Discover more from Marty's Magic Ruseletter
Understanding the Impossible: Do That Again!
Why do people ask magicians to repeat tricks? And what should we do when someone makes this request?
Welcome to the first article in a new regular column called Understanding the Impossible. Each article will discuss an important fundamental aspect of magic technique, presentation or theory to make it easier to understand. These articles will help beginner magicians in particular.
One of the most common responses to a good magic trick is "Do that again!" or words to that effect. The accepted wisdom is always to say no. Generally speaking, it is a terrible idea to immediately repeat the same trick for the same audience (or even repeat it on the same day). Many experienced magicians, such as Swiss card expert Roberto Giobbi, consider this one of the "golden rules" of magic1. Unfortunately, this puts you in a difficult position because you're refusing what sounds like a reasonable request. This type of behaviour may be misinterpreted as rudeness.
The reason for this golden rule becomes apparent when you've been studying, practising and performing magic for a while. The first time you perform a trick, your audience looks at what you do, and the second time they look at how you do it. In other words, they're treating the trick like a puzzle and are searching for clues to help them solve it. By repeating the trick, you run the risk of somebody discovering the secret. As the old adage goes, the first time is entertainment, but the second time is education. Unfortunately, even when you perform a deceptive and entertaining routine, people will always try to figure out how it works. Problem solving is a fundamental thinking process and, for this reason, is difficult to suppress.
Why Do People Ask Magicians to Repeat Tricks?
People don't ask comedians to repeat a joke or musicians to play the same song immediately after they've just finished playing it! So why do we get asked to repeat our tricks? Magic is the only performing art with an underlying sense of adversary between the performer and the audience. This is the main reason why we get asked this question so often.
This request might also indicate that you are performing too quickly and your audience cannot understand what you're saying and doing. The solution to this is obvious: slow down!
In reality, people make this request for a variety of reasons. Often, they want to watch the trick again to try and figure out how it works. However, a lot of the time, they don't really want you to repeat the trick. The request is a strange kind of compliment and indicates that they're surprised, shocked and impressed by your magic. What they really want to say is, "Wow, that was amazing!" or "I really enjoyed that!" but their puzzle-solving brain hijacks their thought process, and they say, "Do that again!" or "How did you do that!" instead of paying you a compliment. (An alternative theory is that people may feel embarrassed to offer compliments to someone they don't know very well in public, so they fall back on something that feels more socially acceptable.)
Finally, some people enjoy the trick so much that they genuinely want to experience it again, like you might listen to a favourite song on repeat or read the same book over and over again. These people have no interest in how the trick works.
How to Deal with This Response
Once you've reached a certain level of proficiency in the performance of magic, it becomes possible for you to respond to the request by doing an effect that looks the same but uses an entirely different method. You can also perform a trick that appears similar but, in reality, is very different.
Remember, you are not a trained dog that needs to perform tricks on command. Therefore, you can say "no" at any time without giving a reason. However, if you don't want to decline directly, in an attempt to be polite, you can simply explain that you never repeat a trick and then say, "Let me show you something even better." Then proceed to do another, more impressive trick from your working repertoire.
Another practical approach is to say that you'll happily do it again, but later. Then forget about it (accidentally on purpose). Most people will forget that they made the request and won't ask again. If they do remember, you can always revert to showing them the same trick using a different method.
Humour can also help you sidestep this situation. When someone asks you to "Do that again", look them in the eye and say, "Do you like the feeling of déjà vu?" Regardless of their response, repeat the line, "Do you like the feeling of déjà vu?" Or you can say, "You know, I don't think I can. I'm experiencing déjà vu and amnesia at the same time. I think I've forgotten this trick before!"2 Alternatively, you can say, "Do it again? I would love to, but strange as it sounds, I get amnesia after every trick. Wait! Who are you? Where are we?"3 After this moment of silliness, most people will lose interest in seeing the trick again. In effect, the joke is a polite way of saying no.
If you want to continue performing, you can follow the déjà vu jokes by saying, "And now for something completely different", a phrase made famous by the British comedy troupe Monty Python. Then perform another trick, preferably with a different prop. For example, if you've just completed a card trick, and someone asks you to "Do that again", tell the déjà vu joke, then use the Monty Python line and perform your favourite sponge ball routine.
Or, you can use this amusing joke from Roberto Giobbi. First, ask them, "Do you know the Bible?" Then, regardless of their response, tell them, "Therein it says 'miracles only happen once'!"
Yet another way to deal with this issue is to learn more routines that include or allow for repetition, like Ambitious Card, Card Under Glass or Six-Card Repeat. This enables you to repeat an effect several times in front of the same audience without risking exposure. By performing tricks that are designed to be repeated, you will reduce the chance that people will ask you to "Do That Again" because, in their eyes, you've already repeated the trick many times. In fact, this principle holds true for any routine with multiple phases. People won't tend to ask you to repeat it because it isn't a singular effect.
Is There Ever a Good Reason to Repeat a Trick?
It is sensible to repeat a trick on rare occasions, but only if you're confident that the method can bear repeating. For example, sometimes, after showing someone a trick, they will go and get their friend and ask you to show them "that thing with the coin". In this situation, it might be kinder to repeat the trick. After all, the person is so enthusiastic about you and your magic that they're acting like your own personal cheerleader!
Also, some people love those sponge bunnies so much that they just want to see the trick again. So maybe it doesn't matter if they start to catch on.