On episode 155, Kainoa Harbottle sits down with Jonah to discuss coin magic, educating your audience on magic, and magic in the 19th century. Kainoa is known for his extensive work on coins and his ability to bring theatrical techniques into his performances to elevate magic for his audience. 

Kainoa has always been a performer, often finding himself playing the eccentric villain characters in his school drama classes. His journey into magic, however, didn’t begin until eighth grade. During a free day at school, Kainoa learned a trick to attend a magic session with his friends. Alongside these friends, Kainoa started a group that worked children’s birthdays

At the time, Kainoa wasn’t doing sleight of hand. It wasn’t until he met Curtis Kam that he began his journey into coin magic. He began to table-hop before Curtis’ show where he quickly learned the basics of table hopping like don’t’ perform while they’re eating and that self-working tricks weren’t enough anymore.  

Why Coin Magic is Daunting

Acting as a confessional of sorts, Kainoa often has magicians approach him to tell him that they don’t perform coin magic because they’re afraid. He, of course, understands that there is pressure as, unlike card magic where you can put a hot card back on the deck, you can’t put a coin back on a deck when you’re feeling heat. However, going on to quote Curtis Kam, Kainoa says that you just need to palm the coin. You’re not going to learn how to do coin magic unless you practice doing coin magic.

For those who want to get into coin magic but find the process too daunting, Kainoa reminds people that it’s about learning in steps. When most people started out with card magic, they most likely didn’t learn how to keep a break. They learned key cards and self-working tricks. With coins, you need to start with palming one coin and build from there. Kainoa goes on to explain that most people don’t know the most important part of Bobo’s Modern Coin Magic: the last section with the routines. By learning routines, you can begin to understand the routines and structure of coin plots, moving your coin magic beyond just vanishing a coin.

Naturalness as a Construct

You don’t need to be natural to do card magic, but coin magic relies on an understanding of how your own body moves. For example, if you try to teach a person how to vanish a coin, they often can’t grasp the concept of acting like they’re doing something. If you take a coin and put it in your hand, and then you take a coin and pretend to put it in your hand, it should look the same.

Kainoa goes on to explain that there is no such thing as a general naturalism as everyone moves differently. Because naturalism is a construct, you have the opportunity to construct how you move. This has led to Kainoa making two major decisions with his coin work. The first decision he made was to teach himself his major material with his left hand so that his dominant hand was free to shake the spectator’s hand. The second decision he made was gesturing as if he was finger palming coins all the time. By palming coins all the time, he was able to build this as a natural way to move.

Advice for Table Hopping

One of the first nights Kainoa was table hopping, he had a table that just kept talking to him. After the show, he spoke to Curtis saying that he was trying to get through the magic but people kept talking to him. Curtis told him that that’s his job; you’re there to make people happy, you’re not there to sell them magic. Kainoa goes on to explain that this realization changed the way he approaches table hopping.

You have to learn how to listen to people, and you need to learn how to authentically interact with the people you’re performing for. If you’re making the magic about yourself, you’re not making them comfortable and you’re intruding into their space.  If you’re working in a restaurant, you want the people to leave and want to come back for the magician. You need to provide them with that moment of hospitality. Be playful, interact with what they’re doing, you’ll have your moment to blow them away.

Audience Perception of Magic

Most people come in with the perception that magic is meant for clowns and children’s birthday parties. When you perform magic for these people, you are most likely defining magic for them. Which is why if you’re doing to mess with the perception of reality, you better be performing the best magic you know.

When Kainoa performs and his audience says they’ve “seen a trick before,” Kainoa takes the moment to educate his audience on magic. He wants a smart audience that he can still fool, so his patter focuses on defining magic and helping the spectator understand what is happening. He is taking the moment to build the world of magic in front of them by breaking down their concept of magic and showing them the difference between a trick, an illusion, and magic.

Magic in the 19th Century

Alongside being a skilled sleight-of-hand magician, Kainoa is also a Professor of English with his Ph.D. dissertation focusing on magic in Victorian England. When conducting his research in 19th-century magic, he discovered that there was a lot of material reminiscing about the time period. Several people would write pieces about missing the magical spaces of the Victorian era.

Based on his research, Kainoa discovered that there were three acceptable forms of entertainment a person could see: Madame Tussaud’s waxworks, magic, and Minstrelsy. Theatre and music halls were too risque at the time period. Kainoa realized that all of these are constructs. Magic is a construct of power, waxworks is a construct of a person, and minstrelsy is a construct of race.

While we don’t think about the other two, we still think of magic. Why? Why was magic the one survived? Kainoa believes it survived because you’re altering reality in front of somebody. They can see things on TV or online, but when they witness magic in real life, their perception of reality is being altered in front of them. Magic challenges the augmented reality that has taken over today. Our job as magicians is to show them there is another way to look at life.


Endless chain

Curtis Kam

John Bourne

What do you like about 2019 magic? What do you hate?

Kainoa likes that magic is moving towards an audience-centered approach.

Kainoa doesn’t like Rubik’s cube magic as too many people are doing it and it doesn’t necessarily require skill.

Favourite part

Jonah liked talking about coins as a plot as it may be where a lot of the discomfortable feeling comes from not having great plots. He also loved the idea that magic is the anti-technology mean to pull people into this reality.

Kainoa wants you to be responsible for your magic because you are creating their definition of magic. Be the good 10% to get people to love magic.


Kainoa’s Website

Reel Magic Magazine


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