Jonah is joined by Jamy Ian Swiss this week to discuss persona, creativity and the importance of learning the classics. Alongside being a dedicated, lifelong student of magic, Jamy is a prolific writer, sleight of hand artist, and magic historian.
Growing up as a shy, introverted child, Jamy was often introduced to new hobbies by his parents in an attempt to bring him out of his shell. His first introduction to magic came at the age of seven when his father purchased a colour vision box from Tannen’s and performed it for Jamy at dinner. From that moment, Jamy’s passion for magic began and he quickly became a lifelong student dedicated to mastering the art.
At first, Jamy’s father would go to Tannen’s to purchase magic every time Jamy mastered a trick. When he was 11, Jamy started attending the store himself to watch and learn from the magicians who attended the store. Louis Tannen, Presto, Al Koran, all became important mentors in Jamy’s initial years of learning magic, and they continue to influence him.
Magic, however, was just a passion. A hobby. He didn’t want to be a kid’s performer like his friends because he dislikes performing for kids. Additionally, while he had grown up recognizing the importance of the arts, he had been instilled with the bias that no sane person would consider pursuing an artistic career. Magic simply remained a hobby for him while he pursued a more traditional career. Jamy would proceed to lock himself in a room for a year to practice before emerging a year later, booking two corporate gigs, and never looking back.
Jamy recognizes that he had the privilege of being surrounded by great mentors throughout his career in magic. Now, as his mentors slowly leave him, Jamy recognizes more than ever the impact his mentors had on his life. In turn, he has tried to pay it forward to help the newer generation.
When looking for a mentor, it’s not enough to just find someone with more experience than you.
Not only should they be more intelligent and skilled than you, they need to jive with your magic interests without being afraid to give you honest critiques; you shouldn’t be taking advice from somebody who is going to impose their thoughts on you. However, you shouldn’t try to learn in a vacuum which is why it’s important to surround yourself with people who scare the living hell out of you.
Magic, at its core, is a disconcerting experience. A cognitive dissonance for the spectator is created as their understanding of the world is challenged which can result in an uncomfortable situation for the audience and the magician. However, rather than avoid this feeling, Jamy believes magicians should embrace it.
Jamy isn’t interested in upholding the status quo; he’s interested in experiences and art that provoke thought and feeling. He doesn’t seek to please or be pleased with his art because, at the end of the day, if you’re trying to please everyone, no one will ever be passionate about what you’re doing.
If you are setting out to create “childlike wonder” in adults, you’re taking the wrong approach to magic. Children believe anything is possible which is why it isn’t fun doing magic for younger people. If your audience can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, what impact does magic have? Referencing Max Maven, Jamy explains that this is why magic has been rendered trivial as the performer is making fun of magic rather than embracing the provocative nature of the art.
Learning the Classics
Just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it’s good, Jamy explains.
The classics are classics for a reason. If you want to gain a fundamental understanding of magic, he recommends learning the classics like Vernon’s cups and balls. It is only after you have a thorough understanding of the classic routines that you should consider branching out to your own unique takes on magic. When you do decide to branch out, Jamy believes that you should research every iteration of an effect you can find to understand the work that has gone into the effects before you. With Dennis Behr’s Conjuring Archive, researching effects is easier than ever.
Jamy notes that there is an issue with the onslaught of products that are released everyday. Primarily, products that have been developed by magic newcomers who believe that they’ve either created a new miracle or are releasing an older effect under the impression that they are the first to discover it. Often, these effects aren’t very good or somebody has developed it before, demonstrating that the person didn’t conduct their research before releasing the product. Jamy explains that good magic is hard to find, let alone create, and that the overwhelming amount of material on the market is difficult for newcomers to comprehend.
The Importance of a Message
Don Allen. Eugene Burger. Penn & Teller.
All of their effects were informed by their personalities and the messages they wanted to convey to their audience. The effects these performers chose are not new, revolutionary tricks. What makes their presentations memorable is the original presentations they brought to their routines.
At the end of the day, it is how you present a trick that makes it magical. You cannot simply rely on a method to fool the audience, and you cannot recite somebody else’s script as it won’t be genuine. You need to put the work into finding what you want to say and creating a routine around this message if you ever want to do impactful performances.
What do you like about magic in 2019? What do you dislike?
Jamy likes what the Spanish are doing for magic. They are focused on creating an experience of mystery, and they have a deep appreciation for what they’re communicating; they’re not trivializing the experience.
Jamy dislikes the overwhelming onslaught of magic that is released on a daily basis. Anybody coming into magic has to sift through material in an attempt to find something good.
Take Home Point
Don’t get distracted by material on YouTube or the fancy new product on the market. Becoming a great magician requires hard work, study, and finding a mentor who is willing to critique you.