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Steve Spill
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Steve Spill
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Profile of Steve Spill

Steve Spill is at it again---writing that is, and his books just keep getting better and better. It's a shame that the title Lost Inner Secrets is taken, because this book is that. No, it's not going to tell you where to put your left pinky when (at least not too much), but it's a book that could supercharge a performance from just competent to extra special. I can't imagine a better investment of your magic time than reading this book.

Steve's recent retirement from daily performance at his Magicopolis venue, interestingly, has put Steve in a different frame of mind; you can feel it in his writing. There's still the same love of humor, magic, and people---still plenty of funny jokes---but there's something else this time around, something deeper, more philosophical…wiser. With his new perspective, he gets at what the real essentials are in this performing art.

To my knowledge, what Steve talks about here just isn't available in magic writing anywhere else: the information within comes only with the repetition of thousands of performances. It's about hard-won expertise that is deep in the performer's bones. And it's not easy to articulate it without a lot of self-awareness and self-reflection. Reading, I felt I had a privileged view watching from the backstage wings, thinking: Oh, that's what he's doing, that's how he's getting that laugh. that's how he's making rapport with the audience, that's why he does that move then. If you're reading this, you probably have shelves of magic books with tricks and sleights; you likely have near warehouses full of magic equipment. Those are not going to make you a better magician at this point. Leave them alone for now. Pick up this book. It will tell you what you don't know about performing, and will never know, until you perform as many times as Steve Spill has.

Steve starts off with persona. A magician, he explains, doesn't have to be relaxed and carefree---but s/he has to give that impression. Magic is an aggressive art at bottom; there's always the iron fist in the velvet glove. It takes a lot of time to find the right balance of mystery and playfulness to keep an audience from feeling abused. "It's important," says Spill, that magicians "not take themselves so seriously that audiences feel beaten over the head by the performer. I think a cultivated casualness is an antidote to the oft-perceived pomposity that comes with fooling people, and that can help whatever you do become more viewer-friendly." And, a bonus of such apparent casualness: "Performing without a lot of affectation can conceal methods, and presents everything that’s said and done as something brought about without laboriousness."

"Cultivated casualness" is a wonderful phrase and Spill goes on to explain exactly how to cultivate that casualness and how to use it to the performer's advantage. First, there is a terrific section on improvising, which is unlike any other advice on improv that I've seen. As Steve points out, the improvisation techniques that a comedy magician needs to learn (and really the techniques here are good for all magicians, not just those committed to comedy) are different from the techniques that one learns in a theater improv class. Simply put, an actor works with other trained improv actors, but a magician is largely exchanging banter with audience members who are untrained. Steve gives you techniques that make those interactions wittier, funnier and more engaging. I practiced his exercises for a single day, and I was already faster on my feet with other people. This chapter alone will improve performances greatly. It's a real gift.

Then there's a whole chapter devoted to comedy tags. Wait, I know---Dammit, Jim, I'm a magician, not a comedian! Okay, okay. But you know what?---Steve is giving you ready-made callbacks here, and if you play your comedic cards right, four or five-time callbacks. Even if you're not a comedy magician, only the most dour of performance personas would find these suggestions out of character. Short of some Bizarre Magic approach (and maybe even then) humor almost always lifts a performance.

On to a chapter about doing magic for teens. As someone who's worked with teens as an educator for many decades, I'll tell you this: Steve Spill understands and appreciates the way teens think and act. He is exactly right about how to approach them. He gives not only a general approach, but also some very specific bits that work and carry him through a show. I like that Steve Spill likes teens. And oh yeah, if you don't know how to deal with teens who love their cellphones---and they all do---once again, Steve comes to the rescue with both general and very specific advice.

Steve ends this section with some disarmingly frank advice about playing the long game:

Being a pro may be a labor of love, but is labor nonetheless. It is a job. Usually it is a fun job, but not always…Very few in our craft are ever in the position to turn down work. Some jobs are ones you desperately want---others you don’t want, but take just for the payday. In my lifetime I’ve given tens of thousands of performances. Some were great. Most were good. Some were bad. A few were really bad.

And then Steve goes on to say how he saves himself when things go South.

I really should stop the review here, because the book I've described so far is worth every penny to a person who repeatedly gets onstage for a living.

But duty says, continue. And it's not really a duty, it's a pleasure. Because the second half of the book consists of some unpublished wonderful routines from Steve's repertoire, with their full scripts. It includes "The Mindreading Goose"---"Not bad for a goose!"; and "Broken Mirror," a spirit slate routine done without slates, suitable for your favorite spooky holiday; then a lovely sleight of hand interlude done with a Cub Scout neckerchief slide; and a brilliant Torn and Restored routine that can be customized for special occasions. They are all effects that although not overly elaborate can play big and funny for a large audience.

But my favorite routine here is Steve's version of the Slydini "Paper Balls Over The Head." The piece should win some kind of award for the most brilliant comedy magic script of the decade. This thing is a comic masterpiece. This is one to bring down the house. Okay, remember what I said about the first half of the book being worth every penny? Forget that. Because for the right person, this script alone is worth every penny. Seriously. It could be a reputation maker.

Overall, the book is bursting at the seams with fantastic performance advice and magic routines. I can't recommend it highly enough. The icing on the cake is a back cover photo of Dai Vernon that I assure you, will have you laughing out loud.

You've got an uncle in the business. His name is Steve Spill, and he's telling you everything he knows. Thank you, Steve, for one of the most entertaining and useful books of magic I've ever read.

You can order it at

Jack Shalom |September 7, 2019 at 12:02 am |Tags: book, comedy, magic, Magic Is My Weed, magicians, performance, stage magic, stand up magic, Steve Spill |Categories: Books, Comedy, Life, Magic, Performance, Theatre, Writing |URL:
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Steve Spill
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Pre-publication sale price ends 9-25-19
JANY IAN SWISS “I simply don’t know of a better book of real-world counsel on what it takes to perform professionally on stage, to make a living at it, and to be funny in the process.”



Hasn’t indecision ruled your life long enough? Take a stand and buy this groundbreaking inspirational manifesto now.
Steve Spill
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Magic Is My Weed by Steve Spill, Magic Concepts, Santa Monica,, 2019; hb, 6” x 9”, 236 pp., $150 including international carriage.
A short while back I enthused greatly over the prequel to this: the author’s ‘How To Make Love The Steve Spill Way’. Such was my unabashed zest for that volume that I gushed, “There are woefully few books for the stand-up comedy magician: itself a dying breed as performing conditions increasingly favour the close-upper. This is at heart (and this book has a big heart) a love song for the parlour/stage comic performer, doubling as a lesson in scripting, routining and theatricality”. Steady on there: but it applies largely to this volume too.

This is very much Volume Two of a concatenation: it offers up a mirror to its predecessor. So you will find a combination of entertaining, insightful autobiographical details and quirky commercial routines that will resonate with readers of the ‘Love…’ book.

This wisecracking hippie speaks for most of those of us with the presumption and neediness to stand up in front of strangers and seek their unalloyed approval when he admits: “There is no more thrilling feeling then the sound of people who are surprised and clapping and cheering – it acts like a drug. It is my weed”. To his credit, few are prepared to go to such lengths to fish for that level of public approbation than Spill; some of the routines (in both books) are not only idiosyncratic but entail him going to unusual lengths to concoct a routine.

A routine that embodies the Spill style of chutzpah will be the one those familiar with his oeuvre will flip the pages to locate upon unwrapping the book: ‘The Mindreading Goose’. It has become something of a signature routine for Spill; it is very funny, in the Venn diagram of Rocky Raccoon but with a (hopefully) unique climax when the featured Goose takes a wazz over the front row. It sold for the best part of $500 – may still do as far as I know – as a dealer item, but like the afore-mentioned Rocky, I cannot envisage it in any one else’s hands. It’s laid out here in all its glory and to the requisite detail to allow you to make one for yourself; I doubt many will, and in many ways, I hope they don’t: it would be a calamity to see such a gem ruined in lesser hands than Spill’s.

As with its prequel, this is very much a book of two parts; ‘Contact High’ (geddit?) is a sequence of great anecdotes, autobiographical insights that offer a thoroughly enjoyable, if slightly unnerving trip through Spill's bizarre mind. Do not be beguiled by his entertaining anecdotal style though; there is much hard-gained wisdom contained in this half of the book, and for me just these 80 pages or so would be an invaluable publication on their own; in which case the routines come as a huge bonus. A particularly welcome aspect of this is his entry into an examination of his approach and attitude to comedy; David Regal pronounced this segment as “priceless”, and Regal certainly knows his comedy.

Then come the routines, and there are a few veritable pearls amongst those that are, shall we say, somewhat idiosyncratic: likely to remain Spill’s alone. ‘Mindreading Goose’ aside, I was attracted to his unusual and beautifully staged version of ‘Paper Balls Over Head’, as far from Slydini’s as you are likely to encounter. His ‘Miser’s Dream’ with spluttering finish is a hoot; you’ll have great fun just envisaging yourself standing on a stage and delivering it.

Even if you do not pick up any of these routines as written, you will certainly learn much from his approach, thinking, attention to detail (which is extraordinary) and the relationship he develops with his audiences (for example his take on the T&R Newspaper). And there are so many great lines included that the comedy performer will seize upon with an ungainly alacrity: like a pig snuffling out truffles, the result is a joy to digest.

You can only get these volumes from the author, and they come with an eye-watering international delivery charge; and an asking price of over $300 delivered for the two books may seem veering towards exploitative. As tends to be the case with the release onto the market of a lifetime of commercial insights and material from a true professional: here’s a price to be exacted for such a release. If your wallet forces you to choose between the two, I’d point out that the first book gave me more pleasure than its still-excellent successor and is still an essential purchase for me. Whichever way you decide to go, you will rarely enjoy the fruits of such an investment in magical literature with such laugh-out-loud relish.
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STEVE SPILL TELLS ALL -- Steve Spill makes me laugh. I became a huge fan in the early eighties, visiting his and Bob Sheets' Brook Farm Inn of Magic a half dozen times, the most perfect full evenings of dining and magic I can imagine. If you have never encountered Steve's twisted sense of humor, you can via YouTube (see my notes in July 2019) or through his more formally compiled DVD, 10 Years of Steve Spill 1980-1990. Alas, you can no longer encounter him at Magicopolis, at least not on a regular basis, as he has sold the establishment to the Magic Castle's Randy Sinnott. More recently, you can encounter Steve in his new book, Magic Is My Weed.

Said book mimics the previously praised How to Make Love the Steve Spill Way, with about half devoted to essays (theory and history) and half to a dozen fully polished professional stage routines.

Professional magic you can do!
Now shipping!
Theory. The opening chapter "Let's Party" makes the case that performing magic generates extreme bliss (the drug metaphor), a true high for a boy who grew up loving (as I did) magic, old rock and roll, and various magazines (Mad, Famous Monsters of Filmland, and Genii). Ah, but unlike me, Steve's dad was a Magic Castle medium and his "uncles" were Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller. Not fair. He sold Magicopolis not so much for getting bored of performing (although he did over 200 shows a year for 21 years) as for "work" (paying employees, making the monthly nut, etc.). He has dropped back to a few shows a month.

The rest of the chapter focuses on agents and managers, show producers, being a wisecracking hippie, being yourself on stage (huge part of the Love book), the notion that humor enhances mystery, being more analog than digital, and what the rest of the book promises, especially if magic is your weed.

That promise includes theory chapters on exactly how to address various aspects of stage performance, analysis I've seen rivaled only in David Kaye's work on kid shows.

"Spur of the Moment" addresses improv: why you should do it and how you can do it. Why increases being now with your audience. As to how, Steve advises no fourth wall, thinking while they are laughing, saying the second or third thing rather than the first, interviewing spectators and reacting to their answers, living a full life, reading humor, being informed, applying the acronym PESK to your routines to make them funnier, and limiting profanity. (That last suggestion does not apply to magic books.) Regarding humor, I regularly read Steve's suggestions of James Thurber and S.J. Perelman and would add to his list P.G. Wodehouse, Jean Shepherd, and Peter De Vries.

"OA" is Steve's technique for controlling a general audience via callbacks and tags. It is guaranteed to generate plenty of oohs and ahs.

"The Dope on young Humans" is Steve's strategy for controlling a theater full of young kids -- school field trips were popular at Magicopolis. Let's just say the method would be explosive. I have often wondered: the rumor at Brook Farm was that Steve and Bob Sheets used to host pizza matinees for kids only. Could these kid control techniques have been developed there?

"Paparazzi!" contains general thoughts on entertaining teenagers -- graduation parties were popular at Magicopolis -- along with a specific strategy involving a pop-up necktie. I must admit the latter made me a bit squirmy, and I am someone who performed and published Love Potion Number 9 (a unique Card from Fly routine) and The World's Most Obscene 21 Card Trick (The Little Egypt Book of Numbers). Steve's teen chapter concludes with some ideas on performing for seniors.

"Tough Skin" takes me back to the MAGIC Live session called Ghost Stories, hosted by Mac King and Max Maven in scout uniforms by a campfire. Various pro magicians told horror stories of their worst performances. This chapter contains Steve's worst, and they are really bad. The chapter concludes with Mark Wilson's advice on what to do when things go that wrong.

Magic. And then we have a dozen complete routines with all the little touches that have made them so great over thousands of performances. Among them ...

Mind Reading Goose is Steve's most iconic trick. I doubt that you are reading this review if you are not deeply familiar with it. "Not bad for a goose!" There is a great story about how the routine evolved from a car ride with John Kennedy (the magician, not the President), Tim Conover, and a bumper sticker that read SAVE A TREE, EAT A BEAVER. All the performing details are here, including permission to perform it, but you will be money and time ahead if you purchase the whole darn thing from Bob Kohler.

Not bad for a goose!
See the material performed here.
Grab N Stab is Steve's Russian Roulette routine with five knives. Don't worry about it failing: it fails every time, with a great comic ending.

Broken Mirror is a bizarre effect, with a Satanic message in blood on a piece of broken mirror. Perfect for Halloween.

Rice Paper is Steve's Paper Balls Over the Head routine with toilet paper that he and Bob Sheets turned into a hilarious two-person routine, at least twice as funny as any prior version. Wife Bozena later handled the honors at Magicopolis. History note: Steve first encountered this routine as a volunteer for Slydini himself.

And eight more: a terrific mind reading routine re menu selections, a Miser's Dream that uses a pot, a spoon, and six dollar coins, a business card force, a mental effect for Multiplying Bottles, a manipulation trick with a Cub Scout neckerchief slide, a new use for a Grant Temple Screen, a haunted record album collection, and a Mother's Day wrapping paper restoration.

As I opened, Steve Spill makes me laugh. Not just on stage, but in his writing. He has a humor-centric approach to life and the written word. But funny as he is (his writing is up there with Regal and Caveney), the best laugh in the book goes to Bozena, for her comment at the bottom of page 210. I am still laughing.

Like the previous book: Hard cover, 238 pages, highly entertaining writing, with funky illustrations by the author, from $125.

Are there more of these books in the pipeline? I am thinking illusions. The Spill-Sheets Substitution Trunk and the Levitation of a Lady from the Audience play large in my memory.
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Both books are coming out in new softcover editions. The hardcovers of these books sold for $125 each and were out of print within a year. The softcover editions are $75 and go out to customers early March 2021. To ensure you get yours, specify LOVE or WEED, or LOVE & WEED, and PayPal to
USA orders add $8 postage and handling - total cost per book $83.
International orders add $25 postage and handling - total cost per book $100.
Here are descriptions of the books from when they were first issued in hardcover:
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If you’ve followed my career, been to my shows, or read my previous books, I wrote ASSASSIN just for you.

It’s a 260 page turner hardcover that can advance your career, both artistically and lucratively, either to take you to the next level or to get you back on track. Whatever the case, over the last five decades I’ve been there, and in terms of what I know, no stone has been left unturned. Some think, “Only a few special people can make it.” There are only a handful of Penn & Tellers and Copperfields in this world, but there are moderately successful magicians who live amazing lives. You can be one of them.

If you are a competent performer and need a full calendar of gigs, a residency, or want to own your own theater - be like me and get those things… my step-by-step guide, from real-life experience instead of theory, encompasses one-third of this book. Some readers will only be interested in audience-tested material they can do to bring laughs and surprises, included are these twelve little gems right here…

A lot of mentalism seems to be about suggesting it’s the art of suggestion or that one has a sharply developed sense of non-verbal communication or other psychological or scientific influence or precognitive ability. You can’t say that about this merrymaking wonderworker that features a telepathic fish expiration date projector, cleverly disguised as an ordinary flashlight. What can be said, without giving everything away, is that audiences will tell you they had no idea you were this amazing and amusing. A thing of real beauty that’s real magic and real funny. Another plus, this routine also makes use of a real fake fish eye.

A prediction that’s not a magician’s prediction-comes-true scenario. It’s all about a twist in time, a clumsy mistake in the postal system. You received a yellowed-with-age love letter from the year 1914. Even though they’d be well over a hundred-years-old today, you wish you could find the person it was written to. Instead an unintended reverse forecast, fortune telling from the past thing happens, involving members of your audience. Though not my intention, someone once told me this trick was proof of reincarnation.

In this experiment, plastic eating enzymes devour a borrowed credit card into nothingness which reappears, restored, in a gift-wrapped box of Cracker Jack.

A Public Service Announcement about how to save a restaurant choking victim that finishes with the surprise appearance of a large bottle of wine.

Your toaster - that burns everything - has a bad influence on your empty microwave, from which appear multiple cans of burnt vegetables and a real live burnt bunny rabbit.

If you are looking for a good holiday themed routine to add to your act, you might consider a Santa hat that doubles as a change bag or a trick about Rudolph. This is neither of those things. What we have here is a chattering teeth card revelation that tells a holiday story which is absolutely completely different in both script and effect to Terry Seabrook’s chattering teeth card revelation.

Solving a Rubik’s Cube as a magic trick does not, aesthetically, appeal to me. But this little caper does, because it’s a mystery with a painting of an unsolved Rubik’s Cube, done with crayons, by Picasso.

Nothing to do with a programming language that is one of the core technologies of the World Wide Web, this is a recurring bit of connective tissue to tie your show together with a Thermos that’s constantly proved empty, but repeatedly replenishes itself, and ultimately fills nine clear mugs with black coffee.

A quick infomercial about the new Toxins from Around the World Collection. Those who do this routine demo the first offering, Nuclear Waste, by multiplying their fingers which glow and are eaten and then blow into their thumbs and grow giant ten-inch mutant fingers.

There was a time - for real - when I was a fashion show MC, that’s when this bit with invisible accessories was tailored. The surprise climax happens when a lit candle - used for meditative purposes - transforms into the exact color and design of an invisible pocket square imagined by a spectator. Here’s the routine intro, “When I started in the comedy magic game, every magician wore a tuxedo, and every comedian wore a T shirt and jeans. In terms of fashion, as a comedy magician, I was a wardrobe half breed… one foot in each craft… until I met a stylist…”

A striking practical example of a one-off special routine developed for a corporate event that’s a how-to object lesson, done with photo blow-ups of famous women you didn’t know were actually bald. Their names are - Oprah, Cher, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Dolly Parton.

A unique method and presentation for the classic Chess Knight’s Tour.

Hardcover book available for pre-order now, shipping in May - ORDER HERE -
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