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.
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.)