TV Magicians and Their Off The Shelf Tricks

Watch five great videos of magicians making magic their own...

👋 Hello, I’m Rory and welcome to a ✨ once-a-month-free-edition ✨ of The Magic Newsletter. This email is going out to 1,048 lovely subscribers. Each week, I humbly tackle magic topics based on my experience writing on shows like Netflix’s Magic For Humans, Dynamo, Troy, Neil Patrick Harris, and my five-year-old neighbour’s school talent show act.

If you’re not a paying subscriber, here’s what you missed in Jan:

  1. How To Find Magic Inspiration Everywhere

  2. Learn a Trick: Giftcard Prediction

  3. These Are The World’s Worst Magic Consultants


This is one of my favourite Derren clips…

I remember watching the routine as a teen and being utterly delighted. I knew the secrets behind the routine because I’d seen all three tricks on the shelf in a magic shop. I was overjoyed and overcome with amazement seeing just how masterfully Derren and his team of writers were able to craft three simple tricks into a brilliantly original five-minute performance.

And the wonderful thing is that Derren, himself, seems utterly gleeful too at the fact that he can skillfully present three off the shelf tricks as though they were designed from the ground up. I’m pretty sure one of the tricks is Big Bang, which you can buy at Alakazam, but I suppose we’ll never know for sure….

I’ve been writing magic television for the past seven years now, which seems insane. Occasionally, a magician will discover my career and begin to groan about TV magicians performing magic that working magicians can’t perform at their gigs too.

If I can’t immediately escape, I try my best to assure them TV magicians are all mostly performing off-the-shelf tricks—and they never believe me.

If anyone needs to worry about how laypeople feel watching live magic vs TV magic—it’s the TV magicians, who make zero money from TV and all their money from corporate gigs and live tours.

When I left school at 18, I did everything and anything to get my foot wedged inside a TV writing room’s door. After a year of hard work, I landed my first freelance gig working on Fiat’s “Power of X” campaign with Dynamo. We were given two days to prepare for a shoot and were told the location was a lightbulb gallery. That’s right, a gallery of lightbulbs. I felt overly prepared.

The majority of the people who sub to Only Ideas Club are performing magicians. I hope that by looking at some examples of TV magicians making tricks their own, you’ll be inspired to change the way you perform off the shelf tricks.

And I should quickly mention that writing on a magic show does not always mean you are writing word for word scripts. It often means you’re helping to tell the bigger story, pulling together tricks, and deciding on the location and framing. Why are you there? What are we trying to say? Who’s the best person to perform this to? Sometimes a great writer on a magic show simply suggests a location and changes everything.

What if we do card through window in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

The truth is, methods do not matter.

Try to ignore the magic industry, who spend millions of dollar to convince you to buy the latest method.

Try to fight the urge to falsely believe the greatest thing a magician can do is fool Penn and Teller.

Fooling the audience is quite literally the bare minimum of magic.

Focus on telling great stories.

Sooner or later, you’ll catch on that while you’re busy toying with methods, the most prolific magicians of our time are busy finding great tricks and telling great stories.


In the previous free post, I didn’t turn comments on for everyone. That’s no longer the case, anyone and everyone can comment today.

💬 Your favourite video examples for us all to watch, too.

Great clips of magicians performing tricks in their own wonderful ways.

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1. Willman and His Banana

Willman brought this trick kicking and screaming back from the dead using Siri in his banana bandana performance. Willman is the absolute king of making tricks his own, check out his Hug/Anal trick. I actually wrote about Willman’s brilliant version of The Invisible Deck here, too.

This clip is a great example of searching out a solid trick that’s become outdated, through no fault of its own, and making the changes necessary to bring it back to life. The wonderful thing about performing this with Siri is that the trick becomes more relatable and actually makes more sense. The joke becomes less about having the wrong objects for the trick and more about Siri mishearing Willman naming the objects. We’ve all sat repeating ourselves to Siri over and over till we eventually give up.

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2. Galea’s 673 King Street

Galea’s version of this trick is the very best, and the internet agrees. The guy is a lovely guy, and his charisma is brilliant. Making a version of this trick for yourself requires effort, but everyone knows they can make their own version if they want to. It takes the effort Galea put into this to make tricks your own.

This clip is a brilliant example of taking a brilliant trick and updating the script to be personal and unique to you. I doubt the story he tells is factually accurate, but it is indeed set on King street. There’s a King Street in Melbourne, where this clip was recorded and in Sydney, Galea’s home.

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3. Barry & Stuart’s Violins

*WARNING: The performance below includes depictions of self-harm.

Only Barry and Stuart can be this bold and take such a disastrously gross trick to the very edge and beyond. So far beyond, that YouTube age-restricts the video—proceed with caution.

This clip is a great example of looking at an exiting trick through the lens of a different performer. Sometimes it’s about taking an unexpected trick and asking how you, the performer, could present this differently to the rest of the magicians out there. For Barry and Stuart, it’s their usual dark humour that takes this trick in an angle no other magicians could think of/or be prepared to take it.

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4. Carbonaro and His Shoelaces

The Carbonaro Effect is the most underrated TV show amongst magicians. The show is a testament to how reframing magic tricks can totally change the way they’re perceived, and also how many times you can re-dress an illusion table.

This clip is a great example of how the context of a trick can impact how the audience sees it. Sometimes this can be as simple as the location you perform the trick. Performing a chewing gum restoration at home in your bedroom for Instagram is alright, but many magicians will do that. Performing the same chewing gum restoration at a newsagent feels more situational, but it might also be predictable. Performing a restoring chewing gum trick at school takes it one final step further. By doing the trick in an unexpected location, where chewing gum isn’t allowed, you’re actually giving the justification, for restoring the gum, a new life.

Card through window feels totally different when you perform it in the red light district or through a plane window 3,000ft high, through a parked car, or the window of someone shielding alone in a pandemic.

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5. Paul Zenon Stopping His Heartbeat

This is a wonderful combination of two tricks that make for something that feels unique and captivating. I can not begin to tell you how often I think about this example when I’m working on TV shows. The story makes sense to the location. Combining the tricks creates something original, and making stopping your heartbeat visual and compelling for television.

This clip is a great example of combining two tricks to create something unique. The skill here is to find tricks whose weaknesses and strengths cancel and boost each other when combined. Don’t just look for two similar tricks, look for opposite tricks that complement each other in unexpected ways.

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Bonus. Derren Entertaining Robbie Williams

I could not not add this one into the mix. Lovely little classic clip of Derren forcing Robbie Williams to sing nursery rhymes while forcing needles through his forearms. Enjoy this bonus clip, and enjoy your week.


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