Northern California - United States
Many times I receive private messages from folks asking my opinion regarding various tricks, books, etc. In addition, beginners will often inquire about which types of tricks are best and more often than not, if I could explain a trick or two to them.
That said, I got to thinking about the type of tricks I enjoy performing the most, and realized one of my all time favorites is the now classic Bill in Lemon. The handling and routine I use is my own and has served me well for a very long time. In the spirit of Magicians Helping Magicians, I humbly offer this contribution to our Café community.
----------->THE CLASSIC BILL IN LEMON by Steve Brooks<-----------
For years magicians have been vanishing items and making them reappear elsewhere, or destroying something, only to have it magically fixed, and totally restored. The famous Card in orange is one such example, and the now classic Bill in lemon is yet another. Both effects are true magical gems, and deserve your consideration. It is really a shame that many performers pass these two effects by, due to the amount of time and preparation needed to present the effect correctly. But just let me add that as in life, you get whatever you put into it. Magic is no exception.
With that said, I present for your consideration, my own version of The bill in lemon. This is an effect with which I've closed my stand-up act for many years, and it always plays well. Indeed, many a time I have received a standing ovation from a lay audience upon conclusion of this little gem.
There are many variations of the Bill in Lemon, both on the market and in print. The handling I present here relies more on subtlety and misdirection, rather than on hard-core evidence, as it were. Presented correctly, you will have your audience shouting such provocative suggestions as; "He's a witch! Burn him!" Remember, the effect is what matters, and presentation is everything! Please give this a try. You'll be glad you did.
From a bowl of lemons, one is selected, and placed inside a sealed bag, which in turn is kept safe by a member of the audience. The performer then borrows a dollar bill and explains it will be returned shortly. The serial number of the bill is noted, then boldly written down on a tablet, which is used for identification purposes later.
The performer tears about a quarter of the bill apart, giving the torn piece to the loaner of the bill for safe-keeping. Suddenly, the remaining section of the bill visually vanishes before the eyes of the audience! The magician then recaps the events that led up to the vanish. The performer has the lemon removed from the bag, then hands a knife to another spectator, who is asked to cut the lemon open. When the lemon is cut, a bill is seen protruding from its center! Another audience member is asked to remove the bill, and verify the serial number, which had been written down beforehand...they match! The spectator who originally loaned out the bill, is asked to identify the bill, using the torn section he has had in his possession. Again they match! A modern miracle!
Begin by taking a one dollar bill and copying the serial number down onto the first or top page of the writing tablet. Do this using the pencil, writing very lightly! The writing should be barely visible only, and then only at a very close range (e.g, six or seven inches at the most). Make sure the numbers you've written are large enough for you to see, and are spaced evenly apart.
The reason you're using a dollar bill as opposed to a five or ten is this: It's much easier to find someone in your audience carrying a one than it would be to find a one hundred! Once you have copied the serial number, put the tablet aside, and get one of the lemons. Choosing the right type of lemon is very important, and you should take your time in doing so. I myself have often found it necessary to travel to more than one market, looking for just the right variety.
The lemon you select should be about a medium sized fruit, and long enough to allow the insertion of a bill. If you're not sure, while in the market bring out a bill and hold it in a horizontal position. With your other hand, hold the lemon in question, in a vertical position. The lemon should be slightly taller than the bill. It is also important that the lemon you choose have a good size stem. Many lemons do not, so be careful. The reason for the stem is two-fold: First, you'll need something to help hide the hole you're going to put into the lemon! And secondly, it just makes the lemon look more natural and innocent.
Now, carefully using your fingers, remove the stem and place it in a safe place. Do not lose it! Remember, you'll make use of it later. Take your pencil, bring its point to the end of the lemon (where you removed the stem), and slowly apply pressure. The pencil will begin to pierce the lemon. A little twisting motion often helps here. Now push until you reach the end, but be careful not to come out the other side! Remove the pencil, then quickly run some water over it, and wipe it dry with a towel. This will keep the pencil from becoming sticky.
Next, carefully tear about quarter of the bill, making sure at least two or more of the the serial numbers are on the torn piece. Now, take your pencil, and use it to roll the remaining section of the bill into a small tube. The tighter you roll the bill, the better! After you've done this a few times, it will become very easy, I assure you.
Once the bill is rolled into this very tiny tube, carefully slide it off the pencil, and slowly insert it into the lemon. Make sure it goes all the way in, using the end of the pencil to finish the job if necessary. Remember, the stem won't go back into place if the bill is sticking out!
Believe it or not, this next phase of prep work can be a bit tricky. You'll want to use a good liberal amount of the Krazy Glue in and around the hole of the lemon. Be extremely careful though; this glue can be nasty. You'll want to glue the stem to the end of the lemon, not your fingers! Now place the stem back into place, and hold it for a few seconds, giving the glue a chance to set in. When this has been accomplished, go ahead and place the fruit aside for now.
If you have made it this far, the hard part is over. You now have the prepared lemon, a feat which far too many magicians are too lazy to achieve. Though all this preparation may seem like a lot of work, in the end you will reap great rewards because of your hard work. As a thought, it might interest you to know that a lot of the strong effects in magic require a good amount of preparation and planning. This may not seem like much, but it really can mean the difference between a good show, and a great show!
In my humble opinion, it is also what oftentimes separates the pros from the neophytes. With that in mind, clean your work area up, and prepare to perform the impossible!
Since each performer has different environments that he must contend with, it would be rather difficult to cover every possible situation. With that in mind, and for explanation purposes, I will assume you are performing standing in a parlor or living room, with at least one table.
I usually have three or more lemons in my possession. Two or more normal, one pre-gaffed. Place the lemons inside one of the bowls, making certain you know where the gaffed lemon is resting. The easiest way to accomplish this task is to remove the stems from the un-gaffed fruit prior to your arriving. Your audience will never notice the difference, and you will have a sure-fire way of avoiding a potentially very embarrassing moment later on in the show. Another method is to make sure the loaded lemon carries a brand name stamped on its side, while the regular lemons have no such identifying writing.
In your right trousers pocket have the piece of torn bill along with a thumb tip, and your Sharpie pen. Have the second bowl nearby the first, the tablet and bag alongside these items as well.
As stated previously, I always use this effect as my closer, and I would highly recommend that you do the same. This is just one trick that is so strong, it's almost impossible to follow it with anything else.
Begin by requesting the loan of a $1.00 bill from the audience. This should be no problem, but just to be safe, always carry one yourself; it just makes sense. Remember, professionals are always prepared! As your audience member searches for the bill, casually pick up the tablet with your left hand, making sure the page you have written onto previously is visible. Without drawing attention to your actions, keep the top page facing the audience. This will insure in your spectators' minds later that the paper was indeed blank at the beginning of the trick... very important!
Little nuances such as showing the tablet page being blank will have your audience making a lot of assumptions. And believe me, a person never challenges their own assumption of reality.
Invite another person from the audience to come up front, instructing them to select one of the lemons. Use any type of magician's force to insure that he/she selects the proper lemon. You do not want a mistake here! As a side note, if I'm performing in a bar, I'll often openly request the bartender to bring me a bowl of lemons just before the show. When the moment is right, I add the loaded lemon to the mix. When doing this, I just grab a lemon from the bowl, and the audience never blinks an eye. After all, they saw the bartender bring the lemons to me.
Once the lemon is selected, ask the spectator to place the lemon into the bag and hold onto both as they return to their seat. So far, so good. Your other volunteer will have produced a bill by now, so take it from him, holding the bill along with the tablet in your left hand. Remark that you will need to identify this bill later, then use your right hand to retrieve your Sharpie pen.
This next phase of the routine, when played correctly, works like a charm. Believe me, I've done it hundreds of times with great success. Pretend to copy down the serial number with the pen, while in reality you are tracing the serial number that was written on the tablet previously. This is where your acting skills will really come in handy. I often trace over one or two numbers, pause, then casually drop my left arm down (tablet facing the audience) for a second or two, while I make small talk with the audience members. I beg you, do not rush this portion of the routine...let it sink in. Later, when the spectators backtrack the effect, they will recall watching you copy down the actual serial number.
Return the pen to your pocket and as you do so, secretly obtain the torn bill piece into a finger palm and also retrieve the thumb tip. Returning the pen seems very logical to your audience as it gives you the opportunity to secretly obtain the items needed.
Address the person who loaned you the bill, and ask him if it's an important item. As you are doing this, casually begin ripping the bill into several strips. Seeing someone tear apart actual currency is not a everyday occurrence, and it will have a big impact on the spectators. While the audience is chuckling over the bill they just saw you destroy, and while you keep eye contact with the spectator who loaned you the bill, hand him the strip of bill you have kept finger-palmed all this time.
Place the remaining pieces into the thumb tip, and do a magical vanish. You now need to get rid of the thumb tip. First, make sure in a subtle way, that the audience's perception is that your hands are totally empty. At this point, there are several options open to you, depending on your style of performing and your experience. As an example, one might reach into your pocket (supposedly to fetch the Sharpie pen) leaving the thumb tip behind, and bringing the pen back into view. If you choose to use this method, justify your actions by writing an IOU on another page from the tablet, and giving it to the spectator who originally loaned you the bill. The dirty work is now finished.
The rest, as they say, is all an easy ride from here: Ask for another volunteer from the audience and hand them the steak knife. Please be very careful (no children) as you don't want a lawsuit. At any rate, once the spectator returns to his seat, recap to your audience all the events that have taken place thus far. This is very important I feel, as it refreshes the memories of your audience members, and helps to build the suspense to the finale that is about to take place. Now the real fun begins! Everything is set and ready to go, all you need do is play the part correctly.
Ask the spectator holding the bag, to remove the lemon and join you on stage. While he/she is doing this, pick up the empty bowl from the table, and address the spectator holding the steak knife. Ask him to join the person holding the lemon. Have the first spectator hand the second spectator the lemon. Now pass the empty bowl to the first spectator.
This, you explain, will catch all the juice and seeds. At this point, it is very obvious to the audience that the lemon will be cut open. The empty bowl will keep you from getting a dry cleaning bill, and it provides more interaction with the spectators. Now, motion to the person with the knife to go ahead and cut open the mysterious fruit. If you feel nervous about allowing an audience member to handle the knife, you can cut open the lemon yourself, but the effect is not near as strong. Explain that he must cut slowly and accurately. After all, you wouldn't want him to destroy government currency, which may be a federal offense!
As the lemon is cut open, and the two halves separated, the reaction from the audience will be very strong. Have the bill removed, and while this is taking place, ask the spectator holding the torn piece of bill to stand. Now hold the tablet up high for all to see! Have the bill loaner compare his torn piece with the now wet and soggy bill, they fit together! Now instruct that the serial number be read allowed. Again, it's a match!
A miracle! The audience goes crazy, and you're a hero. It doesn't get much better then this!
Once the lemon is cut, and the bill is verified, always offer the loaner of the bill a clean and dry replacement. Most of the time they will let you keep the bill, but this is just a nice bit of courtesy on your part.
I did not supply any so-called patter lines, as I feel each person will adapt this handling to fit their own specific style anyway, or at least they should.
Something that might amuse some of you, is the fact I once did this trick at a backyard bar-b-q. Now, while the type of venue is not surprising, the fact that there were two lemon trees growing along my clients fence was a gift from above. The best part? The trees were both loaded with ripened lemons! You can imagine the rest. To this day those people still talk about that summer show I did for them.
In closing, I realize that a lot of performers prefer to have the bill signed, as final proof of the effect. I respect that view, but have found that convincing laymen is quite different than convincing a magician in the know. Just my opinion. In the end, one must do what you're most comfortable with. I do hope this helps someone add a great classic effect to their act, and I look forward to any comments you may have via private message.
Take care and God bless.
"Always be you because nobody else can" - Steve Brooks
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