Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gigs and giggling

I did a magic gig at the weekend. It had been a while. I've been more focussed on the stand-up comedy in the last few months. Interestingly, I found that my comfort and confidence levels have soared since my last magic gig, and I am now much better at controlling attention, and being completely on top of the pace at which I present my magic, not dragging or milking anything, but really getting the most from it, and maximising the entertainment value, the magical impact and the comedy. What has changed? It must be the stand-up.

Quite a few of my stand-up chums have suggested that I ought to use magic. I've largely resisted, apart from once when I was doing the compere role at Rye Wit (Wednesday nights, Catcher In The Rye, Finchley). It can make sense as a compere piece to do a big of magic. For me, it doesn't make sense within the context of a normal stand-up set.

What I love about performing magic is almost exactly the opposite of what I love about performing comedy. With magic, I have a fixed set of physical actions that I must perform to make the magic happen. Although there is some flexibility about the things that I say and the interactions that I have with the audience during such a performance, the tricks themselves provide a fairly rigid performance framework, and more or less dictate the trajectory of the entire act. There is less flexibilty, but on the other hand, having to work through the physical actions is almost like having script in front of me, and that can be a great comfort. In contrast, stand-up is much freer. I do try to have a decent narrative arc or at least to sequence the material in a way that makes sense, but I'm completely at liberty to talk about anything, with no bits of rope or cards to worry about. On the other hand, this liberty comes at the cost of flying without the safety net provided by the "script" of physical actions.

Besides, most of my magic is close-up and doesn't work on stage.

I'm on the very lowest rung of the stand-up ladder - the free or pay-to-play open-mike gigs, usually in pubs, often with an audience comprised of at least 50% comedians. At this level - and to be fair, even a rung or two above this level - it is not uncommon for acts to write cue words on themselves, usually on their palm, back of the hand, or wrist. I've done that once or twice, but I've stopped. I never really wanted to do it, and would prefer not to have to. And at the longest (and most important) gig I've had to date, I was a bit too concerned, and wrote a lot ... then ended up looking at my hand far too much. And that looks bad. That reminds the audience that you're not really sharing your extemporaneous thoughts, you're actually delivering material. It shatters the illusion a little. So these days, I don't write anything, I just make sure that I've rehearsed what I'm going to say. It's better discipline anyway, I think.

In my head, these days when I have a magic gig, I think of it as a gig. When I have a comedy gig, I think of it as a giggle.

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