One of the most common questions I’m asked over the years while performing magic, whether I’m doing corporate magic, college magic, or even magic for kids, is if I created all of my material? Creation and invention are a huge part of magic and while yes I create a lot of my material, there is some magic that I perform that is marketed material. People believe this means I’m performing someone else material and that anybody can do it. That is actually a very big misconception. When a magician or comedian magician acquires something from another magician or the magic community it could be something as simple as a new slight of hand or even just an idea for a magic effect. It is up to a magician or comedian magician in my case to create the routine, write the jokes, script it, plot out the movements and redesign any element of the original routine to make it completely his own.
I like to compare a magician to an artist, in which an artist will learn a method for a specific brushstroke to create details on a tree. Or they may learn a method for blending paints to create a perfect sunset. But in the end that artist still has to create the whole picture or image and utilizes the new techniques to improve his overall product. This is exactly how a magician creates a magic routine or performance piece as opposed to just showing a basic trick. As a comedian magician not only do I have to create the whole routine but have to write countless jokes to turn something that could have been too serious into something that is hilarious and magical. It is the same reason that two magicians can perform a magic effect that are very similar in technique but are completely different and are instantly recognizable as an effect belonging to the magician who created it. In fact, when I create a new magic routine it is usually so specific to me and my character that it would just be weird and awkward for another magician to attempt to copy.
I challenge myself to write 1 new hypnosis skit per day. I have written hundreds of ideas for my comedy hypnosis shows over the last 10 years, notebooks full of ideas. Unlike comedy magic though, the only way to test out a new hypnosis skit is during a live show. Since you are dealing with volunteers under hypnosis, you never know what they are going to say or how they are going to react. So the best place to test out a new skit is in colleges or comedy clubs since sometimes you think you’ve created a PG skit only to have your volunteers take it in a new direction. I started adding one new skit for every comedy hypnosis show I do. I will attempt new skits in corporate and high school hypnosis shows but I make certain they are not skits that will push the boundaries. My more outrageous skits will be attempted in my college hypnosis shows.
Unfortunately this limits me from adding too much new material as not every skit will make it into my full show. I performed almost fifty hypnosis shows in the past 2 months. During that time I added a cartoon dating show that was okay but after about 10 performances I doubted it would make it to my full hypnosis act. This was unlike my singing competition skit I called “America’s Next Diva.” After about five performances I knew it would become a mainstay in all of my hypnosis shows.
There are skits that I created during that time that are hilarious but will belong in my comedy club and college hypnosis shows. Specifically a version of a shark tank where the volunteers have to sell a dating website they created based on their friends and their fantasies. It is hilarious but can be a little adult. This is why whenever I’m hired I allow the client to give a specific rating to my performance and I even go over all the material to make sure everything is appropriate for their event.
I’m always trying to add new material to my show. As a good magician I’m always creating. I had been wracking my brain for a big wild closer for my comedy magic show that would work in both corporate and college magic. The idea finally came to me as I was checking out a magic antique dealer’s collection when I discovered a notebook of a comedian magician that was over a hundred years old. In the notebook I discovered many interesting and funny ideas but they were unfortunately very dated and many of the ideas involved items that are even in use today.
I did find an idea though for an explosion gone wrong and I took this idea and developed my own based on it. It involved a cannon that shot cards into the air where I would be able to pluck the chosen card out of the sky by sheer luck or magic. Unfortunately the cannon backfires blowing me up and shredding my clothes only to have the selected card protruding to my forehead as if it were impaled in my skull.
It took me nearly a year to create everything involved in the routine from designing the cannon, hiring a magic builder to create the final product, and hiring a seamstress to create the outfit that I would be wearing when I blew up. Next came the hard part with scripting, joke writing, and blocking the routine until I created something I was so proud of that I finally got my chance to perform it live in St. Louis’s Magic on parade in 2006. I was so excited to see my magic creation on stage, yet I was still young and naïve.
The trick and the performance went over great but I underestimated certain factors in my excitement. There was such a mess that creating an explosion on stage can make, even though I was using air cannons and flash pots, the theater was cleaning streamers and confetti out of their rafters for the next year. The next problem I had was that the weight of the magic trick was almost two hundred pounds which meant there would be no way to fly with it affordably. And lastly I didn’t take into account the sheer size of the magic trick and the 2 hour set up time and additional 1 hour to take it down after the show. Even though it was a great magic trick and I do still perform it for my local corporate magic and college magic shows, it ended up being taking out of my act the following year.
I have since learned to be a little pickier in creating and adding new magic to all of my comedy shows!
Let’s talk about the glorified life of an entertainer. I get to travel for a living performing comedy Magic and Hypnosis shows for the college and corporate markets! People often comment on how “cool” it must be to stay in hotels and rack up those frequent flyer miles and eat at great local restaurants. It’s true that I get paid to travel and to make people laugh by performing comedy magic and hypnosis show and I absolutely love what I do but at times the travel gets to me. For those of you who don’t travel often or rarely travel for work it’s not as glamorous as it seems.
During my busiest times I can be gone for 10 straight days. These days are filled with airports, car rentals, hotels (if I’m lucky) and lots of coffee. I have to bring huge and heavy bags with all my magic and hypnosis props and equipment. Many days I am a couple hours away from the airport and have to drive through the night to catch an early flight to my next destination. Many of those nights I either grab a quick hotel just to shower and then get to the airport and sleep an hour or two on the airport floor (it certainly beats having to rush to the airport at 4am!). My son has actually told people on many occasions that I live and work (perform magic and hypnosis) at the airport. Many days I am exhausted and need a caffeine fix in order to keep my energy level up but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
As each school year comes to an end this is when I look back and reflect on my shows throughout the year. I make a point to write down some notes from my show after each performance. This allows me to look at which jokes and tricks are killing it on stage and which ones are not getting the LPM’s (laugh per minutes) that make a funny, entertaining and successful comedy magic or hypnosis show. As I go through my notes I start thinking about what I can do to improve my product (Josh McVicar Comedy Magician and Hypnotist). Many times I will be researching new effects that fit with my performance style and then decide to add that new magic trick or hypnosis skit to my show as I phase another one out.
The hot summer months in St. Louis, MO are the best time to add this new material. This is also the time of year that my traveling has slowed down allowing me to practice and rehearse until perfection. My wife often jokes that our house has been taken over by a production company during these times as our living space has props, sound equipment and video cameras all over. I should mention the more creative I become the more my creativity spills about the house. That being said it’s during those hit summer months that I have the time to really improve my magic and hypnosis shows for the upcoming school year. One thing I have learned after 15 years in the entertainment industry is that you have to continually improve and adapt to your clients needs…along with the ever changing market.
Rehearsal is common in the McVicar household! I tend to revamp and rehearse my college, corporate, hypnosis, and kid magic shows during the summer. Summers in St. Louis, MO are super hot with terrible humidity so it’s the perfect time to lock myself into my studio and take out material that is no longer working and add any new jokes and amazing magic tricks I have been wanting to try out.
Sometimes rehearsing in our house can be difficult as we have two young children who find my props fascinating. So this year when I was working on some new material for my kid magic show I decided to see if my 2.5 year old son could help and he became my rehearsing buddy. He recently started showing an interest in what I was working on and would even sit through a short routine or two. This is great when I need genuine kid feedback for a new magic trick. I was excited to perform it for him for the very first time. So I performed my new magic trick which required his participation and he did great! He laughed, participated when needed and most important for a kid magic trick was that I was able to hold his attention for the entire trick!!
It was so much fun to perform for him and know that this new kid magic show trick was definitely a great new addition to my show. The only problem and possibly a lesson for me is that when performing a magic trick for my kid, trying to avoid performing magic tricks for him that involve food. Especially kid food in bright kid colored packaging. You see the new kid magic trick I added to my kid magic show involves the use of the Trix cereal box. Even though my son has never had any Trix he somehow knew it was something deliciously sugary. After I was done performing the magic trick he asked to eat some because it was “yummy.” After explaining that it was only for the magic show and not to eat he broke out in hysterics. Lesson learned. (On a side note, my wife feeling bad for him, let him try some and it confirmed what he expected…that cereal was very “yummy”.)