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.  

It’s pretty cheeky to declare one of your own products as the finest of its kind, but it’s hard to argue that Dan & Dave’s Magic Surface, Limited Edition isn’t exactly that. These things are gorgeous, made with exotic woods and colorways handcrafted to order. If you’re looking for something to really class up your close-up, this is it. I mean, just look at the dang thing. It just reeks of luxury:

Ok, now for the bad news. First, this gorgeous piece of furniture doesn’t come cheap – it’ll run you a smooth $395. Second, when they say limited, they mean it, as only twelve of each style, black or green, will be sold. Get it now or forever regret your hesitation. 

Buy Magic Surface, Limited Edition, from Dan & Dave: $395

Though it’s a joyous event, getting married ranks as one of the top ten life stressors you can go through, trailing only slightly behind going to prison. (Keep your jokes about not being able to tell the difference between the two to yourself, thank you.) Wedding planning can be a nonstop battle, which is why the comedy magicians of Slightly Unusual have put together a list of ten reasons why booking a magician is a solid move. Some of their choices are a bit arguable (they say magic doesn’t offend anyone, but that rather depends on the magician in question), but most of their points are very sound. Here are our three favorites:

1. That one weird table

There’s one at every wedding: a table full of people who don’t know each other and end up awkwardly poking at their salads instead of chatting. A closeup magician can help break the ice, giving them a way to interact that doesn’t put the burden of being interesting on them. 

2. There’s a lot of down time if you’re not in the wedding party

Weddings are nonstop activity for the wedding party, and a whole lot of waiting around for everyone else. You can only talk about how lovely the bride was for so long before everyone starts poring over their phones or drinking too much, and since kids probably don’t have either of those options open to them, they just start running. A magician keeps guests entertained in that dead zone between the ceremony and the reception, when endless sets of photographs are being taken and the food is still an hour or two away.

3. Magic can be tailored to suit anybody and can fit anywhere

Weddings are wonderful because they bring together so many disparate kinds of people to celebrate the happy couple – great aunt Jeanine, Tony from accounting, Becky’s twin nieces – but it can be tricky to keep everyone feeling engaged and involved. Your 90-year-old gran probably won’t be showing off her dance moves, but she still wants to feel like she’s at the party, and a magician making her the center of attention can do just that. Plus, it doesn’t matter where your reception is, a magician can squeeze into it. A deck of cards, some coins, and the act is ready to go, no stage required. That can be a real boon if the heavens open up unexpectedly.

You can read the rest of the pro-magician argument here, or just accept that pretty much any gathering is better with magic. Magic is, after all, the bacon of entertainment. 

As we venture closer to the closing of the year, we find ourselves in a time when we’re wrapping lots of gifts…and popping lots of bubble wrap. Look, your mug will get there just fine, grandma, let me pop a few of these, ok? And, hey, if you’re Luis Piedrahita, you can even make some money doing it. I don’t think Justin Timberlake, Jesse Eisenberg, or Andrew Garfield understood a word he said, but they didn’t have to, because magic is the universal language. The best bit is Andrew backing away at the end; when you can freak out a grown man, you know you’ve done well. 

As you wrap up your long three-day weekend, why not treat yourself to an hour of some astounding close-up magic from one of the greatest magicians to have lived? Slydini has inspired the likes of Doug Henning, David Copperfield, and countless others, and his contributions to the world of magic will be felt for decades to come. Here he is in two performances on the Dick Cavett Show courtesy of the Vintage Magic Archive on YouTube, each video filled with some of the smoothest sleight-of-hand you’ll ever see.

Some magic tricks are old. So old, in fact, that you’ve undoubtedly seen them performed hundreds, if not thousands, of times, and you wonder how anyone could possibly still make them entertaining. Take the cup and balls, for example – how do you make something that hoary hold a modern audience’s attention? Hannibal uses wit, a dry sense of humor, and two regulation soccer balls (ok, Foosball regulation) to make something classic feel current.