David Seebach Illusion Articles

Through Abbotts Magic, David Seebach’s articles on illusions that first appeared in The New TOPS Magazine have been republished online for a new generation to read. There are a total of 104 articles that appeared from 1970 thru 2011.

This is a fantastic free illusion resource that you should check out!

His book “So You Want to Be an Illusionist” is a “must-read” title in my Recommended Books for Modern Illusionists.


David’s book gives you an overview of his decades of experience as an illusionist. He has owned and worked with many illusions built by top builders. In this spiral-bound book, he shares his experience and tips on working on these popular marketed illusions but does not reveal exact working methods or construction details. There are also nuggets of information spread out throughout the book. This is a good book for beginners but I do feel his approach, style and material may be considered a bit dated for today’s contemporary illusionist looking for mainstream relevance. But, with this caveat in mind, this book is still an invaluable resource and a fantastic introduction to popular marketed illusions.

Comedy Techniques for Illusionists

J C’s Note: This essay is adapted from a piece I wrote in 1999 entitled ‘Comedy Techniques for Magicians’, which was in turn produced into a short lecture for IBM Ring 115. It has been revised significantly with the illusionist in mind.

While not everyone performs a comedy illusion show such as Nathan Burton, Scott & Muriel or Rafael, any Illusionist can benefit from adding comedy to his/ her show.

Most illusionists choose a performance style that features illusions performed as high-impact, dramatic or straight magic pieces. To add texture to your show, you might considering adding a comedy illusion to your repertoire. Or, if you prefer to keep your illusions dramatic and flashy, you can design your supporting/ filler material to be comedy interactive pieces; and this is a popular choice with illusionists.

I consider comedy techniques an important subject that should be studied in depth by all magicians, regardless of your style, performing status and ability level.

Comedy is a great enhancement to any show. If you are doing a show for more than 10 minutes, comedy can definitely add variety and entertainment. Applying certain comedy techniques to a straight act can do wonders. It breaks the monotony of the show and allows the audience to catch their breath and let loose.

Comedy is not accidental or simply telling a joke. Just like slick illusion choreography, comedy has to be well thought out and designed before it is infused into your show. When comedy is not ‘played’ well, it can look really cheesy. You will see this at times in illusion performances. The illusionist ‘tickles’ a body part of his assistant and she laughs in a fake way.

So, What is comedy?


Ah, that is a philosophical question that is being debated till date. A man slipping on a banana skin can be funny, so can a person standing on stage and doing nothing. A raised eyebrow can crack up an audience and so on. The thing is, anything can be comedy depending on which way you are seeing it.

In this essay, I will try to suggest time tested techniques which can bring out comic situations and increase the comedy element in your illusion show. This article is by no means exhaustive, but should be enough to get you thinking. I offer a set of readings below.

First, it is useful to identify three different types of comedy

  • Visual Comedy – This is a universal form of comedy that is communicated visually. Slapstick comedy ala Charlie Chaplin is a classic example of this type of comedy.
  • Verbal Comedy – This type of comedy is primarily used by stand-up comics who utilize verbal jokes, anecdotes and one-liners to create humour.
  • Situational Comedy – Creating a situation that is funny on stage is difficult but mastery of this type of comedy will be appreciated by the right audience. Slydini’s ‘Paper Balls Over Head’ is an example of this type of comedy. The ’tilting table’ that tilts and causes items on the magician’s table to fall to the floor creates a situation where the spectator on stage is blamed for the ‘accident’.

Here are specific techniques that you can use to create the different types of comedy as mentioned above. Let’s start with a common one:

The Call back or Running Gag

One technique often used is the “call back”; magicians know it more as the running gag. (No, it is not a joke during the 100m dash)

This is basically saying/ doing a gag at some point in your show and repeatedly ‘calling it’ back to it later in your show. It is the repetition which makes the whole thing funny.

Magicians have made reputations with running gags which run through their show. Mac King has one with his Fig Newton’s. Kohl & Co. have one with their Amazing Growing Plant (Botania). It does not grow throughout the act but eventually it does.


David Letterman is a master at this and is evident by the way he handles his guests. His team of writers are also fantastic! There was one running gag which ran through his show throughout the week. He explained at the beginning of each show that at some point of his show, a guy on fire will run out, scream and shout, run around the stage and run back to the wings again. This happened every night for a week. It was a very visual running gag. Furthermore, Letterman would tell the audience each time that it cost US$2000 each time for the guy on fire to run out.

The beauty and genius behind this gag was actually what they did the following week. Letterman explained the that it cost too much to get the guy on fire to run out, so this week, they would have the guy run around and scream but without being on fire. He added that it would cost only US$600 and thus help save US$1400 for the network each night! This running gag ‘killed’ every single day.

A practical example for a magician to use is with a Lota bowl and a novelty called the invisible dog leash. The leash is made of a bent wire clad with leather. By holding the end of the leash, due to the way the wire is bent, it would appear that an invisible dog is at the other end.

Come out at the beginning of your show with your invisible dog. Due to your clumsiness, your dog escapes from your leash. Unable to find him, you start your show proper, but you place your dog’s urinal bowl (Lota bowl) at the corner of the stage, just in case. Throughout the show, you repeatedly empty the bowl to show that your dog has been around.

invisible dog

There are many other possibilities, just use your imagination.

The Magician in Trouble Plot

This plot is so common that I need not even describe it. The problem with this plot is that it has been overused. It is time to add some sophistication to this plot. Audiences are smarter and more ‘in-tune’ to this “magician in trouble” routine.


Image Credit: Captain Basilisx, U.S.A.

Acting and subtlety are the keys to making this plot successful and convincing. The audience must really believe that something has gone wrong and that you are reacting spontaneously. A few points to note: This plot, of course, cannot work in every routine you do, unless your character is the bungling magician who always messes up (e.g., Kohl & Co.) If you do so, it becomes expectant on the part of the audience. The best way to incorporate this plot into your act is to do a couple of straight successful routines then hit them with the ‘magician in trouble’ routine. This would be more credible and believable for the audience and they will have mixed feelings of anxiety, pity and probably glee.

There are two main ways of presenting the ‘magician in trouble?plot:

One, the magician knows that he is in trouble at the same time as everyone else. For example, like in a ‘Cut & Restored Rope’ routine, the ropes are suppose to restore but when you take them out of your magic bag, they are still in pieces. This is the more common of the two versions and is easier to make convincing.

The second version is a more sophisticated way to present the ‘magician in trouble plot’. It is to do with the ‘hidden element’ subtlety. Basically, the magician has no idea that he is in trouble but everyone else does. For e.g., the magician is supposed to make a silk vanish from a box but the silk ‘accidentally’ drops out from the bottom of the box without the magician knowing. (Please do not the mistake of giving exaggerated astonishment and ‘fear’ when you finally ‘discover’ that something went wrong. I have seen magicians who go, “Oh no! How could I be so careless?!?” Audiences can see through this false presentation and can telegraph that you are ‘faking it’ to get cheap laughs. They will not appreciate it. Remember, acting & subtlety!)

Usually, the magician has the last laugh as he ‘makes everything right’ eventually. This is known as a ‘Sucker effect’ which is also a common comedy magic plot.

Comedy Props and Sight Gags

These are one of the most common ways for magicians to obtain laughs. The classic Breakaway Wand & Fan, Wilting & Drooping Flower, Clatter Box and all examples of magicians’ sight gags.

Some performers have built routines around comedy props and sight gags. These include crazy inventions and visual puns. A visual pun is not a play on words but rather a direct translation of the word into a physical prop. For example, if you were to say: “I like to eat some peanuts.” And you bring out a can of metal nuts (nuts and bolts) with the letter ‘P’ written all over the can. This would be a visual comedy pun.

Novelty shops carries several of these type of visual puns from time to time. One notable item is a three karat ring which is actually a gold band with three orange carrots sticking out of it.

Other comedy gags can include the technique of exaggeration and understating. This simply means making something too big or too small. For example, giant props like toothbrushes, scissors, combs and wands are funny exaggerated props. Miniature dice, cards and coins are understated props.


You might like to invent your own comedy props. Karrell Fox’s books have a lot of comedy props. There is also a book at book stores called 99 More Useless Japanese Inventions. Some are really hilarious. Comedian, Carrot Top, made his career out of creating comedy props.

To get you started, here are a few props:

  1. A toothbrush with a wire and a plug attached to it. This is your ‘electric tooth brush’
  2. Break off the blades of a pair of scissors and call it your 100% safe scissors.


I will talk about comedy resources, in particular books. This can act as a guide to help you build up your comedy foundation and library.

There are thousands of books on humor on the market, but please, do not confuse joke books with comedy books. There are also books written by comics for light-reading but are not comedy books.

Joke books are plentiful but you must choose them wisely. Some are specially catered for children while others contain very long jokes which are unsuitable for performances. Your best bet is to look for books which are specifically one or two liners. These are jokes which has a set-up and punch-line all in one or two sentences.

An example of a one-liner is:

“If you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, you don’t need advice.”

An example of a two-liner would be:

“I nearly got killed today. I went into an antique shop and said: “What’s new?””

This might be new to you, but jokes have very specific formulas, just like mathematical equations. The basic structure is the set-up and the punch-line, but these can also be structured with reversals, ironies, paradoxes etc. Books on stand-up comedy in particular focus on these areas.

I recommend books by Gene Perret and Harry Allen as a start. The books by Robert Orben were considered a standard text but are very dated now. Currently, there are at least a dozen good books on the subject. Magic book catalogues should also carry several books on comedy magic.

Here are some books I recommend. I have divided them in two sections:

Stand-up Comedy in General (must read)

  • The Comedy Magic Textbook – David Roper
  • Zen & the Art of Stand-up Comedy – Jay Sankey
  • Successful Stand-up Comedy
  • Stand-up Comedy –The Book – Judy Carter
  • Sleight of Mouth – Harry Allen
  • How to be a working Comic – Dave Schwensen

Comedy Writing Techniques (formulation of jokes etc.)

  • The Comic Toolbox – John Vorhans
  • Funny Business – Sol Saks
  • Comedy Writing Secrets -Melvin Helitzer
  • Comedy Writing Step by Step – Gene Perret
  • Comedy Techniques for Entertainers – Bruce Johnson
  • Steve Strotts Comedy Course

Problem? – In context

Most are probably wondering what this means. It has nothing got to do with mistakes one make’s doing comedy but it is specifically discussing certain ‘perception?problems when one does magic and comedy. If you include only a little comedy in your otherwise straight show, there is no problem. However, if comedy is combined with your magic content runs throughout your show, this is the basic problem:

Because of two elements, magic and comedy, there is a high possibility of one element overshadowing the other. It is extremely hard to have both equally strong although it is very easy to have both equally weak. That is where the second part of the title comes in ‘in context’ This problem will only be a persisting one if you do not have a certain ‘image’ identity or clear performing character. Another possibility is that you do, but your magic is not translating this point of view.

If you bill yourself as a magician or illusionist, your magic must be stronger and the more dominating element in your act. Likewise, if you are a comedian, vice-versa.

Even if you are a magic comedian or a comedy magic, your second title usually points out your specialty or base trade. Thus, the stronger element must be in-line with your base trade. If you are a comedy juggler, the impression created to your audience should be of a funny juggler and not of a comedian who can juggle. It is important for you to make this distinction clear to yourself in order to progress in the art of magic and to be a better performer.

Let me relate some personal experiences regarding this problem. When I first wrote this article about six years ago, I was working very hard to develop my corporate stage show. I had already developed several strong routines and it was a matter of scripting the whole show and bringing all the acts together. I did succeed (or so I thought) to come up with an entertaining and magical show. All along, I had worked hard at being a technically sound magician and it had only been in the last year or two (at that time) that I seriously studied various comedy techniques and applied it to my act.

Here came the problem, after presenting this particular show at a number of functions, feedback was very positive but not what I wanted to hear. Positive in the sense that, comments ranged from “very entertaining”, “funny” and “like a comedy show” etc. This would be okay if I viewed myself as a comedian doing magic, but I’m not! I am a magician. Strangely enough, I never had any problem when I performed close-up or parlor. This strongly suggested my lack of competence on stage.

After, evaluating all these shows, I realized the problem. I had too many “comedy items” more specifically, 50% of the show was made up of sucker/ gag type routines. That strongly diminished the impact of my intended strong routines. The impression I created was of a comedian doing magic. So people viewed my intended strong effects as clever puzzles or ‘tricks’ This forced me to modify some of my routines, add more straight and visual pieces of magic and cut down heavily on the sucker effects.

This proved to be a good choice as the balance of straight magic to comedy in the show is a healthy 75% magic, 25% comedy – most of my comedy is situational and verbal. This is ideal for my performing style and clientele.

However, just like magic, comedy is very personal. What works for one may not work for another magician. The only way one can improve is by performing and trying it. I suggest adding new lines and jokes to your act little by little. In this way, you can see if the joke falls flat or plays well.

Good Luck and be Funny!

The YouTube Test for Overly Performed Illusions

Why do illusionists perform the same illusions? is one of my most popular blog entries for magicians. Regular readers will know that I feel there are a dozen or so illusions that are just too common and overly performed by both semi-pros and top-level illusionists around the world.

I developed a simple test to see what are objectively the overly performed illusions. Basically, if you do a YouTube search and find more than 15 videos of the near exact performance/ presentation or prop (whether pirated or not) of the same illusion – it is too common. It would be safe to assume that these 15 YouTube videos represent just a percentage of the actual of people out there performing the same illusion with the same presentation.

I spent less than 30min and found more than 15 videos EACH of the following illusions – Sub Trunk, Fire Cage, Twister, Interlude, Origami, Fire Spiker, Compressed, Modern Art, Bowl-a-Rama, Snowing, Suspended Animation, Elevator and Mini Kube Zag.

If you do feature the above illusions as highlights in your show and you are not the best in the world in presenting them, you might want to think your approach. It is hard to beat Hans Klok presentation of “Suspended Animation” or his or Mark Kalin’s “Fire Spiker”, Copperfield “Elevator” or “Snowing” or The Pendragon’s “Sub Trunk”; so unless you can, you need to think how to make the illusion different or better in another way. Or, you might just want to trade in these illusions for something more unique.

I’ll give two examples of illusions where different performers have made the illusion presentations unique and perfect for their presentation style. They have not done anything extraordinary to the physical props but have changed it slightly or made additions to make it work for their presentations.

Try to do a search on Youtube as some of the examples I listed previously have been removed.


The first illusion I would like to discuss is the “Origami” illusion created by Jim Steinmeyer. While I know a lot of magicians consider this the perfect illusion, I personally never fancied it. I suspect many magicians are more in awe with the method and ‘neatness’ of the illusion presentation more than the actual illusion itself. I do think the general lay audience considers this just another ‘girl in box with swords’ illusion. But, I digress, this is not the point of the discussion.

Maybe one reason I do not like the “Origami” is because too many people perform it and it is always with the same presentation. I cringe everything I see an assistant come in with a kimono and oriental fan, because that seems to be the only way magicians think this should be performed. Please. Stop doing this. It does look cheesy, especially if the theatrical setting is not established or congruent with such a presentation.

Paul Gertner is best known for his FISM-winning “Steel Cups & Balls” and most may not know him as a corporate illusionist. He uses the “Origami” as a metaphor for creativity. In this context, his patter and script works perfectly with the illusion. See if you can find it on Youtube.

Elliot Zimet is based out of New York and does a hip-hop inspired show. As far as I know, he has been working on his “Origami” presentation for just a few years and it has developed well. He performs to music and dancers that fit his intended image and style. He uses Greg Frewin’s version of  “Origami” (which is a nice innovation) and it does not look oriental in any way.

The video I saw on Youtube did not have ideal video work and the performance (framing) ‘dubious’ at one point, I will give him the benefit of the doubt that this can be performed well live. If not, he is obviously working towards that direction which is great.


“Interlude” is also created by Jim Steinmeyer and was originally called “Permeability” and renamed by The Pendragons as “Interlude” who performed it exclusively for several years. In fact, this illusion and “Metamorphosis” helped define them as masters of physical grand illusion at the height of their career in the mid 80s and early 90s. Because “Interlude” was performed by The Pendragons in their distinct physical way for so long, when it did go onto the open commerical market for other professional illusionists, most were modeling their performance after The Pendragons.

Granted, there is not much variance in performance handling in this illusion as the prop design is as such, so thought must be put into how to add to it or give motivation and logic for the presentation.

Erix Logan is an Italian illusionist who has a long career on cruises and showrooms. He has many inventive innovations to existing illusions like his Scissors “Impaled” illusion. He performs a straight dramatic presentation like The Pendragons did and many others do. But, he has added a nice addition to the illusion which adds a small convincer to the illusion.

Siegried & Roy were Las Vegas’ golden magicians as they pioneered the concept of a Las Vegas production magic show until Roy’s tragic career-ending accident. I will be doing an entry on them in the near future so will talk about them in detail next time. Suffice to say, they are the personification of the Vegas glitz and glamour show that we have come to know. They were also the pioneers of using big cats in illusion shows.

What makes their “Interlude” different is that there are two male  illusionists performing it with one female talent who does the passing through. In this case, she is playing a character and the stage setting reflects and gives reason for the character. And there is more as you will see.

Barry & Stuart are one of the few comedy magic teams in the world from the U.K. They have had much success with their TV shows and bear minor similarities to Penn & Teller in the way their acts are presented. Often with dialogue and interactive comedy bits, their innovative plots underline the presentation of what may be considered standard effects. This not only makes their show incredibly entertaining but also intelligent and distinct in its own right.

Watch their comedy presentation of “Interlude” which gives motivation and logic to the illusion.

6 Techniques to Differentiate Your Illusion Performances

In my previous two entries on the subject of “Why Illusionists Perform the Same Illusions?” and the follow-up, I explored the ‘why’ and urged professional-level illusionists to step out of their ‘me-too’ comfort zones and not present the same illusions in the same way.

In this entry, I will focus on not the why but the how. Specifically, I will cover 6 techniques on how to differentiate an illusion performance. This is by no means exhaustive or the only ways to differentiate your illusion performances, they are suggested proven creative approaches that have worked for others & myself.

Do Not Allow Overly Common Illusions to Dominate Your Show Progam

This is the most obvious technique yet not very helpful if not delved into with more depth.

First, I would like to stress that there is nothing inherently wrong with ‘standard’ illusions. They are standards for a reason because they are audience and time tested. My only issue is that they are overly common which makes all illusionists look the same.

I suggest the following ‘formula’: For every two standard illusions you present, have one original piece or seldom-seen illusion in your show program. And when you present the standard illusions, do it differently (more on this below).

During the peak of their illustrious career, signature illusions that the Pendragons often presented in a show included The Sword Basket, Interlude and the Sub Trunk. The Sword Basket & the Sub Trunk are standards but they made them different with their style and presentation of the illusion.  Interlude (at that time) was brand new and exclusive to them for a number of years. This gave their show a very fresh and innovative feel. Furthermore, the presentation of the illusions were closely tied into their performance characters and style.

This formula will separate your show content from others. This alone will not differentiate as a totally unique illusionist to the marketplace but is an important first step.

Modify the Aesthetic & Functional Design of Your Standard Illusion

I gave specific examples on how various illusionists modify standard illusions so they look different from others off the same assembly line. Most recently, I have rebuilt and add original elements to marketed illusions “360 Sawing” and “Windshear” to make them different.

Previously, I highlighted Michael Baron’s “The Device” as an excellent modification of the Mini Kube Zag. Several people have made changes to Modern Art in an effort to differentiate the illusion; from making it a one-person illusion, to removing the ‘table’ to having the person’s head extend out of the prop.

Changing the colour of the prop is not enough. So, think about going another step in terms of changing the structure of the prop, adding elements, reducing elements, changing materials or a combination of the above.

Script the Plot of an Illusion

Think about what story you want to tell the audience. What do you want your audience to feel or experience? Are you performing the illusion to give depth and advance your stage character?

Specifically, I’m talking about thinking about a plot in depth and not just “take a girl, put her in a box, put swords through the box…”.

Thinking about the plot will often give motivation for the illusion and help you add elements to the performance to tell the story. These additional elements include costuming, dialogue (verbal or non verbal), smaller props and music.

Every good story has a defined beginning, middle and an end, although not necessary in that order. Illusion performances are no different. Apply basic storytelling techniques and plots from good movies. Imagine if you could use the plots from “Memento” or “The Usual Suspects” to an illusion performance.

Probably the best example of using plots to differentiate their illusions (and routines in general) is Penn & Teller. Practically every act they perform is a master class of plot and scripting. While it is unlikely that you could create a whole show with this technique (because you are not Penn & Teller), just having one such illusion presentation in your show can make all the difference in the world.

Add a Kicker to the Illusion

This, of course, does not apply to all illusions but is part of the idea generation process. Some purists do not like to put kickers into an act because it becomes all the audience remembers and they forget the actual details of the act. But, the fact is, audiences love kickers if they are not telegraphed.

Think about what possible kickers can be added to a standard illusion you perform. Costume changes and the appearance of a surprise person/ object and transpositions to the back of the performing venue are common kickers in illusions. What else can be done?

Do the Opposite of What has been Done

This is a common creativity technique used during brainstorming. Think about how you can transform, change and radically do something different with a standard illusion prop, presentation or handling.

Make a list or mind map of what is normally done with the standard illusions and see what you can do the complete opposite of in every aspect.

Don’t limit yourself, have fun and come up with the most ridiculous and wild ideas. This is the idea generation part of the creativity process so forget limits at this point. Think about how you can make a standard illusion bigger, smaller, faster, slower, funnier etc.

Some simple ideas to jumpstart your brain:

  • Instead of putting a girl in a box, who/ what else can be put inside? Does it have to be just one person/ object?
  • Instead of a rectangular box, can it be round, cylindrical, hexagonal or just a frame?
  • Instead of making a girl, car or motorcycle appear, what else you be produced that makes sense in your presentation context?

Combine Different Artistic Elements with the Illusion

This is probably one of the most difficult techniques to differentiate an illusion performance because it requires a mastery of another artistic skill or, at the very least, an in depth understanding of how to combine illusion with the other artistic skill.

If not done well, the whole performance can look contrived. Many try to integrate dance into illusions (Copperfield influence from the late 80s) but it has become way to cliched now and unfortunately most can’t dance or look good trying.

Darren Romeo adds singing to illusions as the “Voice of Magic”. Nathan Burton adds comedy to illusions which is not as common as comedy to stand-up magic. Criss Angel’s “Believe” is a combination of Cirque’s take on the circus with Criss’s illusions. Lee Eun Gyeol does one of the most beautiful illusions with shadowgraphy and Chris Murphy’s “Evolution” illusion.


To end this entry, here is an example of a transitional/ filler illusion we use in our show. The purpose of this example is not for promotional purposes but to demonstrate that these are techniques we actually employ in our professional work and have spent time, money and effort on.

We call the act ‘Spiker’ which is actually Jim Steinmeyer’s “Audience Acupuncture”. The techniques we employed in creating this presentation include:

  1. Script the Plot of an Illusion
  2. Do the Opposite of What has been Done
  3. Combine Different Elements with the Illusion

Script the Plot of an Illusion

This purpose of the plot of the illusion was to showcase ‘Magic Babe’ as a strong character and as an equal on stage to her partner; not a pretty female assistant. She is the protagonist in the performance. She is in control from start o finish.

Do the Opposite of What has been Done

“Audience Acupuncture” was originally designed to be used with an audience member (typically a female or a kid) and to be presented light-heartedly or comedic in style. This is also the way it is presented by several illusionists around the world.

We did the opposite by performing it straight without comedy. We also do not use a spectator. Instead of the female being spiked, Ning spikes me. The role reversal adds interest and a psychological difference to the presentation.

Combine Different Elements with the Illusion

Ning’s skillful twirling Japanese sais is a prelude to the illusion. The sharp sais complement and set up the illusion with the steel spikes. And ultimately, it is great entertainment value and variety. What is not to like about an attractive lady manipulating deadly weapons?

You can watch our performance of this illusion here:

I hope this entry gives you food for thought and use whatever applies to you to differentiate your illusion content.

If you enjoyed this article, you can check out my original books/ plans/ DVDs HERE and use this Promo Code “5OFF2014” upon Checkout to receive a 5% discount off all books, sets, DVDs, plans & downloads.

Follow-up to Why Do Illusionists Perform the Same Illusions?

This is a follow-up to the post here.

Thanks for your emails and feedback on the piece.

I should first clarify that my observations were made based on what I saw professional-level illusionists performing and what I think they should be doing instead. There is not the same level of expectation for new, aspiring or amateur illusionists because they are new to the game. But, professionals who make a living on magic and are a representation of our industry should be held at a much higher standard.

Also, different artists have individual aspirations and artistic & commercial goals. So, my observations were made in reference to the commercial creative artist who is looking for mainstream commercial success.

However, some did not fully understand my ‘essay’. My point was not a proposal to just perform new and original illusions in a bid to push the art forward and for illusionists to differentiate themselves from each other.

With the exception of the likes of Copperfield, Penn & Teller and Franz Harary, there are very few in the world who can present almost an entire show of original illusions.

My proposed  solution to “Why Do Illusionists Perform the Same Illusions?”recommended that, as far as possible, new illusions should be featured in an illusionist’s show program. If not, and also the main point of the entry, at least present illusions with some originality through:

1) The redesign of a ‘standard/ common’  prop to make it look different

2) Through the presentation of the illusion. The presentation can encompass, characterization of performers,  the motivation, logic, choreography, story plot and entertainment value.

If you watch American Idol, one of the recurring comments the judges make is for the contestants to be original. And the application of originality here is not to sing an original song or composition but to present any song in a unique way, sing it in a different style, add a melodic twist or change the arrangement so that a song is relevant to today’s audience. At no point do the judges insist or even suggest that the contestants sing original written songs.

While this is no guarantee of success, time has shown that the contestants who do well in the competition are those that perform never-before-seen interpretations of a known song. However, it is a given that they need be perform commercially appealing interpretations and their vocals must be excellent.

To reiterate –  that was my point in my entry “Why do illusionists perform the same illusions?” My point was not to insist that all illusionists should invent new illusions but rather they need to think how they can reinvent a ‘standard/ common’ illusion so that it is different and not so ‘me-too’.

If fact, I would go so far to say that you do not need to invent or perform a 100% new illusion effect to be successful. David Blaine revolutionized close-up magic (or magic in general) by performing the same time-tested close-up effects that magicians had performed for decades. But, he brought originality (as perceived by the general public and media) by presenting the effects stripped of elaborate presentations and in a different environment.

In addition, I am in no way implying that differentiation is more important and negates the need for presenting great magic. It is essential that the differentiated illusion be great magic. In fact, the quality of the basic illusion effect is a given not a goal.

But for the art and industry to progress forward, there is also a need to push the envelope more and not be contented with just doing great magic. I feel the thought process should be to strive towards presenting great magic that has individualism and is relevant to your audience.

To further illustrate what I was proposing in terms of bringing originality to illusions, here are examples, past and present:

The Thin Sawing/ Wakeling Sawing

While different in method, the visual image and props use are similar enough for laymen to feel they are the same illusion. Doug Henning and Andre Kole were the first to present the Thin Sawing as a double sawing with two girls in different costumes. Subsequently, the two bottom halves of the girls were switched so that when the girls were restored, they were restored mismatched.

The Wakeling Sawing brought back the original intended presentation of the sawing a girl in half by involving audience members, straps and a streamlined set of props. Kalin & Jinger’s fine presentation brought this illusion to the masses and since has been ‘adopted’ by many others around the world.

The Sub Trunk

With the acknowledgment of all the Sub Trunk-inspired exchange illusions, I’m confining this example to be specific to the classic Sub Trunk effect/ handling.

Siegfried & Roy presented it with a double costume change and the production of a large cat as a kicker. The Pendragons, of course, ‘owned’ the illusion with their switch + revelation handlings with just a front cloth. Some performers such as Tim Ellis & Sue-Anne Webster and Fielding West have added comedy to the standard illusion to include a cross-dressing costume exchange.

Dekolta Chair

Copperfield built an entire attic scene story-based illusion sequence which ended with a motivated Dekolta Chair on a table. Many tried to follow suit but lacked the intricacies and theatrics to make it work as well. Nicolas Night & Kinga did an amazing job with a similar premise but with their original spin that made it different and work. More recently, Han Klok kills with a lighting-fast vanish that I think he will no doubt attribute to the skills of Zarina Potapova.

Fire Spiker

Mark Kalin took the original Wakeling double spiker, altered the design and added in the transposition kicker. Hans Klok adapted the Kalin design and added in the kicker of the appearance of a second girl and successfully made it is own. Now, just about every European illusionist and many from China and India have ripped this version off. Adding a third girl appearance does not make it original in my book. It is like performing Lance Burton’s Dove Act but claiming it is different because you add an extra bird.


When Kevin James released his Snow Animator, everyone added it to their show, with the exact same patter and presentation with the napkin and snowflake and music. It amazes me to learn how many magicians never saw snow as a kid. But, Copperfield adapted the routine and took it a step further in scale so it did not look so ‘me-too’.

I actually developed a routine using the Snow Animator but does not have a snow presentation at all. It is called “Diary of Dreams” and is detailed in “Illusionary Departures”.

Zig Zag Lady

My closest original illusion design to Zig Zag Gal, is Seven by Half. The updated design of this illusion can be found in “Urban Illusions”. While, it was not designed as an exact alternative for the Zig Zag, the obvious Zig Zag influence and premise is evident. So, I do not think it is a stretch of the imagination that Seven By Half is a reinvention of the Zig Zag.

Chris Murphy from Oz Illusions redesigned the classic Zig Zag so it look more modern and quite different.


Rand Woodbury has a great enhancement in Illusionworks that you should check out. However, it does require a significantly modified Zig Zag and an extra ‘table’.

As it has been said before, everything old is new again. Entertainment trends like business is cyclical.