Magic. It's a bloody good thing. Of course it doesn't exist, it's not real, but for hundreds of years magicians, such as myself, have taken to the stage in an attempt to convince people that the impossible can become possible and that magic might really exist... and in a way, it does.
It exists in magic shops around the world, where for a costly sum you can purchase a trick, be it a prop, a book, or a DVD, you can learn a method and presentation and just a few hours later you could be performing it for a friend in a pub. Unfortunately it is because of this that material theft is so prevalent in the world of magic. Every magician starts off by copying magicians they love, by performing similar routines, often word for word, and entertaining their friends, but there comes a point where you have to move on. If you ever want to consider yourself a professional magician you must start creating your own tricks, your own routines, your own jokes, your own material, yet so many people seem to go for the easy route and continue to buy off the shelf material and perform it with the script given. You know what? That, to some extent is fine, if that's what that person wants to do then fine... they won't get hugely far but they'll have fun and entertain and that is a good thing. Where things start to get bad is when you start to professionally perform someone else's tricks or act when it's never been sold.
This is where the problem lies. Magicians are so used to buying material and performing it, everyone has their own version of the classics for example, that they forget that you simply can't perform something which hasn't been released to you. Even if you've worked out the method, it is not your trick to perform, it can take a while to learn this as a young magician but as soon you do, you should quickly put a stop to copying anyone or anything. The magic community doesn't really do enough to stop those who are 'borrowing' others material. In the comedy world, you do someone else's material you are shunned, in the magic world people just say oh well imitation is the sincerest force of flattery.
I've worked harder than I've ever worked before on my recent show Fatal Distraction (which is on the 19 June at the E4 Udderbelly on the South Bank... just in case you were wondering) to make sure that everything was unique to me, narrative, tricks, jokes, methods, I wanted to make sure no one would have seen any of it before, it's the very least I could do as a performer... yet so many people simply don't bother.
The most incredible example of magical theft recently occurred to Piff The Magic Dragon, who many of you will know from Penn & Teller's Fool Us TV show. One day I got an email from Piff saying, "It's finally happened... someone had stolen my tricks." It wasn't just his tricks that had been nicked, but his whole act. Someone had performed it on a TV show in Russia and it was now all over the internet, you can see the similarities for yourself below.
I asked Piff what he thought about it, and this is what he said... complete with a very subtle plug for his upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show.
"Since I performed the act on national television and it went viral on YouTube, I've had a few emails from individuals asking me how to build a Tacular, where to buy a magic sneeze and claiming to have had the same idea many years ago. Whilst I had a nasty feeling it was only a matter of time before someone did something about it, this is ridiculous. He even ate a banana! And a guinea pig called Mr Piffles? A guinea pig??! Can it levitate? No. Can it do card tricks? No. Does it cost £900? No. Mr Piffles would be spinning in his grave if he weren't alive and well, currently deep in preparation to stake his claim as the World's First Cannonball Chihuahua in his return to Edinburgh with Jurassic Bark every day at 7.10pm, King Dome, Pleasance. Needless to say I am supremely miffed as I had hoped the Russian market was where I would truly establish my name. Now I guess they will have heard of my younger brother. Andriy."
Penn said "it's just amazing. I've never seen anything like it." I have. My act."
So how did it make you feel when you saw it?
"I can't describe it. It was an out of body experience. Literally. He looks eerily similar, although annoyingly, slightly taller and thinner. He's not only copied my act, he's copied my mannerisms and waggling eyebrows. It's as if a window has opened to a parallel universe where I was born and raised in Russia with only a guinea pig for company.
I've had stuff stolen before, and it's annoying and violating, but never anything on this level. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I think I have really been going through the four stages of grief with this thing. Denial. Anger. Despair. Acceptance."
Did you expect someone to eventually steal some of your act?
"Yes, but not on this scale. I thought maybe someone would dress up as another animal, or make a duplicate table or magic sneeze. But not this. Not move for move, beat for beat, banana for banana.
"And on that note, the bit where I ate the banana and Teller is jumping out of his seat with joy is a really special memory to me. This guy ruined that for me. Munching that banana with no clue as to why he was doing it, or why this was funny. Then, as Kate Medvedva is chewing him out about stealing my act, you can see it start to stick in the back of his throat, and it becoming more and more difficult for him to swallow. The shame rises in his face, and now it's no longer a banana, it's a mark of his shame, a Shamenana, and he's cowering behind it, a bewildered expression on his face, choking from the inside."
Why don't other magicians get that you can't steal material in the same way that comedians do?
"It happened to Teller recently. He asked the guy nicely to stop, he refused and now it's expensive lawsuit time. But not all of us have got the financial security to be able to sue.
"Apparently some guy stole Max Maven's whole act and got a few television specials out of it in Japan or Asia. TELEVISION SPECIALS!!! What message does that send?
"I think the difference is that comedians police their art form in military fashion. If you steal, you are shunned. The vast majority of magicians are so lazy, plagiarising has become the acceptable sin, and the undefendable are either shrugged away, or worse, defended! With lines like 'there's nothing new under the sun'. You know who says that? People who haven't come up with any good material."
Perhaps magicians must simply accept that once you put material out in the public domain it'll eventually be stolen, or perhaps they will come together to put a stop to material theft. Only time, or someone who can predict the future will tell.