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Question: Why do audiences fall for—and want to fall for—magic tricks?

James Randi: Well, I don’t know that we fall for them.  We accept them.  But let’s not put it quite that way.  People like fantasy, they like to believe that there is a supernatural world out there, and devils and angels, and all kinds of things like that.  They like to believe in that kind of mythology.  And if they can be part of it, if they can be part of the action, or witness something to that effect, they like to do it.  A legitimate magician, as myself, a conjurer that is, will always tell his audience is that what you’re seeing is simple tricks.  They are illusions.  They don’t really happen.  Or at least you try to get that idea across to them.  After all, I think very few people thing that David Copperfield actually uses a buzz saw to cut a girl in two pieces because that would be a waste of beautiful girls for one thing, and the costumes would be all torn up and everything.  That would be a terrible waste.  So, it’s actually a trick.  It’s an illusion.  These are very good illusions in most cases, or they don’t work at all.  So, you’ve either got to be good at the thing, or you’re not in the business any longer. 

But people do enjoy seeing this kind of fantasy happen.  Now, mind you, in the days of computerized movies now where you can perform miracles on the screen, on the silver screen, as they say—and in 3D, remember that—the magician is sort of challenged to do something just a bit bigger than what he or she did the last time.  And it’s getting more and more challenging for the conjuring profession.  But you’ve got Penn and Teller, you’ve got Lance Burton, you’ve got Matt King, you’ve got people in Las Vegas like that who carry on every day. 

Now, Matt King has been doing the same act for like 16 or 18 years now.  And why?  Because he’s pretty damn good at it; highly entertaining. He doesn’t have to be a mystical character.  He’s a magician and he’s funny and he’s entertaining, he’s quick.  He’s got great wit and such, as does Penn and Teller and Lance Burton, of course.  But they’re pros.  They’re dyed in the wool pros, and they are great examples of the conjuring art. 

On the other hand, we have the so-called psychics out there who say they can bend spoons with their minds.  Duh.  You know, do ESP and various things like that.  And these are people who are lying to the public.  They’re not playing fair with them at all and they are leading them astray and are taking away, in my estimation, their emotional security, as well as their money.

Recorded April 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

More from the Big Idea for Monday, August 23 2010


Why We Fall for Magic Tricks

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