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What If (Chuck Smith Lecture Notes) by Chuck Smith

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii September, 2005)


Although I am not in the habit of reviewing lecture notes, it seems that I've managed to accumulate some particularly tasty morsels in this department over recent months, and so I have decided to draw my readers' attention to some deserving samples of the genre. Chuck Smith's little manuscript is simply a gem.

I've yet to meet Chuck Smith or see him perform, but I look forward to the opportunity, as I've heard his name muttered through the underground for years. With these notes, Mr. Smith at last pokes his head above-ground, and it's an impressive appearance indeed. There are 14 items here, six of them using cards, with the balance relying on an assortment of properties including coins, bills, ropes, and other sundry materials. As is usual with lecture notes, the descriptions are sometimes a bit terse, and the lack of illustrations is a distinct limitation, but nevertheless this is an excellent value based merely on the originality and power of this material. One notable item is a full-deck, Sam-the-Bellhop/Diamond Jack story routine with not only an original script but also a terrific new idea incorporating a selected card. In the aftermath of Bill "If-you-know- what-I-mean-and-I-think-you-do, sir" Malone's delightful performance of his signature approach to Sam the Bellhop on The World's Greatest Magic last year, the amount of dumb-and-dumber nonsense generated in on-line and off-line discussions was simply astounding. Between the "Where can I find that trick?" inquiries from those who think that dragging something out of the literature once you've seen someone kill with it is somehow akin to actually having an idea, and those who claim such a routine isn't magic and thereby reveal to the world their utter inability to differentiate between a method and an effect, one is hard pressed to avoid playing "Taps" in honor of the imminent death of magic. Nevertheless, if you can appreciate the originality in Mr. Malone's distinctive approach to this kind of routine, you will doubtless find Mr. Smith's equally remarkable, and you will also have something that, at least so far, has not seen by millions, and hence might keep you a step ahead of the magicalumpen. End of rant.

Other card routines include an eminently practical Cards To Pocket (a la cards up the sleeve), a version of the 21 Card Trick designed to mess with those who know the hoary old original, and a nifty full-deck Blackjack stack for two players. Non-card items include a nice addition for the Linking Ropes, a well thought-out presentation for the Brema Nut, a routine for the Sponge Bunnies that actually includes some new ideas(!), a very original, ungaffed Ring Flight—in which the spectator ends up holding an ordinary split key ring without realizing that his or her ring is already on it—a couple of coin routines, and even a clever use for a Bill Tube, usually one of the dumbest ("Here I have an ordinary Bill Tube!") props in the history of magic (Michael Weber's cleverly justified presentation notwithstanding).

The standout item—alone worth the price of the notes!—is entitled "Imagination." This is simply too good for me to describe in much detail; you really have to see the prop, or better yet, see someone do it, an experience I greatly regret having missed. Mr. Smith is obviously a commercial and likely a predominantly comedic performer, but in this routine he steps a bit further out in the direction of the dramatic and strange. Very briefly, a photographic image is displayed to the audience (the simple but excellent prop, a photo of a classic optical illusion, is included with the notes). At first, they see one image; when they view it again, they see another. Eventually—after choosing a card purely by imaginary means—they see something new in the image, resulting in an extremely spooky and charming revelation of their card. If you have any taste for bizarre magick, or just for the occasional bout of storytelling, you will love this. The author writes, "As my close friends in magic know, I seldom do deep, dark mysteries. This is too good not to do." 'Tis true, 'tis true.

8-1/2" x 11" velo bound; 29 pages; not illustrated; 1994; Published by Chuck Smith