I’m a working stiff. Really I am. I make a big part of my living as what we magicians call ‘a worker.’ Every weekend I’m invited to be a paid guest at cocktail parties, 40th birthday parties, casino nights, formal dinners, cocktail parties, conferences and any number of social events across Melbourne.
It’s the biggest scam I know. I get paid to attend fantastic parties at amazing venues around the country and do what I love most, perform close up magic and swindles.
Usually, towards the end of the night as I’m packing up my box of tricks (I literally have a box of tricks! How brilliant is that?), I host a little impromptu FAQ with guests who’ve wandered up with questions about the business.
Most of the time I’m forced to blow them off with a few stock one-liners.
How I did do that?
a) Very well thank you! b) Can you keep a secret? So can I? c) I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you.
The lines are hack and they don’t really tell audiences what they really want to know. But the truth to questions like that are difficult and late on Friday night at a cocktail party at a trendy South Melbourne bar is not the place to deal with them.
So, allow me answer all of those questions that we magicians usually duck.
“Can you put a mobile phone in a bottle?”
Most magicians can do that cool trick you saw on television. We can walk on water, levitate above buildings and put phones in bottles. We just need a television budget, a cast of actors to play the ‘random’ passerbys and the ability to edit out all the mistakes. Dynamo can put a phone in a bottle the same way those couple on The Bachelor fall in love. Unconvincingly.
Television magic doesn’t give you the same experience as seeing magic in the real world because we know, even subconsciously, that it’s manufactured.
Magicians don’t admit it publicly because you come off a little jealous.
No one wants to be ‘that guy.’
“Do you make a living from this?”
It’s far easier to become a professional magician than it is almost any sort of art form. Despite its popularity, demand for close up magicians is still way higher than supply.
“Can you cheat at the casino?”
While magicians use similar skills as card cheats to perform magic, the skill set is just different enough that knowing a cool card trick won’t be much use at the card table. Knowing how to play to saxaphone might make it easy to learn the trumpet but they’re still different instruments.
However, magicians know that audiences love the fantasy of the sleight of hand con man so we’ll often create special routines that make us look like master card cheats because we know that is what you want to see. We can deal every hand a royal flush even though doing that in a real card would get you beaten up.
That said, there are a select few magicians who are both master card magicians and master cheats. R Paul Wilson and Jason England are two names that spring to mind.
“Is it magnets?”
But not when you think.
“Can you pick up girls with magic?”
There’s a ton of book, DVDs and videos on the market for picking up women with magic. Most of them contain classic, easy to do magic tricks that have been given a romantic or sleazy twist.
In reality, a magic trick is not going to make you more attractive to the opposite sex. It might catch a girl’s eye or work as a conversation point but if you’re the kind of a guy who is so awkward around women that you’re hoping for a romantic miracle from a magic book, you’re not going to have much luck.
“It’s all psychology isn’t it?”
It is, but, like magnets, not when you think.
There’s a big trend in magic at the moment for magicians to create the impression they are masters of the human mind. Svengalis able to manipulate your every choice and predict your every action.
Mostly, magicians use psychology to either increase our odds of stumbling onto a miracle (e.g. women are most likely to name “Queen of Hearts” when asked to name a card.) or to stop you from spotting our sleight hand.
Being able to control your attention is far more important than being able to control a deck of cards.
“No really, how did you do that?”
Magic works because you don’t know the secret.
But human beings are wired to solve puzzles, to figure things out. For some audiences, a well performed illusion is a like a mystery novel with the past chapter torn out. It is frustrating not to know but we just won’t tell you.
If you really won’t to know, you will find out. It’s the 21st century, information is easy to find. But I guarantee you’ll be disappointed. The secrets of magic is a Pandora’s Box. Once opened, they can’t be stuffed back inside. You can go back to being amazed anymore.
So instead of trying to open Pandora’s Box you’ll be much happier if you just sit back and watch it be sawed in half.
Do you have any more questions you’d like answered?
Let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them.
Nicholas J. Johnson is a Melbourne magician, author, entertainer and collector of scams.