Simplicity in Magic
by Elliott Hodges

“You’re showing off.” Such a comment has been addressed to me and probably to a lot of us. My normal response is to say - it’s no different to a footballer doing keep-ups with a football but skills with cards etc are just not as commonly seen. Sadly, I wasn’t gifted in the area of ball games as my attempts at PE during my school days testify only too well. To look at it from a slightly different angle, I recently had the amazing privilege of seeing one of my favourite musicians in concert. Mark Knopfler out of Dire Straits is one of the most talented guitar players in the world in my opinion and I had one of the best nights of my life when I saw him at the Royal Albert Hall.

I think that him playing the fantastic solo riff from Sultans of Swing is much like a footballer displaying his skill or me doing a card spring or shooting a card out of the deck to a typically appreciative and gasping audience. Yet I don’t think Knopfler would ever have anyone accuse him of showing off. So what is it that makes people think we show off?

Is it simply the fact that people aren’t used to seeing it? I’m convinced that it partly is that. But at the same time, I’m sure that there is much more to it than that-which is what I really want to talk about in this article.

I have begun to wonder if we make our effects too complicated, or if we choose to perform effects that we don’t need to amaze out audiences. Part of the reason for my thinking in this way has come out of my love for taking “beginners tricks” that most magicians have overlooked and adapting them for use with lay-audiences. I recently put in a simple trick that I got out of an old hardback, kids Ali Bongo book. The very first time I used it, it got a massive gasp that really, really surprised me.

To my mind, this sort of stuff means just as much (if not more sometimes) to lay audiences than intrinsic, complicated stuff that we have bought from the other side of the world. I wonder if we sometimes try and routine our effects for magicians rather than lay people. How any times have you read in the description of a trick, “this ace assembly even fools magicians” and other such lines? Do we really think that our audiences can tell the difference? When was the last time that you had a spectator come up to you after a show and has said “I bet that trick with the aces even fools magicians?” It doesn’t make any difference to a spectator particularly. Remember that if you were to compile two lists of the best magic tricks in the world, one a lay persons list and one a magicians list, they would be completely different. For example, I have a friend who is very good at card under box routines. As Far as I can tell, he is a very popular performer and lecturer for magicians. I think the reason is because magicians love stuff like that which are clearly advanced card skills. Now, I also think that lay people would rate cards under box as a good trick BUT they would also rate invisible deck just as highly. Magicians would never get excited about someone doing invisible deck because although it looks amazing, we are all too familiar with it.

I’ve probably rambled on a fair bit but in my opinion, the simple stuff can be made really entertaining to a lay audience with a bit of thought.

© Elliott Hodges, July 2008