Our Irish Magic Heritage

Inside Magic Image of James Joyce MagicianWe are almost never asked about our proud Irish heritage; likely because people avoid making eye contact with us after shows and some have gone to the extreme of faking (we think) illness to quickly depart the performing area as soon as we complete our standard 80 minutes.

Yet, despite never being asked, we thought it appropriate to share our story with our kind reader(s) of Inside Magic.

We descend from a long line of magicians who willingly fabricate their lineage – each adding to stories of greatness as the generations rolled through the years and across the Atlantic.

Our great, great, great step-mother, Maeve Hardy was the assistant to Ireland’s third or fourth greatest street magician for the time, Buster Seamus who performed under the stage name, Busted Seams.

At the time, there were very few streets in Ireland for a performer to utilize so Buster would waddle (he was very heavy, hence the stage name) up and down dirt roads looking for intersections and audiences.  He was delighted to find Dublin after several years of wandering and that was where he met the matriarch of our proud family.

They shared a love for entertaining, drinking, fine art and horse racing.  It was natural that they would develop an act that included none of those loves.  Buster performed the standard street magic fare: Cups and Balls, the Chop Cup, Multiplying Balls, Cups from Nowhere, Balls from Nowhere and, their finale, Hippity Hop Rabbits.

This was a different time.  Magicians could not buy tricks in magic stores because they did not exist and the Internet was apparently unavailable in Dublin.  Consequently, Maeve and Buster made their own props and are credited with innovations still used today.  For instance, their Cups and Balls were made from allegedly gold chalices they “found” whilst performing at a local church.  The balls were hand knitted by Maeve from wool taken from their pet sheep, Woolina.  Buster’s wand was a long wooden dowel “snapped from the face of a lying, Italian, wooden boy who wouldn’t keep his yap shut during our act,” wrote Maeve.

But it was their Hippity Hop Rabbits that set them apart from the rest of the magicians working at the time.  They used real rabbits, sedated with “a wee bit of ale” and “affixed” to small placards.  The trick delighted or horrified audiences depending upon the crowd’s willingness to “go along with the gag” and the potency of the pre-show ale administered to the bunnies.

On a fateful day just outside of Trinity College in the heart of Dublin, Maeve and Buster performed for a “taciturn, dour man with glasses and a nasty breath.”  That man was James Joyce.  The great author watched their show throughout the day and noticed how the routine did not change regardless of the audience or their reaction.  He wanted to help the couple and offered to write bits for them for a “kind word as a reference for future writing jobs.”

Maeve and Buster understood this to mean he would work for free and took him up on the offer.

It was Mr. Joyce who first suggested they ditch the real rabbits and use “painted images of the vermin on placards” and to shorten the trick to a few minutes.  The suggestion was genius and gave the act a new sense of purpose and entertainment value.  It also provided some respite from the angry complaints they would occasionally receive from “do-gooders” who would “spit hateful and nasty things at them for the sake of the bunnies.”

Some of the crowds wanted the couple to free Woolina as well, but for reasons never really discussed in our family, Buster was adamant that “the beautiful creature would remain always close.”

Mr. Joyce wrote several jokes for the couple as well.  His work was acerbic, more biting.

“Is that your head or is ye neck blowing bubbles?”

“This trick is foreign, I got it from a broad.”

“Want to know how to keep a Dubliner in suspense? I’ll tell ye on the morrow.”

Mr. Joyce wanted to learn magic and join the act.  He did a mean series of card manipulations with beautiful split fans, back and front palming, diminishing cards and color changes.  All were impressed with his skill but Buster and Maeve dropped him from the troupe.  Yes, they hated sharing their meager proceeds with a third person but they also objected to his constant, stream-of-consciousness narration during the tricks.

“Just shut up and do the tricks,” Buster yelled at the bespectacled author as he performed in front of a fairly large crowd.

“That’s what she said!” replied Mr. Joyce.

The crowd roared with derisive laughter and commented that Mr. Joyce had “burned Buster but good.”

Buster was humiliated. Mr. Joyce was elated.  He felt the adrenaline rush that comes with succeeding in front of an audience.  He then used his new catch line “Aye, that’s what she said!” incessantly.  Audiences never tired of it.  Buster and Maeve, on the other hand, grew impatient and resentful.  They hated being the foil.

They agreed to go their separate ways on this very day, St. Patrick’s Day, so many years ago.  Mr. Joyce went on to write novels and occasionally performed his manipulation act as an interlude during his public readings of his stories.  Audiences seemed to enjoy his “incessant jabbering” as he worked the card miracles.

Mr. Joyce never fully left magic and was credited for the invention of several items still used today such as: Torn and Restored Newspaper, Glorpy (or “Hyrum the Hilarious Hank”), Sucker Sliding Die Box, the Whoopie Cushion and, of course Hippity Hop Rabbits.

Maeve and Buster were married but a few years before he passed away due to a gas explosion – an internal one.  He was a very heavy man who ate poorly and experimented with fire-eating.

Maeve migrated to the US where she married a young performer who would later become the scion of our magic family, Thomas “Big Tom” Hardy.

And so on this special day for Irish and those who want to be Irish, we remember our proud history.

Our Magic Plan for the LA Marathon

Inside Magic Mile Marker on LA Marathon Course Pure genius is how we modestly describe our latest development in bringing our act to the vast, unwashed and sweaty masses of Southern California.
We have done our research and determined some interesting facts about the greater Hollywood area: there are several movie and television studios within an Uber ride from the Magic Castle, many people who work at high-levels in popular media are health conscious and run to stay in shape, and a substantial subset of moguls and moguls-to-be (we think they are affectionately called “mogulettes”) will be in the Los Angeles Marathon this Sunday.
We think you see where we are going with this.
We have been working on an act we can perform for the high-fliers as they run the marathon course right by our spacious studio apartment near the bakery for dogs on historic Santa Monica Boulevard.
Because the marathon will be run outdoors, we have eliminated several effects from our tentative set-list including: our barehanded dove production, our gloved-handed falcon production, our take off on the classic Think-a-Drink we perform with scratch-and-sniff imbued playing cards under the title Think-a-Stink, the Kellar Spirit Cabinet and Kevin James’ Snowstorm.
Our research confirmed that by the time the throng of influence-wielding runners reach the water station adjacent to our staked-out position, they will have run 17.3 miles. They will likely be pretty tired and because it is supposed to be a very hot day, they will probably be thirsty too. As they slow to grab a cup of what scientists inexplicably call H2O, we will be there with our well-rehearsed abbreviated routine ready to entertain.
The genius part of our plan – other than what we have set forth so far – is that as the marathon proceeds, the slower runners tend to follow the faster runners. So, yes, we won’t be able to do our full routine for the Kenyan front-runners that should pass our table just minutes after the race begins, but after about two hours, we will have gobs of heaving, perspiring audiences filing past.
Our research also revealed that professional marathoners do not tend to be members of upper-management in the major studios. World-class runners have to focus on things like training, eating enough to maintain their ideal weight and studying the latest techniques in not dropping dead whilst enduring horrible physical torture.
Studio moguls, on the other hand, are often able to run 17.2 miles in 3 to 4 hours. What a treat they will have when they hit what we are calling The Magic Mile Marker®.
Because our time with each runner will be limited, we have cut down much of our opening monologue. Yes, we’ll still do our beloved bits about our brush with mental illness, how unattractive the last audience was and, of course, how airline food is terrible. But then, it is right into the good stuff. By meeting up with the runner/audience as they approach the water station, we can lengthen our time together, giving them time to select a card, return it to deck and watch with delight as we go into our wacky Ambitious Card routine.
As our fan knows, our original take on this classic card trick – which we cleverly call, Oh, No, Not Again! – usually lasts about 90 minutes and involves revelations from all parts of what some less-attentive audience members believe is a well-shuffled deck. We have shortened it to 90 seconds by limiting it to just seven reveals.
Even a runner cannot jog in place for all 90 seconds, we can run along with them and finish the bit with our big finale where their card ends up in small box, inside a bigger box, inside a handkerchief removed from our specially-tailored silk MC Hammer sultan pants. Because of the ingenious method in which we perform this effect, it resets almost instantly.
We expect this to be a big hit and it will probably be pilfered by less-creative magicians but we do not care. As we say during cold and flu season, “there’s a lot more where that came from.”
See you Sunday!

Flop Sweat – A Magical Metaphor

Flop SweatHis fevered brain was unmerciful.

“A grown man reacting like this?  What are you going to do, cry?”

His consciousness was becoming focused as it careened off the neural pathways on its way to activating the part of his brain where options were binary: fight or flight.  It was not a direct path, however.  His psyche made an apparently mandatory stop along the way to trigger the cluster of neurons that apportion shame and blame.  It was hard to believe there was an evolutionary benefit to having shame and blame sensors in the neural pathways but they were there.

The sweat – which, if he survived, he knew he would later describe as “flop sweat” – was spreading across his flushed face and he could feel his body rapidly heat up.  His vision narrowed to exclude almost all but the botched effect sitting before him on the table.  He had to physically lift his head to see the audience and then lower his head to again look at the prop.

What could he do?  He could fight – think of a way to get himself out of the botched effect, hope the audience indulged his mortal failing and move on.  Or he could take flight – give into the panic and embarrassment and walk briskly from the small stage.

At the moment, however, he was unable to make a decision.

He was frozen on stage, looking at the table and the visible evidence of his failure to sufficiently practice a new effect before adding it to his routine.  The shame and blame sensors were firing even if all other parts of the brain were quiet.

He was amazed that he could have these feelings of panic and indecision and shame at this point in his career, his life.  He was no kid, not even a young middle-aged performer.  He had been around for quite a while and performed audiences larger than this, on stages far nicer and for more money. So why was he on the verge of tears?

Time was stopped, it seemed.  Perhaps it was the same sensation experienced by the deer caught in the headlights or the gazelle being stalked.  This wasn’t life or death.  There wouldn’t be a scar or anything more than a good, humiliating war story that he could to choose to tell.

But tears?  Why would he cry about this?  Why would tears be a response to a public failure of his own making?  Wouldn’t tears just add to the shame and embarrassment? Was that part of the evolutionary plan – make the humiliating event thoroughly and irretrievably a moment of failure?

The audience was looking at him but apparently without judgment.  Perhaps they had not seen his failure or thought it was part of the routine? They would soon realize it was a failure that would cut short his performance.  Then the faces would reflect a different attitude, he thought.  That’s when the judgment will kick in and his shame, flushing, sweat and inability to calmly fix things would become obvious.  They would see that he was a fraud – not a good performer, worthy of their attention and enthusiasm.

He could survive this if he just had to deal with the flop-sweat, the feeling of embarrassment and a momentary lapse in what had been a smoothly running routine.  All of that could be explained and laughed about but if he couldn’t avoid crying, all was lost.

He felt his consciousness move towards one of the two impulses.  His battle would focus solely on not crying.  He took a breath, smiled, stepped forward and took another breath.

“For my  next trick . . .” he offered with a forced smile and a humbled tone.

Guest Article: The Kids’ Show Done New

Inside Magic Image for Tony Spain's Seance for Children[It is the policy of Inside Magic to offer its readers new and different views on the art of magic — even if they are offered by those who have no reputation for honesty or integrity.  Today’s submission is an essay on a new and different approach to magic for kids.  Inside Magic does not approve of Tony Spain’s thoughts or approach to kids’ magic.  In fact, we find them horrible.]


It is a given – and so I’ll write it at the beginning and get it over with – that people are reluctant to accept the new and cling so tightly to the old.  The old is comfortable, fits well with their beliefs (in part because the beliefs have been formed by the comfortable fit with the old pattern) and to leave the comfortable is to risk the unknown.

I think it was John Wilkes Booth that yelled Sic Semper Tyranus as he hit the stage floor after assassinating President Lincoln.  His words are reportedly from some foreign language, maybe Latin – even though people didn’t speak Latin then – and some scholars have translated them to mean, “So Always Goes (or With) Tyrants.”

Phillipe Anjou, the cartoonist and creative mind behind the 1870’s most famous one frame comic, “Li’l Trachea: The Funny Passage Way,” reworked the assassin’s declaration with humor.

The cartoon showed Li’l Trachea jumping from the Presidential Box at Ford’s Theater with a pistol in his ligaments and the ever-present hand-rolled cigarette balancing ever so gently on the top of his tube like head.  Li’l Trachea shouts “Let’s Try Something Different!”

Li’l Trachea’s little friend, Liver Boy is about to jump from the box as well and it looks like he will land right on the proud little trachea.  Li’l Trachea wants to try something different but only we, the audience, can anticipate the fun that will follow shortly.

I traveled down that side road of cartoon history, to make a point.  Even within 10 years of the death of a great public leader, the method of his assassination is lampooned as trite.

So what does this have to do with my innovation in Kid’s Magic?

Only this: I believe I have hit upon a formula that works and works independent of the traditional trappings we associate with the Kid Show or Kid Magic.  I believe it takes a certain kind of personality to perform this method but then again, so does any kid magic.  You have to feel comfortable with the children and make them feel that you are safe and you are there to entertain them for exactly 55 minutes pursuant to your written agreement with their mother, father or legal custodian.

Rather than go into the nuts and bolts right now, I thought I would relate to you my experience this weekend as I tried out my new, novel, approach to Kid’s Magic.

At the age of seven, psychologists tell us, children become aware of mortality generally and their own mortality specifically.  Perhaps a relative has passed away or maybe a family pet or close friend.  Regardless of the trigger, the age of seven, is the time to understand that few will make it out of this life alive.

Most Kid Shows ignore this ground-shaking revelation and allow the Birthday Boy or Girl to reflect silently that their birthday also means they are moving irreversibly along the river of life towards their final day.

The kids are terrified but they cannot verbalize their fear.  By pretending all is sugar and donuts, the entertainer is really just reinforcing their fear.  Every breath used to inflate a balloon is one less breath available to the child.  Blowing out the candles on their cake provides only a harsh reminder that, as Buddha said, they too will vanish from life like the flame from the candle — even a birthday candle.

I say, don’t fight these fears.  Exploit them.  Use them to make this the best birthday ever.

That’s where I came up with my concept for Kiddy Séance.  I will get to the marketing opportunities in a second, but imagine this scene.

Continue reading Guest Article: The Kids’ Show Done New

Incomprehensible Exposure = Exposure?

Inside Magic Image of Red Headed Girl with Two Real FishThere is one thing we stand firmly against here at Inside Magic and that is exposure of magic secrets.  We don't like it, won't eat near it, won't let our kids go to school with it, and certainly would never let it kiss us full on the mouth, ever. Given our distaste for this abominable practice, a casual reader of this magic news outlet might be forgiven for thinking that all of our loathing was used up and that we loved every other thing in large quantities.  Nope, we dislike people who incompetently expose magic almost as much as we dislike the more proficient secret leakers.

There are several programs on the internets that allow a very lazy web master or mistress to publish articles about any topic in seconds.  Better yet, these programs can write the articles to neatly incorporate trending Google search terms to suck traffic to their owners' website to generate the all-important pay-per-click revenue.  The programs are not smart but quick.  They search the webs for real content about any given subject and then steal from the articles located to generate or "spin" an allegedly unique bit of content. 

Fresh content is essential to making one's website appealing to Google.  Fresh content that contains key words used in searches moves the site up the Google Page Rank chart.  But there is apparently no requirement that the fresh content containing key words make any sense at all.

We received a Google Alert this hour for an article meeting our pre-set search terms.  We try to search for magic news constantly and have layers of filters to get breaking stories about "Harry Houdini" rather than a professional athlete surviving a close game with "an escape worthy of Houdini."   The notice we just received met up with several of our Google Alert terms and so the automated sms notification system alerted us to possible breaking news.

Here is the article in part.  It ostensibly exposes the Svengali Deck.  Perhaps it does, we cannot tell.

The Svengali deck is made up of 47 business cards, 23 that are most of duplicate and are also slightly shorter as opposed to 23 which are all distinct and slightly longer. There are actually coin tips, card tips, mind-reading tips, rope tips, all different types of tricks easily together with objects that you’ve in the pockets as well as lying savings around your house. If you need a number of really straightforward magic tricks to master which you can try in your own friends the two observing ones is going to be perfect in your case.

We are not trying to be harsh.  Maybe this is one author's earnest attempt to expose a very commercial trick and it falls short because the author has yet to master the English language.  Or, maybe there is a different Svengali deck — one made with 47 business cards, 23 of which are most of duplicate of something.  We have checked with all of our reliable sources and no one is familiar with a Svengali deck made of business cards that are either most of or not most of duplicate of anything.  Yes, we recall that Burling Hull claimed to have created a deck that was part Mene-Tekel, part Two-Way Forcing and part Brainwave but to the best of knowledge Mr. Hull never released the deck and even if he did, it wouldn't be one of those "really straightforward magic tricks to master which you can try in your own friends the observing ones is going to be perfect in" anyone's case.


Continue reading Incomprehensible Exposure = Exposure?