Is instant stooging in magic performances a cheat?

In magic, a stooge is someone who appears neutral and unaffiliated with the magician (like a seemingly random audience member) who is actually in on the trick the whole time and works with the magician and helps perform the trick.

An instant stooge, in contrast, is someone who is a genuinely unaffiliated person, but who as part of the performance is pressured into cooperating with the magician and deceiving the rest of the audience.

For example, if part of a trick was for the magician to pull a genuinely random audience member and during the trick handed them a card and asked “is this your birthday?” - but the card had no birthday but instead the words “just say yes and say your actual birthday”, and the audience member, due to the social pressure and desire to be cooperative then said “yes, this is correct, my birthday is July 9th”, that would be an instant stooge. Or if the magician whispered in the audiencee member’s ear “when I offer a card, pick the 6th of diamonds” when they came up on stage. The person when picked didn’t intend to cooperate with the magician to deceive the audience, but then the magician puts them on the spot in the middle of the performance to do exactly that. It would be really awkward if they didn’t, so they go along with it.

I know the whole point of magic performances are deception, but to me there’s fair deception and unfair deception. In a well-performed, well-designed trick, the magician could tell you how he does it, and you could very well still be amazed - the amount of skill and showmanship to pull it off can be impressive even if you aren’t fooled. But if you ever learned a trick was completed using an instant stooge, you’d probably just say “what? that’s stupid, there’s no trick there”

Essentially, instead of performing an actual trick, you’re getting your instant stooge to lie to the rest of the audience to say that a trick was performed when it really wasn’t. There’s nothing impressive about a trick that was implied and lied about but not actually performed.

To me, if I found out that any part of a magician’s act was performed with an instant stooge (or a real one, but that’s a clear cheat I think), that would pretty much devalue the whole performance for me. If they’re willing to essentially lie about whether they did a trick at all, it’s not a good performance. What else was a cheat?

But I’m curious if other people feel differently. Perhaps any sort of deception, even the cheaty kind, is fair game as long as it gets a positive reaction.

Yes, given your definition, I would say that it is a cheat. Though I would if I were a magician be wary of asking a random audience member to lie about the birthdate or anything similar, as the odds seem high that the person won’t cooperate.

Magicians use plants all the time. An instant stooge is riskier than a plant. So if plants aren’t a cheat then instant stooges aren’t. In a mentalism act, which is pretty lame magic anyway, plants are used a lot, and usually instant stooging is done in mentalism acts, so I lean towards saying plants and instant stooges are a cheat. And then so are twins. Seems like every stage magician now has a twin.

Though I have distaste for plants and twins and instant stooges, in the end, it’s all about whether the act is entertaining. If it is entertaining than cheating doesn’t matter.

The fact that it’s risky just means that a magician using the technique has to have a backup plan. If the audience member doesn’t cooperate, then turn it into a joke, or segue into another trick, or whatever.

That said, I would find unimpressive any trick that could be done using such a technique, regardless of how it actually was done. I don’t want someone telling me the magician did a trick, no matter how reliable they are. I want to see a trick myself.

The way the OP tells it, it’s almost as if sizing up audience members and rapidly convincing the chosen one to go along with the act is as much a matter of skill and experience and showmanship as any other aspect of the performance.

In which case: why wouldn’t it count? Heck, I like my odds better at sleight-of-hand trickery than at quickly working said knack for persuasion.

I definitely think using real stooges is cheating, too. Stooges are basically stand-ins for the audience. The implicaton there is “I could’ve picked any one of you, any one of you could be up close and witness how great my trick was”, but if the person isn’t a real audience member, it’s a bad kind of lie. It also serves to falsely make the trick seem more impressive given that a “random” person could see it up close and participate.

I’m not quite sure where the line is. A magician can say “this is a normal deck of cards”, and obviously that’s often a lie, but it doesn’t seem like a cheat or unfair to me because that’s the sort of thing the audiences sort of expect and accept as part of magic. An audience probably wouldn’t feel betrayed to find out that a deck of cards is marked or something like that - but they’d probably feel betrayed if it turned out that the “random” member of the audience - one of them - was in on it.

I usually appreciate when a magician demonstrates the randomness of audience participants by doing stuff like throwing a frisbee into the crowd, and then asking whoever caught it to throw it again in a random direction. It’d be really hard to fake that sort of audience selection.

I don’t consider it cheating but just being a poor magician.

Pretty much the whole point of magic is to cheat. You say a ring is solid when it has a break, the “ordinary coin” is a gimmick.

There are limits to cheating though. E.g., you don’t say a 5 of hearts is an ace of clubs when the audience can clearly see the card.

Since people are unimpressed by a possible stooge saying that’s my card or whatever, a good magician will set up the act so clearly such obvious cheating isn’t happening. If an audience member’s reaction is “It was probably a plant.”, you’ve failed as a magician.

All of magic is cheating. The whole point of magic is cheating the audience’s senses.

It’s not nearly as cheaty as saying “The camera will be on constantly!” and then having the camera operator get “distracted” into looking at something else while the trick is loaded. Criss Angel was big on this when he was doing so-called “up close street magic.”

Cheating perhaps, for those who are interested in magic. But if the goal is to make the show more entertaining, fine.

I was a plant once, although I wasn’t “pressured”. It was a comedy club magician, and I happened to be sitting front row. A waitress asked me to step to the back of the club before the show and brought me to a dressing room. There was the magician (I knew who he was, but hadn’t met him before). He explained a quick comedy bit and asked me to conceal a prop. He was going to hand me another during the show and wanted me to swap them and hand it back.

It wasn’t really a magic trick, just a joke. But it was funny, so no harm, no foul.

I was a performing juggler and was around magicians a lot. Quite a few of them wouldn’t deign to do a silly joke like that, sold as a minor magic trick, but then, some of them weren’t very funny people.

I would be the second-worst magician ever. My mother would be the worst. :slight_smile:

(Because my sleight-of-hand AND my slick persuasiveness are asymptotically approaching zero.) :slight_smile:

This is pretty much my take on it. There’s a trick well-enough known (i.e. it’s been published in non-magician-limited circles) that I think it’s OK to reveal here. You dump a lot of white ping-pong balls and a single colored one into a paper bag, and call up a random audience member onto the stage. You then hold the bag up in front of them and ask them to reach in blind and choose one – predicting they will choose the colored ball in advance.

The construction is that there’s a saran-wrap “window” in the side of the bag facing the selected audience member, so they can obviously see what they’re grabbing. Of course, the trick works only if they’re willing to be an “instant stooge.” I’m not a practicing magician, but book in which I read it implied that the trick “works” the vast majority of the time. In this case is seems like the “incentive” is that you’re clearly letting the “stooge” in on a secret, which I imagine is enough for most people, at least long enough to get the trick completed. (It’s also kind of a throwaway trick, since the stooge is likely going to eventually tell people how it worked.)

No top-notch magician uses stooges, either planted or involuntary. Most illusions* don’t even use an audience member.

Those that do never give the member a chance to make an independent choice. There is never the slightest risk that anyone picked from the audience will do anything that has any potential to mess up the act.

You might find something like that at a county fair or high school magic show, but no one booked into a major venue does it.

*Not a trick. :wink:

To those here who feel very strongly that using the “instant stooge” technique is dishonest, how would you behave if you were in the audience at a magic show, got called on stage to be the magician’s volunteer, and were asked by the magician to cooperate in the deception? Would you go along with the trick, or would you refuse? Would it matter if the event was being held at a small local club versus one that was to be broadcast on network TV?

I’d ask for a percentage of the house and bar take.

Where does stage hypnosis fit into this which, as I understand it, mostly just relies on pressuring the on stage audience members into going along with things, through various psychological tricks and involves no actual hypnosis.

If that’s not cheating, would using the same methods to ensure an instant stooge be cheating?
Personally I don’t care about methods. For me there’s two ways for a magic trick to be successful:

  1. It does something where I can’t even begin to imagine how it would be done, even including the possibility of using some kind of stooge (which means that they have to put me off the stooge idea regardless of whether they’re using them). And if in the course of doing that they ues stooges, good for them.

  2. I think I know how it is done and the mechanics are so impressive that I don’t care. And while it is harder, stooges could still be involved in this if I’m impressed by the mechanics of pointing away from that possibility.

(or, 3) Best of all worlds I think 2 and then it is revealed to be 1.)

This whole discussion is ludicrous. Are you upset to find out that the magician isn’t really magic? If using a stooge is “cheating” then so is the trick box, or the specially trained bunny who didn’t really come out of the ether.

Are you still mad at your parents for “lying” about Santa Claus?

Would you be upset if you were attending a concert and realized that the singer was lip-synching to a prerecorded track? It’s still real singing, after all; it’s just not the person on stage who’s doing it.

Since I believe this is a spinoff of the Fool Us thread, I’ll just note that I don’t think any of the tricks in the latest season have depended on instant stooges. (Instead, it has suffered a TSA issue.)

Personally, I think it’s fine right up to the point where you’re aware of the technique. After that, a bunch of what seem like nearly impossible tricks become so easy that it’s really just a big “meh”.

If I was a professional magician, I’d have no reason not to use the technique, where it was merited, but I certainly wouldn’t use it to try and win a talent competition. It just doesn’t take any real skill to ask someone to come up and tell a lie, so that you don’t come out looking bad.

I’d be upset to find out the the magician isn’t really a magician, and is just some idiot pressuring an audience member to say “Wow, that was my card!” Magicians are people with amazing skills, honed over years of diligent practice to accomplish things that seem impossible and are undetectable to the naked eye.

What’s more impressive to you, spending hundreds of hours learning how to work with cards, so you can deal from the top, one from the top, or the bottom with nobody noticing, being able to feed a person the same card over and over again when they’re picking, learning how to hide cards and switch them invisibly, or learning how to pronounce ‘leviosa’ correctly?