Although the centerpiece of a good magic show should obviously be its illusions, the best magicians are not only proficient at magic tricks, but are also great overall entertainers; this is why many of my shows include lights, music, and other performers. One aspect of a great performance that I think is often overlooked, however, is the use of comedy to break up the amazement of the magician’s stunts. If used properly, jokes can make the show more engaging, dynamic, and memorable.
Because I so strongly believe that a good magician can enhance their show through comedy, I will share some of my favorite gags that I have used over the years at my performances. Although the best performers will brainstorm and perform their own original jokes, I think that the list below is a great place to start when demonstrating your talents in magic to a crowd.
All of the following jokes were used in my show segment entitled “Are you Smarter than… a Kindergartener,” a play on words in reference to the show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader.” In the segment I would invite two volunteers up to the stage and inform them that they would be competing in a battle of wits. If the practicing magician would prefer, however, these jokes can be performed with just one volunteer and interspersed throughout the performance.
From here on, the magician will be referred to as M and the volunteers as V.
#1: Silk and Roast
M: Before we begin, you’re going to have to say the word “silk” five times fast.
V1: Silk, silk, silk, silk, silk!
M: Quickly, what do cows drink?
M: No, cows drink water, they produce milk. Okay, this one goes to my second volunteer. Say the word “roast” five times fast.
V2: Roast, roast, roast, roast, roast!
M: Quickly, what do you put in the toaster?
M: No, you put bread in the toaster. Toast comes out.
This joke always got huge laughs from the audience, and even brought forth a new unexpected answers over the years. When I was performing on a school tour in Wester Virginia years ago, one student, after saying “roast” five times fast, yelled “beef!” when I asked what he put in the toaster. Another student in the city of Philadelphia responded to the same question by exclaiming “pop tarts!” Both times the audience laughed uncontrollably. This joke works around 90% of the time, and can definitely add humor to a magic-based performance.
#2: Spelling Test
M: Okay, back to the first volunteer. I’m going to say some letters to you, and I just need you to pronounce them to me. What does T-W-A sound like?
M: Okay, what about T-W-E?
M: And T-W-I?
M: What about T-W-O?
M: Incorrect! T-W-O is two.
#3: Buying Eggs
M: Okay, I’ve got an easy one for you now. If you need to buy 100 eggs and each egg costs one cent, how much money do you need to buy 100 eggs?
Many of my audiences have found this question to be incredibly hard to answer, and the reason is because they think that they are oversimplifying what must be a more difficult problem than 1×100. Unfortunately for them, they are not oversimplifying it; the answer is, of course, 100 cents or one dollar. I’ve heard people come up with $1.20, begin multiplying 12 x 12, and try other wacky methods to solve this problem, but the correct solution really is as simple as it gets.
#4: Don’t Say Sixteen
M: Okay, onto the next question. I bet I can make you say the number 16, that’s the number after 15 and before 17. Want to take my bet? (I have used this stunt to get free drinks and desserts at a restaurant in the past.)
M: Okay, fantastic. What’s 5+5?
M: What’s 10 + 6?
V1: I can’t say that!
M: Okay, what about 10 + 5?
M: 15 + 15?
M: 30 + 30?
V1: Sixty! (They usually pronounce this clearly so it doesn’t sound like 16)
V1: What? No, I didn’t say it!
M: Yes you did, you owe me a drink.
V1: No, I said sixty, you said I couldn’t say six-teen.
M: Exactly! Gotcha, you owe me a drink now!
This trick is great for bars, restaurants, and hangouts with family and friends. The volunteer will often fall for the trick in believing I think they already lost and the game is over, so they respond by saying “I thought you said I couldn’t say sixteen” and therefore lose the game.
#5: Count the Stamps and Kids
M: Okay, next question. How many 6-cent stamps are in a dozen?
M: Nope! There are 12 6-cent stamps in a dozen! Here’s a no-brainer, though. Jack’s mom has three kids, Penny, Nickel, and…
M: Of course not, it’s Jack!
These jokes can serve as a great base for your arsenal as you begin to expand your performance outside the realm of magic. Even serious illusionists can benefit from a little light-heartedness, and many of my best performances owe their success in part to the jocular nature that surrounded them. I encourage you to incorporate some of your own favorite jokes or even create original gags if you feel confident in your ability to do so. If an audience volunteer is a little nervous, a well-placed joke will help them lighten and get ready to be amazed by your magical skill!
Magic is a wonderful art form that can bring together and showcase an incredible variety of talents, but managing a number of performance aspects at once can feel overwhelming to beginners. Try to have at least a few solid tricks mastered before incorporating extra elements into your show. Once you feel you are ready for this, however, give it a shot – even the toughest audiences wont be able to resist a good laugh!