Saturday, October 04, 2008

Five years ago Ian Keable told me that he was writing a book. Ian is one of the hardest working people I know. When he sets his mind to something he finds a way of accomplishing it. I met him in the early days of Opus Magazine. Ian was the editor for the first year. He never missed a deadline. He is a professional magician and I’ve watched him work his way up from the comedy clubs and close up gigs to corporate Entertainment and his own touring show. Together we’ve worked on magic documentaries for BBC Radio 4. Ian is a friend, so don’t expect this review to be unbiased. It isn’t. But when I saw early drafts of the book five years ago I thought he had created something really special and if you’ve ever wondered how to construct a professional comedy magic act, then I think you will too.

The book is called Stand Up: A Professional Guide to Comedy Magic. I should explain that if you want to find work as a patter magician, then comedy is essential. To some degree or other stand up magic acts are funny. If your act isn’t funny, the chances are you won’t get bookings. But here is the problem; most magicians are not naturally funny people. Naturally funny people – people with ‘funny bones’ – become comedians not magicians. There are exceptions, Dave Williamson and Mac King for example, but other performers have to do what Ian has done, study comedy, break it down into techniques and find ways of applying them to the magic they do. Ian’s book is the first book I’ve seen that does this. If you do stand up magic and are not as funny as Steve Martin, you should read this book.

The book is divided into five sections: The first outlines the importance of comedy in magic, jokes versus lines and finishes with an example from Ian’s own act that demonstrates clearly how each line of patter is integrated into the routine. I’ve never seen such a clear explanation and it will change the way you look at your act forever because possibly, for the first time, you will know not only what to say but why you need to say it. One of the great strengths of Ian’s book is his analysis. It will make you think about what it is you are doing and it will inspire because Ian isn’t dealing with comedy as some genetic gift possessed by the lucky few but as something that can be learned and used by anyone willing to put in the hard work.

Ian goes into detail about the importance of creating a memorable character. Much has been written on developing characters based on your own personality traits but in writing this book Ian has interviewed some of the very best comedy magicians in the world today. Throughout the book you’ll find advice from Jeff Hobson, Geoffrey Durham, Paul Daniels, Mel Mellers, Mac King, Michael Finney, Mark Kornhauser, Neal Austin, John Archer, John Carney, Noel Britten, Paul Zenon and Graham Jolley. And with their permission Ian has used examples from these comedy greats to illustrate the techniques in the book. This alone makes the book a tremendous resource.

The second section of the book concentrates on patter, how to create comedy lines, how they move the plot of the trick forward and develop character. How to write a script and employ call backs, running gags, catch phrases and other comedy techniques. Incredibly valuable stuff and with wonderful examples.

Section three covers audience participation, the use of insult humour, selecting, addressing and managing volunteers from the audience and their role as victims and stooges. Again this is not just theory, this is all drawn from the professional experience of Ian and other working professionals and once again Ian describes segments of his own act to illustrate how the techniques work.

The fourth section of the book deals with the act and how to build one. From the opening walk on to the close and the encore. No detail is missed. You’ll find practical information here about dealing with nerves, the unexpected, hecklers, complaints, walk outs, illness and every other problem that you will find as a professional.

Finally, the last section deals with other preparations the professional magician must take care of. Here you will discover information about bookings, testing stage equipment, introductions, dress, venues, money, promotional material, agents, managers, fees and venues. This really is the ideal handbook for anyone thinking of taking up a career in magic. And don’t let the word ‘stand up’ put you off because frankly anyone who intends to build patter and personality into a magic routine will find incredibly important information here that is clearly explained, makes sense and is described by someone who makes his living using these same techniques. Don’t confuse this with those ‘how to earn a million dollars a year’ books. This is a practical book from a professional magician working today’s market. Ian has done a great job of describing techniques that properly applied will make you a better performer and if you aren’t one of those lucky guys who have ‘funny bones,’ then you should certainly give it a try.

The book is well produced, hardback with glossy dust-jacket, professionally typeset, 282 pages with colour portraits of the performers who have given permission for their material to be quoted in this book. It is available from Ian on his website. You can even download a section for free. It includes a full contents list, Ian’s introduction to the book and a foreword that shows why Noel Britten is one of the funniest men in Britain.

You can find Ian's professional website here.