Absolute Magic

My recent You Tube card trick, This’n’That, has now somehow had over 3.5 million views in just 7 weeks making it one of YouTube’s most popular clips ever! I’m moving house at the moment so everything’s in boxes, but once I find the right cable I’ll upload the sequel video to YouTube and post it here too.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share a quote from “Absolute Magic”, a book about performance technique by famous UK psychological illusionist Derren Brown. He’s less well known for his card magic mastery which, it has to be said, is exceptional.

“Performing our art, especially for an audience of non-magicians, demands the highest standards and a knowledge and fluency with the stuff of performance. Hobbyists… feel that they have a right to know all the methods and secrets… but are generally less interested in the real glue that binds those secrets together: the performance itself.”

“Having someone else perform your material badly can be like watching a neighbour sodomize your pets. And I know what that’s like.”

The response to my clip on YouTube has been phenomenal – I’ve found hundreds of other people who’ve since uploaded videos of themselves doing the trick, and even one amazing mashup which uses my voice cut to some great original stop-motion animation!

Whilst it’s entirely flattering to see others upload their own performance of the trick, I do wish some people would take a little more time to practice. In fact, whilst some of the video responses are excellent, others aren’t and one in particular begins with an apology about how bad their performance is because they’ve only just learnt it. If that’s the case then practice more before showing anybody, let alone sharing a video of it!

Its also interesting to see comments demanding to know the secrets. As Derren says in his book, hobbyists feel that they have a right to know. I noticed in the comments to my video that people are sometimes shocked that they might have to pay to learn a trick.

There’s an entire industry of hundreds of magic stores around the world selling methods to professional magicians, and its a good way of filtering those who are serious about learning and performing magic well from those who just want to know the secret or want to be able to “do the trick” without the bother of practicing first. This barrier to entry has always worked well to stop people performing tricks badly. Bad performances obviously don’t impress anybody and inevitably result in the performer looking foolish, and the spectators being wary of future opportunities to see magic in case its just as bad.

Unfortunately the Internet makes secrets revealed videos all to easy to make and share. The worst thing about these is that they don’t show how to make the sleight of hand moves look natural and the performance look like real magic. Instead they focus on the “spoiler” aspect, just showing the mechanical workings of the trick. When people try to learn tricks from these videos it’s no wonder that their performance is not at all magical.

What do you think? Should all magic secrets be free? Would that result in the decline of magic’s popularity, as the overall quality of magicians became diluted? Does posting tricks on YouTube help or hinder magic’s cause? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment.

13 thoughts on “Absolute Magic

  1. Hi Paul

    I worked out your trick fairly quickly, but would not spoil it like so many idiots out there. One thing you may (or may not) want to share with me is how did you clean the faces off the cards, or were they bought like that. Anyway good luck and hope to hear from you.

  2. it depends, if it’s a trick thats sort of shabby then sure, it’s sort of right to make it free. But the one you did is one that would be worth paying for. Nobody who really wants to know how to do it wouldn’t pay, in my opinion, people just want to know the trick so they know it and others don’t, and think that it’s completely unfair to pay. However I think that it is completely right to pay if you really want to know the trick. If you don’t want to pay the price then you don’t really want to know the trick. To post a video showing how to do the trick is not right at all, because it’s almost like cheating in a sense. So i think it would be better to actually buy it, than to just watch a video on youtube and most likely learn wrong. People who actually buy what you’ve talked about most likely wouldnt post it on youtube.

  3. Damn you are cool i agree with wat you are talking about most of the tricks i do were bought from dvds you have a cool accent lol

  4. Hello Paul,

    There are different reasons for revealing magic but when you reveal it on the internet practically anyone on the planet with internet access can see the secret behind magic. I would have to say that revealing magic so it can be passed down generation through generation or from magician to magician is entirely different than just revealing to people who want to know and have no plans to perform such a trick or even the art of magic itself. This ‘n That however in my opinion is worth the low price you sell it for and if I didn’t already know the trick I would probably buy it. On the other hand some people who have financial problems that hold them back from learning magic. That’s why people on Youtube such as Cardshark88 post tutorials for flourishes so everyone who wants to learn has a chance to learn. But some magic should be kept secret because magic is also a way that people make a living so if people went around revealing secrets magicians would be out of a job. I guess what I’m trying to say here is some magic should be revealed and some magic should not, and that the magic that is revealed should only be revealed with the magician’s permission.
    Keep up the good work!

    Sam Gonzalez AKA Tacoman88

  5. I most totally agree with your views on the matters of revealing magic secrets and the deleterious effect of the poor magic currently running rampant on You Tube.

    Your video is great, and inspires me as an amateur magician to practice my lifts and master the sequences necessary for this illusion. I have no desire for a “quick fix” spoiler of how it was accomplished.

    I believe magicians work very hard at their art, and have every right to sell their effects to those who have enough dedication and interest to master them and continue the art. I can hardly copy an mp3 I have purchased legally to my backup computer without having to pay a second time, and magic should be as well protected.

    Keep up the good work- seeing real magic well done helps me practice more!


  6. hey. . . .

    i was surprised when i followed the link to here – i was truly expecting you to reveal how it was done, and i couldn’t stand the anticipation!

    and then as i read your article, i was filled with shame. as i (and as probably countless others) followed the OTHER link to WTFmagic.com and upon realizing that you have to pay to learn the trick, promptly pressed the backspace bar.

    i agree with you’re point of view and thank you taking the time to share it.

    i loved your piece on youtube, and someday i may even buy that trick. . .

    but for now, i’ll let the proffesionals do their bit, so they don’t wince at my attempt to “sodomize their pets”. *laughs* that was very nicely put.

    again thank you, and i hope you have a nice day!

    cheers! jai.

  7. Paul:

    I have just gotten back into magic after many years, mostly due to my grandson’s interest. What a change!

    I find looking at magic on youtube to be an exceedingly painful experience, in general. Not that I haven’t seen some great magic- Penn and Teller, Dai Vernon, Shawn doing “shape of my heart”, your this ‘n that, williamson etc. But the large majority seems to be in a “tattling” vein, a rush to spill the beans first, for no good reason and with abominable “skills”.

    I agree with you that the creators of new effects should be compensated. Franky, I think the creator should be compensated by the magicians that use their effect. Much like the music business, where I can release my “version” of anothers creation, but must pay them royalties for the priviledge.

    The only thing I object to, is buying an effect, only to find it to be nothing more than a re-issue of an old trick long in the public domain. Since there is almost never a return policy, you are stuck with something you already have and feel like a fool for being hoodwinked. Thus, I would like to see it required that any effect being sold must clearly state any previous effect that it uses.

    In conclusion, I definitely do not support the wholesale free distribution of magic secrets as it happening on youtube, although I have no good ideas as to how to stop it. Certainly it is fueled by the currentl status of magic – anyone can “learn” the secret as long as you have the money to buy it. Oddly, I do not hear many objections to that fact. Just some thoughts…

    Thanks for asking!


  8. I find what you say is true, I am only an amateur magician, and I love your trick and I have performed it and amazed people but I don’t think all magic tricks should be free, in fact if I could have it my way, I would have all but the basic magic tricks taken off the net, because then any old person can go look it up and ruin the magic for everyone else!

  9. I think it ‘s ok to hide the trick or the way you perform a trick as long as you have invented it… It is yours, you can use it amply…
    But i don’t know if others have really the right to give the secret away.


  10. oh yeah, one more thing I want everyone to know about my delicious pad Fresh joke! Did you hear about the dyslexic atheist? He doesn’t believe in dogs.

  11. A big part of magic tricks are the unknown. I believe people are desperate to understand how a trick works, but in true essence they just want to be mesmerized and enjoy the show. Thank you for pointing out the mechanics of a trick vs. how to focus on the hand movements to make it look so easy and real. It is definitely the attention to detail and the little things that puts the magic into any trick. Anyone can learn the mechanics of a trick, but it takes practice and practice to perform a trick flawlessly and awe your crowd.

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