„For my next trick I need a volunteer. May I borrow your husband? Oh, I get to keep him?“ Comedy at magic shows is often a tragedy. Countless magicians google their jokes or copy them from joke books, learn them by heart and reel them off on stage. To make matters worse, they end up thinking they’re performing great comedy and write „magician/comedian“ on their business cards. How could it have come to this?
„Give me your hand – the clean one, please! Oh, that was the clean one!?“ – New York stand-up comic and magician Harrison Greenbaum eventually had enough of such corny jokes and said, „You are all terrible.“ It became the title of a workshop he has given dozens of times to magicians, and of a book that is still to be published in 2021. His hypothesis: Magicians too often treat their stage persona like their repertoire of tricks. They put together a comic act with the wrong mentality, that is a „magic store mentality“: They look everywhere for „humorous“ remarks and then squeeze them into their act. But that’s not how comedy is created.
In today’s episode, Greenbaum explains how magicians can evade this trap: by learning from comedians. Because the latter have perfected the development of jokes and stage persona via the secret algorithm of comedy. We also talk about what it means to be an artist and to convey an artistic idea. Why it is not a problem that the vocabulary of the art form of magic is so limited, or rather that it is not so limited at all. And why audiences and artists could and should expect more. So we end on a hopeful note: Magicians may be terrible at jokes, but they needn’t be.
Links to Harrison Greenbaum
About the podcast
Who only knows things about comedy, knows nothing at all. Therefore Conversations about comedy undertakes little excursions: We use stand-up comedy as a starting point and visit comdedy in the adjacent regions, going back and forth multiple times. By doing so (and comparing, analyzing, critiquing, scrutinizing and enjoying) we hope to shed some light on various comic phenomena and to identify constants that shape everything from entertainment, popular culture to our daily conversations. Here you can find all the episodes.
Are you into news about comedy? You can subscribe to the Setup/Punchline newsletter here.