Entertainment First, Magic Second

Discuss general aspects of Genii.

Postby Robert Kane » 02/23/02 08:09 AM

A friend gave me a copy of Billy McCombs First Book of William published in 1947. It is a wonderful little book of great magic (Check out Williams Fantastic Fez). In the biographical note one sentence caught my eye, Finally, he believes in entertainment first, magic second.

I have been musing on the thought for a while and concluded that the statement seems pretty much right, but not in every instance (with all due respect to Mr. McComb, of course being that he has more talent than most and has proven the fact, again and again).

Going magic conventions one invariably sees lectures and performances by some fine magical technicians. Their work is flawless, but lacking entertainment value (sometimes these folks look like they could not entertain themselves out of a paper bag, but they have the best pass you ever didnt see).

Or sometimes you see work by fine entertainers who have wonderful presentation but use straightforward methods (Sometimes the method is too transparent or a bit hackneyed).

I find that the former leaves me feeling unfulfilled, while the latter is at the very least enjoyable and generally magical, especially for lay persons.

Occasionally you see someone very special who has blended entertainment value and technical ability in to superbly beautiful presentations. Everybody can enjoy these folks. Tom Mullica, Tommy Wonder, Mark Haslam, Michael Skinner, Ricky Jay, Eugene Burger, Juan Tamariz, James Lewis, Roger Klause and many, many others come to mind.

So where does that leave me? Well, I find myself inspired by the names I just mentioned and am working on developing both sides (technical ability/entertainment value). In the end, I find it harder, yet more satisfying, to develop good presentations. At the same time, I absolutely see the value of developing both and, in some ways, they can be of equal worth if used in good, thoughtful measure. Whatever the case, it is a wonderful journey.

What do you think?
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Postby Guest » 02/23/02 09:03 AM

This is a great question.

I think the simple answer is, what are your goals as a performer? If your goal is just to make money, then be entertaining and you will make money. The magic doesn't have to be good for you to make money. I'm sure we could all list our favorite example.

But, at that point you are not a magician are you? You are an entertainer. Magic just happens to be your medium. I don't think this is a bad thing necessarily, because to be honest, I would pay to be entertained by bad magic than to be berated or put to sleep by a skilled poor entertainer.

This is the flip side of the coin isn't it? Strong technicians who have no entertainment skill often dip into the negative side of entertainment don't they. To be honest, if you ask a lot of these guys they will come right out and tell you, "I don't like to entertain." They often wear it like it was a badge of honor. In my experience, the best you can hope for from a guy who isn't an entertainer is that he will be just boring. I don't know if these guys are magicians either. Just because one does skilled sleights is he a magician? I picture a magician as being something more.

Then we have the master, the guy who is both, a technician and an entertainer. For guys working right now, at the top of the pyramid in my opinion would be Mac King. Mac King does very strong, very clean, very technically efficient, Magic, with a capital “M”. He is also the funniest guy I have ever seen.

There are a lot of guys out there who are close in my book and I wouldn't argue with anyone for picking any of the guys you mention as well as Lance Burton, Mike Cavney, Jeff Hobson, or any of the other guys who play in this league.

Thankfully, it is a pretty long list. We really have some great acts working today, Magicians each and every one of them.

I think the thing that separates these guys is they love both. They truly love magic. When they found magic, they found something they were born to. They enjoy spending hours in solitude working on the sleights and bringing the routine together.

They also love to entertain, every one of the guys we both mentioned would be doing magic for free right now as long as they had someone to watch.

So, if you want to make money, be an efficient entertainer, but If you want to be a magician be efficient in skill and entertain. If you want to be a great magician do both flawlessly, and often.



Postby Pete Biro » 02/23/02 10:56 AM

Robert, sorry you haven't seen me lecture!!!! :D :D :D

IMHO John Carney's Mr. Mysto is one of the most skilled magally, whilst still being high on the entertainment list.

There is NO NEED to be entertaining if you are not doing the magic "as an entertainment" -- magic club sessions, fooling your fellow magi... but you had better be entertaining if you are in show biz.

NOTE: If you really want to find out if you are doing it... (particularly at the Castle) talk to the bartenders.. they get unbiased feedback on all the performers!
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Postby Pete McCabe » 02/23/02 02:36 PM

You hear a lot of magicians say that a magician is a magician and not an entertainer. Usually this is said by magicians who are not, in fact, entertainers.

I'm not sure what it means to say that if you put entertainment first, they you are just an entertainer and not a magician. I don't think there's such a thing as just an entertainer. You have to entertain the audience with something. If it's magic, great.

But if you ask a hundred lay people "Is a magician an entertainer", all hundred of them will say yes. So maybe, if you put entertainment first that just means you are putting your audience first. Or in other words, it means you are a professional.

Of course, if you're not a professional, you can put anything first that you like.
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Postby Guest » 02/23/02 03:15 PM

Magicians must do both good magic in addition to entertainment. The key that many seem to miss is that as entertainers their tool for entertainment is the magic. If the magic is too complicated (usually it is the magic that magicians like but not what the lay public cares about) or if it is weak the audience finds it equally bad. Too often magicians are more impressed by a new method that while they may find it intriguing, a lay audience could care less about.

I think the biggest cop-out by bad magicians is to say "I don't set out to fool my audience, I entertain them". Magic is supposed to FOOL your audience and if it doesn't, you have failed to entertain them under most circumstances. An audience that is watching a magician work is there to be amazed, fooled and ENTERTAINED. That is what a magician is supposed to do. Creating a sense of wonder is their job.

The other problem that many unentertaining magicians will do is to copy the presentation, act and stlye of a performer that they found amusing. Not only does that produce an inferior product but cheapens the entire art. There are some that are natural entertainers and others that after much trial and error learn to be entertaining. There are also a large number that while they truly have a love of the art and love to share it, are not and will never be "entertaining". How many times have you heard a person tell a joke and it just wasn't funny yet give the same joke to someone that has the "gift" and they can hold you spellbound and make you laugh at exactly the same material.

PSIncerely Yours,
Paul Alberstat

Postby Denis Behr » 02/24/02 02:11 AM

I also think that it makes a difference whether you perform close up or on stage.
In close up situations the magical effect in itself can be quite entertaining without a lot of jokes. Simply because the impossibility affects the spectators much more than a stage presentation.

(and sorry for the bad english)
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Postby Guest » 02/24/02 02:28 AM

Personally, I have no interest in magicians who are not entertaining. I believe that it shows a lack of respect for their audience. Why should I want to watch a guy who only wants to show off how good his pass is?

Come to think of it, I can still find a poorly performed routine or lecture entertaining because, while I may never perform the tricks, as a magician I gain entertainment from watching a perfect pass or one handed double lift. But does a lay person care about how good technically brilliant the moves are?

One of the key differences between Art and Entertainment is that art reflects the ideas and beliefs of the artist whereas entertainment (succesful entertainment) seeks to reflect the ideas and beliefs of the audience.

We can't say that tech and entertainment are two sides of the same coin. The entertainment side is technical. Who hasn't used a perfectly place one-liner as misdirection? And who hasn't sprayed cards from one hand to the other just to get a rise out of a crowd?

Of course I could just full of it. ;)

Postby Pete Biro » 02/24/02 10:12 AM

I remember a post on GeMiNi praising one of the better known card men, the description of his performance included statements on move descriptions.My response was, "couldn't have been that good, you saw the moves."

Flames followed.

Another one:

Daryl entered a trick (card into plastic bag)for originality at FISM. I was one of the Jury. The head of the judges asked me to find Daryl so they could ask him what method was used. I knew the trick and I said "he jpalmed the card and loaded it ala the card thru handkerchief.

The head judge said, "No, is impossible... I did not see him palm a card."

I said, "It was Daryl... you don't see it when he palms a card."

When I told Daryl he really laughed. What I did wonder was "why did you enter that?"

His response. "I have them to sell, and this was the best way for the thousands here to see my demonstration!"

:D :D :D
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Postby Bill Duncan » 02/24/02 08:48 PM

Originally posted by Pete Biro:
The head judge said, "No, is impossible... I did not see him palm a card."

I said, "It was Daryl... you don't see it when he palms a card."

I recall a column in Genii years ago:
"there were no marks for Daryl."

For those of you who didn't read the article it was a very particular judge, judging a contest and making marks every time he caught a move or saw a get-ready.


Needless to say, Daryl won that competition.

I've used that as the standard for every magician I've watched since. I think there is no better way to judge someone as a magician whether they "entertain" or not.

[ February 24, 2002: Message edited by: Bill Duncan ]
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Postby Dan LeFay » 02/25/02 05:07 AM

I must admit that this indeed is a very interesting subject.
Do we ,as magicians, perceive Magic as entertainment, and then, Should it be entertainment only?

Why not reflect the ideas and beliefs of BOTH the audience AND the artist in one presentation?

Maybe sleight of hand and trickery are for entertainment purpose only and Magic can (and sometimes may) go beyond?
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Postby Pete Biro » 02/25/02 09:57 AM

Dan... you just say that because you are not only very entrtaining, but have chops too! :cool:
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Postby Pete Biro » 02/25/02 10:28 AM

I was one of the judges when Daryl won card FISM (the original trick entry weas a separate competiton a different year) and one of the other judges (sat next to me) was Ascanio... Daryl nailed both of us--and the others--with his ambitious card finish (the rope tied around the deck) and in additon, was flawless and relaxed, and entertaining...

Some contestants were so nervous they could hardly hold the cards without dropping them.... :(
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Postby Lisa Cousins » 02/25/02 01:42 PM

I think Dan LeFay's got the answer there. Or, as Oscar Wilde put it, "I give them what they want, so that I may give them what I want."

If what the magician wants isn't in there, it's hollow. If what the audience wants isn't in there, it's tedious. This isn't an either/or. It's a both/and.


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Postby Lisa Cousins » 02/26/02 11:44 AM

I found some Biblical back-up for my point, to wit: "Be thou neither hollow nor tedious, but be ye profound and entertaining in all thy works, and ye shall walk appreciated and compensated for all the length of thy days." Amen.

Actually, I do have some Shakespearean back-up for my point. When the competing Rose Theatre was having big hits with its Robin Hood plays, Shakespeare wrote a play about an outlaw Duke living in the forest, and he called the play "As You Like It." He was giving his audience what they wanted, catering to their latest trendy whim. But he did not neglect to pack the play full of Shakespeare, did he?
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Postby Guest » 02/28/02 09:33 PM

Yes, it is more important to be entertaining, assuming your technique is pretty good - but what does "being entertaining" mean? What is entertaining to me might be boring to you and vice-versa. To say it is important to be entertaining is only stating the obvious...sorry

I think it is important that you not only become good at the magic you are presenting, you also need to learn to be "entertaining." Learn to act, learn comedy (if you want to be funny) and don't try to learn those things from other magicians. Learn from experts in those fields.

A great starting place is Bob Fitch camp. With Bob Fitch's acting, movement and comedy experience, plus his magic skills you can't help but learn. And he brings Ed Bordo, another skilled Broadway actor and voice instructor to teach. From there, just keep practicing and studying and performing until you get it right (which can take centuries). This applies to whatever you are performing - close-up, stage, parlor, trade-shows or just for you friends and family. I just found a great book by ex-magician Judy Carter called the Comedy Bible, which should be read by anyone wanting to add comedy to their show.

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