Potatoes are funny – but why?

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?

Zebragummistiefel
Imagine a group of debonaire magicians in tails on stage, with white gloves and top hats in hand, but all wearing these zany zebra gumboots: Funny!

 

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A Word on Carney

John Carney is a modern Hofzinser.

He is a consummate sleight-of-hand artist.

He studied with Dai Vernon, learned from Faucett Ross, Derek Dingle and Michael Skinner.

He is funny, see his Mr. Mysto persona, and he can act – two qualities not inherent to most of us mortal majishuns.

And he is a bit overweight and obviously incapable of changing that (or simply doesn’t care). Either way, this earns him some extra cookies from my tray!

He is also an author, lecturer, creator and teacher of fine magic, as his two sought after books, Carneycopia (1991) and The Book of Secrets: Lessons for Progressive Conjuring (2004), ably demonstrate.

I consider “Secret Philosophy”, his opening chapter from Carneycopia, required reading. By diligently studying this plus his tricks and also his booklet Magic by Design: Study, Practice and Presentation (2009) you will become a better magician. Unfortunately, the latter work is out of print, but you may find other useful material of John Carney on his website here. He also has announced a new book for 2016.


Fooling Houdini etc.

Harry Houdini
Harry Houdini

Marketing question: If I ever happen to fool Joshua Jay, who fooled Simon Aronson, who fooled Dai Vernon, who fooled Harry Houdini – how can I use that in marketing?

Answer: I guess I would market myself as “The man who fooled J. Jay who fooled Aronson who fooled Vernon who fooled Houdini.” Would take a pretty long business card, though.


Addendum: I’ve been mulling over a shorter version: Were I not just another man then who incidentally fooled, umm, Houdini? Please advise.


Another Addendum added: If I ever manage to meet Daryl and fool him with a trick or two, I will start advertising myself as “the magicians’ magician’s magician”!