What is Mentalism? (or Magic Mondays?)

I know it’s a bit early for a Psychic Phriday post, so we’ll file this one under “Other”. I recently asked a group of my Facebook friends if they would come see my mentalism show. I got a great response, but I made a very common mistake. I’m so wrapped up and interested in my own little magic world, I forgot that real people don’t the free time and lack of a social life required to understand the subtle and artificial categories of my particular geek-dom. So here’s a quick primer on magic.

One note: Magicians, like any group of self-obsessed enthusiasts, are constantly arguing about the definitions and classifications of their particular area of expertise. Also, there is a LOT of wiggle room so don’t count on these as definites. They’re general guidlines. Either way, magic is not as bad as music. What? You don’t think music is that confusing? Check out: Wikipedia’s List of Music Genres

In general there are two ways of classifying magic: The Venue (where it happens) and The Style (what the magician is actually doing or the props they are using in the show).


Stage: Large auditorium and or large audience (50-10,000 spectators). Due to the size of the audience, effects are usually bigger in scale and easier to see/understand from a distance. Typically the audience as a whole has little or no opportunity to interact directly with the performer. Examples: David Copperfield, Lance Burton, Penn and Teller, etc.

Parlour: Smaller audience, small rooms. (10-50 spectators) Can be private homes or clubs. Effects can be smaller since the audience is relatively close to the performer. More direct interaction between the audience and performer, but there is still a distinct separation from the performer. Examples: Jamy Ian Swiss, Mac King, Max Maven, Jason Alexander, (Yes, that Jason Alexander!)

Close-Up: Smallest audiences, no room necessary. (10 or less spectators) Close-up effects are much more personal and interactive. In general there are no obvious physical separations between the performer and the audience. Examples: David Blaine, Eugene Burger, Jay Sankey, that guy who did a few card tricks a the restaurant you just went to.


Illusion: aka “Big Box” This is usually magic involving animals, people and even larger things. Almost exclusively confined to stages, but a few magicians (Criss Angel, Jeff McBride) have tried bringing it to other areas.

Escapes/Endurance: Effects that involved escaping from or surviving extreme situations. Straitjacket, handcuffs, etc.

Close-up: Yes, I realize I already used this as a “Venue” category, but it’s also very descriptive for a magic style. Close-up typically involves everyday objects, cards, coins, etc. that are made to behave in non-everyday fashion. This can be due to skill on the part of the performer, unique and strange objects or just plain “magic”

Manipulation: The skillful “juggling” or control of hand-held objects such as billiard balls, playing cards or even CD’s. Card fans and flourishes are in this category, and are some of the most beautiful and amazing displays in magic. Jeff McBride is one of the masters of this particular branch of magic.

Mentalism: As I’ve said elsewhere, I think Banachek said it best. Mentalism is: “using the five senses to create the illusion of a sixth.” It’s using the skills and applied psychology of magic to create the illusion that truly supernatural or paranormal events are occurring. As such, it’s a pretty wide field. It can be mind-reading, predictions, telekinesis and forkbending or even “talking with the dead”. Mentalists can admit that they are magicians and tricksters (like myself) or they can claim that it’s for real and they have actual powers or connections to the “other side” Simply implying that some of these guys aren’t for real has gotten better men than me sued, so I won’t use names. Just know that for every “psychic” trick you’ve ever seen or heard of, there is a way to duplicate it using magic. This doesn’t prove that psychic powers are fake, but it should make you ask some very serious questions whenever someone claims that they’re the “real thing”

Bizarre Magic: Magic involving story elements from the spooky side of things. Ghosts, goblins, curses, charms and blood. Criss Angel’s recent work is in this vein. Bizarre magic can be combined with any of the other areas as it’s really a performance style rather than a specific type of trick.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg, there are dozens, if not hundreds more styles and venues. Magic has such a rich and storied history that my sorry little blog can barely scratch the surface, but this should get you started. If you think that I’ve left something out, leave me a comment and I’ll do the best I can to address it.

Oh, what am I? Well I have a parlour mentalism show, and I do close-up magic for bars, restaurants, walk-around and private functions. Yay me.


1 Comment

Filed under Magic, Other, Psychics

One response to “What is Mentalism? (or Magic Mondays?)

  1. Scott,
    Come hang out with mentalists and magicians tonight (11/28) in the back room of Denny’s on Lincoln St. in Worcester. We start around 7 PM and end early in the morning. Call if you have questions.
    Best regards,

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