Ugly Sweaters

We dress our magic tricks in many different garbs. We call this clothing “presentations,” and some are better than others.

The following are popular presentations which I feel should be burned, buried, and forever forgotten. I have, regrettably, forced my own material to wear each of these ugly sweaters at some point, but no more.

If you have any of these hanging in you closet I urge you: don’t save em, don’t donate them, don’t wear it ironically at Christmas.

Chuck em!

First Magic Trick

When you see Celine Dion in concert, you don’t expect her to sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and you wouldn’t pay to hear Chris Rock recite his first comedy set, (likely a reguratation of Carson or Pryor). As Ken Weber points out in his book, Maximum Entertainment, the audience doesn’t want to see what the performer did as a kid- they want to see what they can do now!

So why do the majority of magicians insist on subjecting audiences to their first magic trick? Easy: the Six Card Repeat is never really their first trick. The “First Trick” is a simple presentational crutch which magicians have learned they can use to prop up pretty much any trick in a half-assed attempt to make people care.

People don’t care about the first trick the magician learned, and they resent the sucker ending many “First Trick” presentations conclude with.

It’s an easy presnetation which lacks originaly, sincerity, and conflict. I deem it ugly, chuck it!

Let’s Try Something

Sitting down to enjoy a show, the audience expects that the cast will have memorized their lines, rehearsed their blocking, and generally know what they are doing with their time onstage. The only exceptions to this are stand-up comics who are distinctly known for their crowd work, and improv artists. But with these shows, the audience expects the comedians to make the performance seemless. In professional entertainment, there is no pausing to consider what comes next. The performer is the leader and they lead well.

Unless you are a magician. Many magicians go onstage acting like they have little to no plan. “Here, lets try this,” as they ask to borrow something. “And then we can, oh… I don’t know, let’s give this a shot…” I use the word “acting” generously, as there is no doubt that most of the audience is unconvinced that the magician is truly working off the cuff.

At its best, the performer comes off as an unpreprared, yet capable, magician. More likely, their audience will be bored and frustrated by such a patronizingly transparent schtick.

Ugly, ugly, ugly. Chuck it!


I care about Maroon 5’s tribute to The Beatles. This is a band who’s body of work and style I am well aquainted with giving honor to a group that impacted the world and all of our lives.

I do not care about some magician at a festival giving his tribute to a dead Houdini- a celebrity who is only a name to me and who hasn’t impacted a generation in… well, generations. I am even less interested in hearing about some Professor or guy named Max- characters who mean nothing to me. I want to see what you, the magician on stage before me, does and believes.

Tributes fail to bring class or nostalgia to a trick, they simply distract from the performer. The introduction of a new character is a big expense, particularly when they aren’t there and only exist in the magician’s words. Unless vivid and consiece scripting, showmanship, and visual aides are used (read: Ricky Jay), this historical figure simply won’t come to life and the audience won’t care. The performer has wasted their audience’s time with a foggy valueless tangent from the real star- the magician.

And always remember, you are the start of your show. So don’t dress yourself and your cast of tricks in such ugly sweaters.

Know somebody who needs to hear this? Please pass it along to them!

Have your own insights? Please comment below!

Did you really read this far down? Thank you so much, you are awesome!

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