There are a lot of books on comedy out there. How to write it; how to stage it; how to perform it. Despite all the rules, it is incredibly hard to do it right. And that is partly because it is so damn hard to define what is funny – and what isn’t.
Let’s narrow the big question down a bit for magic. What makes some props funnier than others? Not for laughing out loud, but for a chuckle or a smile, or to get people interested, because uncommon objects are intriguing and quite often cute.
If I recall correctly from the „Revelations“ tapes, Dai Vernon was fond of saying that a lemon or a potato were a great final load for the Cups & Balls because they were, somehow, inherently funny. A banana is also funny. An apple isn’t. A pear isn’t. A strawberry isn’t. An orange – maybe. A cucumber can be funny once you use it as a magic wand. (That’s my view, not Vernon’s.)
I don’t have a theory to offer either, but I feel that for many objects it has to do with their Gestalt: their size, color and form and the extent to which these deviate from their more common brothers and sisters. Plus, the context in which they are used, appropriately or inappropriately. Some examples will follow.
Matches are tiny, thin and easy to break. A massive wooden match of 15‘‘ length or more, however, is none of that – and it’s funny.
Handcuffs are made of metal, in grey or silver, cold and unappealing. But there are fancy, playful handcuffs around in carnival and novelty stores that are soft and furry, in a bright pink color. Taking them from your pocket or „discovering“ them accidentally somewhere else is funny.
If you announce that you will bring out your time-worn, valuable magic wand and then present a giant pool noodle, a pencil stump or a wooden spoon from your kitchen, that is funny (at least to children).
You get the idea. Now let me invite you to start a tour around your house. Try to discover as many un-ordinary objects as possible. Maybe in the kitchen. In your bathroom. In a closet. In your den. In the shed.
Go hunting now!
Found some contrasting stuff? Good!
Next step. Consider this:
How could you use these objects in a magic context, be it within a routine you are already doing or as a novelty?