What Im Trying To Say Is...
I’ve sat down to write this blog and had intended to make it all about the nature of truth and trust (yes, seriously). But two sentences in and on the TV a program called Discovering Groucho Marx has started, and that’s me done.
I adore the Marx Brothers. They were, without a doubt, one of the greatest acts ever. They are responsible for some of the very best comedy movies you’ll ever watch and in one of those movies created what I think are possibly the two funniest scenes ever filmed. Their legacy can still be felt today - their off the wall anarchy having opened the doors for acts like the Pythons – in comedy and beyond.
But why am I writing about an old family act who had their biggest hits over eighty years ago? What has that got to do with mage? I mean, other than the fact that this is my blog and I’ll write whatever I want to, obviously… there are plenty of things we can learn from them. Firstly character. Voice. The reason the Marx Brothers are so strong is because of character. They come together so perfectly. Harpo is mute, conveying everything through mime and face pulling. At the other end of the scale Groucho, the leader of the group, is the absolute master of word play and one liners. Chico also used his words for his role, but as whereas Groucho always had the quickest tongue in a room, Chico was more a good dim-witted but good natured con man. Gummo – so often forgotten – was the straight man and romantic lead. These roles were developed over years playing vaudeville, each one allowing exploration and creation of different types of comedy. This idea of character transfers into the lives of modern performers, but these days we call it branding. By developing these distinct characters, each man developed their own personal brand. Even today you can go into any joke shop and buy a Groucho disguise of big nose, glasses, moustache and eyebrows. And that distinctive look makes a difference. For example:
“How was the wedding?”
“Oh, it was great. The magician was amazing!”
“Cool. I’m looking for someone. What was their name?”
“I can’t remember.”
And there it is. The issue a lot of us face is having our voice heard amongst a choir of others. This, then, is why a specific look can be so useful. I know magicians who always wear sunglasses, or a specific hat. If there is something about you that stands out then it’s easier for people to find you, and if it’s easier for people to find you you’re far more likely to get bookings.
But could such an old fashioned, extreme type of character really make it in these modern, sophisticated times?
I’ll just leave this here…
But branding isn’t enough. You can’t just put on a pair of big ears and talk with a weird accent and then wait for the work to come in. For your brand to stand out, you need to have substance. And the Marx Brothers had substance. Bags of it. They were genre defining comedians, without a doubt, but there is something about them that really makes them stands out and leads to them being continually rediscovered by successive generations. It is their absolute thumb in the eye of authority that I love. They are the complete definition of anti-authoritarian. From institutions to high up individuals, the one thread that runs through all of their work is that lack of reverence of power. And so amongst all of the quips and shenanigans, they have that thing that can make anyone stand out. A message. They are about fighting the system. They are the little guys out witting – and out lucking – those who are used to being life’s winners.
I think if you every want to be truly great you need that message. What’s the point of talking if you haven’t got something to say? Why perform if you don’t have a message. You don’t’ need to be a strong, social advocate, but each illusion a magician performs should have a message, a story. This is what interests me when I watch magic, and I can’t be the only one.