THE PITCH: Opinion by Mike Rogers
In the overall of magicdom this is not of extreme importance, yet it does deserve some discussion. I’m talking about the patter lines we magicians use when performing card magic, or what we call in the trade show business “the pitch.” First, let’s admit to this. Some card effects always seem to play better than others, yet the apparent weak effect may actually be technically better than the popular effect. Perhaps it’s due to the way the layman viewer relates to the trick being done. Years ago when I was young and just feeling my way into magic I was told by an elderly statesman, Mr. Peter Warlock, that laymen would always have a difficult time relating to magic, especially card magic. Back then the statement didn’t make much sense to me. Now it does: especially in card magic. For instance, some card effects have an automatic natural appeal, or what we might call a built in “hook.” Gambling themes come to mind for this built in hook. Who hasn’t dreamed of winning great fortunes at the gaming tables? Hence, an effect where a royal flush just seems to magically happen has an automatic appeal. The same might be said of four ace effects since, contrary to what many magicians believe, there is a mystical appeal about four aces. Look how the Mac Donald Ace effect has held up through the years. The hook is there and little needs to be explained when doing these effects. I can list others such as Magician Makes Good, Gambler vs Magician, and of course the Hotel Mystery. You get the idea.
Let’s move to the other side of the coin, card tricks that we as magicians know to be good, yet they are more difficult to sell to a layman viewer. Oil and Water might be one. Technically it is a wonderful trick. Red and black cards will not mix no matter how much “proving” is done to mix them. That’s certainly magical. Levand has proven this on network TV. Still it is a difficult effect to pull on a layman viewer. The viewer interest just isn’t there. I suggest it’s simply this. . . There’s no hook. People simply don’t relate to trying to mix oil and water. It’s something they are taught early in school, and beyond that who really cares or tries to do it.(Marlo loved the effect incidentally.) People do dream of winning great sums, but who dreams of mixing oil and water? In all my years it’s never been something of interest, and I doubt that it will become of interest. It’s at the bottom of the list if I had such a list. I will, however, wager a few coins when next in Las Vegas. There’s just no emotional appeal to the Oil and Water effect as there is with, say, The Hotel Mystery or something to do with a royal flush. (Yet magically I tend to agree with Marlo. The Oil and Water effect is truly magical.)
Let’s take another. How about the effect known as Follow the Leader? Technically it’s a dandy card trick. Packets of cards are crisscrossed again and again about the table and the respective colors follow the leader packets. Does the layman viewer care? Moreover, it doesn’t make much sense when presented with a follow the leader theme. Everyone has played follow the leader as kids, but that popular child’s game of duplicating the goofy actions of another in no way relates to the packet switching of cards on the table. It just doesn’t make sense. There’s no hook and no reason for the viewer to want to relate to it.
How about the Ambitious Card? Wow, I’m treading on sacred ground here. This might be the most often performed card trick in magic, so let’s discuss it for a moment. I have magician friends, card men, who openly and proudly state that the Ambitious Card is their favorite card effect. I often wonder if it’s favorite because it’s the most fun for them to do, or if it’s their favorite because it creates the greatest response from the viewers? Indeed it is fun to do. You get to parade quite an arsenal of card sleights and subtleties. It also gives the viewer much to watch as the card jumps about in the deck. So what’s my gripe? Nothing with the trick itself. It’s a good trick and one that I also use. My heartburn comes when I see a magician presenting it with the pitch stating that the card is “ambitious.” The word “ambitious” just doesn’t make much sense in this context. Yes, yes, of course it makes sense to us; it’s shop talk to magicians. But does the viewer understand why the card is called ambitious? He’s going to have to give it some serious thought. My guess is his thoughts on ambition run more along the lines of fame, power, and success. A card jumping around in the deck doesn’t quite relate.
Let’s move on. How about this one. The magician removes a playing card from his pocket and proudly states that it is a “Prediction Card.” Now in the mind and eyes of the viewer just what in hell does that mean? Of course the phrase is in our jargon, but will the layman understand it? I suggest you stand on a corner in Times Square showing everyone a card while stating it’s a “Prediction Card.” The most you’ll gain is to be relegated to the ranks of the other kooks in Times Square!
OK, I’ll quit: no more examples, but please stick with me and I’ll try and tie all this together. Are the effects I’ve mentioned bad tricks, and should we not perform them? Of course not. Some of them are the standards of card magic. So what’s the point in these ramblings? Here’s the point ……
Many excellent card effects suffer simply because the viewer can’t relate to the trick, and the problem just might be the pitch. The viewer needs to be given a reason to want to believe or a reason to want to relate to the effect. There needs to be a hook that he can grab while watching the routine. At times just adding an element of humor is all that’s needed, or perhaps giving a bit of history about the effect, or maybe just pointing out the utter impossibility of what’s about to be done. Something that will make the viewer want to watch and follow.
I could babble on about this, but I’ve already devoted more than 1,000 words to this opinion, and more would simply amount to continued babbling.