you've got it made.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Ellusionist Crap, Part n

This is "Part n," where n=any number, because I can't remember how much crap I've written about Ellusionist. Honestly, there's way to much crap on Ellusionist, but here's the latest steaming heap I've found.

Granted, Wiregrams are a cool trick. It's really not a bad little card revelation. However, it's not, as Brad Christian claims, "what street magic is all about."

Also, it doesn't take FIVE MINUTES AND 11 SECONDS to describe and demonstrate the effect. "It's a wire that bends into the name of a card." That's it. That's really all that Brad had to say. Plus, check out the awesome new logo and rock music - it's what all the kids are listening to nowadays!

Check out the ridiculous and hyperbolic video here.

And, although you can save $14 by doing so, please don't buy the complete set of 6. Honestly, you only need one (maybe two if you're concerned about doing the trick to multiple people in a walk-around setting). Really, you shouldn't be spending $79 on this effect - Ellusionist is just getting greedy.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Pimp Crap

Bulletproof Pimp has a great post about my thoughts on women and magic. He's one of the few people who I think are really accurate in describing the ways to pick up women, so check out his blog if you're interested in that kind of thing.

So remember, "Anything that displays excellence can get you women." Which means that you CAN use your magic to pick up women.

Lessons in Magic You Won't Learn Anywhere Else STRIKES AGAIN!

Hey, the "Lessons in Magic You Won't Learn Anything Else" series is BACK! Let's get right into it!

(1) Clean your balls before every show. Okay, I couldn't resist phrasing it that way. If you work with sponge balls (and if you don't, why aren't you?), you should clean them with soap and water before every show. Not only is this sanitary (how many people are holding these things when you do walk-around magic?), but it also causes your sponge balls to grow in size. The balls still compress to the same size, but when they pop open, they will be much bigger. Wetting and drying sponge props also restores them to their original shape (if your sponge bunnies look like mutated monsters, washing them should do the trick). Drying the sponges with a paper towel or regular towel is good, but the fastest and most effective way is with a hand dryer (if you work in restaurants, you're set!).

(2) Just because you've been hired as a magician doesn't mean you have to do magic. If you're hired to work at a restaurant or for a special occasion, your job is to entertain the customers or guests. Because you're a magician, the main way you'll accomplish this goal is by performing magic. However, magic is not the only way to entertain guests - ask any magician who also does balloon animals. Sometimes having a conversation with the customers or guests is more entertaining for them than your magic; you should be comfortable talking with those you are responsible for entertaining. Same goes with kid's shows - learn how to draw cartoon characters and always carry a large pad and Sharpie with you. If magic is not working out or you have time to kill, you can draw a cartoon character for each kid, sign it, and ATTACH YOUR BUSINESS CARD TO THE BACK. Now, not only are you making extra money by working extra time, the kids are getting a GREAT one-of-a-kind souvenir, the parents think you're a one-man entertaining machine, and every kid has become a walking advertisement for you because they are bringing your contact information home to their parents!

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Deadly Crap

After David Blaine shows off his "Look-I've-been-wearing-my-Time-Machine-for-the-last-decade" look, prepubescent magicians everywhere cry themselves to sleep because, even like that, he's still getting more ass than them.

Is it just me or shouldn't there be a restriction on wearing mercury on your wrist? That's right, folks - Watch & Wear, Time Machine, and all your other "stop the watch at the called-out time" tricks use MERCURY to make the gimmick work. It's wonderful knowing that a potentially lethal substance is strapped to many a magician's wrist - and nobody (except Pagliacci!) gives a shit.