Everything Is Funnier With Monkeys by Doc Dixon

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii May, 1996)

Doc Dixon is a full-time professional close-up and platform magician who works in both the comedy club market as well as in corporate venues. I first heard of him a couple of years ago when I had the opportunity to see him lecture and showcase in a local comedy club. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of his two sets of lecture notes, which led to my reviewing them here, and which in turn led to his publishing an excerpt in these pages, an essay entitled "Can You Do It For Drunk People?" ( Genii , September and October 1995, respectively.) Since that time, Mr. Dixon has appeared at a handful of magic conventions, and has now combined and added to his previous literary output with the release of this more ambitious volume. A portion of the material here is repeated from those previous manuscripts, but there is much that is new and all of it deserves decidedly wider distribution.

The 31 items cover a mixed bag of essays, tricks, gags and bits which come from, as the author writes in his introduction, his work "as a full-time magic entertainer or in (his) social life as a part-time goofy guy." The bulk of the material is comprised of 18 card items and eight essays, with the remainder including tricks and gags with coins, pretzels, bills and other miscellany. While there is much commentary on stand-up performance and comedy, along with a few gags appropriate to platform settings, the bulk of the routines here are intended for close-up performance. Mr. Dixon appears to be a well-read and reasonably sophisticated cardician, and so there are a couple of items here that require intermediate to advanced skills, but the majority of the routines will be comfortably within the reach of the average practitioner.

In the trick department, the first routine, Underhanded Ambition, is a simple but very effective handling for a signed, folded card to card case. Following this, or perhaps included with this, is a terrific item entitled Trippin', or perhaps it's Clippin'—oh, I get it now, it's called Trip to the Clip—okay, this book won't win any awards for clarity of organization—anyway, in which a signed card appears folded and clipped in the magician's money clip. Don't confuse this with a rather pedestrian commercially marketed version of this effect from a couple of years ago. Mr. Dixon's homemade gaff is very easily prepared, the effect is convincing, the handling simple, and the clip will not only hold your money in day-to-day usage, but in a normal, folded-in-half position, unlike the somewhat deceptively advertised commercial version (which Mr. Dixon's version precedes, by the way). I like this.

Watch This is a nifty and unusual effect in which the spectator's signed selection transposes with a card placed face-outward under the magician's watch band. Clean is a nice little gambling trick inspired by Darwin Ortiz's routine, Mr. Lucky, but that can be performed "standing in the middle of a cocktail party without a working surface," and requires no difficult switches or holding out (i.e., long-term palming). Crook Book is a bit of silliness that might appeal to some, in which a spectator's card is revealed via a "pop-up" included in the book—and so, the book not only contains tricks, it kinda sorta is a trick. Carpe Cojones (there is no extra charge for these titles) is a routine in which the magician predicts in writing not only the card a spectator will select, but the month the spectator was born in and their favorite Beatle. Yes, you read that correctly. This one will take some work in the preparation and thinking departments, but then this is not the kind of effect you come across every day.

An item laughingly entitled Brad Pit is a strategy, both psychological and technical, for dealing with a spectator who insists on burning your hands in an obvious and perhaps even obnoxious fashion. Properly applied—which will demand some performance and social skills along with the necessary mechanical ones—this should enable you to secretly palm the card off of the deck, invite the spectator to join you in a bit of shuffling, and then regain control of the card with which you may conclude as is your wont. Also included here is an item entitled Jaws, an immensely practical but minimal modification for easily enabling a Kaps/Balducci-style wallet to function as a Washington card-in-envelope wallet. Working pros will appreciate this one. Ditto in the case of Reshuffled, an idea for Paul Gertner's well-known Unshuffled, intended to reset the trick automatically with each performance. Those who do the trick should find that a thought-provoking, not to mention eminently useful, idea.

While the above does not cover all the card material, those are the standout items in my estimation. Having said that, if your tastes range to the silly and beyond, then there is every chance I may have skipped over what could turn out to be your favorite item. And if your tastes reach to the weird and/or disgusting—and I know you're out there—there are some non-card items here that you'll probably love, including (in a section appropriate titled Socially Unacceptable) the worm from mouth, the snake from a child's nose, and a fine men's room sight gag from Steve Beam. There's also a version of Mike Close's Pothole trick entitled Potholio, and if you get the title (heh, heh) then you may be just the type who will like the sight gag included therein.

"You cannot take responsibility for the opinions, viewpoints and attitudes you project in a performance. You cannot take responsibility because you already have it. This responsibility is a big one. It is felt not only in the area of comedy, but in every facet of performance—from the shine on your shoes to the words you use. You can deny you have responsibility, but denial does not equal fact."—Doc Dixon, Everything is Funnier With Monkeys

Also in the non-card department is the transposition of a bill and a playing card, based upon Roger Klause's Name Remains the Same; a not-really-impromptu-but-you- pretend-it-is sort of effect (in other words, impromptu in the Michael Weber sense) involving a torn bill and a gumball machine; the location of a freely selected and marked pretzel; and a lovely routine with one of "those little folded-up paper thingies we all had in elementary school."

On to the essays, which are easily as valuable as the tricks, if not more so. The aforementioned Can You Do It For Drunk People? is a detailed argument for the importance of clarity in your magic. Memories addresses the significance of the audience's experience of a magician's performance, and, even more importantly according to the author, the audience's memory of that experience. In Real Estate, the author discusses the fact that there is no shortage of self-styled experts in magic who are too stupid to grasp the concept that some magicians can perform in more than one style and market, and that just because you once read the words "comedy club" or "bar magic" in connection with a given magician does not mean that same magician doesn't regularly and successfully work in corporate and/or family settings. (Well, that's not exactly what he says—his point is also about how one routine or performance style may be ideal for certain situations and not ideal for others—but both issues are in fact addressed, and they are valid ones at that.) In a companion piece entitled Words Have Meaning, Mr. Dixon further explores the subject of different performance styles, and the important need for sensitivity in all approaches, but particularly in comedic, aggressive, and other risk-taking styles. Wacked continues in related manner by addressing the risks and benefits of ad-libbing and spontaneous humor; along with Yuks, an essay about comedy, both offer thought-provoking and valuable advice for those who think that comedy is easy and dying is hard. Ethics Schmethics provides a sample invoice to be tendered to SOBs ("Stealers Of your Best" in the words of the author) who take material that doesn't belong to them. Throughout these and other essays, Mr. Dixon presents a refreshingly no-nonsense, real-world point of view that never sacrifices artistic principles in the name of pragmatism.

The author is thorough and diligent in his crediting, with the occasional error cropping up through little or no fault of his own. The torn-corner bill handling he credits to Paul Gertner is indeed described in Mr. Gertner's excellent book, Steel and Silver, but that book unfortunately overlooked the fact that the handling in question is in fact the excellent creation of Scott York. And Mr. Dixon repeats a mistaken credit of my own inadvertent doing, namely crediting the Fred Kaps card-in-container to Bruno Hennig, an error in the published record for which I am unfortunately responsible and have been attempting to clear up for some time (see Genii , June 1994 for further details on this). These clarifications are not in any way criticisms of Mr. Dixon's work; on the contrary, his efforts and success in the area of credit history should serve as a model for all aspiring authors. (Except that Erika is spelled with a "k.")

While Mr. Dixon's book contains some good tricks and some funny gags, above all it offers some eye-opening ideas and arguments that will no doubt be new to many readers, especially valuable to the legions of magicians who waste their own and their audiences' time trying to be funny, without benefit of knowing the first thing about how serious a task and how difficult a challenge it is to be professionally funny in any form. The author explains his intentions in writing the book in his introduction, including his view of the book as a performance, and his desire to entertain as well as edify the reader. These and others are all worthy goals, but some may chafe at the author's definition of "entertainment," at least in book form. I too prefer a book to be entertaining, but like magic, books needn't be funny to entertain. I was engaged and entertained by Mr. Dixon's ideas and point of view, while I was sometimes less than entertained by his attempts to joke me to death. A spoonful of sugar can make the medicine go down, but sometimes it can also just make you gag. Then again, comedy is like that; your laugh mileage may vary.

Some may find the price tag a bit steep at forty dollars. The production quality is in the decidedly desktop publishing range, with some extra effort clearly taken in the design format and clearly disregarded in the no more than passable quality of the illustrations and the barely adequate quantity of same. The odd paper choice-white with multi-colored flecks—will clearly expose any dastardly photocopy pirates, but is one I find to be distracting. These are the kinds of production flaws that are perfectly acceptable in the lecture-note, ten-to-twenty dollar market, but up in this range I confess that I start to squirm a bit when we are asked to pay the same or more than the price of a hardcover production. Michael Close has hit this price with some of the superb Workers series, but his production values have been impeccable, a standard which Mr. Dixon is not quite up to. Nevertheless, given the density of ideas and the usefulness of the material, combined with the distinctiveness of the author's voice (a voice that is occasionally just a bit too satisfied with itself, it must be noted) I must in the end say that readers would be far better spending their hard-earned on this thoughtful and sometimes provocative book, rather than the latest bit of tranquilizing video eye candy. (Would-be authors asking these kinds of prices for this kind of production should not expect a free pass in the future, but rather an extremely close eye-balling.)

As for the title, you'll have to read the book, and carefully at that, to try to figure it out. But while things may be funny with monkeys, as my friend Barry Marx would have said, "There's nothing funnier than a smokin' monkey."

8 - 1/2" X 11" comb bound; 107 pp.; 1997; 50 illustrations; Publisher: Doc Dixon