The Magic Café
[ Lost Password ]
  [ Forgot Username ]
The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Now that’s funny! » » Finding The Funny (4 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

View Profile
Special user
946 Posts

Profile of Aus
Hi guys and gals. I have been doing magic for over 24 years and consider myself well versed in many aspects of the art but have never really cut my teeth on the comedy aspects of magic. Only recently I purchased Stand-up: A Professional Guide to Comedy Magic by Ian Keable to make a concuss focus to better understand this area which is little known to me.

That being said after reading Ian’s book I’m still left wondering how comedy magicians find the Funny elements in your routines. Do you write your routines ups and let the comedic elements evolve over time? Do you pre-script the comedy to a comedy formula? Do you wing it cold turkey every performance? How do you do it?

I understand there are books with stock lines and bits of business but after watching many great comedy magicians there seems to be an adapt ability to find funny things with the most benign aspects of a routine like shuffling a deck of cards, asking for a person’s name, handing them a pen etc. Is this something that can be taught and cultivated or do you need the gift of the gab to develop this sort of comedic ease?


View Profile
Eternal Order
10067 Posts

Profile of Mindpro
I've always began with scripting the comedy right into the routines, but always leaving room for improv and anything that may present itself. Comedy, while looking casual, spontaneous and off the cuff, is a serious business that requires a set of skills that like anything else must be learned, accepted, practiced and then of course implemented. I believe comedy can be learned/taught, however we each process comedy differently, yet there are some general comedy theories and perspectives that resonate with most people. That is the recommended starting point, then soon your own style, preference and type of humor will emerge and then you can become more specified.

You have to look for the comedy. You have to learn to see the comedy in situations. A great exercise is to find a photo in a magazine, newspaper or the internet and try to write 10 funny things or captions about it. Then review your list and find the ones that you think offer the most generally accepted comedic response by a general audience.

Don't copy or mimick someone else's style, try to find your own. Everyone is funny to those we are comfortable with, use that type of humor as a starting point.

Also try to break down your magic effects as they are seen by the audience from the audiences perspectives, and try to create or see the humor or add the humor this way. Learn comedy elements that can help your act such as call backs, interviewing lines, and yes, there are stick lines from books and others but using them will only make you a hack and unoriginal. I hope this helps.
View Profile
Inner circle
The UK, Portsmouth
2579 Posts

Profile of Sealegs

I wanted to respond to your post as it’s one of the few in this section of the Café that is actually about comedy in magic.

Some people have a natural flair for performing and being funny… but even they need material and need to work at their performances of that material. So even if you don’t feel you have the potential to be as funny as someone else you can certainly work on being as funny as you can, yourself, be.

You ask if comedy can be taught. Well like most things yes, to an extent it can but the good and the great usually also have something that can’t be taught too. They have a natural aptitude or feel for it. The thing to do is to aim on being the best/funniest version of you that you can be. Take any sport…any of us can learn to become better at say the Javelin. We can learn the techniques and put in the hours of practice and devote our lives to it. We’ll get better at the Javalin and maybe even become really good but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever become world champions. Comedy can be thought of in the same way. Being a world champion is great but even if you’re not a world champion you can still create a huge impression from simply being really good.

From the questions you ask in your opening post it seems apparent that you have already identified parts of the process that creating comedy content can involve. (i.e.: writing up scripts, letting routines evolve from your repeated performance of them, leaving room for being able to wing it in places, applying some kind of formula to create a script) None of these things will make you instantly funny and indeed you could be an expert at creating comedy and never reach the goals you’d like to reach as a performer. (There are many fantastic comedy script writers that would never have been as funny with their material as the person or people they wrote it for)

The best advice I can give for any would be comedy magic act and something that would make the vast majority of comedy magic acts instantly funnier is: don’t pitch yourself as a comedy magic act.

If you pitch yourself as a comedy magic act, comedy and laughs are expected and essential… If you don’t deliver, you fail... and you and the audience know it.

But if you pitch yourself as a magic act, and you also include some comedy it comes as a bonus. The pressure isn’t on for you to be as funny….. and the audience doesn’t feel let down by little or merely smile inducing comedy. Indeed, the comedy content that might be a flop in a comedy magic act, and drag the entire act down, might be taken as a unexpected and welcomed extra by an audience not expecting anything in the way of comedy content.

Introducing comedy into your performances in this way (as opposed to stepping directly into the world of being a comedy performer) is a much easier and more productive way to learn where and what sort of things you can get laughs from. It gives the performer confidence and gives the audience a better experience.
Neal Austin

"The golden rule is that there are no golden rules." G.B. Shaw
View Profile
Inner circle
The United States
1222 Posts

Profile of w_s_anderson
You definitely wont find the funny here on this your answers from mindpro and sealegs are spot on. Especially about billing yourself as a comedy performer. There is also a very thin line between funny and cheesy and that is usually found in the delivery. Some of the funniest bits can fall flat if delivered improperly. Unfortunately, you figure that out via trial and error. Some people also just try too dang hard to be funny and their not. You can't force funny. My two cents.......Best of luck and have fun with it.
Joe Toplyn
View Profile
New user
2 Posts

Profile of Joe Toplyn
I'm a four-time Emmy winner for writing for David Letterman. If you want to add comedy to your magic you need my new book, "Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV." Here's a link to it on Amazon.

It's a practical how-to manual that takes you step-by-step through the process of creating short-form comedy. Short-form comedy is any comedy under about ten minutes long and includes exactly the type of material that would fit a magic act: monologue-type jokes, found comedy, funny characters, sketches, silly props, and more.
View Profile
Special user
946 Posts

Profile of Aus
Sorry guys It's been sometime since I've come back to this thread I posted, at that time only Mindpro had replied. Just would like to thank everyone with their advice, it was all helpful. Joe Toplyn I will look into that book of yours, thank-you for the tip.


Harry Patter
View Profile
Veteran user
345 Posts

Profile of Harry Patter
If you are serious about exploring YOUR comedic potential, there are theories on writing comedy and plenty of exercises you can do.
Arthur Koestler's book - Art of creation for example.

Try writing positive/negative statements, where the negative after thought changes everything. For example:
WC Fields line: 'I like children - couldn't eat a whole one'
Or, 'I took the shell of my racing snail to make him faster - but he just became sluggish.'

Or the I want, I'll settle, I got game:
I want a woman with large breasts.
I'll settle for a woman with all her teeth
actually as long as she has a pulse.

These are examples of the top of my head, perhaps not the best, but show how you can explore comedy.

Taking things to escalating extremes, juxapositions and taboos are all other fields you can easy practice exploring.
Chris Duma
View Profile
New user
Gold Coast, Australia
2 Posts

Profile of Chris Duma
Truth and Pain is a good way to produce good comedy. We laugh at things that are truthful and painful; we identify with it so we laugh. Comedy is all about relating our experiences. When we hear a joke we acknowledge the truth and pain in it and laugh because it isn't us it's happening to. If you just say something truthful and painful, it won't be funny. You need to us comedic formula's: Exaggeration, Understatement, Compare and Contrast, and name a few! to make it funnier.
View Profile
Regular user
Columbus, OH
180 Posts

Profile of ULockJustice
This is a brilliant discussion.

I take a write it, then talk it out, approach to creating a new bit. I write a lot of straight standup and creating a new magic bit has always posed a bit of a problem for me. I start with a moment that I think is funny. I am currently working on a bit with a wooden duck, that ridiculous kid show prop where the duck leans down and plucks the card from the deck. I think it's called, "The Educated Duck." I saw one used in a magic shop and thought it would be great to do something with this prop. For some reason early on in playing with it I became really enamored with the idea that the duck had been to jail. So I wrote a monologue about how the duck and I met. Then I stood in my living room and did the effect over and over again talking through what I had written, and adjusting lines as necessary. During this talking I essentially re-wrote the original monologue to sound natural in my voice. Then I wrote that down and went through it and removed the extraneous words and lines so I could get to the funny faster. During this process I also modified the duck. I gave it prison tats and taught it to smoke. Following this I took it to it's first few gigs and taped them so that any ad-libs that came up I could have a record of so that I could put them back in later. Finally I took the tape, analyzed the bit, rewrote it, re-talked it out, and re-performed it for live audiences.

The original idea came from seeing a prop, and becoming obsessed with the idea of using that prop. In some cases it may be a sleight that I want to do, and I'll build from there. In other cases it's a concept or a final image I want (i.e. my signature piece C2NR - Card To Nipple Ring.) Regardless of where the initial spark comes from finding the actual funny in the bit comes from writing, re-writing, play, and then the crucible of live performance. The writing is a key beginning point for me, because that is where I word vomit every single thought I have about the bit into one place. The talking it out in my living room/performance lab without an audience is a second critical step so that it doesn't end up sounding over rehearsed or awkward. It give the words an apparent spontaneity so to the audience it always feels fresh. Finally reviewing the tape from the early live performances are the best way to evaluate if I'm on the right track. The early live performance part may show me that this idea is complete ******** and I need to send it off in a new direction. It's a bit like A/B testing a new website. Does the bit work better this way or that way? The audience gives me direct feedback and I can hear what hit hard, and where I lost them.

I think that core spark of interest is probably the most important part of the creative process. I don't necessarily begin with something and say, "I'm going to make this funny." I think what really happens is I begin by saying, "This is something I really like and want to play with." If I like something I will play with it more. The more I play the more it develops and eventually becomes a part of my larger show. Genuine interest in something to the point of an overwhelming obsession is the best source for something that will eventually grow into a bit. I think that a normal, dramatic, or spooky piece might have the same origin. I tend to write mostly comedy, but any good bit in any style comes from a mild obsession of something that you can't stop playing with.

That was a bit rambely. Sorry about that.
This is the profile of Comedian + Magician Erik Tait. A self-promoting sleight of hand artist who thinks he is the cat's meow.

PM for beard tips.
View Profile
Inner circle
1074 Posts

Profile of Bairefoot
A lot of times Magicians think they are funny but, the audience is laughing at them not with them. And believe it or not this is where most of the so called comedy magicians that are not pros fall into this category.

Paul Budd
View Profile
Veteran user
It's a shame he's only made
373 Posts

Profile of Paul Budd
I'm not a pro....I'm an amateur.....and more importantly: you've been given some GREAT advice I'm not sure how much I can add to the discussion. HOWEVER, I will toss this bit in (and I'm doing this because it appears that one person above knows what it means to spend A LONG TIME working out the kinks in a bit...which is commendable). I'm very loosely associated with my local FCM and I've often voiced one complaint about gospel magicians (that, I think, can sometimes apply to comedy magic as well): Y'know that bit in 'Jurassic Park', where Jeff Goldblum's character remarks to John Somebody (the one who's starting the whole shebang with the dinosaurs....?) Regarding cloning/re-birthing dinosaurs and what that might mean, he says to the guy, "You were so busy trying to figure out if you 'could' that you didn't stop and ask yourself if you 'should'." In magic, just because you CAN buy an $86 prop and use it a little bit, that doesn't automatically mean you 'SHOULD' put it into your act.
I've often chuckled to myself that the term 'comedy magic' is almost redundant.....nearly EVERY great magician I've ever seen perform puts LOADS of comedy into their show.
Hope this helps....I'd bet you're already well on your way!! Smile Smile Smile
His face isn't really this long in-person!
Once Upon A Magician blog
View Profile
Special user
946 Posts

Profile of Aus
So self admittedly it has been some time since I originally started this topic way back in 2015. My absence from this topic was much to do with shifting priorities at that time which resulted in magic taking a bit of a back seat. Needless to say, my interest in exploring comedy and its potential hasn’t waned at all and has always simmered in the background waiting to be better explored.

Since then I have explored the philosophy and formula route and have come to some interesting realizations.

As sealegs has said in his last post writing comedy isn’t easy and defining what comedy seems is seems somewhat subjective.

So, in an effort to define comedy and what I thought it might be I thought I would write a laundry list of things in my mind that could be constituted as comedy or at least elements of comedy.

Here is what I came up with:

A heightened sense of reality.






Something in threes


The absurdity of life

The unexpected

Creating and releasing tension.


A psychological defence mechanism

Bad Karma


The tragedy for someone else.

Higher status



Pain, especially other people's pain.




Wish Fulfillment

Something relatable

…...and the list goes on.

Trying to take elements from my list and pragmatically apply them in a comedic context I soon realized that there is an aspect of duality to many of these concepts that seem to make application difficult. For instance, a “heightened sense of reality” could apply to any dramatic movie for instance while the “unexpected” could be an elephant in a tutu which could be considered pretty funny to a bullet between the eyes which is definitely not funny.

I mean there you are in the middle of contemplating how to inject comedy into your magic act, staring at a blank page or a blank screen, you don’t know where to go or what to do next, and somebody whispers, “Be ironic!” “Juxtapose!” “Use a heightened sense of reality”, it’s a good idea, do you use it?

Furthermore, it struck me that learning comedy was a bit of an oxymoron, which I am sure others before me have already considered. While there is much to learn about timing and why a joke works, the first being mechanical and the second being intellectual my thoughts gravitated to what could be taught and what cannot.

I mean isn’t humour subjective? Don’t people laugh at different jokes? But people also laugh at the same jokes, and those are the ones we are looking for. How do we find those?

Anyway, even with the above thoughts, I’m taking a leap of faith on some of the formulaic approaches. I have a few I'm experimenting with so I’ll post an update with some of my results.


View Profile
Loyal user
273 Posts

Profile of Kanawati
Hi Aus, one thing that has really helped me is having someone critique my performance and scripting. I asked Sealegs to do just that and he very kindly and generously took the time to look at a couple of my YouTube performances and give me advice on how I could improve them. He also rewrote the scripts! It allowed me to see what he was changing and where he was adding the humor. At my magic club meeting last week the theme was comedy magic and I decided to test out Sealeg’s script for one of my routines. It went really well!

One thing I’m starting to realize is that those questions we are supposed to ask ourselves - what is our character, what impact do we want to have on our audiences and why should they want to watch are really important. I’m just starting to discover that if your audience is interested and engaged in what you are doing then the jokes and humor will register stronger. John
View Profile
Inner circle
West Chester PA
1186 Posts

Profile of danfreed
One really good thing is taking improv comedy classes. Do it as an ongoing thing not just an 8 week class.
The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Now that’s funny! » » Finding The Funny (4 Likes)
[ Top of Page ]
All content & postings Copyright © 2001-2021 Steve Brooks. All Rights Reserved.
This page was created in 0.32 seconds requiring 5 database queries.
The views and comments expressed on The Magic Café
are not necessarily those of The Magic Café, Steve Brooks, or Steve Brooks Magic.
> Privacy Statement <

ROTFL Billions and billions served! ROTFL