This weekend, we will be at the feet of the masters, Pop Haydn, Bob Sheets and Chef Anton together teaching the ways of the Scoundrel at The Magic Castle here in Hollywood. It is a two-day class in the essentials of scoundreling with special attention paid to Three-Card Monte, The Shell Game and Fast and Loose.
The esteemed professors note that the course is “perfect for the historian, steampunker, gambler, lawyer or police officer as well as the magician, this course gives you the inside information.” We are at least two or three of those types of people so the course should be a perfect fit.
We understand there were only 20 seats available and they may have already been sold out by the time this article posts.
We will report back on what we have learned both in the classroom and in any wayward attempts to scoundrel on the mean streets of Hollywood or Beverly Hills.
We are thinking of getting a specially made cardboard box on which to perform our soon to be acquired Three-Card Monte skills just outside the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset.
We could make it look like it was a shipping container for Louis Vuitton handbags or Christian Louboutin shoes so it would not arouse suspicion amongst the throngs we expect will encircle us with cash money in their hands and dreams of big winnings in their hearts.
Check out the School for Scoundrels site for more information and peruse their great offerings here.
Guest Contributor Mark Panner submits articles to Inside Magic on almost a daily basis. For the most part, we reject them but still try to encourage his work. He took a break from listening to his Bearcat CB/Police Band Scanner to critique Bob Sheet’s work at this weekend’s Glass City Magic Conclave in Toledo. We began to edit the story but due to time constraints, we decided to just run it as is. This is an encore publication of the original article.
Write this name down: Bob Sheets. I don’t know if he goes by “Bob” or “Robert” but friends, let me tell you, you’ll be hearing from him again no matter what he is called.
As many readers know, we keep our pulse on Magic’s wrist and know just about everyone that is anyone in the business. We’re tight with the big names in our profession like Darin Brown, J. Marshal, Dave Copperfield, and even the first lady of magic, Matilda Saxe. But we had not come across this newcomer before. Chances are that if you are not as connected as we are, you haven’t heard of Bobby Sheets either.
Mr. Sheets was appearing at the Glass City Conclave in Toledo, Ohio this weekend. On the whole, we think he has a chance to go all the way. He has an affable style that reminds us of ourselves. He is unpredictable in his behavior — just like us. He does new magic or at least new to us — and we will be doing the same tricks soon. So, Mr. Sheets struck a chord with us.
We’re always looking to help the new kid on the block get gigs and further lecture dates. He is not really a kid. In fact, we thought it kind of neat that someone of his advanced age would be getting into magic this late in life. But, remember Churchill (with whom we were very tight) didn’t start water coloring until he was 87 — and by then, he’d already out-lived FDR. (FDR, by the way, did a completely nasty version of the slop shuffle, into a Doc Dailey’s trick — no one knew at the time it would be Doc’s last trick).
Mr. Sheets is a sturdy man. He looks to be one who works out or perhaps he has just had a very hard life and earned his muscles and physique by lifting barges and toting bales. His hands, though, are without tremor and his gait appears within acceptable range. He speaks without a noticeable accent or stammer. Despite his marred smile (he has a gap between his upper teeth – we discuss this later), he projects his voice well and without a hissing sound. His eyes were alert and focused on objects without confusion. His posture was remarkable for a man of his age.
What may limit his budding career is his trick selection. We’ve been around a while and know the tricks that sell and those that don’t. No mom is going to hire a magician who stabs cards on her dining room table while blindfolded — it just won’t happen. This kind of magic won’t sell in the restaurant venues either. Managers at the IHOP (where we perform each Tuesday night and then on Thursday night as our other character, Fluffy the Clown) were very clear: no fire, no furniture damage, and no race-baiting.
Mr. Sheets (and we are assuming that is his stage name) doesn’t use any blue material in his act and that is a plus because you will never get the birthday party bookings if they know you say sexist stuff or talk like a drunk sailor — we know this from experience.
Let’s talk for a second about the Knife Trick this novice with potential does.
He invites a young person out of the audience and then has him (it was a boy when we saw it but it could have been a girl) go back down into the audience give four people one card each. They were supposed to select a card freely from the boy but he didn’t really do that. He just sort of handed them to the people. No matter how hard you work with volunteers, you need to remember they may not understand your instructions.
Now, the boy has to walk back up the stairs to look at a blindfold Mr. Sheets is going to put over his eyes. He tells everyone that the blindfold is real and stuff and that no one can see through it.
Now, Mr. Sheets has the boy draw a funny face picture on the card he selected and writes his name. When we saw it, his name was “Gary” but it could have been any name and even a girl’s name if he had been a girl.
So far, so good. Mr. Sheets comes down into the audience and collects the four cards while Gary is writing his name, “Gary,” on the face of the card he picked.
Mr. Sheets then walks back up to the stage and has Gary cut the full deck in three piles.
Okay, let’s stop here for a second. We know that he’ll pick up showmanship the longer he is in the business but tip to Bobby, make your actions logical. The audience knows Gary could have just picked up all the cards while he was down there. You could have thrown him the magic marker so he could write his name, “Gary,” on the card while he still sitting in the audience.
Audiences notice things like this. And why cut the deck in to three piles? Anyway, he’ll learn.
So now Gary puts the blindfold on Mr. Sheets. Mr. Sheets said something weird that no one got about how people think he can still see through the blindfold and “I used to push bread dough in my eyes and wrap my head like a turban but they still thought I could see.”
Excuse us? Bread dough? Where is a magician supposed to come up with bread dough? And who puts bread dough in their eyes to prove they can’t see — or for that matter, wraps their head like a mummy — especially if they already have bread dough in their eye sockets?
We’ve checked all of the big internet magic shops and no one sells Magician’s Bread Dough or Bread Dough Hold-Outs. L and L do not carry a DVD about bread dough. In fact, we have reviewed our entire magic video library and no where does Michael Ammar mention bread dough on any of his tapes.
He was talking crazy talk.
Gary is his eyes for the next part.
He has Gary move his hand and knife over each of the three piles.
Oh, wait, did we forget to tell you he had a knife.
Yes, he did. A big knife.
It was shaped like a lightening bolt and looked more fitting for a gang member or a prisoner during a riot than a magician. Note to Mr. Sheets, knives scare people. Who hasn’t been cut accidentally when they’re trying to use a knife to cut a bagel or as a substitute for a Phillips head screwdriver? You will get a lot further by losing the knife and doing the trick with something less threatening. A knitting needle or even a balloon that is shaped like a knife would work.
One of the balloon objects we’re asked to do all the time at the IHOP when we appear as Fluffy the Clown is a “sword.” We can make them like a pirate sword or a regular sword. The kids love them and the parents love them because they know the swords aren’t real — they can’t hurt their kids. Mr. Sheets, parents are very protective of their kids — which is natural — but they are not going to want you swinging something that looks like a prison shiv near their children even if you weren’t wearing a blindfold or “bread dough in your eyes.”
This may be picky but we need to say it to help Mr. Sheets get better: have a girl come up on stage with you. There were many pretty girls in the audience last night and you could have had one of them help you. You could even have some fun with it by whistling at them as they walked up, or asking if they’re married, or give a big smile when they bend over to pick up the cards you drop.
When you had Gary grab your arm to move the knife over the cards, it sent a mixed message. Two men on stage shouldn’t be holding hands; especially if one has a knife and the other just tied a scarf on the man’s head. We’re not being politically correct here but you need to know that people may not be as tolerant as I am with “alternative life-styles.” If a girl was holding your arm, it would make sense and you could even joke with her about liking pain and so “please grip tight and stick your hot, sexy finger nails in my skin.” With a boy, you can’t do that without offending people.
Anyway, he tries to mix the cards around the table with the tip of the gangster blade.
Another critique: we know you are just starting out in the business but the table did not look magical at all. It looked like a suitcase stand from a hotel room with a board on top. There was no mystery to it.
We love our Black Art Table that we got from Tannens in the late 1980’s. It has gold fringe and two wells built into the table itself. There is even a servante (that’s like a ledge in the back). When audiences see the table, they know there is mystery afoot.
Your table, Mr. Sheets, just seemed like a prop you threw together at the hotel. There was no reason for the audience to suspect anything about the table and so you lose a lot of misdirection potential. Next time, plan your show ahead of time and get the right props. You might want to put a drape on the front of the board so that the audience can’t see that you “borrowed” a luggage rack from your motel room.
Back to the routine.
Because Mr. Sheets is blindfolded, he can’t see what he is doing while he mixes the cards. Again, he needed to think through his routine before getting up on stage. There were cards flying everywhere and some even fell off the table. It looked sloppy and poorly planned.
If he had done this without the blade and without the blindfold, he could have neatly arranged the cards around the table top. Audiences like to know you are in control; cards flying off the table are not control. Moms do not want to have to pick up after you leave the party. Keep it neat and tidy and you’ll get referrals.
Now Mr. Sheets proceeds to stab each of the audience member’s cards. This was neat but too chancy. What if he had accidentally knocked one of the selected cards off the table while mixing them? He’d be stuck. He’d have no trick. And he would get no pity from the audience because they would blame him for making such a mess in the first place. They would say to themselves, “Oh, of course he can’t find the card because he accidentally flung it across the room and it is now stuck in some bread dough or birthday cake.”
The fact that he could stab the right four cards in order was a miracle but not one he can depend on doing again. He was just lucky the cards were still on the table and that he could stab them.
He really took unnecessary chances with the final stab. He kept “mixing” the cards with his knife and pretty much cleared the table of all but a few cards. He then stabbed but because he couldn’t see, he missed the few remaining cards.
This makes sense and is another reason to not be sloppy. If he had more cards on the table, the chances of him missing a card and stabbing just the table are decreased dramatically. Either drop the blindfold so you can see where you are stabbing or leave more cards on the table. To do it this way just made it look like you were stabbing blindly and had no idea what you would hit. Audiences want to know you are in control.
Under the theory that even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes, Mr. Sheets got very lucky again by stabbing one of only a few remaining cards on the table. Sure enough, it was Gary’s, complete with his signature, “Gary,” and his smiley face.
Here are some suggestions from someone who has been doing this a long time, Mr. Sheets.
Number one; lose the knife for the reasons mentioned earlier.
Number two, don’t wear a blindfold if you’re going to use a knife — you need to see where you are stabbing.
Number three; don’t fling cards all over the place when you’re mixing them. You got lucky this time, but you would have no “out” (a magic term meaning an alternative ending to a trick that has gone wrong) if the selected cards were on the floor.
Number four; don’t talk like a crazy person. Don’t say crazy things like you’re going to push bread dough in your eyes. No one has ever done it and it sounds like you are a wierdo. You don’t think moms want you to tell their children to push bread dough or cookie dough or, worse, Play dough into their eyeballs.
Number three, why not have the last card appear in your zippered wallet? The knife thing is neat, but as we said, too risky.
When we have people sign their names on cards like Gary did, we make the card appear someplace special like our zippered-wallet. Audiences understand that.
There was no surprise (except for the mixing part) that Gary’s card was on the table somewhere. It was there at the beginning before you started mixing the deck.
You might worry audiences would think it is weird for you to have a zippered wallet. First, it is no weirder than pushing bread dough in your orbits. Second, they know you are a magician and so you would have special, magical things. Just like we have a table that looks like it could be hiding anything, they know there must be something “special” or “magical” about our zippered wallet.
Finally, number four, why not do the act silently or to music? Audiences love music and they love to see magicians do magic to music. You could use some appropriate song like “Mack the Knife” or “Big Spender” or “The Girl from Emphysema.” The “Big Spender” song would fit because there is a line in it where she (the singer) says, “So let me get right to the point.” “The Girl from Emphysema” is a good one because it features Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. They are well-known and catchy. It is one of those songs we have all heard a million times but no one knows the title.
This Bobby Sheets may not make it to the IHOP (I don’t know if he does a clown and balloon act) but he should do well in some other setting. He may want to check out bar magic. Back in Chicago, we had bars where the bartender would do magic tricks and it went over well. They would get a little extra tip for their effort. We’re guessing a week’s worth of extra tips would be roughly equal to our two days at IHOP.
Plus, people at bars are usually sloppy and they would not be so offended by the cards flying all over the place — but please check with your manager to see if it is alright first.
He was good. Even though it sounds like we were picking on him, it was only for his own good. By the way, he should get his tooth fixed. He has a gap in his smile. Someone in the bathroom said they thought that made him look “charming” or “charismatic.”
Take it from a man who dated a girl who was going to be a dental hygienist, get it fixed and feel better about you. We know that it can be fixed relatively easily and it would give you a whole new level of confidence. Maybe you could push some bread dough in the gap and no one would know. We’re joking, don’t put the bread dough in your teeth, all dough made with yeast has some sugar component and that can eat through the enamel of your teeth. Remember, a good smile improves your “face value.”
Well, we’re off to work now. Still intrigued by the bread dough comment though. We wonder if you could do a cut-and-restored Pillsbury Dough boy trick. You could still use the big knife and kids will understand how if you put two pieces of dough together, they will rejoin. Think about it and good luck, Bobby.