Offbeat by Nick Diffatte
Today's post includes a new experimental format!
I have been thinking long and hard about my reviews and what unique talents I possess that I could possibly add to my reviews to give the readers more value. I have always been a quick reader and I generally pick up on routines quickly as well. I have often posted performance videos of routines from books and people seem to really enjoy those. So I have decided that in many reviews going forward, I will include at least one performance video of a routine just so you can see exactly how it plays.
Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of the material and also keep you engaged as you read along. I'm trying to find the best of both worlds between a video review and a written review.
After reading today, please let me know what you think of the new format! Your opinion matters to me, and I genuinely want to hear your response.
Now on to the review!
I would be willing to bet that you have heard of Nick Diffatte’s newest book to the magic community. His lecture at Magic Live was a huge hit, and his brand new book sold out at the convention in record time. I do not know much about Nick, but I knew I had to have the book based on what all the pros were saying about Nick’s magic. I preordered it without the slightest idea of the contents. Once the book arrived, I couldn’t put it down. The book has a gorgeous blue cloth cover with a vintage feel, making it stand out on any bookshelf. The illustrations have a vintage feel with a fun twist, and the photos throughout the book were shot on medium format film, which adds to the feeling that you are reading a classic magic book. Sure, it looks great, but how are the contents?
The book begins with a Foreward by Mac King. If Mac King says about someone, “He’s my hope for the future of comedy magic.” Then you better pay attention because Mac is the best in the business. This Foreward offers a perfect introduction to Nick and his body of work. Following the Foreward is the Preface, where Nick explains why he chose to write a book full of his original working material, which ends with an inspiring three sentences:
“Please know that if I do make a bold statement about something, it’s an honest outlook, developed from real-world experience after hundreds of hours spent on stage. If you feel differently, act differently. That’s what I did.”
Now on to the effects and essays. I have decided to include Nick’s description of each routine verbatim as I feel it gives you a great look into his personality and writing style.
Play Money - A Monopoly bill visually changes into real currency at the fingertips of one hand.
This was the first routine I ever saw of Nick’s when it was released as a download seven or eight years ago. At the time, I wasn’t particularly intrigued by the effect and I passed on it. Now seeing it thoroughly explained, I couldn’t resist the temptation to run to my game closet and make it up. It is easy to make up, but it takes being very specific concerning how everything is positioned. Once it’s made up, it will last as long as the Monopoly bill. It’s the perfect item to keep in your wallet to perform at a moment’s notice. I will admit that I struggle to do the move one-handed even after playing with it for several days. I can get it to work one handed but I can’t get it to work 100% of the time. This is a fault of my own, not the construction of the method. I have developed a slightly altered handling that looks just as good and allows me to perform it efficiently. Below is a performance of that handling.
School of Hard Knots - You tie a knot in a piece of rope, then visually pluck the knot from the cord. After realizing this effect “clearly isn’t edgy enough” for the audience, you offer to break the magician’s sacred code and explain the method behind the miracle. In the process, you accidentally cut the rope into three unequal pieces. You stretch them, using your bodybuilder-esque physique, and then tie the ropes together. Then, the knots slide around the ropes and finally pop off completely. The routine concludes with one solid, examinable length of rope.
This is a very entertaining rope routine with some unique moments I had never encountered. Primarily inspired by an Aldo Colombini routine, this routine cuts down on all the fluff and delivers one strong magic punch after another. The routine is very economical from beginning to end, and there is plenty of potential for comedy. This routine is one of my favorite routines in the book.
Funny - This essay discusses what it takes to be truly funny and, more importantly, why unfunny people shouldn’t be doing comedy magic but should instead seek to improve what they’re already good at. It is a very purposeful essay that I think will step on many toes for the best reasons.
Balloon Mammal - You offer to show a spectator your incredible balloon-modeling prowess. She chooses an animal and mentally “sends” you the image of that animal. You inflate a modeling balloon and after a lot of twisting and folding behind your back, ask the spectator to announce what animal she is thinking of. She says, “Cheetah.” You pull out a mangled mess of rubber from behind your back–one that vaguely looks like a balloon giraffe–and claim it’s a cheetah. The volunteer doesn’t believe you, but after some discussion, realizes you’ve placed the instructions for how to make a balloon cheetah inside of the balloon she is now holding! The volunteer pops the balloon and reads the prediction out loud to confirm that you have, in fact, correctly “modeled” her chosen animal.
I adore this routine. It’s a straightforward method with a ton of byplay and a powerful, unexpected ending. There’s a subtlety in this method inspired by Chris Kenner, and this one subtlety is worth the price of the book. Seriously, this subtlety takes a good force and makes it a bulletproof force. I think this one small subtlety is a large part of why this routine is as fooling as it is, and even if I never perform this routine, I will be using the force. It’s genius.
You’ve Got Fail - You pull a sealed envelope out of your pocket. A spectator on stage names any card. You tear off the top of the envelope, pull out a card…look nervously at it…and slowly slide it back into the envelope. Handing the envelope to a spectator so as “not to ruin the…surprise,” you pull out a deck of cards and ask another person in the front to think of another card. Spreading through the deck, you find the card the second spectator is merely thinking of! Then, returning to the card in the envelope, you show that it was, in fact, the card named at the beginning all along.
This routine couldn’t be more straightforward. The unique use of a classic method creates a card routine that would play well in almost any stand-up environment. Nick creates excellent comedic moments in the routine and hides the method within the comedy. This is one of the best ways to hide a method. If the audience believes you are doing something just to get a laugh, then they are less likely to consider that an integral part of the method.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb - This essay focuses on why and how you should take risks to develop unique material rather than create a “plug-and-play program” of other people’s material.
Party Blower - You show the audience a party blower. You demonstrate that it works. You place it into your ear. You plug your nose and blow, causing the party blower to unroll as if you’re blowing into it through your ear hole.
As Nick himself says, this is a dumb gag. But it’s a visual dumb gag. It requires a few things to make, but the process doesn’t seem that intense. It will be relatively easy to gimmick up a party blower to do this. Obviously, this isn’t meant to be a showstopper, but this is great for a quick, surprising visual.
The Key to Freedom - You introduce a pair of handcuffs and demonstrate to a member of the audience how they work. He tries a key in the keyhole, and it does not work. He tries five more, and none of them work. Then you produce a seventh key with a small piece of ribbon tied around it. He tries this key and finds that it opens the cuffs. Whew. Demonstration concluded, you lock yourself and the spectator into the cuffs. He removes the ribbon from the working key and mixes it with the others in a wine glass. Then, you instruct your assistant to, using only his superior intuition, pick a key he thinks will open the cuffs. Once the selection is made, all the other keys are eliminated–flushed, swallowed, tossed into the orchestra pit, flown away on a drone, etc. The spectator tries the key and finds that it opens the cuffs, leading to freedom and a natural applause cue.
This is an entertaining routine from beginning to end. Handcuffing yourself to a spectator (after asking for consent) is such a great stage picture; it hardly matters what the method is to get there. It just so happens this method uses an ungimmicked set of handcuffs, a little-known trait, and a clever handling. This routine would have fooled me, and I’m sure most people would also be fooled by it. Some people in the audience (such as police officers) may not be as fooled, but I think they will enjoy the routine. I like this one; it’s one of the most visual Seven Keys to Baldpate routines that makes sense and has real stakes.
Openers - This is an excellent essay on how to find the perfect opener for you. Nick discusses various routines he has used as openers and why he has ultimately decided to go in a different direction. This fantastic read gives excellent advice to those willing to listen.
Tea Bag - A spectator is invited to make a cup of tea. He puts a tea bag into a teacup, you pour hot water in, and he places a saucer on top of the cup. Then, he merely thinks of a card as the deck is riffled. You fail to find the card, but in its place, you find a tea bag. The spectator lifts the saucer to reveal that the thought-of card is now attached to the end of the string where the tea bag once hung.
What a novel routine. You may have discovered this by this point in the review, but all of Nick’s methods are simple but effective. This book is the epitome of K.I.S.S. Nick gets most of the method out of the way long before the audience is even in the building. This one takes a little bit of preparation, but again, it is easy to make. This has a strong visual at the end guaranteed to elicit applause. This is another fantastic routine.
Cheap Notebooks - Nick discusses one tip that changed his entire creative writing process in this essay. He describes why it has been so successful and why it may be a change you want to make for yourself.
Shtick of Gum - You offer a spectator a piece of gum from a pack for “being a good sport.” Once the spectator has selected her piece, you make sure to warn her, “It’s probably gum…but might not be. Just check first. Nothing to be worried about. Just make sure it’s gum in that wrapper before you try to eat it. Sometimes I keep other stuff in there. Wouldn’t want you to get hurt. No big deal.” The confused spectator opens the wrapper and lo and behold, it’s gum! You continue, “I’m really glad you got gum because sometimes, just for my own safety, I keep other stuff in the wrappers in case I ever get mugged.” You open the remaining three sticks of gum in the pack to reveal a $20 bill, a $50 bill, and a $100 bill, respectively.
This routine is another home run. It is quick and presented as a throwaway at the end of a previous routine, but these short routines are what make a show go from a set list of tricks into a coherent performance. This is the perfect way to present a bank night effect without any sting. It’s nonsensical, which adds to the fun of it. I’m a big fan, and I could see myself slotting this into my show. Oh, did I mention it is easy as pie?
Nest of Office Supplies - Make anything, like a signed card, coin, finger ring, or even a prediction (à la “Confabulation”), end up inside a sealed envelope, wrapped in tinfoil, inside a bubble mailer.
This is stupid simple to makeup, and a wonderful modern replacement for the LePaul style Card to Wallet, which is exactly why Nick created this. If you ever get to a gig with lost luggage, you can run to any dollar store and get everything you need for less than $10. We don’t get any routine with this, but the prop is so versatile that you can come up with as many uses as any traditional LePaul wallet. The tinfoil wrapping is especially deceptive. No gimmicks are needed; in the end, everything can be handed out for complete and thorough examination.
Trends are Traps - Oh man, this is a good essay. Rather than follow the trends of magic, “March to the beat of your drum, and you could be the beginning of a trend.” This is valuable advice for anyone genuinely interested in having a career in magic.
Full Contact - Unable to see something clearly (a ward, a card, etc.), you remove a gigantic contact lens from a standard contact case, then insert the giant lens into your eye.
This is Nick’s updated handling of Tom Mullica’s classic sight gag. This handling eliminates the cloth and appears more casual overall. Some deceptive subtleties make for a fooling sight gag. Is this the most magical thing you’ll do? No. Will it cause people to be bewildered and laugh? Absolutely. Nick also discusses one of his favorite gags to do with the lens, which contains no magic but will cause laughter in a casual setting.
Bad Shows - In this essay, Nick discusses how to handle bad shows and how to use those bad shows as a learning experience.
Sealer Boy - Bills, rings, watches–whatever you’d like–end up sealed inside a bag of chips or any other similar package.
This is a simple method for resealing any airtight mylar package. There is no routine included, but armed with this knowledge, you are ready to devise any routine you want. It’s a clever method that has been staring us all in the face for years.
Double Date - With great pride, you display your lucky quarter sealed in a cardboard coin holder. An audience member names any year, and miraculously, it matches the year on your lucky coin exactly.
This streamlined routine can play for a theatre of any size. It’s a mash-up of Al Koran’s “Gold Medallion” and the classic two-digit number prediction. It uses a simple, bold method with a clever subtlety that makes everything appear fair for all involved.
15 Crayons to Pocket - A crayon is signed and placed back into the crayon box. The crayons are shaken and mixed. Snapping your fingers, you reach into your pocket and produce a crayon. But it is not the signed crayon. As you continue snapping your fingers, you remove crayons from your pocket until you realize that the only crayon left in the box is the signed one.
This is an idea Nick had while demonstrating the vanishing crayons at a magic shop. He came up with a slight change that allows for a crayon to be removed and signed, giving you the classic 51 cards to pocket trick but done with…crayons. Again, it’s not a showstopper, but it’s not meant to be. It is entertaining and unique, which is often enough. Nick also tips a way to use the same gimmick to force a crayon on someone. It’s bold, but if you need to force a color on someone, this will work.
MisMatch - A paper match, torn from a book, gets torn in half, and is restored with the head in its middle. This solid, impossible object can be given to the spectator to light and/or keep as a souvenir of your performance, if he so desires.
I like the visual of this for a simple close up routine. Once again all of the hard work is done before the performance leaving you as clean as possible during performance. Nick teache syou how to make the impossible object, and while it isn’t difficult, it is pretty involved for what it is. It’s more clever than I suspected though, and it really does make the routine very deceptive. I’ve made a few up to try the process out, and it is about as fiddly as you may suspect, but not overly time consuming. You can see the performance below.
If You Want Meat, Go to a Butcher - What should you do when you have some weaknesses related to the marketing or design of your show? Nick answers that question in this essay. Long story short, if you don’t know how to do it, don’t try to learn and do it poorly. Find someone who does it well and collaborate with them. This is excellent advice that is necessary for the theatre but often gets overlooked for magicians. So often, we try to do it all, in which case, one or more things inevitably suffer.
Habit Forming - A strip of white tissue paper and a strip of black tissue paper are torn to pieces and formed into a ball under the guise of playing a guessing game with an audience member. When reopened, the pieces have been restored in an entirely new form: a paper nun’s habit, which the performer dons while concluding the routine by delivering a pun guaranteed to elicit a groan.
This is the first take on a paper hat tear routine that isn’t crap. It feels less like a magic trick and more like the punchline, but that is precisely why it’s the only effective version of this. It is rather easy to make, and it is just as deceptive as all other hat tear routines, but the visual punchline is where this routine really shines.
Writing - Nick walks you through his formula for writing comedy magic. Spoiler alert: there is no formula.
Dye Another Day - A white hanky is tucked into your fist and, as it behind to emerge from the other side of your hand, it is now a dark shade of red. You continue to tuck and pull on the fabric until the entire silk has turned red. You then offer to explain how the feat was accomplished. (Novel plot, eh?) You tuck the now-red hanky into your hand and it emerges from the opposite side white. As you are explaining how you’ve accomplished the feat, you accidentally expose the fact that there are two separate silks in play. To remedy the citation, you squeeze both silks together and blend them into a single handkerchief, dyed partially white and partially red. You have successfully proven your dominion over textiles.
You may be familiar with half dyed hank routines, but this is the best I’ve seen. It truly only uses two silks eliminating all of the switching that is usually necessary in these routines. Nick teaches you how to make the entire thing from beginning to end. Without a doubt, this is the most labor intensive gimmick of the book. It will take a trip to the hardware store, a few powertools, a balloon, and some dye, but if you take the time to make it up, you’ll have a strong routine that takes up very little pocket/case space but can play for the largest of audiences.
Looking Outside of Magic - This essay encourages you to find inspiration somewhere other than other magicians. If other magicians are always inspiring you, you are only cloning what’s already out there. Look elsewhere and be inspired by other art forms. That’s how to be an original magician.
Acknowledgments - This is relatively self-explanatory.
That sums up this excellent book! All of the routines are practical and entertaining, and the production quality is superb. My one complaint is that a few pages contain parentheticals that have an image name and .jpg at the end. One, in particular, says, (tea4.jpg This photo would look great larger). It seems like the final copy that was sent to the printer needed one more round of proofreading. It is a shame because, without these errors, this book would be practically perfect, but this oversight cheapens the product a bit. It’s not a big deal, and it doesn’t affect the quality of the material, but I feel it is my responsibility to make these oversights clear to my readers. Don’t let that deter you from purchasing this book, though. It is a great read full of solid routines and very thought-provoking essays.