Magic is for everyone, but everyone isn’t what it used to be

February 2, 2018

Hey, magicians, it’s us, your audience. We need to talk.

We’d like to have a quick word with you about what you say and do while you’re on stage, out on the street, or wherever it is you ply your marvelous craft. Not the tricks themselves, but how you choose to present them.

Before we get into that, let us assure you that we appreciate your art form, and the countless hours you put into honing your tricks. Even the most enthusiastic audience likely doesn’t know half of what goes into making a performance successful. You do it because you love it, and that’s significant. Thank you for putting weeks, months, years into making us happy for just a few minutes. Seriously, thank you.

Ok, now some Real Talk.

We’re tired of your sexist, ableist, racist, full-on socially ignorant patter. You got into magic to make people happy, and with a few really, really simple changes, you can make more people happy than you don’t.

We don’t think you’re jerks. We think you’re not paying attention to what you say. Magic is an art form that’s deeply steeped in tradition, but what was once deemed acceptable no longer is. You’re leaning on a line that’s gotten laughs for the past five years – but we assure you, there’s another joke that will also make us laugh. What you’re doing now is just making us cringe.

You probably think we’re nuts. You’re no sexist! Your act isn’t offending anyone! You’re aware of that magician in Italy who was actually putting his hands on female members of the audience and you’d never do something that outrageous. First of all, thank you! We’re very glad to hear it. Some people think that it’s ok to touch women they don’t know, and those people are wrong, so we’re relieved to hear you’re not like that. But.

Well, you know that time you asked an attractive woman from the audience on stage to help you with a trick, then had her pick a card and place it in her back pocket for safe keeping? That was just fine — but quipping that you were going to enjoy trying to get it out of her tight pants was creepy. You didn’t mean it that way, we’re sure. In fact, you may even have seen it as a compliment, and heck, she laughed! She laughed because if she didn’t she risked even more uncomfortable sexual attention from you and the audience. And in case it isn’t clear, making a crack about how happy you’ll be to wrestle with her tight jeans is sexual attention. Women get unwanted sexual attention every day from people they know, from strangers, from their boss, from a dude on the subway. They don’t need it from you, too. There’s a time and a place to make your move on a pretty young thing, and the middle of your act ain’t it.

Then there was the time you wanted a woman and a man who knew each other to help you with a trick that relied on a “personal connection”? Nothing wrong with that at all, but starting off by saying you needed a “married couple, a woman and a man” was not cool. Once upon a time, “married” meant “man and woman,” but that’s no longer the case. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a man and a woman to volunteer, and their being acquainted helps you sell the “mind reading” part of the trick – but you can achieve that without alienating parts of your audience. Just say you need a woman and a man who know each other – they could be siblings, co-workers, best friends – doesn’t matter. You still get to frame the trick the way you want without coming off as out of touch.

Oh, and let’s talk about your penis. Or, actually, let’s not. Your “big deck” joke. Your “mine’s bigger than yours” joke. Your half-inflated balloon, stubby wand, whatever it is to imply you’re packing serious heat joke. It’s cheesy, it’s stupid, and we’ve heard it before on the playground. Keep your undoubtedly enormous dick to yourself, thanks. We’re really not interested.

We hear your grumbling about “PC culture killjoys” and, look, context matters a lot. The act you do for a bachelor party is gonna have a different vibe than what you do at a wedding. We’re not for a moment suggesting your act needs to be Bible-toting grandma-approved in order to be good. And, yeah, it’s totally true that there will always be one or two people who get offended no matter what you say or do. That doesn’t excuse you from doing the work to update your approach to audience interaction, though.

We know you don’t mean anything by it when you say stuff that’s not in line with modern sensibilities. It’s just how you were taught a trick, or how you’ve always done it, or something that was actually true once upon a time. You’re not a bad person. But you aren’t doing yourself any favors by choosing not to pay attention to the things you say. You want us to come back to your show, right? To tell our friends how great you were? That’s less likely to happen if we tack on “he said some pretty sexist stuff, but the tricks were good.”

Magic is for everyone, and everyone ain’t what it used to be. So please, for us, your audience – take a moment to catch up.