My Favorite Card Tricks: Harrison Greenbaum
By Alex Robertson - Thursday, January 23, 2020
We asked some of magic's greatest minds to share with us their favorite card tricks. This week is the turn of Harrison Greenbaum. You may know him from America's Got Talent, Conan, or Last Comic Standing. Over to Harrison:
My Three Favorite Card Tricks
Always honored to be asked to do, well, basically anything, so here are my favorite three cards tricks:
- Anything but a card trick
Card tricks make up close to 95% of the close-up magic performed today and close to 0% of the close-up magic audiences enjoy. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t perform any card tricks, but at least take a second to consider how much playing cards have come to dominate our art form. Think about non-magicians: how often does anyone actually encounter, let alone use, a deck of cards in their normal, non-magic life? About as often as magicians encounter exercise equipment, which is to say, almost never.
Magicians always like to claim they love playing cards because they’re so versatile, that they’re essentially the Swiss Army knife of magic. And playing cards are very similar to Swiss Army knives, in that most people own one or two tops, keep them locked away in a junk drawer, and the only people who actually carry them around are old white men and weird teenagers.
Regular people don’t use cards regularly, unless they’re sad gambling addicts or retirement home bridge players. So unless your main audience is senior citizens or senior citizens, have you ever asked yourself why you use cards so much? If you’re aiming for maximum astonishment, shouldn’t you focus on making magic with things non-magic people actually use in their everyday life? Objects like cell phones, food, or condoms? (You’re a magician, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it about the regular use of the last one.)
- No, seriously, literally anything but a card trick
Most of the time, when people try to invest artistic meaning into a card trick, they add some ridiculous story on top of a pre-defined plot. Ambitious Card becomes a metaphor for a person’s striving to be on top; Twisting the Aces becomes a metaphor for a person’s striving to stand out in a crowd; and Cannibal Cards is racist.
You can’t make art by taking something that already exists and trying to layer a half-baked analogy on top of it. Real artists start with an idea and then turn to technique to express that idea. If you start with someone else’s card trick and then try to make it art, you’re not making art: you can do a Paint-by-Number of a clown, hang it up, and then tell anybody who listens that the reason you did it was to get over your fear of clowns, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s not art, it’s not yours, and it’s not surprising that no one wants a second date after discovering there’s a shitty painting of a clown on your bedroom ceiling.
- Vernon’s Variant by Dai Vernon
Just kidding! Card tricks still kinda suck! But that doesn’t mean that learning them is a complete waste of time. (Unlike writing blog posts for free, which almost certainly is.) The concepts and techniques behind any magician’s favorite card tricks can be applied to objects that have a lot more relevance to you personally, things like postcards, credit cards, trading cards, flashcards, recipe cards, driver’s licenses, dollar bills… Start with an idea (something with emotional resonance and deep meaning to you) and let it guide you to the props. And then begin to think about if there’s a concept, technique, or method you’ve picked up from studying card tricks that you can apply to magically express that idea. Whatever you end up with will not only be more unique and resonate better with your audience, but will be infinitely better than any regular old card trick.
Except for MacDonald’s Aces. That trick is a goddamn masterpiece.
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