It’s Easter Sunday, and so before I go any further please do let me wish you a very Happy Easter! Considering the weather we’ve recently been experiencing I wonder what people up and down the country are going to be doing as the usual pursuits of lawn mowing and car washing are clearly off the table. Still, I hope you’re having a peaceful and loving time.
It’s also April 1st. April Fools day. A time for pranks and hoaxes. Frankly, given that we have deliberately fake news sites spreading lies, satire accounts being mistaken for the real deal by people who should know better, and the state of actual news in this day and age I’m not entirely sure that we need a special day, it seems to be a yearlong holiday. Or perhaps at some point today someone is just going to announce that the past few years has all been a massive wind up and today is the pay off. Ta da!
Slight rant aside, todays date got me thinking of pranks and pranking. There are a number of magicians, some of them very good friends of mine, who enjoy pranking people. It’s not something that has ever really appealed to me though. Why not? Good thing you asked or this would be a short blog…
As a magician by definition I know something that my audience doesn’t. That is how the magic works. And this is a trait highlighted whenever a magician uses a volunteer. Though the volunteer might appear to be an assistant, in more ways their role is to act as an audience surrogate. Whilst working with me on stage they are the lens through which the audience views the trick. As often as not an audience is reacting to the response from the volunteer as the trick itself. The audience project onto a volunteer. As I know something they don’t, whatever I do, I am in the position of power. Because of this there are some tricks I avoid, which are generally referred to as ‘Sucker Tricks’. There seems to be a little dispute about what a sucker trick is but when I use the term I’m talking about some kind of game that the magician and volunteer play that the volunteer can never win. An obvious example would be any of the gambling style routines, such as a Three Card Monty trick or the cups and balls, itself a derivative of gambling, but there are plenty of others. I think a magician has to be very careful when performing any trick that is designed to make an audience member look foolish. A gamble is one thing – by its nature a person may or may not get it right – however, when the answer appears obvious and the volunteer gets it wrong over and over again I find it uncomfortable to watch. As I’m typing this I’m actually finding it very hard to explain myself. I’ve spoken about my love of Paul Daniels’ one cup routine, and here he is clearly tricking the audience member when the answer should be obvious. Maybe it’s when the illusion is the primary focus rather than the volunteers continued mistakes? Or maybe – as Louis Armstrong answered when he was asked what jazz is – “If you has to ask, you’ll never know.” It’s a gut instinct I have that tells me that this trick is about having fun with the volunteer, whilst that trick is having fun because of the volunteer.
This also applies to how we treat our volunteers. It’s fine to tease a bit, but for me, the second a volunteer becomes the continued butt of a joke and the audience go along with it, I’m creating a negative energy in the room. It’s a cheap laugh that encourages the audience to treat someone else as an outside. A scapegoat. Of course I play with them and josh them, but I will always try to finish the piece as the object of laughter. If I’ve treated an audience member ‘badly’ then by the end something will happen to make me look foolish. I believe it’s important for an audience to see that being mean doesn’t pay. If I pick on someone, then I must get my comeuppance. I neer do a trick where the volunteer is made to look foolish and it finishes with me standing back and being the cool one.
Having typed all of that I just realised that I literally did one of these tricks last month. However it was an intimate setting, the volunteer was a friend, and, most importantly, they had a position of power with then whole group dynamic. In comedy there is the term ‘punching up’, and it’s just as important when understanding how groups you are performing to work. Though it’s unlikely I’d ever do a trick designed simply to make someone jump in fear, were I to do it I would make sure it was aimed at the ‘alpha’ of the group, probably a man, and preferably someone who had done things that – though in no way bullying – might imply that they are often in control when it comes to friendly teasing. It’s a complex social dynamic, but one a good magician learns to read and understand, and can in fact, be applied to the performance of any trick. One of the best examples I can think of of pranks working and not working is from the great TV series Community.
It’s not what you’re doing, it’s how you’re doing it and who you’re doing it too. I guess I’ve just spent enough time feeling like an idiot or being confused by the world around me to see it happen to others. In short, just be nice.
Anyway, no blog from me next week as I’m standing in for David Copperfield as he takes a well-earned vacation. You’ll be able to catch me at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas between April 4th and April 12th. Hope to see you there. Not really. April Fool you utter imbecile! Hahahaa!