Purging the Stock

“Hello, my name is Ryan, and I use stock material. I’ve been using for as long as I have been performing magic. Pull out home videos of me at age 10, and there I am: reminding my audience “that at no time will my fingers leave my hands.” Fast forward a few years and you can find me busking on the street, high on the influence of one-liner curators such as Gazzo and the Butterfly Man. I was reaping the benefits of thier creativity and of thier own thievery. Even now, I still find a few stock lines scattered around my show. I’m ashamed of them. I managed to get rid of them for a while, but soon they come back. I can’t help it sometimes.”

“When was the last time you used, Ryan? Be honest.”

“At a show last week. At Pier 39.”

“And what did you say?”

“I asked a kid if he had a note.”

“A note?”

“Yes. He joined my audience late and I saw him walk up. So I asked him ‘You’re late, do you have a note?'”

“And what happened then?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Do you remember what the audience did?”

“They all laughed.”

“They laughed?”

“Yes, they always laugh.”

“And how did that make you feel?”



“Yes, rotten. I instantly regretted saying it.”

“But they laughed.”

“Yes, they laughed, but it was a hack line to say. And worse, I didn’t write it.”

“They don’t know that you didn’t write it though. Like you said, they laughed.”

“Yeah but isn’t that wrong? And what if someone has heard another performer say that line before? What will they think of me now? What will they think of that other performer? What will they think of magicians in general because of that? What if they think everything in my show is stock now? Why shouldn’t they think that now?”

“I believe you may be overthinking this.”

“Are you only saying that because you don’t know the answers either?”

“I don’t believe that the audience thinks about things like that.”

“A few might.”

“A few might.”

::A pondering silence::

“Did you plan on saying the line?”


“So it wasn’t a part of your show.”


“So it was an ad lib then. An improvisation. Nothing wrong with that.”

“It wasn’t improvisation. I didn’t create it then and there. I’d heard the line before. Hell, I’d said the line before. I knew the beats, I understood the nessessary delivery. There was no risk, no art, no creativity. It was a cheap laugh. It felt cheap to say. Like giving someone you love a cheap gift, when you know they deserve better.”

“But you didn’t plan on saying it?”

“No, because I knew I would feel rotten.”

“Then why did you say it?”

“I couldn’t help myself.”



“So you went ahead and said it.”


“And they laughed.”


“Like you knew they would.”

“Yes. I had the perfect line, for the perfect situation, at the perfect time. It’s hard to walk away from a laugh in that situation.”

“Even though it’s the right thing to do?”

“Even though it’s the right thing to do.”

::A second silence::

“Are you sure it’s the right thing to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Didn’t saying the line make your show better?”


“And like you said, they did laugh.”

“Yes. They always laugh.”

“Becuase you’ve used the line before.”

“Yes. Many times, but I don’t want to anymore. I want to give the audience my best.”

“And not give them stock lines.”


“But you can’t help yourself.”

“Like you said, the audience laughs.”


“Yes, everytime.”

“And you can’t say no?”

“I try. I’ll get there someday.”

“What do you do to get there?”

“I don’t know. Try harder?”

“Well at least you’ve admitted you have a problem. That’s a good first step.”

“Ya think?”

“I do.”

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