(Close Window)
Topic: Is it morally wrong to use stooges?
Message: Posted by: bremenkid (Dec 26, 2012 06:37PM)
I have been watching a magic show on TV with my father, and we started to talk about what magic is and where the boundary of magic lies.

First of all, I would like to give an example.
There's a guy who calls himself a mentalist. He throws a light object (maybe a boomerang or something) at a random direction towards the crowd. Somebody catches it, and that person randomly points out 5 people who stand up. These 5 people do rock papers scissors, and the final winner comes out on the stage, and the magician starts to read the person's mind. He knows what he's thinking about, what objects he is placing on the table and so on.

Now, IF the mentalist somehow controlled something and made HIS STOOGE come out on the stage in the end, and had everything already planned (e.g. what to say and what obj. to place on the table and so on), would it be morally wrong and would that be cheating on the spectators?

So, as a magician, I see no problem in it. Since magic is all about entertaining people and demonstrating the impossible, if they planned it so well and made the spectator not suspect ANYTHING at all, then I think we should consider that as magic as well. AND since stooges are part of the tool that magicians use to make the magic happen, it is not morally wrong or cheating on the spectators or anything.(this is what I think. + stooges have been used A LOT from the past)

What do you think about this?
I totally understand that if people find out that the entire effect was based on using the stooge, people most probably would criticize the magician, but why? Why is it so wrong to use a stooge to create an effect when it is okay to use other tools to create an effect? where does the problem lie?

Any comments are highly appreciated so please leave any comments!

+ oh, and two more things.
1. What do you think about camera tricks? If somebody made a building disappear using computer graphics or something, do you think that should be considered as magic as well?

2, What do you think about magic that doesn't involve surprises or impossible stuff?
I mean, in case of Arthur Benjamin's Mathemagic, or Marco Tempest's work are all amazing, wonderful, but it doesn't surprise people and they are also not demonstrating any impossible or anything. AND yet we call it MAGIC. WHY??? I actually love both of them, but I'm talking about their work being MAGIC or not. What do you think?

Even if you would only like to answer one of these, please do. I really want to hear everyone's opinion.

Thank you very much.
Message: Posted by: jugglestruck (Dec 28, 2012 03:21PM)
I could be wrong but I get the feeling that if audiences know stooges are being used they would be pretty miffed. I think they would feel they had been conned in a way that is just unfair.
Message: Posted by: msmagic1 (Feb 2, 2013 12:13PM)
I think you answer the question, by deciding what you are attempting to do. If it is indeed to "entertain", it doesn't really matter. If you (as in the case of a mentalist), convey the perception that you did something miraculous, and beyond the ability of others, then it would be wrong. Decide your intention, then the answer is easy.
Message: Posted by: thomasR (Jun 4, 2013 10:11AM)
I don't think it's morally wrong. But I think it's the lazy way out. There is no challenge. I think it's more fun to see where things go with a truly random volunteer.
Message: Posted by: DavidThomas (Jun 4, 2013 11:09AM)
We deceive for a living, if a stooge works, use it....just make sure it is natural and believable.
Message: Posted by: Magic Man 997 (Jul 6, 2013 02:47PM)
On 2012-12-28 16:21, jugglestruck wrote:
I could be wrong but I get the feeling that if audiences know stooges are being used they would be pretty miffed. I think they would feel they had been conned in a way that is just unfair.
That is probably true but if the audience finds out the magician uses w***s, m*****s, etc.. they'd feel the same way but if you use stooges in a way the audience doesn't expect them they would be entertained and you've done your job. So to answer the original question the it's not wrong to use a stooge the problem is if the audience finds out what your doing (unless your a comedy magician and reveal/make it obvious your using a stooge then it's okay for them to know)

For camera tricks, in my opinion using after effects/post production editing should not be considered magic but a trick done in one take without using after effects is okay (db levitation, franz hararry's first car production)

things like mathemagic or solving a rubik's cube blindfolded are considered stunts not tricks because they are not impossible to do just extremely hard (in the minds of the spectator).

Marco Tempest does do magic it is impossible to pull something out of or put and object in a phone.

Message: Posted by: jugglestruck (Sep 18, 2013 04:07PM)
I still stand by what I said, I feel using stooges crosses a line....
Message: Posted by: freefallillusion1 (Sep 19, 2013 09:05AM)
On 2013-09-18 17:07, jugglestruck wrote:
I still stand by what I said, I feel using stooges crosses a line....

What you said is that the audience would be unhappy if they knew the magician was using stooges. As pointed out earlier, the audience would also be a bit put off if they found out that the magic was accomplished with a mirror, thread, or trained muskrat. We have all been there at one time or another and seen a magician blow a trick (or just possibly, done that ourselves...) and the spectator discovers how something was done. They're usually disappointed!

Here's my take- I think that anything goes, literally anything, as long as it can be done in front of real people. That has always been the line between magicians and film makers. Steven Spielberg can do amazing things on the screen. But, there's a reason why people still went to see David Copperfield all those years (and still do)- they can see amazing things happen live in front of their own eyes. So, if Criss Angel shows an effect where he puts a girl into a cage at the zoo, and turns her into a tiger under conditions that would really be impossible, is that crossing a line? I say no, because he can back it up by doing it live. Yes, there's one crucial piece left out on TV, but the audience would never notice that when performed live. In their eyes they would see the same thing that Criss claimed he could do on TV. What he did on TV was to YouTube-proof the effect so that no moron could expose it. Fine. BUT- if the same guy show an effect that could never be done live (levitating over trees on a golf course, levitating from building to building outdoors, the list is huge), then that's doing nothing different than Spielberg.
Message: Posted by: jugglestruck (Feb 15, 2014 04:24PM)
On 2013-09-19 10:05, freefallillusion1 wrote:
As pointed out earlier, the audience would also be a bit put off if they found out that the magic was accomplished with a mirror, thread, or trained muskrat. [/quote]

But they wouldn't be surprised - the audience knows it's not "real" magic and there is an explanation. If the explanation is stooges then they would be doubly disappointed.
Message: Posted by: landmark (Feb 19, 2014 09:26AM)
The conjurer, unlike the stage actor in a play, is in the same frame as her audience. That is, it's "in front of the curtain." Thus the requirement that even if it's on tv, there needs to be some confidence in the mind of the audience that it *could* have been done live. So, stooges, yes it's still magic; camera tricks, no, it's then part of the film art and not Our Magic.

Just something I've been thinking about--the difference in frames--trying to formulate it for myself...not sure if this is quite clear.
Message: Posted by: jugglestruck (Feb 24, 2014 03:41AM)
I hear what you are saying but I would put both stooges and camera tricks in the same category.
Message: Posted by: RobertlewisIR (Jul 5, 2014 03:42AM)
Would I use a stooge? Probably not. I have more fun getting legitimate spectators. Is it morally wrong? No. Is it cheating the audience? Well, yeah, but so is literally everything a magician does. The whole point is to do the impossible, and since these things are impossible, we need to cheat. The audience is only cheated if they are not entertained, and if a stooge is the way to entertain the audience, go for it. But down that road lies the trap of detection. If you use a stooge, you might be in for a bit of trouble. If it's a one-time show, fine--whatever. But if it's part of your regular act, one of two things will happen. 1) Someone likes the show so much they come back the next day and see the same "audience volunteer," and the illusion is shattered. 2) You're smart enough to use a rotation of stooges, which multiplies both your expense and the number of potential sources of leaked information. That's why we generally don't use stooges as far as I'm concerned. Not because it's "morally wrong" but because a) it's not as fun, and b) it's asking to get caught.

As for camera tricks. Are they morally wrong? Probably not. Morality is a very personal and subjective thing. However, I do think there's an important distinction and I don't believe in camera tricks, and here is why. Several weeks ago, I went to the pictures and saw Godzilla (if you haven't, go see it--it's excellent). In that film, I saw giant monsters fight and level cities. That is what can be accomplished with camera tricks. I am a magician. I cannot do that in my show. The minute we start using camera tricks, we're just making movies. Movie magic is a different kind of magic, and finding someone's card isn't going to compete with Godzilla at the box office. What sets magic apart is that it can be done to a live audience. Don't get me wrong--I think magic on TV is great. But I think it needs to be done to a live audience, and with a disclaimer (which is the truth) that no camera trickery is used. Because the minute we lose that credibility that we can do it live, we're competing against Hollywood. Furthermore, if some magicians do it and get away with it, it's really just going to make things a bit harder for the rest of us, when audiences expect us to do things that cannot be done. Do I think that's going to be a serious problem? No. Last time I asked some non-magicians what they thought of a particular magic special (which shall not be named *cough*cough*), they suspected camera trickery. It doesn't hurt anyone else, but it earned the performer no respect from at least that part of the audience.
Message: Posted by: AussieChris (Jul 7, 2014 12:15AM)
I like this question and have been thinking about it for a while now. I do not like stooges, however I like magicians, entertainment, and an excited crowd.
Does it really matter if there is a stooge? Is the crowd entertained anyway? What is the goal? Was it achieved?

I'm coming to realise that it would be seen immoral to a fellow magician, or analyst. However, to anyone else it is entertaining and not sure how it's done, or they don't care.
Specially TV Magic... that's another world, and I've realised it is much easier to just not compare it to live entertainment. Just don't do it. Better to treat them separate.

"AND yet we call it MAGIC. WHY???"
Usually any magician entertaining a crowd is called magic. It just needs a bit of mystery, nothing more. Deeper down this means that tricks do not need to be supre impossible to entertain. Some keep searching for the most amazing tricks only later to realise that a simpler trick left the crowd more amazed :)

Entertainers get further in this industry that just a Magician. Look at Criss A., the amount of crap he uses to entertain people through a DVD is stomach irritating, but in the end, the main goal is to entertain the viewer, nothing else should trump that. Yes, it's lying to the 10th degree. Is it immoral? no idea.
Message: Posted by: jugglestruck (Jul 14, 2014 04:29PM)
Nice 1st post AussieChris.
Message: Posted by: Terapin (Jul 22, 2014 04:14PM)
I honestly don't see why it's worse than a gaffed deck or a shell coin.
Message: Posted by: thethirteensteps (Dec 14, 2014 01:23PM)
I think it's telling that this issue keeps on popping up. No one questions the morality of a double lift.
Message: Posted by: jugglestruck (Dec 17, 2014 02:14PM)
But people do question the morality of TV magicians using stooges in the crowds. I feel there is a great difference between the two.
Message: Posted by: silvercup (Feb 18, 2015 10:51AM)
No it's not.
Message: Posted by: Steve_Mollett (Feb 22, 2015 05:15PM)
As Doc Shiels once said, "Magic is what you can get away with--isn't it?!?"
Message: Posted by: Dorian Rhodell (Mar 3, 2015 01:43AM)
Stooges or "shills" have been used for so many things such as taking money, possessions, magic tricks, mind reading and even setting up jokes.

Eddie Fechter had great and VERY funny jokes, lines and bits of business using shills.
There are many stories about some of magic's finest (Dai Vernon, etc.) using shills to great effect. And if you listen to the stories from those who were there, none of them were offended. Why? Because it was all in jest and no one was hurt.
Is it immoral to use a shill? It depends upon how "legitimate" you want to be perceived.
You have to take into account your persona and how you interact with your audience.
When I perform, I quickly get them on my side. And when they're with me, I can get away with murder (note I do that without a shill!)
If you believe it to be immoral, maybe your gut is telling you something you should listen to.
If you don't believe it's immoral (like I do) as long as no one is hurt, then try it out and have some fun.
If you don't use a shill in some instances because you're too proud, then you are not using a tool that can be deadly.


Dorian Rhodell
Message: Posted by: Dick Oslund (Mar 13, 2015 05:11AM)
I should have gotten back to this thread sooner! (I am busier, now that I've been retired for a few years, than when I was on the road!)

I find myself agreeing with David Thomas, Terrapin, "13" steps,Steve Mollett, and Dorian, especially. Dorian has summed it up, it VERY WELL.

When I was a teen, I learned how to use st**ges very successfully. Later, when on the road, it was not practical to use the conventional "system".
From my mentors, I had learned how to use "instant" st**ges, and, I used them throughout my working years. Heqq! I even "horsed" for Dominique when I caught his act in Paris.

All of the old pro's. knew how to ENTERTAIN. --and they used whatever techniques were necessary!!! THURSTON,the BLACKSTONES, and MANY OTHERS, knew that ENTERTAINMENT was necessary,if they were to succeed. As an 18 year old, I was "on" the "committee" for Harry Blackstone Sr. I learned some very worthwhile techniques!

I do think that Jugglestruck has some extremely narrow concepts. I would like to see his act/show.

MAGIC is NOT INHERENTLY ENTERTAINING! The performer's PRESENTATION (and THAT includes "doing what's necessary" is what makes his performance ENTERTAINING!
Message: Posted by: oweosc12 (Apr 8, 2015 01:23PM)
I think that magic is about the overall effect, not about how you do it. Thus, stooges are fine...
Message: Posted by: R. Steiner (May 20, 2015 09:39PM)
So long as it is clear you are entertaining, using a stooge is not something I consider morally wrong. Is it cheating the spectator? I would argue it is no more cheating the spectator than is misdirection.
Message: Posted by: Bill Hegbli (Jun 15, 2015 09:15AM)
Magic is an entertainment form, that is what the Café is about theater Magic. Not scam artist. The trick or effect of a trick on an audience, and using whatever means available to create the illusion of real magic on stage is justification for using stooges.

There are just to many people that sign up on the Café and think there is such a thing as real magic, then start asking questions or buying magic and find they are disappointed when it does not give them some super power to perform the trick they purchased.

Magic is theater, not anything else. It is entertainment for the general public. It is acting like someone you are not. It is bring joy to the masses. It is just like going to see a movie and Clint Eastwood shoots all the bad guys. Do you think he really does that, of course not. It immoral, I don't think so, as you are cheering for the good guy.

There is nothing about the art of Magic that is immoral.

It is all just an Illusion created on stage and in your mind to stimulate your senses to take all the dull worries to the forefront of our mind, and put them aside for a little while. To make you laugh and smile, and capture your imagination.

If the find out, who cares, they had what they paid for, entertainment.
Message: Posted by: T.G. Jones (Aug 1, 2015 04:55AM)
I've used stooges in my stage shows and never been caught. I don't see any reason why anyone wouldn't, with the proper care and attention applied.
Message: Posted by: Madman13 (Aug 19, 2015 05:20PM)
A magician is an actor playing the part of a magician and a stooge is a part of the Play.
Message: Posted by: MagicSA (Aug 22, 2015 06:50AM)
I think audiences are becoming all the wiser when it comes to stooges. It's also very difficult if you do different shows and have to either run the risk of using the same person or find a different one. In the era of social media different audiences can actually communicate about the different shows.
Message: Posted by: Steve_Mollett (Aug 28, 2015 07:43PM)
Someone (Annemann, maybe?) said he would use an entire audience of stooges to fool one person.
Message: Posted by: Dorian Rhodell (Nov 12, 2015 02:40AM)
[quote]On Jun 15, 2015, Bill Hegbli wrote:

There is nothing about the art of Magic that is immoral. [/quote]

I agree. The fact remains, however, that there are people out there who DO believe it to be immoral. Why? Maybe it's a religious belief. Perhaps it could be categorized as deceitful because we, as magicians, have to lie (for lack of a better term) to make an effect come to life.

There's nothing we can ever do to change people with that mind set. If they believe magic is immoral...then let them.

I suspect it would be even more immoral if we tried to change their perspective because of how we feel.
Message: Posted by: pradell (Dec 24, 2015 03:11PM)
So when I did a holiday show for BP many years ago my assistant worked there. Noone knew she was my assistant. She was sitting at a holiday bar in the BP atrium with a guy flirting and drinking when I asked her to come up and join me in the show to help with a trick. She refused. I asked the audience for help urging her to come up. They obliged and clapped and cheered her on to do so. She reluctantly agreed and was visibly not happy to do so. The others knew her, empathized with her discomfort and could feel this basic tension between us. When I cut her into pieces in the magic box (probably interlude or zig zag lady) the audience was mistified. For them, it wasn't how I did it. It was how did she do it? How did she know what to do? After that I turned the second in charge of BP's Alaska operations, a big man, into an equally large well known entertainer who sang The Alaska Flag song. I used a simple illusion using a blanket which is set forth in Mark Wilson's magic book. Of course, the BP guy was in on it. One of my most memorial performances. The audience went nuts. Use what it takes to get into the hearts of your audience and move them. People are not watching a magician to see if you are ethical. Your whole show is based upon false promises. What you are doing is entertaining them. Breaking the barrier between audience and magician. Plan accordingly and, if you move them, you have succeeded in your craft. America's Got Talent wasn't won because of the flashiest coolest illusion. It was won because Mat Franco won the hearts and minds of the judges and moved them. Vicariously. The tension between the broken and lost iphone and the judge was moving. You felt her pain. If a well placed stooge helps to set up the drama, so be it.
Message: Posted by: Bamboozled (May 4, 2016 06:51PM)
In my mind, the real moral issue has nothing to do with what technique we use to deceive an audience, because at the end of the day it is ALL deception. The real moral issue is whether or not we claim that we accomplish our feats through natural means or supernatural means.
Message: Posted by: philraso (Jul 24, 2017 10:27PM)
Any ideas for effects using stooges?
Message: Posted by: Adam Meier (Jul 7, 2018 08:31AM)
I would be careful using a stooge. If the word gets out it could ruin your business. Lots of things you could rather do with a secret helper behind the scenes.
Message: Posted by: critter (Dec 3, 2018 10:48AM)
Wait... do magicians lie or trick people or something? This is like that time I learned the Easter Bunny is actually just Santa Clause's fursona.