Mark Panner is occasionally permitted to write on topics of interest to magicians here at Inside Magic thanks to his willingness to write for free and that his mother is Inside Magic Editor Tim Quinlan’s sister. As always, his article has not been reviewed by Inside Magic and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Inside Magic, its shareholders or employees.
Henry Ford once advised, “Never Complain, Never Explain.”
Of course, Henry Ford would not have performed the classic Twentieth Century Bra Trick because it had not yet been invented. We don’t know if they even had bras back then.
But if he could have performed the trick, we know for darn sure he would not have apologized for it.
Yeah, critics might have chastised the great industrialist for humiliating a school teacher on live television. And you know what? He wouldn’t have cared one bit.
He was richer than anyone we know and didn’t need to depend on anyone liking him.
Those days are gone, gone, gone. We live in a different time and place. It is no longer fashionable or “correct” or “nice” to pretend to remove a woman’s bra in the course of performing a magic trick during the live television broadcast of an important civic event and where the magician is technically the boss of the unwilling assistant.
But to say it is no longer acceptable means there was a time in this country’s rich history where it would have acceptable and even expected.
There had to be such a time or it would not have earned the laudatory title “Classic.” Check any magic catalog, the trick is always called The Classic Twentieth Century Bra Trick.
We long for the days when magicians could perform the classics without getting a topit full of backtalk and sass. Back then the victim and the audience actually thanked the magician for getting them attention and coverage in the news.
Underwear is always funny. It is a known fact in the world of comedy that bras, panties, underwear of any style are funny. You don’t have to show them, you can just talk about them and people will laugh.
Emo Phillps’ great line fits nicely here:
“I got some new underwear the other day. Well, new to me.”
Combine natural funny qualities with the dynamic situation where an unaware audience member appears to loose said underwear and you have a mélange of mirth.
Again, it is just an axiom of comedy and magic. Every trick is better when it ends with underwear being displayed.
It may have Dai Vernon who said:
Show me a flawless pass and I’ll smile but show me a pair of apparently soiled underwear to distract my attention while you do the pass, and I’ll likely shoot milk out both of my nostrils….and I haven’t had milk in 37 years!
It may have been Dai Vernon who offered this sage advice but probably not. We doubt he ever saw anyone perform a pass flawlessly – people were always anxious when performing for him and the pass is a tough piece of work to pull off – especially if your audience is Dai Vernon.
Regardless, the magician school board member was no Dai Vernon but apparently good enough to mystify the audience. There is nothing in the story about the trick being exposed.
Still, the poor sap apologized to the teacher and the home audience and his fellow school board members and in the process, set magic back about 20 years.
His apology set us all back because even though he did the trick right, apologizing empowered audiences to dictate the tricks a magician will perform.
That is a co-dependent behavior straight up. It enables disability reliably, as we say in our group sessions at the half-way house.
Last time we checked — and that was just now — Robert Houdin did not ask the Algerian military leaders and civil potentates what tricks they wanted to see.
Who knows what they would have asked for?! We sure don’t.
Robert Houdin did the trick he knew they needed to see whether they liked it or not.
His performance of the classic Light and Heavy Chest saved two countries from a bloody war.
And speaking of light and heavy chests, we come back to the story at hand.
We should applaud rather than chastise independent thinking magicians.
For instance, there those who have poo-pooed our performance of the The Classic Twentieth Century Bra Trick modified for kids’ parties. But the critics probably never even saw us do it live.
They just heard about it and assume some precious birthday girl was embarrassed to have her training bra flung out from her new party dress towards her best friends and classmates.
As our friends at the half-way apartment complex say, “you need to see something before you can hate it.”
The Classic Twentieth Century Bra Trick is why we are so well known among party planners and busy parents.
Ours is the only act that uses it. The word gets out and around, even if you’re not on television and your unwitting assistant is some 12 year-old birthday girl enjoying the festivities marking her ascendency into womanhood.
In fact, we have not had a booking yet where the trick isn’t brought up by “mom” or “dad.” We tell them we won’t discuss the routines in advance of the show.
One mom pleaded, “you’re not going to do the bra trick are you?”
We explained that we are professional and not new at this game. We don’t decide what tricks to do until we meet the birthday child. If it is a young girl about to blossom into womanhood, the training bra trick makes perfect sense, obviously.
But it is our considered experience from hundreds of shows that if the birthday girl is still missing teeth and cannot stand taller than our magic table, the bra trick lacks the impact audiences want and clients pay us to deliver.
Little kids do not get embarrassed in the same way and by the same things as teens and older ladies do.
They don’t know they are supposed to be ashamed of their bodies and therefore mortified to have what appears to be their very first bra pulled out of their shirt and suspended between two wrinkled handkerchiefs.
That doesn’t make little kids bad or stupid. It is just a fact of life. They have to grow and learn that their bodies are something to hide and feel shame about. And that is something they need to be taught and learn – they are not born that way.
Yes, we learned this hard lesson from dozens of shows where the trick didn’t get the reaction we sought. The little kid would just look unimpressed while the mom threw a fit – screwing up the big finale. The mom was assuredly not reacting to our performance of the trick so much as the lack of shame exhibited by their kin.
Experience with the training bra routine proved it is a sure-fire winner in one situation above all. Boy birthday parties are the perfect venue no matter how old the kid.
Boys love to see underwear and always deride each other’s masculinity. Isn’t it natural to see a group of boys pick on someone who is different, perhaps too soft or woman-like? So, why fight the fight.
Go with their instincts and play it for laughs.
After all, a young man is only going through puberty once and will likely never again be as vulnerable as he is on his 12th or 13th birthday. Time flies and the humor dies.
So a magician should never apologize for entertaining an audience even if he did it by sneaking past their conscious thought and into their deepest sense of self.
That’s how we quit smoking the first couple of times.
Subliminal shame and humiliation works and we have the cigarette burns to prove it.
Read the article about a great trick done right here.