Television + Magic = ?

I’ve had a good year of performing on televisions shows.  Penn and Teller: Fool Us really kicked it off internationally, but here in Canada I’ve been pretty fortunate to be on the first season of Off Stage with Ward Anderson and a few other projects with CBC and some smaller networks. Its helped my profile quite a bit, and as a result I’ve been hired to work the type of events I really want to work. I am grateful for that.

I’ve just agreed to appear on AGT for their next season.  America’s Got Talent is a huge televised variety show ( in case you hadn’t heard of it and you’ve been under a rock for 13 years ) yup, on its surface sounds like a big deal. But, like most television the fame is fleeting.  You’re forgotten in a week.  Even if you win the whole thing, you fade pretty quickly.  Think about it.  Who won last year? Without google I couldn’t tell you. I’m not sure if its worth doing, but I do enjoy a challenge.

Performers on AGT, especially in the beginning are often edited poorly and there’s not a lot of control an entertainer has over how their segment is produced.  Still, its worth doing for a host of reasons, none of which are what the general public thinks. I often hear “exposure” and a “chance at fame” from non industry friends as reasons to do the show.  You get neither from these competition shows.  You DO get tape and the credit of appearing on the show and that’s marketable and that’s what you’re really after, if you’re a professional.

What does grind my gears a bit is whats expected of magic lately, as it relates to tv in the era of the competition show. I may sound like old man wishing for yesteryear, but television has made magic into something I’m not sure it was ever designed for.

I’m a comedy act, and I can always make my magic funny, and interactive.  Its that skill that has kept me working in conferences and conventions for decades.  Sadly, its not a skill that television embraces any longer. Gone are the days of an act performing their 7 minute fully developed magic routine that’s been honed for years and tagged out with jokes and bits.  Johnny Carson, Paul Daniels and other popular chat shows featured those type of acts. Since the 50‘s that’s what television audiences loved. It’s what I have,  a series of 7 or so minute routines that I’ve worked on for years that I thought would always be good for TV.  Then, TV up and changed on me.

It seems now everything has to be new and flashy and without any real substance, and no experience doing it. It no longer matters if you’ve never done the piece in front of anyone before. There’s a big rush to just get it on camera. When I was starting out,  an act had to work a long time in front of real people the world over before they were ready or accepted to do a television performance. Now,  Television wants the visual only. I just saw a a guy on AGT do a coin trick where the coins magically move from one part of a table to another.  No skill involved, it had to be shot in a certain way for it to work and there was no skill attached.  May as well have been an actor doing the effect. He was however, very good looking and the camera liked him.  The trick itself was so visual, SO impossible that it looked like CGI, which to me is counter productive to the whole idea of magic as a performance. End of the day you can tell that this, and other “acts” you see on the show have created a something just for that particular TV show and nothing else. Its not been a part of them for years and finally they’re ready to share it with the world. There’s now a whole generation who just produce magic meant to be seen on youtube only, strictly for the camera and can’t be performed live. Its no longer popular to build an act and add lines, bits, routine and polish it over years.  To distill each piece down so all the fat is cut off each effect and joke.  That used to be the goal.  Now the goal is “how can I go viral”.

I’ve clearly said I sound like old man magic trying to hang on to the past.  That may be. When its all said and done, if magic is to survive through this era there needs to be performers who will do it for real people, in the real world.  Magicians who will find effects they like, or better yet create new ones, and bring their personality to the mix.  They’ll mold pieces into a whole show, so that audiences can come out and be entertained in a real venue, seeing a live person do incredible and funny things. It almost sounds impossible to imagine a time could come when full theatre shows, the day of the touring variety act have ended. Yet, it is possible.

Magic draws a certain introverted personality type into its folds.  To want to be a magician you have to be a certain kind of person. The Social Misfit. The introvert. Often devoid of friends or social skill. It used to be that magic could help that person relate to others and grow as an individual. However, for that type of introverted person,  given the opportunity to perform for a real people (which was once the ONLY option), or to tape something for youtube where angles can be controlled and you’re afforded many chances at performing a trick correctly and never have to interact with humans….guess what, they’ll take the youtube option every time. I wonder if this is where magic ends as a performance in the real world.

I’m not sure where it all goes from here, but for me, you have to perform live for people. That’s where the energy is at. Who cares about video. TV is just a furnace for material

Like papa Wallenda says “Life is on the wire, the rest is just waiting”.

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