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Interview on Magic with Collector & Magician Steve Brooks (The Magic Cafť)


In a previous article we already introduced you to Steve Brooks, the man of many hats. In that interview he shared a wealth of information from his experience as a dedicated playing card collector. But Steve is also a magician, and he has been performing magic since his childhood. Furthermore, he's the owner and manager of the well-known forum for magicians, The Magic Cafť. With the tag line "Magicians Helping Magicians", this online forum is open 24 hours a day for magicians to drop in and exchange thoughts, ideas, and even secrets about a wide range of magical topics, as well as ask questions, seek advice, or share reviews.

Steve not only runs The Magic Cafť, but also has a lot of valuable insights about magic to share, based on his own experience and involvement in this performing art. He's even in the process of writing a couple of books about magic theory, which is in itself a testimony to his ability to be a creative thinker. In this follow-up to his previous interview where he talked about playing cards and collecting, Steve answers our questions about magic, and about what is involved in running The Magic Cafť.



When did you first get interested in magic, and what got you started?

Iíve been studying and performing magic since I was about nine years old or so. I saw a magician on television doing something and asked my mother, "How did he do that?" She said, "Heís a magician. I donít know." That kind of piqued my interest.

When I was maybe nine or ten, my grandmother took me to see Harry Blackstone Jr., to see a show somewhere in Los Angeles. And Harry did all the stuff he was doing, like the big Buzz Saw Illusion and the Floating Light Bulb, and birds, and more. All this was more than a little nine or ten year old could take at the time, and I just had to know how this stuff works. I wasnít content thinking, "Well, heís a magician and itís secret and you canít know."

So when the show was over I broke away from my grandmotherís hand in the crowd and decided I would go back stage so I could see how this stuff worked - because if he could do it, maybe so could I. So I crawled under the curtain and got backstage and I was touching and checking out the Buzz Saw Illusion. And I hear this really deep voice, "Can I help you young man?" And I turned around, and it was Harry Blackstone Jr. - who stood like a mountain to a little boy! I was totally scared, because I knew I wasnít supposed to be back there.

And he kind of knelt down on one knee and he pulled a little red ball (in hindsight Iím sure it was a billiard ball). He just threw it up in the air and it vanished, and he said, "When you can do that, come back and see me and Iíll show you how to do the good stuff." Then he took me by my hand and helped me find my grandmother.


How did you continue to learn magic after first meeting Harry Blackstone Jr?

After I first saw Harry Blackstone in person, a couple of years later or so, I saw a magician on television, Marshall Brodien who was selling his TV magic cards and TV miracle cards and TV mystery cards. And I saved up my pennies and I went to my local Thrifty drug store and I purchased those.

When you got those decks, inside with the instructions would be a little folded catalog, and you could buy more magic tricks by mail. Back then, I didnít know there was such a thing as a magic shop. So I started ordering tricks, e.g. Fun Incorporated items under the Royal Magic brand. You know, classics like the Ball and Vase, Drawer Box, Crazy Cube, Pentro Penny, etc. As the years went by, I would continue to save up my money and buy even more magic tricks, books, etc.

I also had a neighbor who was in the Boy Scouts and I would borrow his Boys Life magazines and look in the back and theyíd have all these ads for magic shops. So Iíd send off my quarters or dimes off and get all their catalogs, and look through all the amazing things I might get. So I grew up doing magic.

Did you ever meet Harry Blackstone Jr again?

Around 40 years later, probably in the early 2000s or the late 1990s. Harry Blackstone was doing a show here in Northern California, and I saw him do his show at Chico State University. After the show he and Gay Blackstone came out, selling little magic sets for kids. I was prepared this time, because I had brought a billiard ball and I told Harry the story. I threw the ball up in the air and vanished it, and he started crying. It was a very emotional moment. He had tears coming down his eyes and he says, "Iíll be right back." And he disappears.

He comes back and he brought me a bunch of stuff, including this huge photograph which I still have. I said, "Because you were kind to a little boy who was someplace he shouldnít have been, that turned out to be pretty much what Iíve done all my life." So it kind of came full circle, I guess.


What should be the goal of a performing magician?

What weíre really here for as magicians is to create that wonder, so that people can say: "For five minutes I can forget about my pain. Maybe Iím losing my house, or my daughterís pregnant, or Iím going through a divorce, or my father just passed away. But for five lousy minutes, I donít have to think about that stuff." For a short time I donít have to think about all the drama and all the craziness. Right now with the coronavirus and everybody panicking and dying, people need laughter, entertainment, and magicians. They need something positive in their lives.

And this is why if you go back and look at the late 1920s and 30s and 40s when you had the Depression and Prohibition and a war going on, Vaudeville was so popular. This is why we needed the Marx brothers and Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy, and we needed the Slapstick and we made fun of things. Back when folks understood what humor was Ė you know, a joke? A story with a humorous climax. Back before everyone became afraid they might offend someone.

Magicians take you away from pain and make up something wonderful. This is something that we need to keep in mind. Why are you doing magic? Are you trying to impress yourself or are you doing it for your audience? And are they just spectators or are they participants in the moment?

I remember a conversation with Eugene Burger, and I asked him, "Eugene, when you go to perform, whether itís for one person, two people, a room full or a whole auditorium, whether itís magicians or itís lay people, what is your number one goal?" And he looked at me without blinking an eye and said, "To fool them." And I said, "Really?" And he looked at me and said, "Why, what is it you do?" And I said, "To entertain them." If I fool them, thatís great. Thatís icing on the cake. But honestly, Iíll take a pie in the face if it makes somebody laugh, if it makes them giggle, if it makes them just have fun.

How should this impact how we approach our audience when performing magic?

Iím actually writing a couple books on magic theory. We need to look at whatever we do - and especially magic - and concentrate on making them have fun.

If your audience likes you, theyíre going to stop being confrontational. Every magician I know, at some point during their career or in doing magic, has had this experience: The audience has folded arms and is rolling their eyes backward, saying, "Okay, Mr. Magic Man, fool me, do your trick." You have to turn that moment around because you canít sit there and fight your audience. And as long as they are there to fight you and confront you, thereís a problem.

We all build this little wall around us, and we donít allow people into our personal space. In order to connect with your audience, you canít bust through their wall. Instead you have to let them open the door for you. And once they open the door and allow you into that personal space, now you have an opportunity. Now you can tell a stupid joke and theyíre still going to laugh because they like you. And if they like you, theyíre having fun and theyíre enjoying the moment rather than trying to deconstruct the moment.

This is all about how we approach them. I donít think you have to be the greatest magician in the world to have your audience walk away thinking "That person was awesome!" If they had a good time and they enjoyed themselves, theyíll remember you.


How important is sleight of hand compared with entertaining?

I know guys that are some of the best "mechanics", you might call them, with cards and such in the world. But some of those guys couldnít entertain themselves out of a wet paper sack. They can do all these great moves, but when they get in front of an audience, they freeze, or theyíre boring. Youíd rather watch grass grow than to watch them perform.

For example, if youíre in front of some people and you throw a ball up in the air and it vanishes, they donít know how you did it. And whether you did it by fantastic misdirection and sleight of hand or whether you use some gizmo is irrelevant to them because all the audience saw was the ball vanish. And thatís whatís important, that moment: the ball vanished.

You have a couple of different schools of thought on this. Some magicians say, "If itís not done with sleight of hand, then youíre not really a magician." Others say, "If you can use a gaff card and make the trick work, thatís what Iím going to do." Itís like comparing Vernon and Larry Jennings, and how they would sit together at the Magic Castle and somebody would come up with a problem to solve. There are different ways of achieving something, and which one you choose doesnít matter. So find the things that work for you. Not everybody has great dexterity. Thatís okay.

Is it essential to be a good performer in order to be involved in magic?

Not everybody in magic needs to be a performer. There can be people that just collect props, or they collect posters, or books or whatever they collect. Or they are historians.

Just because you donít go out and perform for audiences doesnít mean anything. You still can be in magic. You can still hang out with your magic buddies. You can still enjoy everything that is magic. You donít have to necessarily be a professional magician.


How important is hard work in order to be successful in magic?

There are seminars about how to get rid of a bad habit, or how to create a good habit. Letís say I want to create a habit like getting more work done in my office. Iím going to condition myself to go to work one hour earlier every day so that I can get more work done. If you do that, after about a month or so, youíll just keep going in an hour earlier.

Or if you want to spend time writing a book, but your life is a mess. You start off by saying, "Iím going to start at least once a week, on Tuesdays. Every Tuesday Iím going to devote two hours to writing my book." At first it will be tough. You may not even make it every Tuesday. But if you keep doing it, after a couple of months, you will do it and you might even spend more than two hours. In fact, itíll get to the point where you donít feel right unless you do sit down and write something on your book.

You can apply that to magic. I want to learn a new trick but itís really hard, and itís got a lot of difficult moves. So you start practicing and you put yourself in a habit of practicing.

What can we learn about hard work from performers who have been successful in magic?

People that make it in business, or people who make it in magic - whether itís Penn and Teller, David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy, David Blaine, Criss Angel, Mac King, any of them - they didnít get there because they didnít work at it.

Somebody could say, "Well, they got lucky." Did they now? Maybe the harder the work you do, the luckier you might get, and you place yourself into situations to have the opportunity to be lucky and meet somebody. But you donít do it by sitting playing video games on Xbox or reading BS on Facebook You do it by actually going out, and because you give something else up.

So you say: "So I want to be the next Criss Angel." So what are you willing to give up? What does Criss give up? Iíll tell you what he gives up. For years he gave up hanging out with all his buddies. He gave up chasing girls everywhere, and going to the parties. He gave up tons of stuff. Why? Because he was too busy trying to be successful.

You need to ask yourself: "How am I going to learn this? How am I going to get into this position? How am I going to meet the right people that will open doors for me to get over here?" Iím not going to do it sitting at home. So you take chances. You invest money that you might lose. You invest time that you may not get back and you try things and you fail at them and then you say to yourself, well that was a mistake, so Iím going to do it different next time, but Iím not going to give up.


Does this change once you achieve a successful career in magic?

You can say "Somebody in Vegas that makes $20 million a year has got it made." Really? So are you willing to do what they do? That $20 million contract is also wrapped in golden chains. Because it means I canít go anywhere. Iíve got to do two shows at night, whether I feel like it or not.

And I have got to go and hang upside down off the stage whether I feel like it or not, and get in that tank of water and do this trick again and again in front of my audience and smile and be happy whether I feel happy or not. Maybe I just got in a fight with my mom or my brother or whatever, but I still have to be there. Itís seven oíclock, and Iíve got to do my show. Iíve got all this money, but I donít have any time to really enjoy it. Because most of my time is at my showroom or at the casino I work at.

And who are really my friends? The people that just want to hang out with me because Iím famous? Do I have real friends, somebody that I can talk to and theyíll just tell me the truth because they donít want anything from me?

Why is magic so much harder in real life than when a famous magician does it on TV?

Iíve seen this on the Magic Cafť. Some person will attempt to do a trick, and say: "I saw David Blaine do this great trick, but I tried to do it, and this homeless guy threw a beer bottle at me."

When somebody like David Blaine or Criss Angel or anybody else is going to do magic on the street, they have a bunch of advantages you donít have. Theyíve got a crew of camera people and grip holders and light people and sound people with them and they walk up and they get to know the guy. They find a guy that is receptive to this. So now weíre going to run the cameras and Iím going to do four or five tricks. And finally weíll do the trick that we want to show on TV. But by the time we edit the episodes, we donít have time to show you us getting to know him. We just walk up, do the trick and itís done. Thatís the way it works.

In real life you canít always do that. Itís tough. You watch videos of how to learn magic and then it looks great on a video. Someone like Michael Ammar or somebody else who knows what heís doing, and everything just works great. But when you do it, that lady grabbed the deck out of my hand, or that kid ran off with my scotch and soda coins. Yep, thatís the real world.

How important is it to get experience when performing magic?

Thatís the thing thatís missing from these videos. Itís not that the videos arenít good. Itís not that the books are not good. They are good. But they donít teach you the experience.

Say somebody wants to be a doctor. So they go to medical school for eight or nine or 10 years or whatever, and they come out and they know all the technical stuff. They know all about chemistry and how the body works and what these tools do. But when they start working with real people things donít always happen the way the book says it might happen. So experience, experience.

I worked restaurants for years, and behind bars alongside bartenders. Some of the toughest magic to do is working beyond a bar because why? Because youíve got alcohol involved. Alcohol plus humans often equals disaster. People will do things when theyíre drunk that they wouldnít do otherwise. And theyíre not paying attention all the time.

So books can get into how to do the moves, and tell you how you might want to dress. But they canít give you experience. Youíre going to have to go up there and fail. You need to fail. You need to get busted a few times. And any magician who says "Iíve never been busted" I say: "********. Yes, you have. Quit lying. Yes you have."

So learn from that and always be a step ahead of your audience. Always have an out in the back of your mind and say "What happens if this fails on me?" You must be able to adapt. Or do you just say "Oh sorry, it didnít work." Thatís really not a good out. You need to be able to take a bad situation and make it into a good situation.


What has experience taught you about dealing with hecklers?

It teaches you how to deal with a rowdy spectator. For many years it was said that thereís no bad audiences, only bad magicians. I call ******** on that. There could absolutely be a bad audience. You could like do a show thousands of times and itís awesome. But then get an audience and itís just a train wreck. You can have unruly spectators and people who basically arenít there to have a good time.

Youíve got to understand another thing about magic: some people donít like it. Itís a psychological thing. If theyíre sitting in a seat watching a magic show, somewhere in the back of their mind, they feel that if they get amazed and fooled by this, they must be an idiot, and everyoneís going to laugh at them. Itís almost as if they think the rest of the theater is too smart for this and they would be the only ones getting fooled by it. So they have to be the heckler, the rowdy guy, or the person who knows everything.

When I was younger and did kidsí shows, I learned a couple of little tricks for dealing with kids. Kids can really be a problem. I would set up all my stuff and stand by the doorway and watch the kids for the first two or three rows. Sure enough, thereíd always be some kid who is slugging other kids in the arm and pulling peopleís hair. That kidís going to be my problem, so Iím going to deal with that right now.

So you walk up and say: "Whatís your name? Come here." And you take him out in the hall and say "Listen, Iím going to be doing this show and I got a couple of tricks which Iím going to need your help. Can you keep a secret?" And you get the kid involved somehow. You make him feel special. You make him feel wanted because a bully at school is a bully at school because heís being bullied at home where he feels like he has no power. So give him some power in your show and guess what? Heís not slugging kids in the arm, shouting things at the magician, or grabbing things, because heís part of the show now. So itís a pre-emptive strike.

What insights about magic have you gained from your passion for science fiction?

I like things like Star Trek and Star Wars and BattleStar Galactica, Stargate SG-1. You could make a movie and put billions of dollars into it and have the greatest special effects. But if it doesnít have good characters that you care about, itís not a good story. A series like the Lord of the Rings by Tolkien is good because it has good characters. Similarly Star Trek has always been good - not because of the cool space ships or the battles Ė but because of the relationship of the characters, and their ethics and ideas of morality. Thatís what creates good stories.

That also applies to magic. Magic is more than just making something appear or disappear and standing up there saying, "See how wonderful I am. Arenít you impressed?" Good magic is about how you can touch your audience on an emotional level.

Thatís why I love close-up magic. Most people have never experienced magic in person. They see it on television and they might be impressed with it, but theyíre thinking in the back of their heads, "Those people were in on it", or "It was a camera trick." But when you borrow somebodyís finger ring that their mother gave them as a gift and you do something wonderful with it, thereís this emotional connection because, "Hey, thatís my ring," or "That ring belonged to my grandmother. Thatís not a camera trick, that was real. I saw it."



What was your original vision for The Magic Cafť forum?

I started the Magic Cafť on September 7th, 2001. I lived out in the country at the time and the only internet we had was dial-up, so setting up the Cafť was a challenge. My original idea was to have a place where magicians could go and talk with each other. And because I knew that magicians, besides doing magic, what else did they like to do? Well, talk about it.

How much does it cost for people to use The Magic Cafť, and what do you expect of them?

Itís free. It doesnít cost you anything.

All we do is say: behave yourself. Donít be an ***. Donít use profanity. Donít say things that are just stupid.

Has the availability of information on the internet been good for magic?

Any tool youíre going to use is subjective. The internet is both a blessing and a curse.

You would think that in 2020 the ability to press a couple buttons and a click of a mouse, you literally have access to libraries of information at your fingertips. I grew up in very poor family, and we didnít have a World Book encyclopedia set, so I would go next door and borrow my neighbors books Ė these things were expensive back then. But now everybodyís running around with phones and tablets, and they have home computers, and itís like: "Wow, I can just press a button and I basically have the library of congress at my disposal!"

But the internet is like the Old West. There is gold to be found in California if you venture there. But thereís also bandits and disease and Indians and rattlesnakes. The problem with the internet is that when you go online, everybodyís a lawyer, a doctor, and an expert at everything.

When I was a kid, if you went into a bookstore and there was a best-selling book, the guy who wrote the book probably got rejected a million times before he found a publisher that thought it was worthy of being printed. Back then there were checks and balances, and even newspapers were held to high standards. You couldnít just write anything you wanted.

The problem with the internet is that anybody can put anything there. So what you have is tons of information. But is it correct? Is it for real, or as they say, is it fake news? You donít know because thereís no checks and balances. Itís open and thereís no real laws to govern it.

How does this apply to The Magic Cafť?

The Magic Cafť is good for a lot of things. If you use our custom search engine, there is a wealth of information to be found on there. If I had a place like the Cafť when I was first getting in the magic, I would have been a happy camper, because thereís just so much stuff, e.g. interviews and reviews of products and more.

But the factor that we add in here is human beings and human nature. This is not a political issue. This is not a religious issue. This is a human issue and people are going to fight and theyíre going to argue. And when they get on the internet itís like, especially like if itís three oíclock in the morning, they get a big red S on their chest and a big cape behind them and theyíll say things to you theyíre not going to say to your face. Because they know that if they say it to your face theyíll get a broken nose.

I probably had like four or five simple rules at the time I started. And I soon found out that that wasnít going to cut it. Because people are there talking about something that theyíre passionate about, in this case magic. And when people are passionate about something, they can get very defensive about it, or say "I know more than you know." Debate is good, and even heated debate can be good - until you cross the line and you say to someone, "I hope your mother dies." Now itís no longer a debate. Now youíve run out of something to argue about, so now youíre just name calling. So those four or five rules became lots of rules.


How big is the challenge of dealing with people in moderating a forum like The Magic Cafť?

Itís hard because youíre dealing with human beings. We deal with people who want to kill you. Theyíll call you up at your house, and say "We want to burn your house down." We deal with some psychos - why? - because there are psychos out there, and some of them happen to be interested in magic. Itís like that with photography forums and any other kind of forum, just crazy people.

Iíve made a lot of friends. But Iíve also made a lot of enemies, including people Iíve never met in my life. I donít know anything about them - their politics, their religion, their color. If theyíre interested in magic, theyíre welcome. But there are people out here that are nuts, literally nuts, and theyíre running around loose. You can swear at me and name call me, and I can take all that. But when you call up to my home and tell my wife youíre going to rape her and burn my house down and hang my dogs in the backyard, Iíve got a problem with that. Thatís the type of BS Iíve had to deal with. There are people that really need to go see a psychologist Ė even famous people - because they have issues.

In a normal store, like a magic shop, when somebody comes in, they buy a trick and they leave. Maybe theyíre having problems with it, and they bring it back, so the guy helps him out a little bit, and itís a done deal. But Iíve got to deal with the same person 24/7, all the time.

Most people in magic are good people, really good people. Iíve been in magic all my life, and Iíve made some of the best friends. I would let them into my home and stay with me, and to me theyíre family. But like in the rest of the world, there are a few idiots out there that you got to deal with.

Iíve had people helping over the years, but itís not like theyíre getting paid for it, theyíre volunteering. Even the most gung ho people who help get burned out. Unfortunately when people get upset, and somebody is breaking a rule or theyíre becoming rowdy or whatever, that person becomes volatile. And if one of my moderators handles the situation, they feel the brunt of that anger.

What advice do you have for dealing with difficult people?

You try to do the best that you can. I donít judge people just on my first meeting with them. If theyíre a little curt with me or theyíre grumpy, well, maybe theyíre having a bad day. Maybe theyíre having problems at home, maybe someone wrecked their car. I donít know. But Iím not going to sit there and judge them by that first or second experience.

Now, if I meet them 20 different times, and theyíre still grumpy and they still have got an attitude, I may choose to not be around them anymore. But I still might say to myself "This personís unhappy. Heís a hurt person and hurt people hurt people."

In my younger days, I worked for the probation department for 14 years as a counselor. Most of the problems in this world are hurt people hurting other people. Theyíre not evil or bad people as such. Theyíre hurt people and they have problems. What theyíre really saying is "Help me, I need help," but they donít know how to say "Help me."

Itís all about how you perceive them. When we hear the ambulance going down the street, donít say, "I wonder who got in an accident?" Instead say to yourself, "Wow, somebody is getting rescued." That changes the moment in your mind.

Anybody who knows me, knows that Iím an easy to get along with guy. I go out on a limb to help people with The Cafť. Iíve seen some really sad circumstances where the people are not only losing their magic shop, but theyíre losing their house and their livelihood, and I try to help whenever I can. But you canít help the whole world, and you canít fix everything. Thereís only so much you can do.

Should negative experiences with people stop people from joining The Magic Cafť?

The Magic Cafť is what you make of it. If you want to find trouble, you can find trouble. But thatís the way life is. You want to find trouble. You can walk downtown and find troubles. Itís your attitude.

I originally made it so that my buddies and I could get on there and talk magic. The Cafť is good for a lot of things if you're into magic.


How important is it to you to treat people equally when moderating a forum?

Youíre always going to get people who say things that other people think is stupid. Iíve seen people get on The Magic Cafť and say to me "You know who I am and how many books Iíve written." It doesnít matter. I donít care if you drive a Porsche and this guy over here drives a Volkswagen. He has just as much value as you pal, Iím sorry. If you think heís stupid and you donít want to talk with him, donít talk with him. Donít waste your time, and donít waste your breath, but go onto something else.

That probably is the biggest thing Iíve had to deal with sometimes: the idea of elitism. "My group is special, and better than your group." I donít think thatís true.

So can we enforce all the rules all the time? No, we canít. Thereís too many people. So we count on other members letting us know. If thereís a problem, let us know, and weíll try to deal with it. We try to deal with each problem fairly on a case by case.

What if people donít like your forum rules?

Hereís an example. In the beginning I didnít let anybody put up an avatar, a little picture. Because I was concerned about copyright issues. I didnít want people putting Mickey Mouse on there and whatever.

And then people were like, "Oh, come on Ö" So I said, "Okay, put a picture of yourself. But if youíre concerned about that, and if you donít want to use a photo of yourself because youíre afraid of your personal privacy and you donít want people to see what you look like, then Iíve got a little bunny rabbit in a hat thatíll be in there instead, and thatíll be the normal little avatar that appears."

Most people understand that and they just upload something. But every once in a while youíll have somebody who doesnít read the rules. They join, and then the first thing they do is they upload a picture of a playing card like the Ace of Spades, or they put Bart Simpson on there. And of course we take it off, and explain to them why. Most people say, "Iím sorry I didnít see that part, no problem," and they upload up something else.

But we get a percentage of idiots who say, "Go screw yourself. Iíll put whatever I want on there. Who do you think you are?" Well, Iím the guy that runs the forum. They say: "Well, Iíve got the right to this!" No, you donít. This is my forum. Itís like being in my house. Iím going to call the rules here.

I donít go to Taco Bell and tell you how to make a burrito. So donít tell me how to run a website that I built. So thatís my attitude. If it makes me an ***, it does, but Iím not trying to be. I just have very little patience for idiots.

If people say, "Well, Iíll go start my own forum," then I say: "Go for it! Iím rooting for you. By the way, you might want to go to your doctor and get some tranquilizers, because you are probably going to need them." And theyíll run a forum for a month or two and thatís it, and itís done, because they find out really fast how difficult it is.

How much other work is involved in running The Magic Cafť?

Iíve put a lot of hours in the Cafť. Thousands upon thousands of hours.

We get attacked hundreds of times a day from hackers, mostly from China. Once in a while theyíll get through, and theyíll flood the forum with just crazy stuff. And we have go through and get rid of it

Iíve had times where weíve had server issues, and Iím up for three days with no sleep, running around trying to stay awake while weíre trying to solve an issue. Meanwhile, people are over on other forums, saying "What an idiot Steve Brooks is. I donít know why The Cafťís down, and he wonít tell us why." I donít have time to tell you why. What I have time to do is get my server running, and then Iíll tell you why.

These are armchair quarterbacks. These are the same people that will sit there, drink a can of beer, and watch a football game. And when a quarterback gets slammed to the ground by two 300 pound line-backers, and the quarterback is having a hard time, they say "Look at that idiot, he let himself get sacked." Did he now? Have you ever played football? Have you ever worn a helmet, and understand that youíre blind? Have you ever done this? Are you in the NFL making $20 million a year? No, youíre not. So shut up, drink your beer, and just watch the game.


How would you respond to a newcomer who thinks The Magic Cafť has too many sub-forums?

The Cafť is almost 20 years old. And Gene and I coded this thing ourselves. I didnít download any software, but we built this website from scratch. Itís a work in progress. Itís like a big painting that you never finish, and you never actually get to the point where you put a frame on it and hang it on the wall. So youíre continuously adjusting. So occasionally weíre going to add a new sub-forum for one reason or another.

Sometimes newcomers who have never been on The Magic Cafť say, "Thereís just too many forums. Itís too confusing, and I donít like this place." Thatís like going into a library and saying "Thereís just too many books and I donít want to take the time to have to look for the book Iím looking for." I say: Then youíre lazy. Get the hell out. If you donít like the Magic Cafť, donít go to the Cafť. Itís pretty simple. Nobodyís forcing you.

What about criticisms that the Magic Cafť has an old style format?

The Cafť is still alive and going strong. My servers are full every day from people all around the world.

Is it a little old fashion? It is a little old fashion and I like that. I donít need all this crazy flashy stuff on there. I originally made it so that my buddies and I could get on there and talk magic and thatís what we did. And it grew.

Then Facebook came along and Twitter and Instagram and a lot of people who started hanging out there, just out of habit. But when they want reviews on magic, and when they want to look up something, theyíre on The Magic Cafť. And the ones that say theyíre not on the Cafť, theyíre on the Cafť too. So the Cafť is fine.

What are your thoughts on social media, and how is The Magic Cafť different from this?

The Magic Cafť is not like social media. You can go on Facebook, and you can talk to your friends, but mostly youíre going to see a picture of what they had for breakfast. But if I really want to know something about magic, Iím going to go on the Cafť. If Iím looking for a certain cups and balls routine, Iím going to go on the Cafť. If I want to know how to find a certain book about a card routine, Iím going to go on the Cafť. Itís there.

In contrast, social media is all about showing how everybody has a wonderful life, except you. This guy just got a brand new car. This guy just got a brand new house. He and his family are in vacation in Europe. He just got a new illusion for his act. Oh, heís on a cruise ship. Oh, he just got booked on Penn and Teller.

And pretty soon you start looking at yourself and go, man I must be worthless. Everybodyís got new cars and new houses and new jobs and they got lots of money and theyíre doing fine and they got lots of gigs and theyíre always working. And Iíve got a house that Iím barely paying for, my car is broken down half the time, Iím having problems and my wife might divorce me, I donít know if my job is still there, so I must be a loser. And so what happens is you have people that kill themselves over a Facebook post.

Is social media such a great thing? Weíre talking about magic and illusion, but isnít that the biggest illusion of it all - that everybody on the planet is just doing well except you? You must be doing something wrong with your life, and youíre an idiot and a loser. But everybody has value in this world.

As long as you donít let yourself get sucked into this illusion, I guess social media could be good. Thereís all kinds of things that the internet is good for. You could Skype friends over in England, stay in touch with your family. But itís also a hell hole that could destroy your life if you let it, and if you buy into the BS.

Like I once told my wife once, turn the TV off, and get off Facebook because all youíre getting is negativity - negativity from the news, negativity from social media. Youíll feel better. And sure enough, and you do that for a couple of days, and say "Wow, I feel better." Of course you do, because youíre not being inundated with negativity. No human being can take that.

Given how much work running The Magic Cafť involves, what keeps you going?

Over the last 20 years, Iíve seen everything you can imagine. Itís nuts. It is a job is what it is. But I just do it because I like what I do. I love magic. So I do it.

Running The Cafť is a challenge. It always has been and it always will be. One day Iíll find the right person and Iíll pass it to them, and then that personís going to have to deal with it. And how they deal with it will of course be different than the way I deal with it.



I hope you enjoyed hearing from Steve Brooks and reading his insights and observations as much as I did. He certainly has some real wisdom to share about what it takes to run an online forum. Like all of life, the real challenge is dealing with people. While doing so online can involve aspects that doesn't apply to face-to-face meetings, in essence the basic element is the same: it's about human interaction, and since humans are imperfect, our online interaction is going to involve flaws and challenges.

But that shouldn't prevent us from engaging with others, because there's a wealth of knowledge we can gain from interacting with fellow hobbyists, whether they be playing card collectors or magicians. My own experience with The Magic Cafť has been positive overall. Even though occasionally you can find yourself in the middle of a war of words, it's no different than what you'll find anywhere else online.

More importantly, being on The Magic Cafť has allowed me to learn from experienced magicians, ask questions, share advice, and that's been an enormous help to me in my own development and growth as an amateur magician. So thank you Steve for doing this interview and for sharing your perspectives on magic, and thanks for the blessing you been to thousands of magicians around the world who drop in regularly at The Magic Cafť!

Where to learn more? Check out the official website: The Magic Cafť
- Learn more about the Magic Cafť: Welcome Message, FAQ, Rules & Etiquette, Forums
- The Magic Cafť on social media: Twitter, Facebook
- Steve Brooks on social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn
- Our previous Steve Brooks interview: On playing cards and collecting


Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
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Since I did this interview, Steve Brooks' family has gone through some very hard times. There's more information on the following page, which was posted by his nieces:
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