Stop sportscasting: Three signs you’re calling action, not making magic

September 6th, 2011 | Joe Hadsall | Filed Under General


Stop sportscasting: Three signs youre calling action, not making magicWhen you perform, are you simply telling people what’s happening? Or are you going deeper?

Behind the scenes at Ellusionist.com, we watch a lot of magic videos. A LOT. Whether it’s a new trick, contest entry or someone posting a practice video in the Performance HQ Forums, we watch so many videos that we pick up on trends.

Lately, we’ve seen a lot of this trend: Sportscasting. This is what happens when a magician changes an ace into a king and says, at the same time, “I change the ace into a king.” In other words, the patter simply calls the action happening in your hands.

It’s redundant, and it’s redundant.

It may not sound like a big deal, but trust us. It is. As much as we love watching videos of brilliantly executed moves, what really blows us away are the videos that give the magic impact, importance and meaning. Those are the videos that give us chills, because they show us that magic can be a powerful metaphor to important emotions and incredible events. For example: Christopher Thisse recently won a contest with such a presentation.

On the flip side: When you describe the magic you just performed, it invites skepticism in spectators. If you say, “I change the ace into a king,” and then they see that ace change, then you focus spectators’ minds purely on the HOW of a trick — and that drives us dangerously close to the road of challenge magic, which only Tony Slydini mastered. With the right presentation, we give spectators something else to chew on as they watch, and that’s usually much better for our magic. Why tell someone that a fork is bending, when they can watch it for themselves?

Here’s the catch: You may be sportscasting and not realizing it.

It’s not always so obvious — sometimes a simple word undoes the webs we spin. So here’s some warning signs that you may be acting a lot less like Harry Blackstone, and a lot more like Harry Caray:

  • Saying the words “I” or “we” a lot: Those are red flags that an active verb is coming (more on that in a few bullet points). If we’re saying “I,” then we are drawing attention to ourselves, and that might not always be the best thing. Sure we want eyes on us, but we want to do it in a sideways fashion. People don’t care as much about magicians as much as they care about themselves. We take advantage of that by relating to them, not talking about us.
  • Using a lot of active verbs: You know, present-tense verbs. That’s outstanding for writing fiction, but terrible for patter. The exception is if you’re telling a story as part of your patter.
  • Using commands such as “watch” or “look”: If you say those words, then keep your mouth shut for the rest of the trick. Using those commands focuses the spectator on doing that exact thing, so sportscalling just distracts them and cheeseballs your routine.

Do you want to challenge spectators with your magic, putting the emphasis on “You don’t know how I did that”? Or do you want to MOVE your spectators and make them feel something; to make them see that your magic is a glimpse into a deeper truth or message? Write a rough draft of your patter, then look for those warning signs above. Your presentation will go from ballgame to game-changer.

7 comments

  1. you shouldn’t do that all the time.
    but if you do it once in your show it isn’t bas.
    in fact, I believe i have a video of Eric Jones were he specificaly says.
    watch as the cards switch places.
    so i agree you shouldn’t act like your a sportscommentator but as long as you keep the moment magical you can say what happens.
    or if it’s misdirection or part of your story or if it makes the visual aspect of your trick even better

  2. sorry my bad, Eric actually says it after the cards switched places to emphasise the visual effect.

    so Eric Jones, the magician who i above all admire, did not sin agianst the Ellusionist magic”rules” :)

  3. Matthew,

    There are no rules… just tips, and this is a good one.

  4. Goudinov, I knew that is was and is just meant sarcasticaly ( is that a good english word btw).
    because Elllusionist has always such good tips and is the most well known magic site.
    it’s like the Pirate code from potc , but reversed.
    these are guidelines but it’s good to see them as rules because the improve your preformance ( the pirate code is a book of rules for pirates, but Jack and co preferes to see them as guidelines)

  5. If you want to learn how to add meaning to your magic, check out the book “Scripting Magic” Peter McCabe. Fantastic work!

  6. Thank you JIM and GOUDINOV.
    But you both seem to misunderstand me ,maybe because English isn’t my motherlanguage or just because of my chaotic writing style.
    I agree with this article but I think it’s not bad ALL the time, you should add meaning to your magic, but it’s not always possible.
    take for instance the cups and balls.
    I don’t preform it myself but when i see it preformed, all the magicians tell something about it’s origion and then tell what happens.
    ”I take the staff and wave it to produce the first ball”
    ” and the ball appears underneat the cup”
    even Dai Vernon and Penn& Teller do this.
    so if you can’t really add something different to your trick or want to keep the origion of the trick just talk to your audience, because a silent cups and balls is just awkward, maybe play some music.
    My point is that sportscasting shouldn’t be used as much as possible but if there is no other way just do it.
    because a silent magician, ( except when he has a big talking partner or really astonishing mime skills:)is a boring magician.
    Goudinov, I think your awesome ( jim you to) and your thread on the forums gave me a lot of tips and inspiration.
    If you have a better idea for the cups and balls please post it here ( i don’t yet have an account), and if i like it I will take back everything I’ve said here.