How to perform social magic without coming off as a weird mutant

February 28, 2018

According a recent post on popular magic blog, The Jerx, the real distinction between the professional and amateur magician isn’t the money lining the former’s pockets, but the context of their work.

“Are your performing theatrical/presentational magic, or are you performing social magic?” it asks.

It’s a rhetorical question, so don’t answer that, and you probably shouldn’t be answering questions posed to you by magic blogs on the internet anyway, but if you are a budding trickster looking to get down and dirty with close up social magic, The Jerx does have some advice.

I can sum up the most basic elements in one easy to remember cliche: Be yourself.

Yeah, I know, you just sighed your pelvis out through your nostrils. Everyone breaks out that old chestnut at some point. I’ve lost track of the amount of people who’ve told me to be myself, only to ask me to stop being myself ten minutes later, but in this scenario it’s solid advice. The key to social magic, according to our mysterious tutor, is the illusion of spontaneity.

Social magic should resemble a normal, casual conversation right up until you draw the right card, pull a coin from somewhere a coin should not be, or saw someone’s wife in half. Keeping things natural isn’t just about execution, it’s also about context. Spontaneous patter and choice trick selection can be the difference between your audience talking about the magician they just met in a tweet or in a police report.

The key mistakes that budding social magicians make most often are:

Overly rehearsed patter: You want your presentation to flow like a conversation, not like a performance of Henry VIII. Keep it light. Take a cue from The Incredibles and don’t get caught monologuing.

Forced Jokes: Notice how reading this article makes you want to push me into a ravine? That’s all the forced jokes eating away at your patience. Same goes for magic patter. Funny people don’t need jokes to be funny. Unfunny people can’t use jokes to be funny. Cut them out.

Repetitive Tricks: The longer a trick goes, the less spontaneous it appears. Pulling someone’s card from their pocket is cute, exhuming their dead grandmother and finding their card clutched to her cold, skeletal breast is a bit much. Pushing a trick too far or having an obvious structure to your performance will leave close audiences uncomfortable rather than amazed.

And that’s just a surface level summary. The post goes into an impressive amount of detail about the structure and psychology of close performances. You can read the full thing here.