The Stories We Tell

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Magicians are storytellers.

Obviously, none of us are true sorcerers in the style of Merlin, Gandalf, or Harry Potter, and our audiences know this. Instead, we tell stories of sorcerers, with ourselves playing the main role. Audiences suspend their beliefs just as they would during a viewing of Hamlet or Star Wars and let themselves become immersed in our stories. 

Problems arise when magicians show tricks instead of telling stories.

I can't tell you how many magicians I've seen show tricks instead of telling stories. Of course, good tricks are the backbone of any magic show, but presenting them just as tricks can become dull over the course of a show. That's why every magician should have a concrete story to tell their audience and work their shows around that story. 

Kevin James is an amazing storyteller. He tells his audience the story of an inventor that builds all of his own illusions. By putting this filter over his show, he creates a distinct look and feel and captivates his audience. His Sawing in Half illusion is very different from others, because no one else is telling the same story that he is.

Penn & Teller also tell a distinct story. Theirs is a story of two bad-boys who expose tricks and "break the rules". By viewing their show through this filter, they have a clear vision of what will work and how to present tricks. Think of their Cups and Balls; they show a typical cups and balls routine, stating how magicians NEVER present it with clear cups (this always gets a laugh from the audience). They follow this by presenting the routine again WITH clear plastic cups, and in the process, expose everything about the trick. Yet it is still a mystifying and entertaining routine, because of their skill and their masterful storytelling.

Now contrast the Kevin James and Penn & Tellers of the world with Average Joe the Great.

Average Joe the Great has a series of stock magic tricks that he does well and gets good audience reactions, and he has a steady stream of work in his local market. Families enjoy his show, and he has a small following on social media. He always gets laughs from his audiences with his jokes ("Hold out your clean hand," "Shuffle the cards, but don't mix them up," etc.) and from his Breakaway Wand. 

But Average Joe doesn't have a clear story that he wants to tell. As a result, his Coloring Book, Cups and Balls, and Professor's Nightmare are indistinguishable from most other magicians. He is liked by everyone who sees him, but loved by no one. He'll live and die without making even a slight dent in the magic community and without contributing so much as a real card trick to the art. The only impact that his show has is to enforce the image of a stereotypical magician into the heads of the laymen who see it. 

Average Joe the Great can be found frequenting magic clubs, conventions, and online message boards. You won't notice him, however, because he'll blend in with the thousands of other Average Joe the Greats. They all use the same tricks, the same jokes, the same marketing material; they get the same average audience reactions and have the same average impact on their local magic communities. 

Some of these Average Joes will remind you of Kevin James, Penn & Teller, and other masterful storytellers. But you won't be fooled for more then an instant, since Average Joe has no story to tell except one of imitation and unoriginality. If you ever find yourself watching a magician and wondering if you're witnessing Average Joe the Great, ask yourself one simple question: "Am I board?"

The tragedy of Average Joe the Great is that he doesn't realize how average he is. His greatest trick is fooling himself into thinking he's an artist and masterful storyteller. This is even worse when he's a "working pro" and uses money to justify his maiming the art. We're all tempted to do popular magic tricks with stock routines because they are "time-tested" and guarantee some kind of positive audience reaction. Please resist the temptation! Because Average Joe the Great is killing magic. Audiences who see his show are uninspired and have a negative outlook on magic. He is hurting the true artists of magic; burning the stories real magicians tell. He must be stopped, and the only way to stop him is to tell your own story.

Don't be Average Joe the Great.

In fact, don't be Kevin James or Penn & Teller, either.

Be original! Write your own story, and that will reward you more then the best magic trick in the world!

Ryan Lally