Here’s something I hear all the time from other magicians: “Card tricks are so boring. Audiences want variety. You should never do a full show of just card tricks.” Well I certainly agree. This is true if you do the same card trick all night long.
I have a full card act—nothing but card tricks for thirty minutes. How do I stay in business if I’m boring my audiences to death? The secret is that people are seeing several different premises throughout the show. People are intrigued by my stage persona and smooth-as-silk con man character. People enjoy the situations I get into while interacting with my spectators. They enjoy learning new things and are fascinated by a skill set they’ve probably never even heard of before.
Here’s where some magicians get the idea that card tricks are boring. If you do nothing but pick-a-card effects where someone selects a card and then you find it in some clever way, then yes, you’re showing the audience the same thing over and over. They’ll start to think, “Okay he can find cards in the deck several different ways.” They may not know how you can do it, but they’re starting to see the endings before you get there. This means they’re no longer entranced.
I certainly have effects where a card is selected and then I find it. However, there is always so much more going on. For example, I may have a card selected and then I show that I can track that card while the deck is shuffled. Not only can I track their card, I also find the three values that match their selection. (Look for this effect called “Fast Track” in Game Changer.) The fact that they selected a card and I found it is a small part of the bigger picture. You’re audience learns that you have the ability to follow cards during a shuffle and even move certain cards to the positions you wish. That’s far more impressive than just finding a card someone picked.
My audiences learn that I can deal cards from the bottom or the center of the deck. What makes this riveting to watch is that they’re watching as close as possible and they’d swear they’re seeing the top card of the deck being dealt. They’re stunned by the illusion. Plus they’re pulled into the fantasy of ripping off casinos with this skill when playing cards for money.
My audiences listen to stories of times I was nearly caught cheating in home games and casinos and what I had to do to get out of that situation. They hear stories with conflict. They hear how another card cheat may have gotten the better of me… but at the last second I had a clever solution. The audience becomes intrigued by my character and how a card cheat / con man thinks and navigates tricky situations.
I do have quite the variety of premises in my show. It just so happens that the instrument I use to tell these stories is a deck of cards. Which makes sense, because that’s what I am, a card expert. I’m not saying that traditional magic is bad. I’m just saying it is possible to entertain with just card tricks.
Look at these classic effects and their card trick equivalents:
Linking rings (cards or deck through table)
Coins across (cards across)
Color changing silks (color changing deck)
Cups and balls (Ace Assembly)
Changing five singles into five hundreds (turning Kings into Aces)
Endless chain (Three-card Monte)
Whether you use just cards or a variety of props, remember, the audience needs to see different effects/premises. Keep this in mind so your show doesn’t get boring with the same effect over and over.
For some people a show only with cards still IS boring, no matter what the tricks. Why ? Because you’re handling the same props for 30 minutes. Visually, nothing changes at all. For some, a 30 min card show is like watching 30 minutes of sponge ball magic. The clever stories, your smooth persona doesn’t change the fact all they see is cards, cards, cards. At least for them.
. I dunno, I guess that you could still be bringing in new elements to a card routine, there is no reason why you can’t have separate gimmicks. but a lot of the time when watching card magic I find that really people want to see what else you can do with a pack of cards. most people only know the stranded “pick a card” trick so seeing any variation with cards immediately has them guessing and interested, then it can just be a case of keeping them that focused.
Like that time I saw a concert pianist … Yes, all the songs were different but ugh… all piano.
Despite some comments, you can indeed earn a professional living by just performing card magic.
Indeed, the odd packet trick, diary, wallet effect, jumbo card, etc. can add some spice to your overall routine, when introduced. However, I have previously engaged (and entertained) folk with JUST a pack of cards – for anything from 15 minutes up to (admittedly only a few times) one hour!
It is purely down, as Jason alludes to, your presentation hooks; your personality; and (very importantly) your actual level of experience.
A well-routined card act, that engages spectators throughout, can be somewhat more entertaining than a raft of tricks using other various magical props. I have seen fellow magicians, over many years, inflict what I would deem to be a ‘dealer dem’ upon their (non-magician) audience; moving from card trick, to coin trick, to sponge ball trick, to Sharpie trick, etc. and for no apparent reason. Vanishes, changes, gimmicked coins, etc. all being handled poorly/unconvincingly. They may have been ‘performing’ but were they actually ‘entertaining’? There’s a World of difference.
Remember the words of Al Goshman……..”YOU are the Magic”.
I only wish that I could take any non-believers into a pub, borrow a pack of cards from behind the bar and prove this point
Barry Allen ( Warwickshire, England)