If I was to start singing a song…
“There lived a certain man in Russia long ago.”
Most people would say “Oh, I’ve heard this one before,” which would feel a little insulting as they most certainly HAVE NOT heard my original song about cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin*.
This same artistic misunderstanding plays out every time an audience member is invited to “pick a card” and they proclaim, “oh, I’ve seen this one!”
As magicians we know that thousands of card tricks, across the spectrum of magical effects, all begin that same way, and they have no idea what’s about to happen. They’re only reacting to that familiar “pick a card” cliché.
So… uh… maybe don’t say that.
The picking of the card is often overlooked in our creative process because we feel the fun of the routine only begins after that part is over with. We’re prone to rushing past it, ignoring it as a necessary business transaction before our creative presentation can begin.
As a fix, we can adjust the scope of our script to make the card selection not just the opening line, but a moment which sets the tone of the entire routine. I’ll offer some alternative phrases and ideas organized by different themes.
Randomizing The Process
When I practice alone in my basement, I pick a card, and I find it. Sure, I amaze myself, but part of me also wonders if the other part of me is in cahoots. Frankly, I’ve stopped trusting me, which is why I’d like you to take a card.
Fate has brought us together in this moment, and now, before you, the path splits into 52 different paths. [spread the cards] Which road shall we travel?
Video Bonus Idea: How To Pick a Card EXTRA Randomly
Watch this indisputable mathematical proof that it's not merely a 1 in 52 chance of picking a random card.
Perfect for magicians who are going for that crazy YouTube conspiracy vibe in their performances.
What’s your lucky number? [they say four] And what’s your luckiest finger? Okay, let’s see if this works; touch any card. [they forcefully pick a four]
[Hand them the deck] I’d like you to find one which feels like a lucky card.
In big magic shows you might get invited up on stage, go inside a box, vanish, and reappear on the balcony riding a tiger! But, I don’t have a tiger. I do have a deck of cards, so maybe we can do this same thing on a budget. I need you to pick a card to play the role of you.
There are many coincidences between a deck of cards and a calendar. 52 cards, 52 weeks in a year. Four suits, four seasons, Red and black is like day and night. 13 cards in each suit, and 13 lunar cycles in a year. Let’s find the card that’s a good fit for your birthday. You probably don’t know your lunar cycle, but what is your birth month? [they say July] Okay, July is the 7th month, and do you know if you were born during the daylight hours? [take the red sevens] and finally, umm, did your parents marry for love or for money? [heart or diamond]
Just in case you get really, really famous some day… may I have your autograph? [look for paper] Oh, here, use a card.
People think magic shows are all fun and games, they never consider the paperwork. I need you to be a certified witness for the show. Would you sign your name across one of these cards to certify everything is fair and above board?
Maybe these ideas will inspire something for you. I don’t think it matters what you say, so much that you do something to vary the default “pick a card” spread pose which triggers audience preconceptions. Mix it up!
Yuri ‘mong the Stars – by Ryan Pilling
There lived a certain man in Russia long ago,
who would sail to the stars as human cargo.
It was the first space travel the world would ever log,
and it turned out much better than that poor cosmonaut dog. Hey!