The Insider | Brad Henderson

By Damian Jennings - Monday, March 4, 2019


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Welcome. Another Monday, another edition of The Insider.

This week our guest is Brad Henderson. A person that gets annoyed a lot on the internet. And someone that actually thinks about magic. A magician, hypnotist, mentalist and collector of really weird "stuff".

Probably the most theory-centric episodes of the show to date, but that's what's gonna happen when you interview someone that actually thinks about their magic!

You can keep up with Brad on his Instagram page.

The audio is a bit different this week because this episode was recorded live at Magifest 2019. I let Brad have my nice mic. Hope it still sounds OK!

Transcript of the podcast

John Archer Hello this is John Archer comedy magician and ukulele aficionado. Moving close because I've got some exciting news for you. Yes Collard 2 with extra added vitamin B12 is out now and it could be yours. Imagine this you explain to the audience that you need them to come up with a unique name for your newly found fluffy furry friend. So lettter by letter they create a unique name topped off with an official naming ceremony. But wait, what's that around fluffy's neck. Yes it's a name tag and written clearly on it is the name that the audience has just created. That's it. Call it to get it now from Vanishing Inc. Oh and I lied about the vitamin B12.

The Insider Hello and welcome to this week's episode of the inside a special edition recorded at magic fest with Mr. Brad Henderson. Brad how are you this afternoon. I'm well how are you sir. I am delicious. Thank you very much for asking. This is a 30 minute show so we keep it tight. So we're just gonna crack on. What's your origin story. You have 57 seconds.

Brad Henderson Ever since I was a kid I was fascinated by things that blurred the line between real and impossible so Loch Ness monster, Big Foot, Witchcraft, secret societies, magic. Aliens should have been in that group but it just wasn't. So of all those things the only thing I can get my hands on was magic. So magic books. My mom bought me a two dollar magic set from a garage sale. She said it was the most expensive to our magic kit she ever bought but I could get my hands on magic and play with that kind of stuff and I've always been fascinated by that liminal space between. Oh this is real and oh this isn't real.

The InsiderThat was good and less than 50 seconds. Thank you. Well now I know that we both agree that everybody pretty much has enough tricks and what interests me is your call to arms or challenged to get people to think more. So talk to me about what do you what you mean.

Brad HendersonWell I think Magic is such a profound I think Magic is an art. Magic is definitely an art. And it has the potential of depth that the greatest arts have. I mean when we have an experience that's transformative. What word do we use. We call it magic. But what we really mean is magical. We call magic or magical which means that the pinnacle of an artistic experience is what is the waters in which we swim. So I think magic can be so much more than it is. And that requires thinking more beyond the tricks and the moves if it comes to an understanding of one water is it we're trying to accomplish simple things. Well there are many answers. The important thing is to ask the question and find an answer and I don't believe many magicians have ever thought there is a question other than what can I buy next. So I don't want to say it's dangerous when you have conversations like this because so many of us take these things very personally that people assume that we're always talking in a hierarchy. When

Brad HendersonWhen we say well this is different than this that we're saying this is better than this. And that's not true. Things can be different and not better. So somebody's job interest in magic might be just to please themselves because they like the thrill of figuring out puzzles and technical achievement. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's not better or worse than any other reason some people might want to use magic as a way to make money and they see it and immerse a mercenary censors nothing wrong with that approach. History is filled with people who do that. But the choice. And then there are people who might want to be great artists whatever that means we can talk about that who want to transform the way people see the world and have them call into question things. That's also a very valid approach. But the point is different intentions require different approaches. And until you clarify what it is that you personally want to accomplish with magic it you it's very hard to come up with any sort of plan or any sort of process or any way to evaluate what you've done. So the first step in magic and I mean no mystery school guy No no no I'm not allowed to tell this but I think it's been enough years. But one of the things we learned is the first secret of magic the first rule of magic is intention. If you don't have intention you can't realize anything until otherwise you're just guessing and the intention goes on many levels. I have to have my intention as a performer what do I want to create what do I want and my belief is the first call of that what you have to have before you can even have an intention is engagement on all levels. You have to be engaged in the process you have to ask these questions. You have to have your audience engaged. When people say oh the goal of magic is entertainment that's a stupid thing to say. I'm not saying that entertainment is not a good goal. But the problem is entertainment as a word is a terrible word because it implies reality and amusement and diversion. But I can go to a movie like Schindler's List which can transform how I see the world. But that movie is not entertaining. We can say movies are about entertainment but Schindler's List is not entertainment. Great artworks Guernica is not entertainment but what it is is it's engaging. So we have to have engagement and once we have engagement then we can realize whatever intent we want and if we want our intent to be entertainment that's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. But entertainment is not the only goal. And it's not the deepest goal. And again just because I'm saying something is deep and superficial doesn't mean one's better than the other because sometimes a superficial experience is the perfect experience for what we need and what we want with this group at this time for what they need and what they want. But the way I accomplish that will be different than if my goals are different. So I have to have intention and I have to have the engagement my engagement and answering the questions and the audience engagement so I can hopefully convey my intention because if I don't have their engagement I can't entertain them. If I don't have their engagement I can't move them. If I don't have their engagement I cannot teach them without engagement you have nothing.

The InsiderSo how does a younger person just getting into magic start to figure out what their engagement is. That seems like a really difficult thing to do.

Brad HendersonYes it's like asking who you are you know it's like asking a 14 year old who are you. Well a 14 year old might not know who they are and that's OK because you know we go to school because we're just learning the tools of navigating the world around us.

Brad HendersonAnd being asked questions and who I was 10 years ago and who I will be 10 years from now I had different goals then I different my level of engagement and how I engaged was different. So there's it's it's less that there there's a pattern or a solution I can give you. But what we can often do is is get us to start considering questions that can help us start to discovery these things for ourselves. But if I were a young person that could first start is why do I want to do this.

Is it because it makes me feel good that there's nothing wrong with that but are you doing that at the expense of others.

Is it because you feel good because you like giving people something and you like that appreciation. Is it because you you know there are many ways that you can feel good about things.

The InsiderThere's the whole conceit that is there and the real thing says is altruism. Are you just doing it as every altruistic act isn't because you enjoy the feeling of giving.

Brad HendersonAbsolutely. Absolutely. And then there's another level and it's funny I was talking to my friend Shane Cobalt about this today and we both kind of agreed what he came up separate and this is something. Then there are people who do it because they love magic you know they want to elevate magic. I love magic. And the reason I do magic is because I want people to care about magic. Now that makes me feel good because I. But I love magic. But and but I I'm personally want everything that I do to reflect positively on magic.

It bothers me when I see so many of these projects that come out today and videos and things or whatever. So often it seems that people are using magic for their own purpose to glorify themselves as opposing to using themselves to glorify magic. OK. Now again if you know there's this has been done for years and you know lots of people have used magic for their own personal ends you know who am I to go against history but might me personally because I love magic so much. And this is part of the reason I get so many fights with people and it is because it's not because yeah it's because I care and because I know we can do so much and I know that so many of us can do so much better because I was the fallen center right. I was an awful magician and I hated it. And if I could overcome my stupidity and limitations and lack of vision anybody can.

The InsiderIs it not subjective? How do you define elevating magic? I mean if I go out and do a gig and I do I did it as an experiment once I did the whole gig and there's nothing wrong with either of these tricks. I did sponge bunnies and I did invisible deck. And that was it possibly I did them in a lovely way my charming British you know what have you but it was l elevating anything?.

Brad HendersonI love you. Yes. You could have though you're confusing means with ends. You're confusing paint with the painting the invisible deck the sponge bunnies they're the paints how we get people to feel about them that's the result I can do the sponge balls and make you feel like an idiot who's a human prop that's repetitive and boring and anticlimactic and you'll leave going magic socks but somebody can do a sponge ball routine and somebody can legitimately go that's the greatest thing I've ever seen in my life. That person has elevated magic. Even if the story while telling his ancient right boy meets girl who you know how many times his Romeo and Juliet been OK but there are ways to do it that make people feel better now. To me all art forms comes down to the feeling full response that we convey and we feel so I think in magic we spend so much time trying to come up with new ways of doing the same tricks that don't change the feeling for response except for the people who already know how the trick has done right. I've got a new invisible deck I can show on both sides right. Well that's only relevant if you already know the trick. So the only thing you hope to get is more puzzlement and puzzlement is is is a very superficial feeling and often a negative feeling. People don't always like to feel puzzled. But if I can do the invisible deck and make you feel about either this trick or about life in a way you've never felt before. That's an artistic that's an artistic experience.

The InsiderBut do you think an audience needs a certain level of education to be able to understand that. I think most people could go and just do the simplest like a two sponge thing once in my hand once in your hand. They can see the audience member can still think that that is almost a stillness if they've never seen that before. Yeah and they haven't seen much close up magic.

So let's say two magicians a magician a magician B let's call them Mr. thinker and Mr. Non thinker. Okay.

And they could both do the sponge balls the exact same moves the exact same a fact phenomenon but depending on their attitude and their presentation and their framing and how they smell. You know one person could lead going I love magic I can't wait to see another trick and another group could leave going Don't ever make me sit through that again. It's not the trick.

The trick is irrelevant. The trick is the paint. Right. It's that what matters is all these other elements that we uniquely possess because of who you are and your accent your personality and your experience. You can convey something by you doing a trick everyone else has done that will automatically be different than if I did the exact same thing even with the same words. All right. So this points to one of the greatest failures we have in magic.

The reason we often decide to do a trick is because we like the way that trick made us feel. Absolutely. So if I see you do a trick and I like the way it makes you feel or maybe if I'm a little high minded I might think I would want to make my audiences feel that way. If I go and I take that trick and I try to do it the way you do it I will never convey that same feeling because there are so many variables that are unique to me that are going to color and influence that. That net feeling. So replication is a path to failure. So the whole karaoke magician thing in that karaoke magician thing is for someone who cares more about their pleasure than their audiences.

The InsiderI think you could say a lot of magicians care more about their pleasure than their audience.

Brad HendersonBut there's a difference I think between you know not this is unfair because I don't really know the art of karaoke so I don't want to make a comparison and have somebody who actually you know there could be a very artistic side of a karaoke. Right. But the point is if we're conveying feelings to our audience and we are if I want to convey this feeling that I had and I try to do it by copying everything I see this other person do Oh I will not convey that feeling because there are too many variables that are different. Now if I like the feeling this conveys well then I'm going to have to figure out well I'm gonna have to start out with the trick and I have to start with me and I have to make choices based on that and to try to take something you've already seen and work it. So you get to the same place. It's actually easier to start with something new and that's something you created new. But another trick Oh I like the way this I'd like this concept I'm one export I think one of the most brilliant things ever said was said by teller which is hate breeds more good art than love. Because if I see something I like and I copy it I'm producing something that's similar that's an in artistic action. No you're right. But if I see something I hate. Yeah yeah. And that encourages me to create something different. I'm not I won't necessarily be good. Good is a subjective thing. We can discuss later but it will be different. And that is critical to the aesthetic artistic process unless you hear the after it your artistic statement is about replication. Okay. Right. Because you could you know there is that whole Andy Warhol part you know. But but we. You're not andy warhol. I'm not Andy Warhol. I don't you know I would love to see the SpongeBob equivalent of the Campbell's soup can. You know I put I put that challenge out there. Nothing would make me happier to see that than sit to see that. So what makes a great artist pain. Dis ease. Being uncomfortable not being satisfied.

Brad HendersonI found this incredibly pretentious email I wrote when I was in my graduate school and it's written like a very you know like a stone philosophy student who is you know but but but but it wasn't. I mean this was just the way it was at that time and it was it was me playing the languishing tortured artist card. Oh the powers of creation are so strong and the response. All of these things are true. It's just the way I was expressing it was a little overwrought but there's no point to create unless you feel driven. You know Adam Rubin was talking about the years he spent. I was actually one of his first magic teachers and he was talking about these projects that he's created and some of them he worked years and years and it's hard work. Creativity is not necessarily fun. You know there has to be something that motivates you beyond just the pleasure of it all because the moment you get the point of pleasure that you haven't achieved the point of work and you can't really do anything great unless you're willing to work in what you're willing to be critical unless you're willing to say you know my biggest my first real advance in magic came after in college I did several shows that were awful awful awful awful. I think of them to an embarrassing somebody has a video of one of these out there. I will and it's all I'll say off of off awful. But that forced me that feeling that disappointment that I was letting Magic down that I was letting myself down that I was letting my audiences down forced me to completely rethink what I did. And that. Took me through various acts not you know it's not like I made the right decisions or you know I went on my bizarre magic kick after that I went from being goofy basically glorified kid's show jokey magician to very serious. Brad you know OK here's a here's an twelve minutes story worth it concludes with something moving mysteriously by the use of a black thread and then and but people would say oh but we miss the fun we miss the smile. I had a student who said you know you know when we miss the smile being in your act when you gonna bring the smile back. But I couldn't because I was fighting this triviality trivialization of match but it's goofy and trivial.

The InsiderThe same thing because you're not going to you're not going to tell me that Williamson isn't an amazing magician.

Brad HendersonNo I'm not. But if you look goofy...it took me a long time to realize where the real power of the magic was. You can be goofy and you can be funny and I think surprisingly for a lot of people when they see me perform they're surprised at how how funny I am and how how kind of goofy I am. But that's because I had to deal with my own issues.

The InsiderSo it's almost like you're doing the lousy shows after college tearing it down going through the bizarre thing tearing that down.

Brad Henderson****Brad HendersonThat's right. Yeah. It's a process. I was like OK. So that feeling that the problem wasn't that being goofy and funny it was. Other things. And I had to go through this process to realize I was running away from the wrong thing. I was running away from a stylistic choice.

The InsiderSo is this just then a time thing? So there's a young magician in his teens or her teens listening to this and thinking about and they've got you know they've got Card College and they've got a couple of trick decks they haven't got anything to tear down.

So is it just a is it is that when you're young though when you're young it's about absorption. You know I think you should learn everything you can get great established books from well vetted great magicians of the past and just pick tricks and learn the tricks. I once had two guys when it became a very famous Internet magician that knew me went when they were young and they said we're smart guys teach us techniques teach us techniques and we'll create our own tricks and all the tricks they created were crap because it was like saying we want to be poets just teach us the definitions of words right. Right. There's real value in just taking a book like the brother John Hammon book, one of the old John Bannon books or Harry Lorrayne book and picking a trick working on it doing it without you know as many times as you can and then putting away during the next hour for some will stick with you. But what you're learning is you're learning these skills. Watch other magicians not to copy them but to find out not only what you'd like but what you don't like and then make choices and try them out and be open to change. But no you have to you have to get to the point where magic is hard right. It's hard enough to do the moves. It's hard enough to say the words it's hard enough to do the moves while you're saying the words. It's hard enough to do the moves while saying the words why you're sounding conversational not like a used car salesman. It's hard enough to do the moves by saying the words while trying to not sell like car salesmen by being aware of everything in the room around you and how that's affecting your performance and then making choices. Magic is hard. So for me Magic has been uncovering layers both outwardly and inwardly. First you learn how to do this and then now you're working that second layer. Now you're performing on that third layer and now you're performing at multiple levels at one that takes time and that takes practice and what I would say is to a kid.

Don't rush don't rush. A magician is a lifetime quest.

Being a magician is not even even an hour fantastical wizardry versions. Nobody starts out as a great wizard. You start out as the incompetent wizard and you learn these skills. You can't be a real magician overnight and there's no rush. Unfortunately because the means of disseminating information with you know it started out when printing became cheap. Start out when video became cheap and now that the Internet we have the means and distribution that are well democratized. There are good things that come with that and also in magic because so much of fame and magic and clout and status is dependent on how many people bought your products and know who you are. Right. So we have this whole everyone's dying to release a product. You know you kids people been in magic 2 years who are working on their lecture. No. Shut up.

The Insider Shut up shut up and listen.

Right. You know when Eugene started writing you know he would have these little philosophy sections and they were there were unusual to have sections on philosophy and then you know every everybody had their artist's statement. And I'm like unless you're old enough and experienced enough to have woken up and gone should it burn like this. You do not have enough life experience to have an artistic philosophy.

Well and it's okay it's okay to be an apprentice it's okay to be a student. It's okay to be who you are and where you are because it will help other people help you.

The InsiderAnd do you think it was the Mystery School stuff that helped.

Brad Henderson It was a huge part of it for me now. I was going back in the old days when we were you know drumming around a fire and even though there weren't any goats it wouldn't have been unexpected had there been you know. So I got different than what Jeff is doing today although what he's doing today is very strong and very powerful but that was all part of my exploration of why am I doing this what's worthwhile about this why is this important. So many people I'm not a magician I'm a I'm an entertainer on a sleight of hand artist I'm a blah blah blah.

The InsiderIt's like it's embarrassing.

Brad Henderson That's exactly it.

And one of the great advancements in my modern growth is owning I not only am I a magician I am a real magician and I defy anyone to doubt that you have a book coming out.

Yes it's a book it's called 13 Card Tricks of Varying Degrees of Difficulty With Lessons Derived From Each.

The InsiderWhat's the hashtag going to be.

Brad HendersonYeah we'll have to figure that out but the the cover is all the big words and then the spine is And Lessons Derived From Each.

Because that to me is where the value is. So what I wanted to do is the card tricks are find the great card trick some of them are really if I quite say brilliant card tricks. But the card tricks aren't what I feel is really a value. It's what I'm trying to communicate with them to magicians. How do you invent a magic trick. How often have people asked that we're in the literature does it really show you what the process of inventing magic tricks is. So I talk about what was I thinking about what was I studying. Where did this idea come from. How did I try to do this what worked what didn't work why didn't it work what am I happy with. Are there still only problems with it. What are some interesting lessons that I've learned over the years either from the structure of the trick or from the performance of the trick. Mike I don't want people to do my tricks. I just did a lecture for Penguin I'll put that shameless plug in there and you know I I really don't want people to do the tricks on it not because they're mine or special or whatever. Del Rey told me once magic should be unique by definition and the moment they made people see other magicians see other magicians do the same thing. It turns us from being special into a commodity. Now we can have the argument how many people have this experience that's irrelevant. The point is if they do have that experience and they can see us doing the same thing one I'm putting myself in a position where I'm automatically inviting comparison so so and if I want to be a magician you know if other you know that that kind of advice you're doing it better than anyone else that can work to your detriment and to I don't want to be a commodity I want to deliver on this special thing. Now the secret to this and here's the big secret is it's not about necessarily doing the same tricks although problem is there are some things that are so familiar that that becomes an obstacle. It's making people feel the same way with the same tricks.

The InsiderSo is this stuff you go into in the book.

Brad Henderson It will be, absolutely. I go into the download thing as well. But to me these are the things that are interesting now in the card book. This is a little bit more. There are some things like that will address that but but this is more structure of magic and performance choices and and less into the real theory stuff that we've kind of been talking about here. I just wanted to write up some card tricks to get some practice writing again. And of course I can't just do that because to me putting out just more card tricks is kind of like selling out and just there's no interest in me. I don't I don't I don't feel the world is better by having 12 more card tricks even if they're good card 13 card tricks whatever it is. But if I can get people to think start thinking about their magic and thinking a little further or thinking a little deeper or thinking a little differently or like I said just thinking at all. I think that is is for the benefit of all of us. Even if they decide to do things that I hate because as long as it's intentional I don't like salads. I'm not a vegetable eater you can look at a picture of me and you know that I'm not lying but I don't discount the fact that there isn't someone out there who makes the world's greatest salad. So just as I hate it doesn't mean anything. Jack Goldfinger it's a great line. He says it's it's foolish to talk about good and bad magicians because good and bad is a matter of taste. We should talk about skilled and unskilled magicians. All right. Does this person have a conception is he or she actively creatively doing something to convey that in the way that they intend then that person is a skilled magician regardless of what I feel about their message regardless of what I feel about their magic. I can acknowledge greatness and that requires intention which requires answering questions which requires asking questions which requires understanding that there are questions which loops it perfectly back to the beginning of the conversation.

The InsiderIf people are listening to this and like the idea of thinking about that magic where can they find out more about you.

Brad Henderson Jeez I don't know.

The InsiderSocial media?

Brad Henderson Yeah yeah. Oh yeah. I have an Instagram which is Austin magician. I have a Facebook page but I don't talk much about Facebook. Magic on that Facebook page. No. It's more political abuse that I put out but that's part of me. I love arguing, right. I argue with religious people and conservatives. It's not necessarily to change their minds because maybe they're open to it maybe they're not. It's really to test my ideas. I'm hoping that they can knock down these ideas like I do with other people's theories because if you can get me to question then I can go back and refine my thinking and get closer to the truth of whatever this idea I'm trying to express. When I was at the University of Chicago I was like Rush Limbaugh I'm actually very Conservative. And they hated me there and we're battling and whatever but you know what if they were to meet me today they'd be like Who was this guy. And it's partly it's in large part because they did manage to convince me but I just the way I think in the way I approach I can't I can't do it just like this. I it has to be this this negative confrontational paring down that's just my process and it works for me. It's not necessary the happiest life when everything that you experience your order always picking apart. When I see my son do the same things I'm like Come on man just enjoy it. But I'm like he got all of this from me.

But the good news is it is effective.

There's a price to pay but I'm okay with paying that price because I want to help make magic better.

The Insider Brad Henderson, thank you very much indeed for your time. It was a pleasure to see you same here as always. I look forward to getting the book when it comes out.

Brad HendersonI'll send you a copy


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