Monday, January 13, 2014

Different Tricks, Same Effect

I want to talk a little today about multiple methods for the same effect in magic. In years past, I’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that most of the time, just pick a method and stick with it, end of story.

For instance, let’s consider the classic 100 Bill Switch. There are a ton of published handlings out there. (For the past 15 years or so, I’ve used Kevin King’s “Money Morph” handling and that’s just my choice). But there are so many handlings that often magicians have trouble sticking with one handling for long in order to truly master a handling…and in my world, mastering it means you’ve polished it to as close to perfection as you can get and then you’ve also performed it hundreds of times for lay audiences and continued polishing it based on feedback, etc.

When you swap handlings for the latest craze, you never fine-tune an effect. It’s not drilled into your muscle memory and polished to the point where you can just DO  the effect so well, so nonchalantly that your mind is free to adjust or adlib based on conditions and opportunities presented to you.

So, pick a good handling for a given effect and stick with it.

Interestingly, for the purpose of this article, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and change my position. The reason? Whenever anyone says, “This rule is unbreakable,” I immediately start thinking of possible exceptions to said rules…even if the rule is one of my own! Let me expand on this by discussing my favorite mentalism effect, Confabulation…the plot where audience members are asked to name out loud certain random (or not so random) pieces of information, such as a brand of car, a vacation destination, a celebrity name, anything. The strongest handlings mean there are NO restrictions on what can be named in a category. Then, all of these choices are shown to have been predicted in advance by the performer, often incorporated into a story of some kind on a piece of paper.

In other areas – blogs, articles, reviews, etc. – I’ve been pretty vocal about my thoughts of this being the strongest effect in mentalism. I won’t define my criteria or defend it here – it’s just how I feel for plenty of reasons – but my love of this plot means I’ve searched for years for the perfect handling.

Now, my idea of “perfect handling” may be different than yours. In my case, “perfect handling” means  it’s one-man…no assistants. In my own handling (available in two of my “Cause & Effects” books at I have a sealed FedEx envelope in the audience before the show starts and at the end of the show, after all of the Confab choices are made by random audience members, the FedEx envelope is opened by an audience member. There’s a smaller envelope inside. Inside that is a sealed package – two 5x7 notecards stapled together around the perimeter of the cards so nothing can get in or out. The audience member rips open this open and she herself takes from within a folded index card…which of course lists everything predicted in an amusing story.

It’s how I’ve consistently closed my corporate shows for nearly 15 years. For a $30 book (with other stuff included) it’s hard to beat…especially since the performer needs no special magic goodies or fancy sleight-of-hand skills to do it.

My only quibble with my handling is the fact that the writing is restricted to an index card, meaning you have to ‘sell’ the effect to the audience – until the card is passed around, only your onstange volunteer can read it.

So I’ve searched for ways to make the end prediction visible to a large audience…but still be one man.

For years, the holy grail of the large stage Confab solutions was/is the Prediction Chest, with an extremely popular version put out by Doug Malloy. It is fabulous but relies on an off stage assistant.

Since then, I’ve found two fantastic solutions that I now love…Paul Romhany’s wonderful (and low tech) “Dream Prediction Lite” and Scott Alexander & Puck’s wonderful “MIB.” Both are great solutions to do a larger one man Confab routine.

Now, this article is NOT intended as a pitch (well, maybe for my books…) but only to illustrate how, depending on performing conditions, you MAY need to alter your methods. I now use my simple FedEx envelope handling for audiences up to 30 people, Paul Romhany’s “Dream Prediction Lite” for audiences of 30-70 people and “MIB” for audiences typically over 70 people.

Although I’d prefer to use just one handling, by tailoring which version I use, I’m customizing my show to the needs of the audience. While I’ve used “MIB” for very small shows successfully (for just EIGHT PEOPLE – there was a miscommunication in the pre-show details!!) the reality is certain handlings of certain effects are intended for certain audience sizes.

Now, to circle back to my original point, I don’t feel learning 4 or 5 different handlings of the 100 Bill Switch really benefits you because you’re doing basically the same actions – folding a borrowed bill and causing it to change – and the handlings I’ve come across are so similar in methodology that my stance has always been, if you have one that works, why switch? This is not intended as a knock on any particular handlings...merely an observation that because there are so many great ones that choosing and sticking to one is really the way to go.

So, if you are going to learn a different handling of something you already do well, make sure you’re going to really benefit from it. In my case, by having different Confab methods in my arsenal, I choose the one based on performing conditions.

Above all else, master ONE good handling before the next. I remember Eugene Burger telling a story about a Chicago magician who had an extremely small repertoire – only 12 tricks or so – but Eugene emphasized that he had thoroughly MASTERED each one.

Finally, have FUN!


-      Cris

Cris Johnson’s website,, offers both professional magic routines, trainings, and equipment as well as business-building tools to help you take your career to the next level!

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