You Can't Steal My Act

By Mark James - Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Ten years ago I asked a question and two of my heroes answered. It’s taken me a decade to work out what they meant.

As many of you will know, the world’s biggest magic convention takes place each year in an English seaside town called Blackpool. Over a single weekend, 3500 magicians get together to cram themselves into a Victorian theatre complex (although the theatre as it stands now was rebuilt in 1910) for the greatest weekend of their (our*) sad little lives.

Mark James magician

We talk about magic, watch lectures, moan about the quality of the gala shows and hug people we barely know because we all like the same thing and we haven’t seen them in a year. It’s the best!

Occasionally there are splinter events that coincide with the magic convention but aren’t necessarily part of it. It is at one of these events that the following story takes place.

Paul Stone produced a show called ‘Variety Live’ which featured some of my favourite acts. I still have the poster for that show in a frame on the wall of my office. Imagine my glee when I heard that a Q&A was arranged for those who wished to attend the following day. I went along and sat in awe listening to Charlie Frye, Jeff Hobson, Ben Stone, Wally Eastwood & Rob Torres (sadly no longer with us) talking about this art which I love.

When given the opportunity to ask a question, I’d been curious about how well-known acts felt about the theft of material. Ten years ago I was just trying to make a name for myself (very little changes) and felt worried that if I ever did think of something original, somebody would just come along and steal it. So, I asked whether or not they worried too.

Charlie Frye, who just happens to be one of the hardest working most technically proficient artists in the world of comedy, magic and juggling said ‘If you have the ability to steal my act, you’re welcome to it’. We all laughed.

Jeff Hobson said that you could steal his act, but it wouldn’t work for you, because you wouldn’t know the decision-making process behind it and that it would ultimately just look like a badly fitting shirt.

Then just a couple of weeks ago, I happened to be in the company of another act whose work I enjoy and admire. The Swedish magician Charlie Caper. His act is funny, fast-paced and very visual. It’s filled with running jokes, one of which involves the continual disappearance of his bow tie (from around his neck) and subsequent reappearance in all sorts of places. It’s neat because you never notice it’s gone until you see him pulling it from a card box or hat. It was in this moment I worked out the answers I’d heard a decade earlier.

You could steal one of Charlie’s tricks except:

  • It wouldn’t truly work unless you stole the whole act because of layered running jokes.
  • His material is very technically challenging and requires a LOT of practice.
  • He 3D prints, builds and customises all of his own props which is beyond the skillset of most people.
  • All of the tricks are character driven and don’t fit other performers.

By working hard, being original, thinking of each trick as a piece in a longer story, making the tricks technically challenging, building everything from scratch and being true to himself, Charlie has made every piece in his act almost impossible to steal. You could say his words, learn his moves and try, but you still wouldn’t be him. It would only ever feel like a cheap knockoff, even to people who hadn’t seen or heard of the original.

So, I suppose my conclusion here is that if you do steal my material, it’s my own fault.

I should’ve worked harder.

Reader comments:


Sunday, 26 May 2019 19:38 PM - Reply to this comment

Exactly! Long ago a friend would not perform at club shows because he worried that he'd be "ripped off." As patiently as I could, I explained that I could teach him my show: trick for trick, move for move, and line for line, but he couldn't "steal" my act, because it was/is my act. If it's your act no one can steal it because they are not you and you can't be stolen!

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