The article mentions how Jim Steinmeyer, one of the greatest inventors of magic, compares jokes and tricks in his book Hiding the Elephant.
In it, he writes that the best tricks are a "collection of tiny lies, in words and deeds, that are stacked and arranged ingeniously." Like jokes, tricks should have little plots with a twist at the end that's both implausible and yet logical. You shouldn't see the punchline coming, but when you do see it, it makes sense. The secret to a great trick isn't really its method; the method behind most tricks is ugly and disappointing, something blunt and mechanical...The value of a trick lies mostly in how much it stokes that battle between your head and your heart, and how badly it makes you want for your heart to win.
I like the "implausible yet logical" concept. I often think of a great joke as being the hard-to-find combination of truthful yet surprising.
It was also interesting to hear Teller discuss how hard it is to hone a trick:
The real point of magic, Teller said during those lectures, is "telling a beautiful lie. It lets you see what the world would be like if cause and effect weren't bound by physics." It's the collision between what you know and what you see that provides magic's greatest spark.
So Teller rigged a thread in his home library, and he put Abbott's ancient instructions on a music stand — pages that had been miraculously saved from a trash fire years before — and he went to work on making the impossible seem real. Eventually, he decided that the ball shouldn't float but roll. That would look simpler, but it would be harder. He practiced some more at a mirrored dance studio in Toronto, and at a cabin deep in the woods, and on the empty stage in Penn & Teller's theater. After every show for eighteen months, he would spend at least an hour, by himself, trying to make the Red Ball obey. ("Sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect," Teller says.)
"I have to screw around," he told those four audiences, "to sniff the scent of an idea and track it down like a wild boar in the forest.
"It's still the hardest-to-execute piece of magic I've ever tried. In six months or a year, it will start to settle into my bones. In ten years, it'll be perfect.
Telling a beautiful lie, eh? Reminds me of a tweet I wrote a while back: Comedy is the most beautiful way to complain.
Btw, Nate Bargatze talked a lot about how his dad was a magician during his great WTF interview. Here's a clip of Nate's dad performing. Funny guy!
Teller and the magic of surprise
The brotherhood of magic and comedy
Permalink | 9/24/2012