Another magic effect for your viewing pleasure:

As some of you know, I have formally studied stand up comedy writing and presenting as an art, as part of my pursuit of excellence in preaching (or whatever we call it). My brother Pearse tells me that (I think) Malcolm Gladwell says an expert is someone who has put 10,000 hours into their particular skill/craft/art/etc. I will never hit 10,000 hours as a public speaker if I only do it once a week. Even without any weeks off, that’ll take over 190 years. So I practice.

But I also study. And I’m a big believer in multi-disciplinary cross-training. You’ve already heard my initial thoughts on what stage magic can teach the preacher. I think the most valuable lessons stand up comedy has taught me have to do with structure and with timing. I originally started stand up because I realized that public speaking no longer made me nervous, which I took as a sign that I was no longer growing in that art. When your weight training workout no longer leaves your muscles sore, it’s past time to add on some weights, right?

So I took up comedy because, frankly, it terrified me. In stand up you get almost instantaneous feedback, moment by moment, of exactly how badly you are failing. And comedy writing is one of the most demanding and unforgiving forms of verbal communication ever attempted by man. A comedian can go from killing the crowd to drowning in his own flop sweat with the addition of just an extra syllable to his punch line.

Anyway, (and yes, I know I’m rambling, today), it very recently occurred to me that comedy and magic have so many structural/architectural parallels to one another that they are almost topologically identical! For instance, both are totally dependent upon misdirection: in magic, misdirection (either temporal, spatial or kinetic) causes the spectator to think one thing is happening, and when it has been revealed that something else has happened, the surprise causes delight; in comedy, the setup creates a “first story” in the spectator’s mind that is shattered when the punch line reveals that a “second story” was the truth all along, thus leading to surprise and delight.

Another example (that I suspect is also shared by musicians, by the way): in creating a comedian’s set list (magicians call it “routining”), a comedian will “hammock” their bits, usually putting the best material at the beginning and end, starting with something fast, finishing with something dramatic, hiding new stuff they’re still working out somewhere in the middle, and trying to overall build toward a climax. Magicians use the exact same “best trick at the end, second best at the beginning, sag a little in the middle” approach, with an emphasis on being quick hitting and visual with their opener.

It’s that first structural similarity that really gets me, though. Are there any other arts or crafts that depend so heavily on misdirection followed by surprise the way comedy and magic do?

Actually, I just remembered one: mystery writing!

Can anyone think of any others? What do you think about all this? Anyone else out there just love thinking about the “bones” of an art form like this?

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