BoM: Magicomedy by Mike Caveney

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Postby Dustin Stinett » 03/18/05 11:12 PM

Mike is a great friend to the world of magicI hope we will all continue to benefit from his generous magical contributions.
David Copperfield; Introduction to Magicomedy, 1981

A second volume will most surely follow, but I am certain it will require at least another twenty years to properly audience-test the routines.
Mike Caveney; Foreword to Magicomedy, April 1, 1981

Almost twenty-four years to the day has passed since Mike Caveney wrote those words. I, for one, am waiting for that presumed second volume. However, to his credit, he did say it would take at least another twenty years [emphasis mine]. In the mean time, this volume continues to be our primary (printed) insight into the material and style of one of magics most talented performers.

I have always felt that this book was incorrectly titled. Certainly much of the magic in the book is inherently funnylets face it, toilet plungers are damn funnybut I fear that the title of this book may have steered some folks away from it: those who dont do funny. The hidden value of this book is the style of magic it offers. The hallmark of Mike Caveneys magic is its organic quality, not necessarily its comedic propertiesthat is more of a result of his personality; hes a very funny guy. Mr. Caveney uses no (or very few) props that could be construed as magic props. The average audience recognizes and relates to the everyday objects he uses, so when magic occurs with or around them, the credit for that magic has only one place to go: the performer. That is very strong magic indeed. And this little book is filled with strong magic and, more importantly, veiled within that magic the concept of organic magic that serves as food for thought about all the magic we choose to do.

The book is divided into genres: Close-up, Psychic, Cabaret, A complete description of his Thimble Act and Stage Illusionsand yes, even the stage illusions use familiar appearing objects versus contrived cabinets that look like illusions.

The Close-up Routines section has six effects. Folding Money is an interesting routine using a folding half-dollar. However, its the complete vanish of (what appears to be) fifty pennies from a small purse that I found most usefuland its almost idiot proof (come to think of it, maybe it is idiot proof). 3:32 is a three-phase coin routine that is designed to be performed at a table without a tablecloth or a close-up padin other words, the real world. It ends with a complete vanish of a coin. Cents of Touch is a neat idea that I remember wanting to add to my repertoire. However, at that time in my life, that many pennies (about 500) were rolled for gasoline money, not doing magic tricks! (But thats another story.) The (non-magical) appearance of a jumbo penny makes for a funny moment. One might argue that a jumbo penny is a magic prop. On the contrary, jumbo versions of everyday items are gag propsthey are inherently funny. Ask any childrens performer how funny jumbo props are. Adults react the same way to oversized versions of items they recognize. There is a vast difference between a jumbo penny and a box with a dragon painted on it. One in a Million is, given the true odds, a slightly over-titled prediction effect in which the performer writes the names of two playing cards on the back of a card which the spectator freely pushes back into the deckbetween the two predicted cards. Half a Light is a dandy torn & restored match effect that could prove a lot of fun at the dinner table (in those remaining states that might actually have matches at the table).

I have had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Caveney perform the Benson Plunger (for magicians) a several times. This is a truly wonderful piece with built-in comedy elements. As I noted above, a toilet plunger (plumbers helper) is funny. So is using the handle as a magic wand. I also believe that this routine is adaptable to many personality styles. In other words, you dont have to be Mike Caveney to perform it. (I believe this is true of most, if not all, of the magic in Magicomedy.) The construction of this routine makes it as close to real magic as anything one can imagine. Perhaps the only way to make it perfect would be to use rolled up wads of toilet paper instead of sponge balls, however the properties of the sponge balls are integral to the workings of the effect. And, the appearance of a giant aspirin at the end is just what the doctor ordered!

There are two items in Psychic Routines. Within the description of Bloody Prediction is some very sound advice from an experienced real world performer about when and where to perform such a routine. Readers would do well to take such advice to heart. But besides that, this is a wonderful, complete performance piece that offers an opportunity to stretch your acting wings. Bent Spoons is Mr. Caveneys offering for another popular dinner-table subject, the apparent psychic mangling of dinnerware.

Cabaret Routines is the area of magic Mike Caveney is best known for, so its really no surprise that some of the very best material is contained in this section. If you have never seen him work as one, trust me when I tell you that Mike Caveney is one of the best MCs in the business (I think he could write a book on this subject alonehint-hint). He offers a short section called Thumb Tips for MCs which is exactly what the title implies: a sneaky and invisible way for a MC to provide himself notes about a performer he/she is introducing. As a friend of mine used to say: If you aint cheatin, you aint tryin!

Should you have occasion to produce a chicken from a volunteers coat, after serious research Mr. Caveney offers a Comedy Load Bag; a load bag with a chicken head, wings and legs attached (fake, of coursehes not doing Voodoo here) that provides a moment of comedy while surreptitiously loading said critter in place. The Homing Card Comes Home is a jumbo stage version of The Homing Card and is one of those packs flat and plays big items anyone who works out of a suitcase dreams of having in their repertoire. Fred Kaps would be proud. Tearable Times is a clever and well constructed torn & restored paper effect that also combines the production of a lit candle. Club Soda is an incredible performance piece with built-in comedy and a lot of mysterynot bad for a lowly card trick.

Signed Bill in Cigar is a piece that Mr. Caveney is clearly very proud of, and rightfully so. He calls it the most commercial item in the book. (Who would know better?) He also comments that hes not worried about anyone using it simply because of the trouble one needs to go through to create the apparatus (overt and covert) required to accomplish this impressive feat. Given the current popularity of cigars (including among women), one would think that it would be worth the time and effort for a working professional to put the outfit together. The payoff has to be worth many times the effort to develop it.

From 1965 to 1971, Mr. Caveney performed The Thimble Act. (In those days everyone, or so it seemed, had a theme act of some kindthis was his.) Here he shares a few segments and elements from this act. I think he primarily wanted to get this piece from his past on paper, but this is not to say that there are no interesting ideas here. There are several and some that, with a little creative thinking, could be applied elsewhere.

The Stage Illusions section finishes off the book with two very interesting ideas that, again, would take considerable effort, however, could prove fruitful given the right circumstances. The first is a brilliant illusion using what appears to be one of those commercial canister vacuum cleaners. It was a Bill Taylor concept that was ready for performance by 1969, but did not see its debut until 1981and it was Michael Weber who presented the piece.

The other illusion is Mr. Caveneys original idea for a Substitution Barrel. Unfortunately, it seems that Will Goldston purloined the idea from him sometime in the 1920s. If this is not proof that Mike Caveney is a reincarnated Vaudeville headliner, I dont know what is!

Magicomedy is a small volume: 171 octavo pages. But it is full of great routines and ideas that just about anyone could use. For me, however, the most compelling thing about this book is its message that some of the most effective magic that can be performed uses simple, everyday objects; things we can find around the house versus shiny tubes and glossy boxes. Thats why this little book remains one of my favoritesI hope its one of yours too.

Dustin

PS: Starting tonight (3/18/05), at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts (Cerritos, California; 800-300-4345), Mr. Caveney will be performing with Harry Anderson in Andersons World of Magic show along with Tina Lenert and some other members of the Left-Handed League. They will be there through Sunday, 3/20. I will be there on Saturday night. (And NOfor those of you who are thinking it right nowMr. Caveney did not provide tickets in return for this. I purchased the tickets for my family weeks ago. He has no idea that I am doing this or that we are going to be there.)
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Postby Richard Hatch » 03/19/05 09:34 AM

Great book by a great performer! Alas, a check of Mike's website indicates it may currently be out of print, as is his booklet IDEAS which includes his inspired handling of Corinda's "Powers of Darkness". Here's hoping both get re-issued when the companion volume is released! Thanks for bringing this book to the forum's attention, Dustin.
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Postby Steve V » 03/25/05 04:32 PM

Mike Caveney is scheduled to be the guest Saturday March 26th on www.magicbroadcast.com at 8 Pacific/11 Eastern pm. You can get questions to him during his appearance by emailing ryan@magicbroadcast.com or go to the chat and PC the question. The hosts are Gerald Kirshner from magicity.com and Ryan "half baked" Pilling.
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Postby Todd Karr » 04/03/05 09:09 AM

During my initial years as a stage performer, Mike Caveney's Magicomedy was one of my bibles. The material is commercial, visual, and funny. I did his bill in cigar and other pieces from this great book. I hope Mike reprints it for the next generation of magicians.
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Postby Frank Starsinic » 04/03/05 09:32 PM

I bought this book directly from Mike just a year or two ago. Email him. He may still have a few around.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 04/23/05 11:48 PM

I find it amazing that, apparently, only four people here have read this book given that fact that Im fairly certain that it has gone through two printings (the first has brown boards and Ive seen an edition with blue boards).

A failure on my part in kicking this discussion off is my not having expressed enough the concept of doing magic with everyday objects versus obvious magic props which, of course, is the hallmark of the vast majority of Mike Caveneys magic. Hangers that link together instead of big silver rings: A bow and arrow that stabs through the selected card instead of some chrome-plated sword.

What are your feelings about that? Do you use painted tubes, or brown paper sacks? Does it matter? Are natural props more amazing to the laity than so-called magic props? Is it the prop that strengthens/weakens the effect, or the performers abilities, or perhaps character?

This book is filled with magic with natural props. What would happen in a close-up performance where the magician does (say) Cents of Touch from the book, then does an Okito Box routine? The same question could be asked about the stage/stand-up magic. What are your thoughts about this concept?

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Postby Guest » 04/24/05 02:13 PM

I have also not read it (nor own it, as the two may often differ as we know).

Dustin, you always do a great job kicking off and moving along the discussion. It seems thought that at least some may need to sit out the dialogue until they get a book from the third printing...
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Postby Glenn Godsey » 04/27/05 08:45 PM

I bought the book from Mike a couple of years ago to study his thimble routine. I enjoy Mike's work, but I am not a big fan of the concept of doing magic with everyday objects. I have a great nostalgia for the apparatus and faux oriental settings that I saw in shows like Blackstone, Senior, when I was a kid.I really like "magic props". I think that a large percentage of our personal tastes can be attributed to nostalgia. The "X Generation" magicians see corn where I see elegance...conversely, they see highly disirable energy where I see confusing manic speed.

Best regards,
Glenn Godsey
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Postby Brian Marks » 04/28/05 07:27 AM

dont confuse bad performers with using everyday objects. Using props that scream "gimmick" reduces the effectiveness of a trick. How many times does a performer do several effects with $1000 pieces of equipment but the only effect remembered was an effect from Mike Caveny's book? Alot if you material from his book.
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Postby Curtis Kam » 04/28/05 01:49 PM

I bought this book the minute it came out, and had great hopes that it would list, somewhere, the "ten things you need to do to have a funny commercial act like Mike Caveney's". Of course, I was destined to be disappointed in this, but that is the only aspect in which this book fails to deliver.

I agree that the title is a bit of a misnomer. The material is funny where it means to be, however, it is just as often surprising, magical, practical, and commerical. Usually, it's all of those things. The simple, solid construction of the magic and the general sweep of it all has always reminded me of the Tarbell course. I have been amazed at how many times, over the years, I have attacked a magical problem and have recalled something from this book that solved it. I have come back to Mr. Caveney's book time and again and studied his constructions before setting off on my own.

In my experience, there is more to learn about routining in Magicomedy than there is about comedy, per se.

The Cigar routine is a lesson in itself, a worker as well as a magician fooler.

The Plunger routine I built and used. One night, I had the inspiration to carve the handle of the toilet plunger into the likeness of a polynesian "Tiki" (like a totem pole) The gag was that this was a recently discovered artifact that proved the ancient Hawaiians had indoor plumbing. BTW, to make the sponges fit in, all you need to do is carve a tan car sponge into roughly spherical shapes.

The methodology for the "Murder" routine I am using in the opener to my mental act today.

"Club Soda" is on the "saver" list of things I can "improvise" should I have to appear on stage unexpectedly, or lacking my usual stuff.

The spoonbend is still one of the best around, and I use his technique in my act today.

While I expect that I will continue to revisit Magicomedy in the years to come, I would hardly complain if there were two volumes, rather than one, to return to.

Thank you Mike Caveney, and thanks, Dustin, for the memories.
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Postby Randy » 04/28/05 04:45 PM

I too have this book and bought it directly from Mike at a convention here in LA quite a few years back. Great book by an experienced and polished performer.

As far as using everyday objects vs. overt magic "props" I have one thought: A few years back I took a few friends to see David Copperfield here in Orange County. Great show with some amazing illusions using big boxes, cages, etc. The one trick that DC did that my friends all kept talking about on the way home was "Mis-lead" using a "normal" pencil and a borrowed bill. I learned a lot on that drive home.
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Postby Glenn Godsey » 04/28/05 10:43 PM

Well, "Mis-led" is a fabulous illusion. I first saw it when Copperfield did it on TV, and I was blown away. After 60 years of fooling around with magic, I am rarely fooled, but the pencil passing slowly and visibly through the bill fooled me and it fooled me with grace and beauty. IMHO, all of the "perfect pens", sharpies, and various improvements have gone straight downhill - but they are popular because they are much easier to perform. The only simplified version that retains the beautiful illusion is "Passin' Thru".

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Postby Randy » 05/02/05 11:19 AM

I agree. But back to Dustin's intial point of this thread regarding the use of magic "props" vs. everyday objects, it seems to me that "regular" people are more impressed with magic using items they can relate to and use themselves, such as money, pencils, matchbooks, etc. Any thoughts?
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Postby Glenn Godsey » 05/02/05 09:03 PM

Originally posted by Randy Gastreich:
.... it seems to me that "regular" people are more impressed with magic using items they can relate to and use themselves, such as money, pencils, matchbooks, etc. Any thoughts?
I can't think of a single magician who became successful with the public (the regular people) by primarily doing magic with common objects, unless you consider cards and coins to be common objects. Few people carry a deck of cards. I guess David Blaine pretends to be doing real magic with common objects (dead flies and pidgeons), but I don't consider him a magician so much as a charlatan publicity hound.
All of the other "famous magicians" I can think of used or use obviously special magic apparatus.

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Postby Matthew Field » 05/03/05 03:02 AM

Originally posted by Glenn Godsey:
All of the other "famous magicians" I can think of used or use obviously special magic apparatus.
[/QB]
Al Goshman: Coins, salt shakers.

Fred Kaps: Salt shaker, stack of bills.

Cardini: Cards, coins, cigarettes, pipe.

Tom Mullica: Cigarettes.

Perhaps it depends on your definition of "famous."

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Postby Alexander Crawford » 05/03/05 06:04 AM

David Berglas: a table (amongst others)
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Postby Brian Marks » 05/03/05 09:09 AM

considering the popularity of Texas Hold Em, I would say cards are common objects.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 05/03/05 03:10 PM

Is there really a question of whether playing cards and coins are common objects? Let me put it another way: if you bring out a deck of cards, do you have to explain what it is? Of course not. Just because people don't carry something around with them doesn't mean it isn't common. Who carries a pencil?

T. Nelson Downs was pretty famous, using only common objects. Thurston is well-remembered for throwing playing cards into the balcony. Harry Blackstone's best-known trick: the floating lightbulb.

David Copperfield became famous and stays so doing tricks that almost exclusively use common, familiar objects. The most common object he uses is a human being. The person may be sitting on a chair or standing on a sheet of metal on a pair of sawhorses, or on a bed behind a gauzy curtain, or wearing signed panties, but these are also recognizable objects. He also does tricks with playing cards, pearls, roses, borrowed rings, eggs, etc.

The notion that David Blaine isn't a magician is incomprehensible to me. Thanks to Bravo, I recently recorded the Street Magic special (instead of the latest by Alain Nu). And I was struck, on watching it again, by two things:
1) David's technique is really pretty good. I was able to detect several intermediate moves and they were all done very well.
2) David only ever does really strong tricks. The weakest trick he did in the whole special, I thought, was the Fechter trick where two cards change as the spectator was holding them. This is a very strong trick, but it's still just a card trick, not a "real" miracle, like everything else he did.

Even magicians who hate Blaine can learn from his example in this regard. Throw out all the stupid, meaningless, complicated tricks in your repertoire and only do the ten strongest tricks in the entire world.


P.S. Fans of Misled might want to take a drinking straw and a pair of scissors and try improvising a misled gimmick. This is a great trick for a restaurant. Take a straw with you into the bathroom, gimmick it, and slide it back in the wrapper. Then sneak this onto the table and kill people with it.

You can, when you're done, slide the straw and gimmick into your drink. If someone asks to see it, slide out the straw, leaving the gimmick in your drink.
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 05/03/05 05:01 PM

Perhaps I should clarify something: The commonality of an object can be quite different from being recognizable, particularly when it comes to what one might have on them at any given time. A toilet plunger is very recognizable but most folks dont carry one aroundexcept for maybe a plumber. Hangers are common and recognizable, but its unlikely that you could borrow one from your audienceunless you are performing in someones home (and doing Caveneys Impromptu Linking Hangers with borrowed hangers killsit could be the best 5 bucks youll ever spend).

As I mentioned above, Caveney does the card-stabbing using a bow and arrow: recognizable but fairly uncommon in most households these days. But it is so much more effective (I think) than a chrome-plated sword that doesnt look like any sword Ive ever seenexcept at a magic show.

While Copperfield does a lot of magic with recognizable objects, I can think of some that uses the downright incomprehensible. What is that contraption in which he shrinks himself? However, I do think that is an exception to a rule. Granted, not everyone uses an industrial fan, but its certainly more recognizable than a thin-sawing box, isnt it? The two illusions in Magicomedy use a barrel and what is ostensibly (but not really) a large commercial vacuum cleaner. I think thats what were talking about here: recognizable objects.

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Postby caveman » 05/05/05 11:11 PM

I guess it's about time I added my two cents to this discussion. First I'd like to thank Dustin for making such a big deal out of a little book that was published almost 25 years ago. Magicomedy is long out of print but went through two printings (2,000 and 1,000 copies) so it shouldn't be too hard to find a used copy.
When I wrote this book, I wasn't ready to put my entire current act into print so most of the material was actually developed during the sixties and early seventies which today seems like ancient history.
The whole theory of performing magic with ordinary objects (a theory that I still adhere to whole-heartedly) only works if most magicians ignore it. One of the reasons that it works for me is because people are used to seeing magicians use strange lookings props. It's logical for them to think, "Wow, I'd like to get one of those things so I could do that." The "ordinary stuff" theory defeats that thinking. Now they think, "Hey, that's an ordinary coathanger. This guy is unbelievable!" But if everyone subscribed to this theory, I'd look like every other magician out there. Fortunately, they don't.
Another important lesson that Magicomedy taught me was to never stop working on a trick or routine. When I put the Bill in Cigar in the book, it was exactly as I performed it and I thought it was the ultimate burned bill routine. I still do the routine all the time but the method has changed dramatically. So much so that if you've read the book, I think my current version might just fool you.
I've learned a lot since 1981 and I look forward to writing another book, this time with everything in it. It seems funny that the older you get, the smaller your repertoire becomes. I don't imagine the book will have that many routines in it but each one will be put under the microscope and disected. For instance, the Torn and Restored toilet paper routine I do went through five completely different methods before I arrived at the one I currently use. Some were good and some weren't but it's interesting to see how and why it changed and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
As I developed my Bow and Arrow routine, I saved each version of the script. Today's routine doesn't even resemble the original version and it's interesting (to me at least) why these changes were made.
I appreciate all you folks who took the time to write a few lines about Magicomedy. If any of you happen to be going to the Battle of Magicians in Canton, Ohio this weekend, I'll see you there. I'm lecturing there tomorrow night so we can continue this conversation then.
Regards,
Mike Caveney
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Postby Eric Rose » 05/10/05 11:48 AM

I just finally found a copy of Magicomedy (actually several copies - see paragraph below) and I have to say that I am very pleased. I'm about half way through the initial reading and I've already found several ideas that have me thinking. I love the Thumb Tip for M.C.s idea. I too often find myself needing to make a quick introduction immediately after performing my memory act and this takes away the sting of not remembering the guest speaker after the rush of performing adreneline. Ingenious.

(Here's the story of how I became the proud owner of 4 copies of Magicomedy yesterday. I went into a magic shop that I thought had closed a year ago and there on the shelf was not 1, but 4 copies of Magicomedy. Apparently the owner bought the copies from a dealers' widow recently. I grabbed all 4 and will list the other 3 on the Marketplace section so those Genii Forum folks who have been looking for this one can get them. Who'da thunk it?)
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Postby Frank Starsinic » 07/06/05 01:03 AM

This is interesting that Mike wrote...
The whole theory of performing magic with ordinary objects (a theory that I still adhere to whole-heartedly) only works if most magicians ignore it. One of the reasons that it works for me is because people are used to seeing magicians use strange lookings props. It's logical for them to think, "Wow, I'd like to get one of those things so I could do that." The "ordinary stuff" theory defeats that thinking. Now they think, "Hey, that's an ordinary coathanger. This guy is unbelievable!" But if everyone subscribed to this theory, I'd look like every other magician out there. Fortunately, they don't.
Here's a perfect example:
When I saw Copperfield do the Duck in a Bucket routine, there were two buckets.

One was an ordinary wooden bucket with a folding top. A bunny bucket, I think it's called. Really it looks quite ordinary.

The other bucket was a Vegas Style Take apart box.
Shiny and new looking. very impressive.

I thought the takeapart box ruined the vanish of the duck. I felt no feeling of magic at all when the duck vanished and I had never seen one of those boxes before in my life.

The wooden bucket was quite magical to me. Made me laugh and clap when the duck appeared.
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Postby Guest » 08/01/05 03:09 PM

In addition to the "recognizable props" issue, there is another important lesson to be learned from Magicomedy: Personality and attitude are more important than jokes. Remember the old expression, "A comic says funning things, but a comedian says things funny." That was a HUGE lesson for me to witness, experience and absorb when I met Mike at my very first IBM Convention (Pittsburg, 1981).

Mike was the MC for the first big evening show. My first taste of his sense of humor occured at that conclusion of the opening act. Kikuchi had just covered the stage with parasols, confetti and streamers. Mike called him out for another bow, and as the curtain closed he remarked, "There will now be a forty-five minute intermission...." I was in the floor laughing. Later, he did the Driebeck Die, torn and restored toilet tissue, and of course the Coathangers. I was struck, not just by how strong the magic was, but by how likeable the guy was.

I was thirteen years old, and I naively thought that the fifty dollars I saved up during the previous few months would get me everything I could want from the "dealers room". After AT LEAST twenty visits to the Johnson Products booth the visit with the very likeable (and very patient) Mr. Caveney, I eventually parted with half of my budget for "Magicomedy" and "Ideas". He threw in the Impromptu Linking Coathangers as a bonus.

Mike Caveney taught me that I didn't have to memorize the entire Robert Orben collection. If I found the humor inherent in the premise of the trick, then I could relax and enjoy the moment when the comedy evolved. That lesson, and his example, have proven to be invaluable.

Thanks, Mike. After more than twenty years, it is still a pleasure to to surrender part of my allowance for anything which has your name attached to it.

Bobby Lilly
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Postby Bill Mullins » 08/01/05 10:26 PM

Mike will be performing at the Southeastern Association of Magicians convention here in Huntsville, AL this weekend (5, 6 Aug). Bring your copy of Magicomedy . . .
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Postby Guest » 08/02/05 04:58 PM

Mike Caveney will also be stopping by the Magic APple in Studio City, CA. on August 20th for a book signing and to hang out a bit in the afternoon during the Magic APple's 2 Year Anniversary party!
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