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Why Are Beginning Magicians So Over-Confident?


In my commentary about David Letterman’s "Close-up Magic Week," I talked about a sub-par trick performed by a non-magic guest, actor Matthew Fox. “Fox barely got by with a poor choice of a trick,” I stated in the story. "He was fortunate that he was a celebrity because an unknown magician performing such a boring trick would have died on stage...Why do beginners commonly have these outsized expectations of their abilities?"

Reader Chris Hicks felt that I was being “insulting and condescending” towards beginners. “Perhaps a better way of looking at it is that maybe Mr. Fox, knowing the theme of the week was magic, had been inspired to learn a trick and try it out, however unsuccessfully,” says Chris Hicks in his e-mail. “Rather than insulting his performance - however poorly executed - maybe you should have commended him for making the attempt. Remember, a snide comment can easily kill a novice's enthusiasm.”

Over-Estimating Magic, Under-Estimating Entertainment?
Let me begin by saying that I do want to encourage beginners to learn and perform magic. After all, this is the foundation of this site. My frustration with actor Fox and many beginning magicians (I did say ‘commonly” and not “all” beginners) is that they often over-estimate their magic skills and ability to entertain with magic, often with negative results.

Every so often at strolling gigs after I’ve entertained a group, a spectator will state that he wants to do a card trick for either me or the crowd. While I will always decline, maintain control of the situation and continue to perform (I’m the one being paid and I can’t be found standing around watching someone else), sometimes the spectator will bring out his own cards and then do a beginning trick such as the 21 Card Trick and perform it in a dull and self-serving manner.

What I can’t understand is how an amateur or beginning magician could possibly want to try to follow the entertaining work of a pro. It has to come from an out-sized estimation of one’s magic skills. And the beginner often ends-up embarrassing himself. In some cases, not even realizing that the group that I had gathered and built-up is bored with his stunt and only politely watching.

I recall once arriving at a paid event to stroll. After being identified as the evening’s magician, a member of the catering staff cornered me and said that he was going to “blow my mind” with his magic. He performed a simple coin trick that he may have used to fool his friends, but why he thought he would fool me is beyond me.

Do I come across as stupid? I'm being paid to perform magic and some guy who learned a trick last week thinks he's going to fool me with a beginner's trick?

A Slow Start
When I started in magic, I was reluctant to perform a trick until I had worked it up completely and felt that I had the ability to present a fun routine. Admittedly, my early routines didn’t always accomplish these goals and there was lots of trial and error along the way, but I never felt this desire to force people to watch sub-par tricks.

I can’t understand the mentality of a beginner who doesn’t understand his or her limitations, or is it simply ignorance?

Back to Letterman
This is the frustration that I had with the magic trick by actor Matthew Fox on the Letterman show. How could he think that his trick could possibly measure up to the material that the pros were performing? And the trick itself was one that may be fine to show a few friends at a party or gathering, but a poor choice to entertain a crowd and Letterman.

I truly can’t comprehend how a beginning magician can so grossly over-estimate his or her magic skills and ability to entertain with magic. This is the reason for my negative response to Matthew Fox’s trick and the basis for my comments regarding beginners.

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