Scott Wells – Showdown At High Noon

Columnist:
Scott Wells

“Hey Dave, show this guy that you can shove a cigarette through a quarter.” “Hey Mike, can you show these guys that one where you stick the card on the ceiling?” “Hey guys, watch Frank change this one dollar bill into a hundred. You CAN do it can’t you, Frank?” “OK everybody, hang on to your watches and pocketbooks. This guy is good!”

How often have we been put in a situation where two things like this have happened? First, you are caught cold, outside of a regular performing engagement without the appropriate gimmick, and second, even if you had the necessary something for the effect, the denouement is blown. The guy has already spoiled your ending by revealing the climax. It then becomes a challenge to figure out how you are going to accomplish the effect. Perhaps your presentation is entertaining enough to put everyone off guard again and again, particularly those who are seeing it for the first time, but the “friend” who wants you to show it to his friends may be looking for the secret and has heard your clever banter several times before. He may also merely be wanting his friends to know that he knows a magician.

Several issues have been raised here, specifically:

  1. are some tricks which become “reputation makers” too strong,
  2. should you always be prepared to perform that “special” effect,
  3. should we perform on demand like a trained seal,
  4. is it possible to have alternate methods for their favorite trick.

Basically, what do we say and what do we do when we are placed in a no win situation?

First of all, I believe that there are some effects that are so good that they can give you a reputation as a magician and become associated with you. Whenever that person sees anyone else doing that trick which they saw you performing, they refer to it as “your” trick. For example, I have been performing the rising cartoon card effect known as Martin Lewis’ “Cardiographic” since it was first published. When some people who had seen me first perform the effect then saw David Copperfield do it on his TV special in 1990, they said “Hey, he’s doing Scott’s trick.” Or when I do the torn and restored newspaper, they may say “Hey, that guy’s doing Bill Palmer’s trick (a local magician).” That’s just the nature of this business unless you are so creative that you are doing something that no one else is doing yet. This gets into the realm of infringement and copyright problems which is quite topical now and not within the scope of this article.

There are some great effects that can become reputation makers for you that you should never have to worry about. For instance, most any illusion (i.e. cutting a woman in half, a levitation, or an impalement) necessitates you having the proper equipment before you can perform the feat…or does it? You may be in someone’s home when you are handed a broomstick and asked if you can suspend someone in the room.

Then there are the dove workers who gain fame by making doves appear and disappear. If this is exclusively the kind of magic you perform, then you should be safe. More than likely, you will never be asked to make the pet canary disappear or to change it into a rabbit.

As we move down in size from the larger illusions, there are some great effects like the torn and restored newspaper mentioned earlier or even the ever flowing Lota Bowl. But even here, you may be handed a newspaper at a party and asked to tear it up and put it back together again or jokingly asked to refill their martini without going to the bar. There are some smaller, close-up effects that require some apparatus that make for a good reputation. One such effect of mine that comes to mind is the ring on stick and/or ring off rope effects. These can be performed if the friend asking you to do it has a rope or wand/stick. I once performed the effect using someone’s shoelace they took from their shoe and a wooden spoon from the kitchen. How far must we go?

Then we come to the “impossible” impromptu effects like the cigarette through quarter. What can we do when we are asked to perform something like this? With the larger effects that require props or apparatus, we can easily beg off saying that we don’t have the proper equipment. But what about the tricks that apparently require no apparatus, no special equipment, just a borrowed dollar or coin and your renown skill as a magician? You’re faced with a no win situation. You have apparently proven your prowess in a previous performance. Now you are asked to do it again for real in an impromptu situation thus securing your fame for a bit longer and building the stature of the one who asked you to do it among his group of friends.

If you can’t do it or anything else, then regardless of any clever remark you make, you are viewed as an amateur having no special “powers” and the one who asked you to display your talents still looks good because he “called you down”. It was high noon and you lost the showdown.