Charm, Magic, and Kevin King

Kevin KingI wasn’t going to write any more today. I’m tired. Really tired. The holidays wear me out. What’s more, it is new year’s eve and I hate new years eve. I feel like I, as a radical pedestrian, am not allowed to leave the house tonight. I left earlier to pick up some food for dinner. And in that brief time out, someone tried to run me over. It’s no big deal. People are always trying to run me over. I don’t take it personally. I don’t think they know the kind of books I write. I don’t think they know that I am a radical pedestrian who would not only take away their cars, if they complained I would deprive them of life, libertry, and the pursuit of happiness. In that order.

Anyway, stuck at home, I went over to YouTube to check out how many people have viewed my video Tea Party Idiot Rant – Up with Chris Hayes, which is pushing 10,000 views which is a whole lot for a guy who is normally happy with a single thousand. But it offered me some close-up magic to watch, so I clicked. It was a guy doing a close-up linking ring kind of trick and I found it really annoying. But there was a link to The Close Up Magic of Kevin King. Now, I had never even heard of Kevin King but it looked like he did card work, and that’s pretty much the only thing I’m really interested in, so I clicked over.

And glad I was! In addition to everything else, he’s really funny. What’s more, and this cannot be over-stated, he’s charming. I’ve always had this problem with Michael Close. Close is brilliant. He understands all the problems with magic and he does a great job of getting around those and performing magic that is truly entertaining. But here’s the problem: I don’t like Michael Close. I have this feeling that if I ever met him, he would be a total dick. Oh! That’s right: I once corresponded with him. And although it was very pleasant, the man exuded “People don’t appreciate me as much I appreciate me.” And on stage, he isn’t charming. Almost anyone else would be more successful performing his beautifully crafted magic. So that’s what I got from Kevin King.

But before I introduce you to him, we need to talk about another magician: Derek Dingle. Whereas Michael Close is great at taking other people’s ideas and turning them into entertaining routines, Dingle was a true innovator. But he was also, most clearly, a miserable bastard, and I don’t say that just because he was British. Dingle performed with the same level of excitement as the cashier at the gas station: he was putting in his time. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t great and funny as hell. Unlike Michael Close, I would love to have had the opportunity to get drunk with Derek Dingle. (BTW: that appears to be his real name. It sounds like a porn actors name. I’m just saying.) Anyway, watch as he does, one of his simpler tricks, the Fabulous Jumping Card Trick. Watch it, not just because it’s a lot of fun, but because it’s important to what I’m going to say later:

I actually do a couple of Dingle’s card tricks. And by that, I mean that I can do them, I never do them for anyone. The reason is that his personality is so woven into the tricks that it never quite works to do them as myself. And that brings me to Kevin King. In the following video, I think that I see him do at least three Derek Dingle routines: the coin routine, the triumph, and something along the lines of the Fabulous Jumping Card Trick (although the method is different). What I find remarkable is that he makes it all his own. And as I said, he’s charming as hell. You want to spend time with him.

It turns out that Kevin King also does lectures at business conferences about Verbal Perception Manipulation. Basically, he talks to a group and says nothing that makes any sense. There is supposed to be a point to it, “The secret to business success is to communicate clearly.” I, however, have found that this is exactly the opposite of the truth. American business is mostly a bunch of nonsense. So many times, I have seen people get important jobs because they can talk gibberish and convince management that they know what they are talking about when they don’t know a thing. So King’s routine clearly amuses the management types who go to these conferences. But I doubt they learn anything more than they do from his magic shows. And that’s just fine. King is able to make a living. And American business does what all businesses do when they are riding the wave of an empire in decline: through graft and connections and sometimes by buying companies that make money the old fashioned way of producing products that people want to buy. You know, products like Kevin King’s performances.

0 thoughts on “Charm, Magic, and Kevin King

  1. The odd thing, to me, is how devalued magicians are. It’s almost a short-hand for "loser." (Witness Gob in "AD.") There’s a cultural perception that magicians are in the same league as clowns, or people who hawk kitchen inventions at state fairs. I suppose that’s because there isn’t much money in it (except for the big-name, truly irritating ones.) We don’t respect a hobby/passion that isn’t lucrative/popular. Even though "nerds" are cool now, that’s because sci-fi/fantasy makes money, as do computers. "Nerd" wasn’t cool in the ’80s, that’s for sure.

    So here I see three examples of magicians working with that perception. Dingle’s playing into it; he strikes me as pretending to be bored as part of his act, because that’s what the audience would expect an aging magician to be. (The jumping card trick is a joke on how they’d expect him to be sloppy with his skills, as well.) King is also playing the role, but in a different way; he’s pretending that he acknowledges how inferior his skill set is to those of corporate types, and bolstering their ego by being their court jester. (Like many court jesters, this pretense is the biggest trick of all; he’s actually using them, not the other way around.)

    Whereas Close, in this clip, strikes me as genuinely insecure. Note how he throws in shallow literary references. That could be a good gag, if he meant it in a self-depreciating "I could have gone to college and been successful like you folks" sly way to fool them. But he really seems eager to impress.

    For some odd reason all good magic reminds me of a great speaker we had at school when I was very little. It was a skilled storyteller from a local Native population, and he told us Coyote stories. I remember being absolutely mesmerized. I was a good little Catholic, of course, and didn’t believe any of the stories (some of which were creation tales, like how Coyote made a canyon or the like.) But the teller had such sly wit and charm that I wanted him to go on forever.

    For years I’ve read Coyote stories, and they never are as good as that storyteller was when I was little. Because the essence of a trickster is the charm, not the story, not the trick. For the record, I’ve occasionally bought a useless kitchen appliance from those state fair hustlers (and promptly given it away.) Because the best of them put such passion into their pitch that it entertains the hell out of me.

  2. @JMF – That’s a very interesting observation. I would say that the best magicians are just story tellers. And to be fair to Close, that isn’t him at his best; he really is great at telling stories. (He’s also a fine jazz pianist, damn him to hell!)

    There are two kinds of magic. First, there is the big stage stuff. Well, that doesn’t especially work in a world where Peter Jackson can make me cry when King Kong dies. This is above all what GOB is making fun of. Of course GOB is just bad. Tony Wonder is the better parody.

    Close-up magic is the real thing. The problem is that it is necessarily small. In fact, the essence of that jumping card routine is the sound of the cards as he counts them. You miss most of that in the video so mostly what you are seeing is Dingle performing for that one guy; Dingle isn’t performing for the video watcher. Most of the work these guys get is working trade shows and cocktail parties. Bar magicians are still popular for obvious reasons. (That’s the main character of my second and never to be completed novel!)

    I very much see them as jugglers. They do things that are generally very difficult and then are forced to come up with ways to make it interesting. In Close’s writing he goes into a lot of depth about the process of creating a routine. The amount of work is enormous. And you’re right: there isn’t a lot of money in it. But there [i]is[/i] a living and I think that’s all that really matters to most artists of any stripe.

    But I would rather hear a great story teller than watch a great movie. And I’m actually kind of optimistic. As generic forms of mass entertainment get more and more common, I think people will become more interested in personal entertainment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.