Magic vs Stand up Comedy

Conjurer's Coffee Break - Episode 028


- Hello and welcome back to the podcast, where today we're exploring a topic that I've been promising to talk about for a while, and here it is: "Magic vs Stand-Up Comedy." It's a fascinating comparison to dive into, as both share the common goal of entertaining, while at the same time challenging the performer in different and often exciting ways.

- Firstly, I'll discuss the common ground. Both magic and stand-up comedy require a great deal of skill, stage presence, and an understanding of how audiences will react, which we might call audience psychology. They also both share the common feature that, for some reason, no-one wants to sit at the front!

- Once you dig deeper into the specifics, the contrasts between the two start to emerge.

- In stand-up comedy, the humour often comes from personal stories, observations, and the clever use of language. A stand-up comedian draws laughter from the audience using their clever writing, delivery and, of course, timing. There's a certain rawness to it, an intimacy established through shared experiences and as Derren Brown recently put it in his wonderful book, Notes from a Fellow Traveller, a vulnerability. After all, you're bearing your soul, often discussing your failures and flaws to generate laughter. He also highlights how that vulnerability doesn't often exist in magic. I've previously mentioned how beginner magicians often stray too far from confidence into the realm of arrogance. And once you do, it's difficult to step back over the line again.

- Magic, on the other hand, taps into a different emotional palette. It's not just about laughter, although that can certainly be an element. It's also about creating moments of surprise and amazement, of challenging perceptions, and making the impossible appear, if even for just a brief moment, possible. As a magician, you are in control of a narrative that often transcends the mundane and steps into the realm of extraordinary. Your goal is not just to entertain but also to astound.

- So, having spent some time over the last year performing stand up comedy, without any magic involved, I would like to talk just a little about the learning curve as I've seen it.

- With stand-up comedy, entering the scene is more challenging than you might think. Not only do you have to win over a room of strangers with your jokes, but the practical logistical aspects can be kinda daunting. I guess this is why I've started and quit comedy multiple times, but I've stuck with magic.

- With magic, I could experiment with a new trick on a friend at a local pub. It's casual, low-pressure, and a joy to share with others. I remember the early days of my magic career, meeting up with fellow magicians and performing for strangers. It was a weekly ritual that allowed us to grow and refine our craft together, sometimes getting ten or twelve performances in, over the course of a few hours.

- Comedy, however, is a different beast altogether. Progress in stand-up can be painstakingly slow, especially if you're only performing once a week. The most successful comedians I've encountered were on stage five to ten times a week. This relentless schedule allows for quick failure and growth, and that's something I've spoken about in a previous episode, with regards to magic, but for comedy it also demands an immense dedication that I found difficult to sustain.

- Securing a spot at a comedy club can be like a full-time job. Until you've started networking and getting known by organisers, you're trying to pull yourself up from the bootstraps. As a beginner, especially outside of major cities like London, you might find yourself applying for any and every gig, traveling hours for just a few minutes of unpaid stage time.

- While this certainly doesn't apply to every event I performed on, there were a few that felt a little exploitative to me. Promoters who would sell tickets to a Friday or Saturday night show, and give the acts nothing. I get it that we might be beginners at comedy, but we've still given up our time to be there.

- While it may be par for the course in the world of comedy, and some may argue that "if you really wanted it, you would do it," I couldn't shake the feeling that the balance was skewed heavily in favour of the promoters.

- I even tried starting my own comedy night, and I was astonished that one comedian wanted to travel three hours just for a 10-minute spot at my event. It drove home the point of how cutthroat and demanding the comedy scene can be.

- So, what's the solution here? Honestly, I don't know. The competitiveness of the stand-up world, while necessary to an extent, seems to create a culture that can be tough to navigate. Practicing at home doesn't have the same effect as live performances, and the pressure to constantly perform can become overwhelming.

- It's also worth noting that I don't believe it's my place to try to change it. I've stepped out of that realm of performing.

- What I do know is that with magic, I can help be the change I want to see, by offering support and advice through this podcast and my blog and by developing opportunities for beginner magicians to perform. In fact for my magic students I often help them to start getting real performances, and getting paid at least something for their time.

- In the end, whether it's magic or comedy, finding the right balance for your life is key. Again, this comes back to my first ever episode - what do you really want to do?

- OK, here's one final thought for this week. Perhaps one of the most significant differences between magic and comedy lies in audience expectations. When you go to a comedy show, you expect to laugh. If you don't, the comedian hasn't done their job. But with magic, audience reactions can vary wildly. Some might gasp in surprise, some might laugh, some might simply nod in appreciation. There's a broader range of 'acceptable' audience responses for magic. A friend of mine once told me that when he started doing comedy magic, he thought he could rely on the magic for all the times the comedy fell short. Through turning up and performing everyone, through many multiple performances, he discovered that great comedy magic, is like two sides of the same coin. You need comedy and magic that are both as equally as strong as each other.

- So there you have it, my initial thoughts on the contrasts and comparisons between magic and stand-up comedy. Both are incredibly rewarding, challenging, and unique in their own ways. Whether you prefer the rawness and vulnerability of stand-up comedy, the wonder and astonishment of magic, or a mix of the two, they are both powerful tools for connecting with audiences and creating unforgettable experiences.

- If you liked this episode please check out some of the previous episodes, including last week's one about writing your own material. There isn't anyone who still thinks you can 'buy a funny routine' is there? That's not comedy!

- And you can find every episode at

- Don't forget to subscribe and share the podcast with your fellow magicians and comedians.

- As ever, thanks for listening and I'll speak to you again, next week.

Additional Show Notes

Want a comedian's take on this? You might enjoy this:

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