Nate Staniforth: "Here is Real Magic" | Talks at Google
Thank. You very much thank, you. Thanks. Very much for for, having me to Google headquarters and very glad to be here here's. Here's. My plan for, the next 45, minutes or so I'd, like to talk to you about the book and, I'm, happy to answer any questions you have at, the end of this but. It. Occurs to me that if I'm talking about magic. As, I. See it and you're sitting there thinking of, laser. Beams and smoke machines and, tight leather pants and top hats and rabbits and Jobe from Arrested Development, were, we're never going to understand each other so so, I'd like to start by just telling you a little bit of my story and and. At some, point in the middle of that it will sort of pivot, and and. We'll, go from there so, I I became, a magician, by, accident, when I was a nine-year-old I, read, the Lord of the Rings books have you've seen the movies or read the book some of you yeah so there's this scene at the beginning of the first Lord of the Rings book where, the wizard Gandalf, is at. A birthday party and, he, uses magic to shoot these magical, fireworks, into the sky and it turns into his dragon and swoops down and, terrifies. Everybody, and I. Want to be able to do that because, I thought that if I could do, that on the playground, I would be unstoppable and I very much wanted to be unstoppable, so. I went, nine. Sort of an unusual. Age because, you're old enough to get through 1,300, pages of pretty obscure, fantasy, literature and, young, enough at the end of that time to still hold out hope that maybe. There's, such a thing as real magic in the world so I finished, the Lord of the Rings books and I went to the adult section of the library looking, for a book, of spells that I could do on the playground, this was my this, was. My moment I was gonna crush. It like that. What. I learned instead, it was that that's, not how magic works but, I found a book of sleight of hand and I learned my first, really. Great piece of magic and it's very simple you put a coin in your hand when. You close your and open, it, coin. Disappeared, the. Thing about magic, tricks, is that when they are bad they, are worse than just, about anything. Because. It just looks like a trick but, but when you take a magic trick and push it far, enough towards, excellence there's this tipping, point where, it no longer looks, like a trick where it looks like an actual. Supernatural. Event. And and. I, became. Obsessed with, this coin trick I bet I put in I don't. Know 400 hours, of standing in front of the bathroom mirror sort of a weird little kid standing, from the bathroom mirror practicing. This over and over for some kids as video games for the kids at football for me it was mastering. As a nine-year-old this, coin vanish, and and. That. My mom. You. Know because I'd stand from the mirror and practice and I dropped the coin over and over and over she went out and got a carpet sample and put it on the floor so it wouldn't make so much noise but but, but after, after months of this there was there was a point where it, didn't look like a trick anymore I closed, my hand and opened it and the, coin it. Just, disappeared. And and. I decided, that I wanted to see how. People would respond, to that if I did it at school the, thing that I, the. Thing that I couldn't. Really have known then that I've learned sense is that. When. You watch a magician, when you buy a ticket to see my job my show or you see magician on TV, you. Understand. That you are seeing an illusion, magic. Is fiction, right and it's just part of the the, form that, the audience, knows that they are being deceived, that's why everyone shows up right to see something that they can't explain. When. You don't have that context.
Magic, Isn't entertaining, it's just terrifying like if I were to just stand here in front of you right now and disappear. The. Appropriate. Response to that would not be to clap it would be like get up and run as quickly as you can from this room so. So the kids watching, on the playground, didn't. Know that, they were seeing a magic trick they didn't know that I was a magician because I wasn't magician I was just a kid who had mastered this trick so, they saw the coin disappear. And, they didn't clap they didn't laugh they didn't applaud, they just started. Shrieking. And running. Away so imagine, for a second that you're the teacher on duty at the schoolyard and you look across the playground, and you see this group of children screaming, and running and I'm. Standing. In the middle so this this, teacher, stormed. Across the, playground. And I was terrified, of this woman and she. She, towered. Above me and demanded. That, I show her whatever it was that I showed the, kids to make them run away and so. I took, the coin out and put it in my hand and, did. My little dance of the fingers and and. When, I opened, it. It. Was like it. Was like she was a little kid like, I had never seen any adult, anywhere. Respond, to anything the. Way this grown, educated. Terrifying. Woman was, was, reacting, to this coin vanish and like. I suppose, that's a fun story but for me it was very troubling, because I knew it was just a trick I knew that I was just a little kid who had learned a coin trick and and. I. Could. Not explain, the, disparity between. The. Very simple, means and, the. Staggeringly. Unexpected. Result, that that came from something as simple as a coin trick so I didn't I didn't, become a magician. Because I wanted to be a performer I didn't become a magician because I wanted to be an entertainment, or get on stage, it's. It's like I discovered, at a really young age that, you can say something with a magic, trick that's hard to say any other way and I just wanted to chase that as, far as I could I.
Think, I. Think. You, know is one thing as a nine-year-old to. Say that you're going to become the greatest magician, in the history of the world it's, another thing to say that is a 19, year old and, you. Know I went, to college on an acting scholarship because, I wanted to study learning, I wanted to study stage craft because I thought it would lead, me to become a better performer, but. What. I learned instead was that the best way to learn magic, is to just do it for people to do it for anyone you can find in all different walks of life and and the, discovery, that I made is that it doesn't matter who you are you can be young old rich, poor you can be a sheep herder in Tibet or a taxi driver in Texas doesn't matter everyone, everywhere. In the world responds. To a good piece of magic in exactly, the same way it's like this universal, experience. The. The question, that. That I've been chasing is a magician, for as long as I can remember is very simple. I've. Noticed, that as I get older it. Becomes harder, for me to be genuinely. Amazed. By. Anything. To. Be clear it's, easy to, be entertained, it's easy to be inspired it's it's also easy to be deceived or fooled right all of the experiences, that are in orbit around wonder. Are relatively, common but, for me that. White. Light through the clouds astonishment. Does, get harder, and harder to find as I get older I think one of the reasons I love magic so much is it's it's a way for me to chase that, but. Even as a young magician, I feel. Like in. Every profession you, probably get to see a corner of the human experience that's, harder to see from another profession, doctors, probably see things in waiting rooms that you don't see anywhere else I don't. Know what architects, learn about being a human being but I'm sure there's something there but, but for magicians especially. As a young magician, it becomes, impossible to ignore. The. Loss, that. That. Happens, in the transition, from being a, child. To being a grown-up because you see it in all of as a kid I remember doing. Magic from my parents, and the, friends of my parents and and it. Became clear that there's this incredible. Weight that settles, on people when you're an adult and and. With. A magic trick you can make that go away for a second I love that I. Think. You know I think the obvious answer. To, why is it why. Is it harder to become amazed. By anything as you get older than. It is when you're a kid is that, when. You're an adult you just know more right you have more information. But. That, answer. Falls. Apart for me for a few reasons. I think. The.
Magician, Operates. From. The fundamental, conviction that, learning, more about anything, makes, that thing more amazing, rather than less amazing it's, it's the absolute, renunciation. Of the axiom that familiarity, breeds contempt. I was. Just, before I got married I was reading this book about, I was fascinated by lightning, I just wanted to understand, what it was and and, so I was. Reading this meteorological. Book, and then my wife and I happened, to be on. Our honeymoon in the middle of the Canadian wilderness we went on this wilderness canoe trip and we, got pinned. Down on an island seven days from the middle of nowhere with, this lightning, storm that came in and and. It. Was it was one of the most terrifying moments in my life because, lightning. Was slamming. Over, and over and over onto, the trees in our island you could hear trees falling, and I was worried that a tree was gonna fall on our tent and and it, was, terrifying but, it was also if I'm honest one of the most just riveting. Wonderful. Wide-awake, moments. Of my life and and, I reckon it was like in one in one scene. In one, experience, the. The. Reality of, lightning. I. Understood. That that understanding the. Nature of lightning understanding, that it's a static discharge from the clouds that explodes, to the ground and this cataclysmic, blast like knowing. The facts about lightning does nothing, to remove the astonishment, of being in the middle of a, thunderstorm. So. I, love. Magic for, a number, of reasons but but. One. Of them is that, it's a way to to. Connect, with, the. Unknown, and. To, sort. Of make peace with the fact that I don't have all the answers I will never have all the answers and and, to share that experience with. An audience a few. Years ago I decided that I wanted to write a book about. About. All of this write about wonder, about disillusionment. About. You. Know losing losing. Sight of. Astonishment. And all of the the things that I love about magic, and finding and again when, I finished writing the book I was, worried that it's. Easy to get up and talk about wonder it's easy to write a book about wonder, when you're sitting in a Starbucks paying, five dollars for a cup of coffee but, I wanted to see if, it. Would still hold up if I went to the toughest, most aggressive, most hostile, place I could find so. I asked, a warden, of a, maximum-security, prison, if I could come in to do magic for, the inmates, and and. It. Was one of the most incredible, events of my entire career I'd like to show you the video but but here's what I want you to see, before. The. Magic, happens they, wanted nothing to do with it they wanted nothing to do it they're standing like this they're, sort of tough and antagonistic, and then. You will see there, is a moment where. Something happens, that they can't explain and it's just like a switch, flips and you will see these like, some of these guys are in prison for life and you will see them sort of I don't. Know become, little kids again so if I can get this video to work I'd. Like to show you. And. Use a deck of cards I'm gonna give it to you to. Hold. We're. Going to need here we need to name a card eight of diamonds okay eight of diamonds. Do, you name a number 13. 13. We have 8 of diamonds 13. And you were holding the card I want you to see it. I'm. Gonna give you the deck. Before. We start I want to just point out a couple of things. You, could have named. Any, car like there you agree there's no I could have made you think, of eight of diamonds is that right you don't want to change about any time same, with the number like that was your choice if you said what was it thirteen thirteen right okay and you've been holding the cars with. That hand I want you to just deal. The cards just drop them on the ground let's see you said thirteen so deal twelve cards from the top and just drop them on the ground go. I'm counting out loud to from 10. To 3 or. Finally. Stop stop drop, that one on the ground could we all agree the next card is a 13th car right your eye. So. You. Could have picked any card where you said eight of diamonds you could have picked any number, where, you said 13, if you said a different number we'd go farther down the deck or stop higher we said 13 eight of diamonds turn, over the. Can you see that wherever you're standing I'm gonna hold it so the camera could get it first thing I want. You to see like it's, permanent, so, here's the idea watch this. It's. Permanent it's gonna stay there. That's. Great you can see the thread right you. Can see on camera two. Listen. When. You sear it. I hear break I. Do. It again. So, here's the idea I'm gonna take some, of the broken pieces, and.
I, Don't want you to think I'm adding, anything or switching anything these are the pieces I'm going to use I'm gonna roll them up and do a ball you. Can see all the broken ends get pulled together. So, this is the amazing part if you take the ball of broken pieces and squeeze. It is to get it to just. Stick. Just. Grab the bottom piece back do. This do, this slowly so the ball doesn't fall off this article. So. When I finished, when I finished college I. Started. Touring as a professional, magician and. For. Me that, looked like, essentially. Living out of a suitcase and, and, bouncing. Around the country doing a show as often as I could, five nights a week sits six nights a week. When. I think when you're an established magician. You can tour in. A circuit sort of like a band so you can play Denver. One night and Fort Collins the next night and and maybe. Colorado Springs and sort of work your way across maybe go to link in and then Des Moines and and tour, across the country but, when you're just starting out you have to go wherever the work is and so, I do a, Tuesday. In Florida, Wednesday, in California, Thursday, in Ojai I just, criss crossing the country and I did that for five years. And I. Discovered, that. Maybe. Like most jobs. The. Profession. Of of, magic. Which I thought looked so, amazing from, the outside. Concealed. Beneath. That veneer, this sort of grinding, day-to-day, reality, where I'd like. My commute would be 15 hours I wake up at 3 in the morning to get to the show and then do soundcheck and load in and, do the show and then go to bed and sleep for 4 hours and then get up and do that all again the next night and the next night and the next night after. Five years I, just ran into the wall I just I felt, like I couldn't do it anymore I was on stage in Milwaukee in. From, there's. A beautiful auditorium a great audience and the shows going well and in the middle of the show I just said I'm, sorry I'm done I hope you had a good time but I'm gonna. Go now I walked, off in the middle of this in the set and went, back to my hotel room and and. Thought. You. Know maybe, this ship is sinking maybe I'm not going to do this anymore because I I. Do. Not, want to to have this be what, my I don't want my life to look like this anymore. The. Universe, I think is a sort of strange and mysterious. Place and, once in a while, incredible. Things just happen and, it. Just so happened that on this leg of the tour I happened. To be reading this this book about. Traditional. Indian. Street, magic, every. Culture in the world has its own version. Of the. Sort of archetypal, figure of the magician right, just. Like food or art or music the, magic, that comes, from a culture, is. As, much an expression, of that culture as any, of the other arts. So. Had. I been reading a book about Chinese, traditional, magic I would have wanted to go to China or Japanese magic. Maybe I would have wanted to go to Japan but. I went I went. Walked. Off in the middle of the set and went back to my hotel room I picked up this book and started, reading it and I, decided, that what I wanted to do was. Walk. Away from. Everything in the u.s. to just sort of leave my touring, career behind and, forget. Everything I knew about being. A magician, in America, and go to the other side of the world to see, all of this magic I was reading about so I wanted to see snake-charming, I wanted to see street performing, I wanted to see fire-breathing, it, wasn't so much that I. It. Wasn't so much that I wanted to go to India specifically. I just wanted to go to this place where all of these things I was reading about or performed, so. My. Mission was I, want to go be amazed by something I want to remember, why. I love, being a magician, so much by seeing a tradition of magic that's totally different from my own and and. So, I did I went to India and I, sought. Out snake. Charmers, and street performers I, found a tribe of traditional, Indian street magicians who traced, their lineage and have passed their secrets down from father to son for 3,000, years I I, saw, amazing magic, so so I I, sort of found what I was looking for there but, but what I discovered was that the. Most amazing, parts of the trip the most genuinely. Magical. Moments. That felt like I think magic should feel, magic should feel had nothing to do with tricks and nothing to do with performances. It was, in, immersing. Myself in, a new culture seeing. Things that I'd never seen before, you know both both travel, and magic are similar, and their. Ability to deliver this cataclysmic. Death blow to any sense of certainty you, have about who, you are and how you fit in with the world around you and and. So, I became, really fascinated, with this idea of finding. Finding. Wonder.
Not, In the extraordinary but in the ordinary right how do you it's one thing to find on the other side of the world or find it in a magic show but how do you just find it in your day to day life how do you how do you, you. Know adults are really good at making things, ordinary. We're really good at getting used to things which is probably, useful right if we woke up every morning and freaked. Out at this bright burning, ball of thermonuclear fury. Rising, over the eastern her you know that that would be an untenable, way to live which because it's called the Sun and get on with our day but. But the danger, is that you. You end up shrinking. Your world down to, the size, of your certainties, and you live in the story you tell yourself about the world rather than the world itself and, and. My, favorite, moments, are those that. Sort. Of wake me up and and, shake, me loose from that world, that I've made for myself and, and. Remind, me that there's more that. I'm not paying attention to. When. I came back from India I was worried that that, was a lot to. Ask of a magic show for the first time I felt like I had something I wanted to say that I didn't know I didn't know how to say as a magician, so I started learning to write and I decided was gonna write a book and that's the book that all of you are holding here is real magic, when. The book came out I, wanted. To invent a piece of magic that would set the stage to sort, of. Tell. Everyone what. To expect from a book by a magician and and I'd like to show it to you. My. Book came out in January, so I've been doing a number of these author, talks, and sometimes. When, I open them up for questions. Everybody. Has something they want to say and sometimes no one has anything they want to talk about but, I. Would, like to open the room up for questions we can talk about magic we can talk about the book we can talk about wonder. Or the ideas in the book we. Can arm-wrestle well whatever, whatever, you want but if, you have anything that you'd like to. Mention. Specifically. I I. Don't want to speak to. It's. Hard to comment on what other people's motives might be right so I don't want to assume anything about other, magicians, that might not be true but, I mean. I think I, think. You probably have the same thing in music as well right some people get. Into music because. They want. To be rock stars and, they. Want to have everybody you know scream. And go crazy and and there won't be famous right and then you have people who get into music, because they love, music and they love writing songs and, I'm. Not saying one's better than another, but I. For. Me being a performer, is like a lie, it's something, I've made my peace with it for sure but that's not why I got into magic I got into it because I love.
The, Thing that I am able to chase as a magician. If. I and you. Know if I could do it better. As a musician maybe, a would like magic has a lot of cultural baggage. But. But, I just I love. The. Personally. I love the experience of magic with you, don't need to do tricks to do magic I remember the first time I really, remember, the. Experience, of being, amazed by something was when my parents took me to see a meteor shower when I was a little kid and we, lived in a small a, small. College town in the middle of Iowa, but even in a small, college town there's enough light pollution that makes it hard to see the Milky Way but then they woke, me up in the middle of the night and drove, my brother and sister I out into the cornfields where there's no light and it, just I remember. Feeling. Like, where. Has this been all my life like, it was it was one of the most amazing things still, that I've ever seen and I, loved I loved that experience, and and. I'll follow, that anywhere, and if that means as part, of the job getting. Up and doing a magic show that's, fine, but, I. Guess. That's my way of answering how I feel about it with trying, not to speak for why other people like it is that fair okay. Thank you for asking yeah hi, so. I mean you mentioned that women let me see a magic show we never solutions, yeah, part. Of the fun is trying to see how uh, you. Know. When. You guys see a magic show obviously. It must be quite a different experience because you've, had a pretty good idea. A lot, of the common effects. Yeah. Well, I mean that. Much change the experience be quite, a lot I mean to to one of them yeah be amazed just. Trying. To see how it's done, yeah. I mean, how often do you do, you find yourself astonished. So. I'd like, to answer that in two parts I, think. So. The experience I'm having now having, written in this book is. Now. That I now, that I have been through the process of writing a book myself it, you know it took four years of pretty rigorous work when. I read other people's work I feel, like, sometimes. I can see, the. Joints, and the beams, and the girders in a way that I couldn't before and. It. It, has changed, the way I read certainly, memoirs too because now I have this sort. Of professional. Relationship, with that form, that, necessarily. Changes the way I take it in that's, that's been true for magic for a long time and as you say it's, hard not to watch a magic show and. Deconstruct. It but I would say that like. The best writers, you. Know you you you read, some books and there are no seams it's just like it arrived fully formed, from some other world a great. Magic show is that way too and and. You. Know in the book I describe one piece of magic that I witnessed that. That. I saw it in 2013, I've thought about it without exaggeration, every. Day since. 2013, and I still can't explain it and I love that I love the the. Realization, that no matter how far i push this craft there, are still people who are so far ahead of me like rather than being intimidated, by that I really, I love that because, it means that I can still, find.
That That, sort of spark of inspiration as, well is that does that a fair answer yeah okay. Hi. That's, a good question yeah I I, discovered. That I really love book writing I feel, like I snuck into this incredible, party and I very much don't want to leave now so. I've got. Other books that I'd like to write and you, know in the course of writing the book there. Was a lot of workers a magician that I didn't do that I'm catching up on it as well so I'm trying, to have it both ways and have this career where I can go on tour twice, a year and write books and, we'll. See if I can stick the landing but that's, very much the goal so thank, you for asking. There's. This quote from Houdini that, I discovered when I was a little kid you're all familiar with Houdini yeah. So. Houdini. Said Houdini. Was like the original Gary, Vaynerchuk. He, said the. Real secret to my success is, simple, I work from 7:00 a.m. to midnight, and I liked it and I, think. One. Of the reasons I love I latched, on to magic, is because I just I really, liked that monk-like. Existence. Of having want like you. Know my life was very simple I had one job and it was to perfect this, craft to the, exclusion of basically, anything else and and I think whether, you're interested magic or music or you, know or. Poetry. Or basket, weaving or whatever I, think. There's a lot to be said for just working harder than the other people who are trying to do the same thing because that's the one thing you can, control you know like there are other people who are more gifted performers. Or more charismatic communicators. But, the one point, where I, get to choose. How. I react. Is it just, working, harder than everybody else and I. Don't. Know but I, think it doesn't, suit everybody but it suits me so yeah. Yes. Sir. Five hours. Yeah. Certainly. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. I, think I think. One of the things that you discover as. You. I'm. Gonna say explore, the craft of magic I assume, this is true with music, or with art with painting, or you know poetry writing whatever but, but, the. The better you get the, the. Larger, your awareness of how far you have to go like, the distance between good, and great becomes. Much clearer, when, I was starting out it. Was harder to it. Was hard to understand, exactly. What, it would take to take. Some to take an illusion all the way to the point of perfection and I think the closer you get to that the the easier it is to see, see. How you, know almost impossible, it is to. Become. As good as some of the greats event. You. Know magic is interesting, it's a I think. Of magic like fiction, it's. Easy to think that. With. A magic trick it's easy to assume that once you know, the answer, you. It's. You can stop thinking about it right but. I think a good piece of magic like a good fictional. Character, like. You don't you don't finish Catcher, in the Rye and, then. Say well. It was a good story but, Holden. Caulfield wasn't a real kid so who cares anymore right it's like a good. Novelist, is using the craft of deception, let's be clear about that he's making or she's making things up that aren't true and and pulling you into this imaginary world to, give you something real and in. My. Experience the, better, I get as a magician. The, more I become aware of the complexities, that are involved, in actually, doing that well, does.
That Begin - is, that a fair answer does that yeah, okay. All. The time, I mean. Basically everyone. You. Know I think for. The best of reasons. It. It. Seems. To be the prudent thing to do to discourage, someone, from becoming a professional magician you know of course right like it it's it's not like joining, the circus it's becoming, the circus and. But. I think I think sometimes, you know something. About yourself, that, you can't prove to, the people in your life in any other way but by doing it and. You. Know there were a number of years especially, when I was first working as a professional. Magician where, I think basically, everyone, who cared about me was terrified, that I would be you. Know unemployed, in two years and and, they, were probably right to be concerned but, I knew. That. That. I was doing what, I was supposed to be doing and it's. Like I didn't even I don't even care what they thought I just knew that I could do it and then show them and that would be enough so. You. Know I don't know that I. Think. That anyone who makes it in a, profession, like magic. Only. I. Think. The only people that make it don't care what anyone else says so. I think if. Like. You. Know after shows. Sometimes. People young, magicians come up to me asking if they should make the jump to to, being a professional and I. Never know how to answer that because the only ones who will ever make it are the ones who are so committed to doing it but they don't care what I have to say and. I. Don't. I don't know what advice to give you because, it. Almost seems like, if. It's. Such a hard way to make a living and it's such a hard field to gain traction and that, unless that, motivation. That that, sort. Of fire. Comes. From, within. It. It's, not going to happen, so maybe. Discouraging, them is the right thing to do, I think you can I think you can split the difference I think you can be. Realistic. And supportive. At the same time and if. You figure that out you let me know I have a five year old and a three year old. But. Good luck either way, yeah. Hi. Anyone. Got an aggressive. Aisle, on stage in, Danville. Virginia and. I. Had. Just done a piece of magic with. With someone on stage and he felt as if, I had read, his mind. And. He was conflicted about that on strike you could just it there. Was tension in the room it wasn't like oh this is amazing we're having fun I was like, burn. This guy you know and, and, he, went back to his seat and just. Sat there. Festering. For. 90 seconds, and then he stood up on his chair, and this is a theater so they're armed race and he climbed up on the arm rests, to, get my attention any, point which worked and. Pointed. At me and said to hell with you you're the devil I'm out of here and stormed. Out of the room. Highlight. Of my career. So. I'm just putting that out there okay but. Yeah you know I think sort. Of like we're talking about at the beginning when. Magic feels like a trick and let's be clear most magic, does feel like a trick you, can take the same piece of magic and perform it a hundred times and 99, of those times it will only ever feel like a competently. Done piece of sleight of hand but, but. Through some, sort. Of mysterious combination. Of atmosphere, and expectation. And. Technical. Ability and just coincidence. Sometimes, the. Air is just right and it feels it, resonates. On a totally, different level and then, people go crazy and yeah. I mean it's. I feel. Like magicians get to see a very beautiful side, of people, because. I think we all are sort of performing, for each other all the time right we all choose the clothes we wear and the language. The vocabulary, that we use we're all sort of putting off. An. Image, of ourselves the, way we want to be received, we're, perceived, and and, a great, thing about magic when it's really good it makes you forget to be cool for a second and all of that falls away and you just get this very open, unguarded. Experience. Of the person, these that you're with and. Often. That's very that's. A positive experience, but yeah. Sometimes people just lose their cool and. Thanks. For bringing it up. Thank. You for thank you very much. You.