HOW TO WRITE A MAGIC SHOW
he three magicians sit in a room, their faces dimly lit by the white light of the empty Word document staring them in the face. Mocking them really. The only text on the page is the solitary line, ‘Melbourne Comedy Festival show #5’. In three months time when the Comedy Festival rolls in, this Word document will be packed with lines of dialogue and stage directions, but that’s a while away yet.
The challenges of writing an original one-hour comedy magic act are two-fold. How do you show people something unbelievable that they’ve never seen before? And how can you make it hilarious in the delivery?
Let’s take that first challenge: the task of showing people something unbelievable that they’ve never seen before. The two components of this challenge are not mutually exclusive. For someone to experience a sense of disbelief and amazement after seeing magic, they can’t have seen it already. If they are watching something they’ve already seen, chances are their first thought is, “Isn’t that like the thing Magician X did?” – which immediately anchors the moment in an earlier memory, stymying any sense of surprise and diminishing the OMG #mindblown factor.
The tough reality for magicians is that most magic premises are fished out of a pretty shallow pool of existing ideas. Even if a performer can find a new spin on an old trick, most people watching will experience some kind of déjà vu. That niggling sense you can have watching a movie; that feeling that you’ve already seen the movie before.
To come up with something original and fresh, we start with a vision for something that we feel is decidedly unlike what you might expect in a normal magic act. The vision normally comes in the form of a “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” question. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could borrow someone’s shoe and pull a bread roll out of it?” Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do a card trick in free-fall?” Once we’ve asked our questions, we then work out the various secret methods to get us there. We don’t start with, “What is easy to pull off?” or “What have we seen before?” Those sorts of questions will lead to a magic show with tricks you’ve probably already seen.
A few years ago we asked that question, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we did a card trick while in free-fall?” It led to us doing a card trick while in the middle of a tandem skydive.
Each year we try to come up with ways to make people feel like they’ve just watched something they’ve never witnessed before in a magic show. The next challenge is figuring out how to make it happen. The challenge after that is working out how to make it funny – it is the Melbourne Comedy Festival after all.
Come see us at the Comedy Festival this year, and see how we’ve made our crazy vision a reality.