Stage magicians: what would it take to suss out a "real" magician in your midst?

I was playing with a story/novel idea that involved a “real” magician who, because he enjoys the spotlight, becomes a stage magician.

Obviously, such a mage would be able to do more spectacular/amazing tricks, both on stage and closeup, than “actual” stage magicians. But I’d like to ask a question before I think any more about this idea: how spectacular could this guy’s tricks get before you start suspecting something “wrong”? (And by “wrong,” not necessarily realizing that “real” magic exists, just that there’s something wonky with this guy’s tricks that needs investigating.) I’d love input from those who know more than “normal” about the professional magician’s community and the type of people in it.

(BTW, assume that all of the “real” magician’s assistants are either apprentices or magical constructs.)

Believe it or not, it’s been done.

See Robert A. Heinlein’s “Stranger In a Strange Land”. The main character is a boy from Mars who posesses powers we might call magic. At one point in the book he becomes a carny magician, and is told he’s not very good at it.

I don’t know the answer to your question — but I do know that the premise is somewhat explored in Christopher Priest’s The Prestige. That’s just an FYI if you’ve never read it (they’re making it into a movie with Christian Bale I think).

That also sounds like Zatara from, uh, somewhere in the DC Comics universe. I only know about him through the Books of Magic, though. He was a “real” magician who was also a professional stage magician because it was an environment in which he could do weird shit without anyone raising an eyebrow.

As an uninformed layperson audience member, I don’t think I’d ever start to suspect anything, regardless of how amazing the tricks were. It’s a magic show; you go in expecting to see things you can’t explain, you know?

Erujonc pu s’Arataz nigiro!

He first appeared in Action Comics #1, along with another fairly well-known DC superhero.

There was a Clive Barker short story with this premise - a man who had made deals with various demonic forces for magical powers was making his living as a stage magician. He didn’t do it for the money so much as to spite the beings that gave him his powers, because it infuriated them to see their magic seen as being simple tricks (and the magician’s schtick was that he always told the audience it was just sleight of hand, even when it was a really spectacular illusion).

Blanche The story was The Last Illusion. The movie very loosely based on it was The Lord Of Illusions.

Zatarra’s daughter Zatanna also possesses real magic and performs as a stereotypical stage magician.

White Wolf published a Mage The Ascenscion novel about a magician performing in Vegas who learns that he has real magic.

There was a made for television movie in which Houdini revealed that he possessed real magic.

An episode of Friday The 13th The Series (no relation to the movies) had a truly magical device stage magicians used to perform a trick.

Are You Afraid Of The Dark had an episode in which birthday magician Shandu is revealed to have real magic.

Forgot the OP

I’m more of a clown than a magician, but they’d have to be awfully spectacular to give him away. If they are his personal tricks, he won’t reveal the secret to even other magicians. His props will be kept safely away and uninspected by other magicians. When they watch him, they’ll have plenty of mundane explanations. Flying wouldn’t reveal him. Fire, lights and pyrotechnics wouldn’t either. Conjuring something human sized or larger from a ridiculously small space might do it.

I’d stress the “very” more. When I saw it there were enough similarities that I thought at first that whoever wrote the screenplay was trying to rip off the general premise, and then I found out it was supposed to actually be based on the story.

Clive Barker was executive producer on the film. I heard him give a lecture before a screening. He felt it was more important to preserve the mix of magic and detective noir than the original plot.

This was a plot point in Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. In the story a professor makes a salt shaker appear in an ancient Greek amphora by excusing himself from the dinner table, using a time machine to go back in time, getting drunk with the guy who made the amphora and convincing him to put the salt shaker inside it, then return to the dinner a minute after left. Dirk deduced the existence of the time machine because he knows how most magic tricks are done, and could not explain how the trick could have been done without a time machine

You mean that guy who wears red underwear outside his pants?

What a dick.

I would imagine it would have a lot to do with how the tricks were presented and how many times the stage magician could watch them over and over again.

A lot of tricks that stage magicians do would, if done with different sets of props, or a different setup, or what have you, be “impossible”.
However, stage magicians are (one would assume) awfully skeptical, given what they do, so it’s hard to imagine how they would make the first leap to suspicion in the first place.

Alternatively, they could do a full performance of the Indian Rope Trick :slight_smile:

In the long run, I don’t think it would be the flashiness that would give the real wizard away; it’d be the fact that he’s not doing standard illusions. All the big-time illusionists know exactly how all the most popular tricks are done, so they know when to look where the illusionist doesn’t want them to look so they don’t fall for the misdirection; i.e., if he’s supposedly making a pigeon disapear and everybody who knows the trick is expecting him to stuff it down his pants, they’ll watch as he doesn’t stuff it down his pants and be confused… Every time somebody has posted a link to some sort of illusion, people have jumped all over it with explanations as to exactly how it’s done, and this guy isn’t going to be doing it that way…

Any of the grand illusions that does not involve some kind of visual barrier would be very impressive. Make that motorcycle disappear WITHOUT a big ol’ sheet Mr. Copperfield! Saw that lady in half WITHOUT the box!

And yet another book on the same theme, The Man Who Was Magic by Paul Gallico. A real magician comes to a town famous for its conjurors and stage magicians, not realizing that what they do is trickery.

As it turns out, he’s discovered to be a real magician while doing a very unassuming trick – basically putting a well-beaten egg back together again.

I’m not a magician, and I never have been. I’m more the behind the scenes kind of person. That’s right, I’m a stagehand.

That said, I’ve worked for David Copperfield (I signed a nondisclosure agreement for that one, too, so I can’t really give out any juicy details without getting sued) and my boyfriend, also a stagehand, worked for Mark Kalin and his wife, Jinger for damn near a year (assholes, both of them). Because he worked in Reno and we live in Carson City, about a half hour drive away from us, and he didn’t have a car at the time, I spent a lot of time at their performances, and being a stagehand, I know how almost all of their tricks work (except for the one where he folds Jinger into a tiny box, that one I can’t figure out, cuz there’s not enough space in the sides…).

It would have to be a blatant, BLATANT disregard for the laws of physics. Anything that couldn’t possibly be explained by something else. Conjuring things is nothing, it can be explained. Pyro is old school. I mean something blatantly disregarding them, like walking through real walls with no mirrors in sight.

Even that could be explained, though. In the world of stage magic, it’d take quite a bit to make a magician (or their stagehands) suspicious.


Interesting thread. But I gotta share this joke, already posted elsewhere:

*A magician gets a job on a cruise ship. The ship takes weekly cruises, and the magician does a show every day, so he’s prepared with seven days’ worth of material. The captain’s parrot loves magic acts, however, and attends every show. After the first week, the parrot starts shouting out the secrets to the tricks: “Rawk! He didn’t really saw the lady in half - she’s bending over!” “Rawk! Watch his left hand as he shakes his wand!” “Rawk! The four of spades is tucked into his sleeve!”

The magican is furious, but can’t really do anything about it, as it’s the captain’s parrot.

One night, a huge storm sinks the ship. At dawn, the storm has passed, and the magician finds himself shivering in the water, the sole human survivor, clutching a floating board. The parrot is sitting on the other end of the board. They glare at each other for a day, then two.

Finally the parrot says, “Rawk! I give up. What did you do with the boat?”*

I’m a magician.

I don’t think it would take very long at all for ‘regular’ magicians such as myself to suss that this Real Magician guy was not one of us. After you’ve been involved in magic for a few years, you build up an awareness of the basic, underlying principles behind all (or most) magic tricks and illusions, and after that it’s only the fine details of the presentation, handling and techique that change. As soon as this Real Magician guy started deviating from the known repertoire (in terms of effects and possibilities) we’d recognise that something weird was going on.

Of course it might take a little longer for us to be convinced that he was the real thing, because our ingrained instinct would be to assume he’s one of us, but he’s just got some amazing new methods and techniques that the rest of us haven’t cottoned on to yet.

But even this wouldn’t be too hard to determine. Most of us have a good working knowledge of what’s possible and what isn’t using the state-of-the-art techniques. Of course magic is constantly evolving, but major innovations don’t happen that often, and word spreads fast when they do. So it would be relatively easy to notice that Mr Real Magician was doing things that can’t be accounted for by magical trickery and the repertoire of standard deceptive methodologies.