Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

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Joe Mckay
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Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 25th, 2020, 6:09 am

I just came across this quote:
"I have frequently been struck by the fact that many magicians have great difficulty establishing a performance style, even though in 'real life' they may possess an abundance of style and character."
--Jamy Ian Swiss (Shattering Illusions)

This is something I have noticed a lot as well. I have also heard others mention this as well. Why is it that a lot of magicians (who are fun and interesting in real life), become boring when they are asked to perform?

I think this is really interesting and is worth looking into. Have other magicians noticed this? And if so, what do you think is the cause of it?

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby JHostler » November 25th, 2020, 7:15 am

Only a small percentage of practitioners understand magic as a performing art, and even fewer are any good at it. Meanwhile, the sheer volume of material - and number of folks (especially young folks) capable of advanced sleight of hand - has exploded. I don't think personality has much to do with it; a fair number of successful comedians are painfully dull in "real life" - sort of the inverse.
"Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong." H.L. Mencken

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Jack Shalom » November 25th, 2020, 9:25 am

Being on a stage or performing before a public feels inherently unsafe.
Fear of failing, fear of being found inadequate, fear of rejection. All reasonable fears.
How to protect oneself? Imitate others who seem to have been successful. Grasp at the time-tested cliche. Play the form, even if you don't know what content informed the form. Stanislavski had scathing criticism for this kind of performer.
The process starts even before one gets onstage--there's a perception of what agents want for a given market, and the performer tries to mold her or himself to that. S/he imitates the cliche, instead of drawing from life. Watch actors on a soap opera. They're all alike. They figure, at least I'm working.
Personality *is* important. Maybe the most important thing in a professional situation. But personality on stage is very different from personality in life. Personality on stage means having a free body, mind, and communication apparatus. It means having a definite *point of view* towards life, the audience, and what is happening on stage, and sharing that (mostly implicitly). It means being unafraid to reveal aspects of oneself. It means being clear what you're doing out there, what you want to accomplish, what you want to leave them with once the audience leaves the theater.
From all the questions and comment you've put here, I think you're looking in the right direction.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 25th, 2020, 9:43 am

I want to explore racism, Hitler (none of us would be alive today if Hitler had never being born), nuclear war, taboos, Holocaust denialism, drawing the prophet Muhammad, why I don't care about climate change, why Antifa are fascists, nihilism and anti-natalism in my magic.

This is not because I am trying to be "shocking" or dark. It is just that my brain is naturally drawn to these topics when I try and think of interesting things to talk about. It must be related to my Asperger's syndrome in some way. And I have found some great magic tricks that I can use as part of these discussions.

Is it worth pursuing this path? The problem is that if I don't - then I feel like I won't have an interesting point of view or anything else interesting to share. So, I feel like I am forced down this path.

I am just curious as to what you guys think? I am a fun and silly person. But I find it interesting talking about dark topics since I seem to always have an ingenious and unusual way of approaching these issues.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » November 25th, 2020, 9:58 am

How do your presentation themes work when you use them for audiences? Do they or the management ask for more?

They ---> https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/m ... ket-newtab
have a pop-song titled "dynamite". You can hear/read how far they get with their personal themes in their lyrics.

There's some sage advice in 'erdnase' about things to say in accompaniment to the magic trick procedure. (palaver?)
Last edited by Jonathan Townsend on November 25th, 2020, 10:13 am, edited 1 time in total.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

Joe Mckay
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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 25th, 2020, 10:10 am

I have chosen tricks that have surprising finishes (see my essay on The Inevitable Surprise). As such - the trick can standalone (without a presentation), since the plot itself is inherently entertaining. I then discuss how certain principles from magic (eg If you cannot hide it, paint it red) can be applied to non-magic topics.

My conceit is that I have invented some interesting tricks and that I want to use them as a springbord to discuss non-magic topics in an interesting way, since (as with magic) that also involves looking at problems from a new perspective.

I am prettty hopeless at inventing magic tricks. But when performing for laypeople - I want to sell the idea that what I have learned from inventing magic tricks also allows me to look at non-magic problems in a similarly counter-intuitive way.

So, to give one example - here is a dark but ingenious way of reducing the likelihood of nuclear wars:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Fisher_(academic)#Preventing_nuclear_war

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » November 25th, 2020, 10:26 am

You mention a conceit - is that your character who wishes to discuss timely issues from an eccentric point of view?

Some comics bring their politics into their performances. George Carlin and Lenny Bruce come to mind. There is plenty of performance video online so you can see how well that worked.
Mundus vult decipi -per Caleb Carr's story Killing Time

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby MagicbyAlfred » November 25th, 2020, 11:16 am

Joe Mckay wrote:I just came across this quote:
"I have frequently been struck by the fact that many magicians have great difficulty establishing a performance style, even though in 'real life' they may possess an abundance of style and character."
--Jamy Ian Swiss (Shattering Illusions)

This is something I have noticed a lot as well. I have also heard others mention this as well. Why is it that a lot of magicians (who are fun and interesting in real life), become boring when they are asked to perform?

I think this is really interesting and is worth looking into. Have other magicians noticed this? And if so, what do you think is the cause of it?


It may be because they are coming from the point of "How should I be?" instead of being who they are.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 25th, 2020, 11:23 am

Thanks for the discussion so far.

I have gone over my repertoire and given it a lot of tweaks.

It is a lot less dark now. There is a nice mix of different ideas (some still a bit dark).

I don't know what it is - but until I share what I am thinking with others - I cannot look at it from a fresh perspective. It is like my brain is trapped in a cycle going over the same point of view over and over again.

The same thing happens when I invent a magic trick. I honestly have no idea if it is a good idea or not until others have a look at it.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby magicfish » November 25th, 2020, 11:40 am

Im confused. Why wouldn't we be alive today had Hitler never been born?

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 25th, 2020, 11:45 am

Well your mother produced thousands of eggs and your father produced billions of sperm.

If a different sperm met a different egg - you wouldn't be here today.

Hitler caused WWII. And world war two changed the course of all future events. If Hitler had never existed - there is a good chance your Mum & Dad would never have met. And even if they had - the timeline would still have been thrown off enough that there is a 99.99999% chance a different sperm and/or a different egg would have combined.

And that would have meant somebody else being born instead of you.

The same logic pretty much applies to everyone else born after 1945 as well.

Check out The Non-Identity problem be Derek Parfit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abPkNFzxeE4

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 25th, 2020, 11:51 am

The same argument means we can trash the planet and future generations cannot be mad at us - since the act of trashing the planet will cause an entirely different set of people to be born. As such - they will have owed their very existence to the fact that the previous generation selfishly trashed the planet.

And this is why I don't recycle.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Peirceman » November 25th, 2020, 12:12 pm

1. Time is a construct, so the Hitler argument/point is moot.

2. Most magicians are boring because they are executing a recipe instead of performing a role. They are boring because they are worried about what comes next instead of what is happening now. It is the same reason people who listen are way more interesting than those waiting for their turn to talk.

3. Until your magic requires as much thought as you put into breathing, you will be boring.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 25th, 2020, 12:19 pm

So in order to be truly present in the moment - you have to know exactly what you are going to do & say?

Maybe this is why most magicians perform easy tricks better than they do the more difficult ones?

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Tom Moore » November 25th, 2020, 12:29 pm

Joe Mckay wrote:I want to explore racism, Hitler (none of us would be alive today if Hitler had never being born), nuclear war, taboos, Holocaust denialism, drawing the prophet Muhammad, why I don't care about climate change, why Antifa are fascists, nihilism and anti-natalism in my magic.

This is not because I am trying to be "shocking" or dark. It is just that my brain is naturally drawn to these topics when I try and think of interesting things to talk about. It must be related to my Asperger's syndrome in some way. And I have found some great magic tricks that I can use as part of these discussions.

Is it worth pursuing this path? The problem is that if I don't - then I feel like I won't have an interesting point of view or anything else interesting to share. So, I feel like I am forced down this path.

I am just curious as to what you guys think? I am a fun and silly person. But I find it interesting talking about dark topics since I seem to always have an ingenious and unusual way of approaching these issues.


First question is why do you feel "magic" is the appropriate medium to explore these ideas - Could you not explore them better through music / painting / poetry / public speaking? Before you get too far down the path of wondering why you have difficulties expressing these concepts you have to make sure that you've chosen the medium that is right for the message; not the medium that you fancy working in and to which you now have to shoehorn concepts.

As to why most magicians are boring - most magicians buy off the shelf tricks; present the routine pretty much as described and use either the patter from the demo video or a load of cliched lines they saw on a magic comedy tv special 30 years ago. Every part of their magic is from a style and ethos that /isn't/ theirs so it's hardly surprising that their performance is flat and jar's with their true personality. A stand up comedian starting out will expect to originate about 5 mins personal material per year and 8-10 years in when they're getting "full evening shows" they will have roped in a team of writers to help them speed up the development process. A juggler will spend 3-5 years perfecting a new skill that takes up maybe 3mins of their act. A composer who creates 6mins of hummable, successful, memorable music per year would be one of the most prolific music composers on the planet.

Most magicians spend $100 and a week practicing before unleashing their "performance" on the world, within a month have business cards & a website where they call them selves "Professional magician" and within a year are pitching hours of entertainment product "direct from Las Vegas". Is it possible to produce that much entertainment (from any genre) that quickly - yes by buying in ready made bits and parroting them; is that sparkly, high quality, personality based material that help performer and audience click- absolutely not.
"Ingenious" - Ben Brantley: New York Times

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 25th, 2020, 1:41 pm

You made some very good points Tom. I really appreciate that. I think of everything through the lens of magic. But to a viewer - they will be thinking "Why is he using magic to discuss this and not something else?" - and that can create an issue. That is a great point.

I will take what you said and see how it applies to what I am working on.

Thanks!

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Brad Henderson » November 25th, 2020, 5:27 pm

I know many wonderful people who, if pressed to give a talk, become dull as dirt.

Most people lack the skill set for being entertaining in front of a group.

Magicians hide behind their tricks and use them to compensate for this lack of ability.

We tolerate this.

A comic who is boring doesn’t get seen and is not respected by other comics.

We elect them club president and tell them they are great.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby magicfish » November 26th, 2020, 12:35 am

Joe Mckay wrote:Well your mother produced thousands of eggs and your father produced billions of sperm.

If a different sperm met a different egg - you wouldn't be here today.

Hitler caused WWII. And world war two changed the course of all future events. If Hitler had never existed - there is a good chance your Mum & Dad would never have met. And even if they had - the timeline would still have been thrown off enough that there is a 99.99999% chance a different sperm and/or a different egg would have combined.

And that would have meant somebody else being born instead of you.

The same logic pretty much applies to everyone else born after 1945 as well.

Check out The Non-Identity problem be Derek Parfit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abPkNFzxeE4

So if William the Conqueror hadn't been successful at the battle of Hastings in 1066, then Hitler would never have been born.
Then would I be here?
I'll see if I can incorporate that into my one coin routine.
:)

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby JHostler » November 26th, 2020, 9:04 am

To use magic (or anything theatrical) as the springboard for a "conversation" or a larger point, the latter must be somewhat coherent and emotionally aligned with the springboard. Suggesting that you're OK with "trashing the planet" and not recycling because this changes the course of future events - you apparently assume for the better - would appeal to a very, very, very small audience.

In fact, it feels like this thread is being employed for the exact same purpose...
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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby erdnasephile » November 26th, 2020, 9:44 am

To piggyback on Mr. Moore's point: perhaps the underlying answer to the "Why are we boring?" question is aptly summed up by a quote from the ultimate amateur:

"If people just cannot derive pleasure and satisfaction from practice and are not prepared to expend the time and thought and energy required because they find it irksome, then magic is not for them---they should turn to a different hobby." -- Dai Vernon

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 26th, 2020, 10:31 am

Mark Lewis made the good point to me that Orson Welles is an example of somebody who was very interesting (and charismatic) in real life.

But quite boring when performing magic.

Mark says it takes a lot of planning to work out how not to be boring when performing. Just as much planning as it takes to learn the tricks in the first place.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Bill Duncan » November 26th, 2020, 8:49 pm

Joe Mckay wrote:The same argument means we can trash the planet and future generations cannot be mad at us - since the act of trashing the planet will cause an entirely different set of people to be born. As such - they will have owed their very existence to the fact that the previous generation selfishly trashed the planet.

And this is why I don't recycle.


So you're choosing the trash the planet over trying to make it better because one set of people you won't know will never come into existence instead of a different and healthier group of people you'll never know? Have you read T

That kinda sounds like "I can't be bothered because I don't know them." with a side of "The people whose world I couldn't be bothered to care about it can't blame me."

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 26th, 2020, 9:10 pm

That's exactly what I'm saying. The act of being selfish ultimately causes more good than bad.

I should add that the reason I don't care about climate change is because I will never have kids. I just have no interest in having kids. Ironically that is the single best thing you can do to prevent climate change. I am also a vegetarian!

Is it better to be seen to care or to actually help out?


If you define existing as good and not existing as bad, then by trashing the planet you cause a different set of people to be born. And as such you are doing them a favour by helping to bring them into existence.

I flirt a lot of with the philosophy of David Benatar and anti-natalism. He argues that to never be born is better than being born. He thinks the greatest good we can do as a species is to voluntarily go extinct. So - if I adopted that position that might change my calculations a bit. I think under that philosophy existence becomes a harm that has to be mitigated. And therefore recycling would probably make sense then since you are no longer doing anybody a favour in the first place by helping to bring them into existence by being selfish.

Can you tell I have never had a girlfriend? haha

Anyway - I enjoy these screwy paradoxical ways of thinking. And funnily enough I think magic is the best artform to explore these ideas.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 26th, 2020, 9:29 pm

I should add that I despise magic. It is so dull. Even the good magic - I can take it or leave it.

Still - I enjoy studying it. And I want to try and give back in terms of creating something interesting and original. That is an interesting challenge.

I wonder if other magicians ever feel like they have a similar relationship? I always think back to Charlie Miller saying how bored he was of card tricks in his MAGICANA column. He said he wouldn't cross the street to watch another card trick.

I think hating the art you are trying to create for is very useful. It creates a distance that means you can look at it through the eyes of a disinterested viewer. That is helpful when trying to create something interesting and compelling.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 27th, 2020, 7:40 am

I have had some new ideas for a totally different conceit/persona that I am really pleased with. It also means I don't have to explore dark ideas. So, I will run with that one for now rather than try and turn my magic act into some weird existential nihilist rant.

It helps unblock my brain by getting stuff out there and shared with others. So, I am sure this thread helped since I would probably have still been stuck mulling over the themes explored here if I didn't have a chance to get them off my chest.

Thanks!

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby MagicbyAlfred » November 27th, 2020, 8:04 am

Joe Mckay wrote:Mark Lewis made the good point to me that Orson Welles is an example of somebody who was very interesting (and charismatic) in real life.

But quite boring when performing magic.

Mark says it takes a lot of planning to work out how not to be boring when performing. Just as much planning as it takes to learn the tricks in the first place.


I agree with Mark. Being entertaining and interesting involves a lot of elements, with communication skills being paramount. This ability comes more naturally to some people than others, but it can be learned through hard work and dedication. Usually, one will not have the knowledge or objectivity to do it alone, and that is why being coached and mentored by others is vital. We don't have the ability to see ourselves as others see us.

As just one small example, a friend of mine (who happens to be a judge) told me a joke the other day. It had a funny punchline, but it took like what seemed forever for him to get there. With as much diplomacy as I could muster, I explained how that same joke that took 3 minutes to tell could have been told in under 30 seconds. Nobody ever dared give it to him straight up like that before. and if I hadn't interceded and he hadn't been open to constructive criticism, he would have remained unaware that he was (frankly) a lousy joke teller. He was actually quite grateful because he loves to tell jokes to his friends, family and associates, and wants to do it effectively.

Taking an acting or improv class can be very helpful. Watching good stand-up comics perform - their timing and delivery can never hurt. Learning the art of story-telling can be very useful - most people love stories (again, brevity is important). Even asking friends and family to give you feedback can be very helpful. There is, of course, nothing more valuable than experience, performing as much as possible for people, which often results in learning by trial and error.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Leo Garet » November 27th, 2020, 9:54 am

Joe Mckay wrote:I should add that I despise magic. It is so dull. Even the good magic - I can take it or leave it.


If Magic is so dull and you despise it, perhaps it's not so much boring magicians, but a dull subject that offend you?

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Joe Mckay » November 27th, 2020, 12:44 pm

I agree with those who think my nihilism is a bit too weird. Unless you fully commit to some kind of gonzo outsider art - it will probably alienate rather than entertain.

David Regal gave some advice in a recent lecture that really struck home with me. It is simple advice, but I have never seen it expressed before. He says that magic may break the rules of reality, but you still have to deal with the rules of human interaction when performing. As such, it is a good idea to spend the first minute or two laying out some rail tracks for your performance, so that the spectator gets an idea of exactly where you are coming from.

Spectators have a lot of subconcious questions when they meet somebody for the first time and are suddenly asked to watch some magic. As such, it is a good idea to work out what your magic means to you and then find a way of communicating that to the spectator early on. That way they know exactly where you are coming from. They can also get to understand what you are about and what to expect.

Performing magic for somebody is weird and is something most people have never experienced. So, spending some time trying to allay any questions they may secretly have is a great way to get your performance rolling in a smooth way.

Maybe this is soemthing magicians forget since there early years in magic are defined by performing for friends & family. As such - a lot of those subconcious questions are already dealt with when performing for those groups. Later on - when they perform for strangers - it can be easy to forget that this new group is fundamentally different to earlier spectators. As such, you need to remember to spend some time communicating clearly your relationship to the tricks you are performing.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Jack Shalom » November 27th, 2020, 11:07 pm

That's exactly what I'm saying. The act of being selfish ultimately causes more good than bad.


A boring and silly idea when Ayn Rand wrote boring and silly books about it, and still boring.

Unless you define altruism as selfishness in which case it becomes a tautology, and hence, still boring, as tautologies are.

It's exactly the same with the Hitler argument; the precise argument about Hitler can be made with respect to whether my grandfather took a crap the morning of Dec 7th 1940 and so the idea is a tautology, and hence, boring again.

And, "I should add that the reason I don't care about climate change is because I will never have kids." What does one have to do with the other? Is your imagination and experience of other people so limited that you cannot imagine someone without children caring for the quality of life of future generations?

If you're going to be entertaining with your ideas they have to be strong ones, not ones that can be dismissed in half a second.

Or else prove them and surprise us. Like a magic trick.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Bill Duncan » November 27th, 2020, 11:34 pm

Joe Mckay wrote:That's exactly what I'm saying. The act of being selfish ultimately causes more good than bad.

If you define existing as good and not existing as bad, then by trashing the planet you cause a different set of people to be born. And as such you are doing them a favour by helping to bring them into existence.


Who would define existing as good and not existing as bad? Only someone who has existed. And I've heard way too many people who say they wish they had never been born to give that argument any weight at all. It's provably false. The best you can say is that it's opinion some hold.

Since your statement was that your inaction caused people to come into being that would not had you recycled then you are doing an equal amount of harm as you are benefit since the people who would have come into existence had you recycled never get to exist.

You have zero control over who comes into being beyond your own progeny. You can only effect the quality of life of those strangers who do happen to come into existence. If you don't give a $#!+ about others that's fine, but don't pretend there's some great intellectual argument to be made for it.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Jonathan Townsend » November 28th, 2020, 3:44 am

Satisfying sophisticated sorcery for the solipsist?

A is for audiences. They decide if a performance is engaging and your trickery deceptive.

Isn't it wonderful that we don't notice most of what we are thinking? And how we create stories about some of what we experience after the fact? :)

I'm Bored
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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Leo Garet » November 28th, 2020, 10:07 am

Bill Duncan wrote:If you don't give a $#!+ about others that's fine, but don't pretend there's some great intellectual argument to be made for it.

Well put.

So far I have seen nothing remotely resembling "intellectual" in Mister McKay's utterings.

But then what do I know. I'm only here because my parents met, got married and do what many married folk do.

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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Steve Mills » November 28th, 2020, 3:58 pm

Good grief!
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Richard Kaufman
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Joined: July 18th, 2001, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Theodore DeLand
Location: Washington DC
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Re: Why are a lot of magicians boring when performing?

Postby Richard Kaufman » November 28th, 2020, 4:19 pm

I'm locking this thread.
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