Making Money From Magic by Drew McAdam
Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2005)
Mentalism is a growth industry today, what with birthday clowns doing the Mother of All Book Tests and 12-year-olds studying up on cold reading. Drew McAdam is here to help you quit your day job and start making major mentalist moolah. Mr. McAdam is the self-described "busiest, most in-demand and well-paid mentalist in Scotland." Then again, claims in and of themselves do not make for truth.
So if you believe those claims, you are also welcome to take his advice on how to make a living in mentalism. Well, not really mentalism, since he chooses to write the book about what he calls "mengic," a stunningly distracting bit of wordsmithery, which is a way to suggest that the book will be of equal use to magicians or mentalists wishing to sell their product.
While claiming to be a book about making money, fully half the volume is about how to think about tricks, audiences, performance character, developing repertoire, and the like. Some of the advice here is useful, but what is addressed amounts to the minimum requirements before anyone can reasonably think about selling a show. In short: you need to have a show before you can sell one. Of course, that doesn't stop a lot of people in our business, but that sad fact does not make the information any less obvious. So if you don't have an act and have no clue how to create one, the first half of this book might help move you along a bit on that path. If anything you read here is surprising to you, you have a very long way to go before you should be booking shows.
But keep in mind that even that advice is seriously flawed, because it is motivated entirely by pragmatism and not by anything remotely approaching artistic principles. Mr. McAdam's ideas about script-writing are the same as his ideas about selling: do whatever it takes to be commercial. Nowhere in his counsel does he even pause for breath to mention that art is a means of self-expression, and that presentation should reveal your personal point of view, the voice of your true self. His notions about script seem little more than just writing catchy little phrases, without investing the least hint of his genuine self (presuming he has one). The author's intention is to make a buck, not a statement, and if that's your purpose for doing mentalism, then his approach toward the creative side of the art might still be of use to you But I suggest you had better think about the why and not just the how and I hope your "why" is something other than merely paying the rent. For if it is not, I assure you that you will come off as exactly the kind of act Mr. McAdam's work is mostly likely to create: the act of an empty-headed working hack. As such, you might make a fine living many do but you will also have no shortage of competition from other creatures who, having nothing to say through their work, are indistinguishable from yourself.
Mr. McAdam's work has all the earmarks of a hack, too. He is not only too lazy to know or care much about credits, but he brags about the fact. (He paraphrases a famous phrase of Al Goshman's, and reminds us that somebody must have said this but he really doesn't have the energy to care about who it was. For the record, Albert's wonderful original and oft-repeated observation was this: "Amateurs do new tricks for old audiences. Professionals do old tricks for new audiences." Mr. McAdam also repeats the now hack-owned line: "All those who believe in telekinesis, raise my hand." The line is the creation of the brilliant comic, Emo Philips whom I believe also created believe it or not the line, "I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you." Not that I expect Mr. McAdam to care a whit about any of this information.)
But assuming you have now completed all the exercises of the first half of the book and created your perfectly colorless, conventional, commercial act, we are now ready for the second half, where we will learn to market ourselves as fresh and newborn mentalists. Right? Wrong. What we will mostly learn is how to work psychic and tarot-reading parties. Mr. McAdam has all sorts of convoluted rationales for how to ethically justify such work, but I think they can be summed up in this phrase: You can make a good buck at it. How this comports with all his disclaimers on his website about not being psychic and not claiming any paranormal powers (at the same time as offering that "one day science will have an answer" to his feats, but so far "science can't explain what I do," not to mention all his rah-rah photos with pal Uri Gelled well, suffice to say, if you can figure out where the author stands on any of these issues, you must be psychic yourself. For that matter, it might take a psychic to figure out just what Mr. McAdam does do for a living, since he can be found on the web variously as a "journalist," "copywriter," "PR specialist," and selling a book entitled, The Secrets of Writing Successful Short Stories, his qualifications for which include the claim that he once "sold 200 short stories for publication in just 24 months" (we are not told if any were good), and also include the endorsement of famed short-story maestro, Uri Geller, who enthuses, "A great book for those who want to be authors! Your dream can come true!" They say it takes all kinds. Drew McAdam is one kind but not my kind.