Monthly archives for January, 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 5×7 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!

David Blaine and Criss Angel on TV

Hello all!

As promised, this blog will no longer ONLY be about magic trick reviews although I will have them. In reality, I want to make this more well-rounded, so with that in mind, one thing I wanted to touch upon in this was some random thoughts on Magic On TV.

I saw David Blaine’s Real or Magic TV special a couple of weeks after it aired, online. Overall, I feel it was an OK special. Blaine continues to be very polarizing – some people love him as evidenced by the continued craze of “street magic” effects, props, routines, etc. that continue to crop up on magic product websites.

Blaine was a trailblazer in his heyday and really did usher in a new era for magic. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you. Personally, I respect the guy for showing magic can succeed on TV without a multi-million dollar production like David Copperfield. Like other people, I thought Blaine’s “levitation” on his first TV special was very dishonest, but that’s TV.

In “Real or Magic,” the hook this time was that the majority of the time his spectators were celebrities. Harrison Ford probably had the funniest reaction as he told Blaine to “Get the **** out of my house.” Will Smith and his family were featured many times and it was startling to me just how much Smith’s charisma came bursting through the TV even though it wasn’t “his” show.

Nevertheless, with most of Blaine’s effects, I had a feeling of “been there, done that.” Blaine big effect was shoving a needle through his arm. If you haven’t seen the special, it was NOT accomplished like Harry Anderson’s version of the effect as this looked like it was so deep that it appeared to go through the bone. Was it real? Since Blaine does a lot of “endurance” stunts, his goal with this effect was to leave people guessing.

In my humble opinion, Blaine’s biggest problem continues to be a lack of charisma. While he tries to come off as morose or creepy, I often just find him boring, even though he clearly has a great amount of skill.

I also recently caught a few episodes of Criss Angel’s show “BeLIEve.” To preface this, I’ve never been a Criss Angel fan. In particular, his Mindfreak episode with hypnosis made me angry as his use of it could have seriously injured people. Even if the hypnotized subjects were all plants, the show still showed hypnosis in a negative light, making it difficult for guys like me to convince clients that hypnosis is not evil, dangerous, etc. So I don’t like Criss Angel for that reason.

On to “BeLIEve…”

The episode I caught the tale end of was the one where Criss is trying to literally raise the dead! There was a corpse wheeled into a room, a group of solemn-looking onlookers, psychics, doctors, etc. There was a death certificate, etc. People freaked out when the corpse’s heart started beating and blood or some such oozed out of the mouth…to the point that some people ran out of the room.

Was it in bad taste? Of course. But the whole premise (that a doctor of any kind would sign off on this) was so silly that I found it quite funny. Rather than being “edgy,” I just found it laughable and pathetic. I love Bizarre magic as much as the next guy, but this was just over the top awful.

Another episode I saw was devoted to levitation and the big stunt was Criss was going to levitate retired NBA player Shaq. When it came time for the big levitation, Shaq not only levitated but he floated so high in the air that he was able to float OVER Criss’ house and back down. There were close-up camera shots right next to Shaq as he crossed the roof, etc.

So now we’re getting into a way of presenting “magic” that does not even try to hide that it’s done in a way that could not be replicated on stage or in public. Blaine caused an uproar over using peoples’ reactions to the Balducci self-levitation spliced in with shots of him floating in the air via cables by a crane, etc. I wasn’t too fond of it myself.

But Criss’ show is total fiction and it doesn’t try to hide it as he presents “magic” that is far too fantastical to believe he could do it in the settings he presents it. Is this good for magic?

It depends on your view. Personally, I felt like I was watching special effects, like something from the “Avengers” or “Iron Man.” If you enjoy it, great, but Iron Man only exists onscreen. My view of magic as an artform is that it should be performed for real people, not “in the know,” whether that’s a stage or on the street. Once you take that away and have everyone in the scene “in on it,” you don’t have a performance art you have special effects and while special effects are awesome, it’s just not the same thing.

In the next blog entry, I will review the great MIB effect from Puck & Scott Alexander.

Don’t forget – the 50% off sale on my stuff at ends at the end of January!

til next time…