On this episode, I chat with magician Ryan Kane who is the author of the new book “Out of Stock: A Magician’s Guide to Writing Your Own Lines”
We talk about scripting magic performances and adding punchlines in your show, Ryan Kane shares his writing process, and tips on capturing your original ideas! Plus he shares insight on testing new material, a much better use for your video camera, and more! Listen Now
On this episode:
How busking audience differs from trade show
Ryan’s comedy writing process
Where you should start in your show
Is it wrong to use stock lines?
What you should do regularly to improve your show
About his new book Out of Stock: A Magician’s Guide to Writing Your Own Lines
Ryan Kane’s background in magic
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Ep 47 | Ryan Kane
Audio Transcription with Ryan Kane, Magician & Author
Ryan Kane: I live in San Francisco and it's almost impossible to get pressed for magic in SF. But, uh, you can, you know, I'm from Sacramento and every time I'm there, I do the local boy comes home with magic show and I go, I can always get in there full time pro. I work, uh, company parties, corporate events, things like that. Um, my background is street performing and busking. Um, so, uh, I have a lot of that in my background. I really don't do it now. I still perform on stage at pier 39 here in San Francisco, but I use that mostly to try out new material. Like my street show is not a good street show. It is designed just to try out new stuff, um, which is great and I've, it allows me a, uh, a crucible in which to always be building new stuff.
And then more lately I've been doing trade shows, which again, tries back into ties back into the, um, the street performer roots. I can bring people in and I'm really decent, uh, about, about taking really boring subjects and making them interesting, which is turns out as good for trade shows. Well, yeah, totally. And I think you've foreshadowed something where we're going to talk about later and that is testing new material because that was, it was going to be a lot of conversation I'm sure regarding that. But this sounds really fascinating. Like you're, you're, you've got a diverse shops like the street and busking skills is something that I've never personally done, so I don't want to never proclaimed to have really great chops on that is how is that material differ from the corporate world? Ooh, good question. Um, I would say it's the same jump that you're always going to make.
So I also started doing some theater things and anything, anytime you jumped from outdoors where your audience can literally walk away to indoors where they're, they're a little bit more focused on you, you, you, you don't have to be quite as reactive. You don't have to like warm up. Like a lot of street performers when they jump in and they get hired, they do their street act, which has this kind of like we're just starting and I got to get warmed up stuff, which really doesn't play if you're hired to be their buyer for a company where it's like, why are you not warmed up? Like we're paying you all this money type of type deal. So, and, and that's part of the reason why like my show had so many Stock lines because I was a Gaza clone and I had, I just had the bank of all the lines and you could react to things.
And as I've matured as a performer, I've moved beyond feeling like I need to react to every little thing that happens in, in a show, particularly theater shows where they're paying to see me and they're, they're already invested. Um, and also company parties, corporate events, banquets, those types of things where you don't, if you just appear nervous and a little hectic if you're doing that. So I avoid to, the advantage that it, that my busker background gives me is my mindset is very much still rooted in the idea that my audience will, um, will peace out as soon as they get bored. It may not be literally walking away, but I want a, my show moves really, really quickly and, and, and is, and just plows through. Would you say the attention timeframe is different for corporate versus streets first corporate versus street? Yeah. Again, a lot of it comes into, there's a really, my Scott Meltzer says this, he's a juggler here in the Bay area.
Um, I don't know if it's his idea, but he says it all the time of people will not walk when you, when you walk into a street, anything on the street could be a street performance or whatever. People will not walk away until they answer two questions. Question number one is, what is this? And question number two is, is this good? And once they answer both of those, they'll be like, all right, great. I saw a car crash and no, it's not on fire. It's not very good. I'll walk away or Oh, I saw a juggler, he's really good. Great. Now I'm going to walk away. And it doesn't just be like, if they're bad, it's are they good? So if you do too good of a trick too early on in your street show people like, Oh great, I got what I want and they'll leave.
You don't want that in like if you're doing a corporate show, you all of your stuff should be really good and, and so you street shows tend to have this kind of like, you just wait, you know, Gaza would take, you know, one step forward and two steps back, right? And just constant repeating himself. He'll do, there's video of him doing um, ambitious card routine for 30 minutes. Just an ambitious card, retain the first moment of magic. Doesn't happen till 10 minutes into that video because it's just, you know, it's here, pick a car, Keiko, show it around and then every time that he's reacting to things, it takes it back. You reiterate himself, that's really, really good on the street cause you're not answering that second question of, is this good? Right. And therefore people can't really walk away yet. The butterfly man as a juggler who was also really good at it. I mean his show was just really weird and he didn't really do much. Um, and because of that, people couldn't answer that first question of what is this? Is this a show? Is this a juggling show? Is this just a crazy person? Um, and that's very effective.
Ryan Joyce: Yeah, it's, it's constantly hooking people and, and truthfully that is a skill that every magician needs for everything their show, their writing, their promo, all of that needs that hook. And I guess street just really helps refine that skill because most of the street guys are incredible performers. They, they just know, they know how to feel when they've lost people. A lot
Ryan Kane: Of it is just because they get that time in. I mean, if you, I didn't do, I didn't do kids' shows. I've done like five kids shows in my life, nothing against children's entertainment. I just knew I didn't want to do it, but I didn't have to go through that because I could street perform. So when I was 1415 I was like Out on in old Sacramento on their large wooden sidewalks doing doorway acts. And that's how I got my licks in early on to get that stage time and start feeling out like, Oh, this is what a magic show feels like. This is, you know, and it's the script barometer too. If your show's good, people will stick around and pay you and if it sucks, they'll leave and you won't make any money.
Ryan Joyce: Yeah. And it kind of touched or dancing around this, the true subject here that I definitely want to dive into, and that's about writing and writing jokes for your show. And so a lot of magicians, they can't write, they can't write their own show and they can't write their own jokes. When people do decide to crack out of it and start writing their own lines, what, what should people expect right off the bat?
Ryan Kane: The first expectation you should have for yourself is that most of the ideas are going to be not great. That's the idea. The process. So I wrote a book called Out of Stock, a magician's guide to writing your own lines. And it's about taking, looking at the Stock lines, which are in all of our shows, and using that as an opportunity to, um, get rid of those and replace them with original jokes while also kind of learning and instilling in yourself this, this process of writing. And furthermore, kind of taking accountability for what you say as a magician on stage. So how do you step away from being hacked? Step away from being generic, um, and, and, and, and start learning how to write. And the process is very simple of the writing of just every, everybody listening to this idea is listening to this.
This podcast is capable of brute forcing Out funny jokes. And you've probably already said funny things in onstage like you've made ad-libs and you can recognize if you've been stealing people's jokes your entire career, you have a sense of what's funny. Like it's just about presenting yourself with, um, a list of things and then being like, Oh, that one's funny. And that's what writing is to me. It's, you sit down, you write down 10 ideas, knowing that nine of them are going to be fine. And accepting that and knowing that I'm excited to have like, Oh this is an original thought. It's not that good. But it goes on the paper cause it gets me closer to that 10 and then afterwards you look at your list and, and one of them will always be the funniest. That's just, that's just how it works. Creativity is just relative when you see, it may not be the funniest joke in the world or in your show or ever, you know, but it will be the funniest joke on that page that you're always as one.
And so it's about finding that. And then I talk about some simple ways to like Polish it up and make it a little bit tighter of a joke and then you just try it out. And uh, and that's the base process. And I also talk about going through, listening to your show, writing down the Stock lines in your show, converting those Stock lines into contexts, which is what does the, what's the joke? Do my, I look at writing very much in a functional standpoint of like the reason we add Stock lines to our shows cause they accomplish things. They deal with common situations, props, characters, things that magicians are always dealing with. And that's why they, they weasel their way into our show so often is we reach a spot and it's like, wow, I don't have, this is a weird moment. Like having someone pick a card is just weird and boring and I've already done it three times, so I'm going to say pick a card, not that one because it'll get me a laugh.
You do that enough times that just becomes part of your show. There's nothing wrong with that other than at a certain point I think you should look at that situation and, and say, all right, cool. How, what other, what other interesting ways can I have someone take a card? Um, and that's what this is about. You convert that, that, that take a card, not that one into the context of having someone pick a card is really, really boring, but it's a necessary option. This makes it a laugh. And you write new ways to make that more of a moment. And that's the basic process of the book. It's very simple and there's a lot more that, that the, that the book goes into. But uh, but it's
Ryan Joyce: Very effective. I feel like two of the takeaways there were, one is to like really expect to write a lot and, and not like a lot of the things that you write. Um, and, and the other has just escaped me completely. It will, uh, sorry my phone beeped at the same time.
Ryan Kane: It's uh, that hits on an important thing of like writing things down. A lot of people say, Oh I have a funny thought whether or not it was an ad live in your show. You got to write things down cause just here we already, everyone forgets stuff. I was writing a joke the other day in mid sentence of this one joke. I had idea for the second joke and by the time I finished writing that first one, I had forgotten the second joke. I should have just stopped and written it in the middle of the line so I wouldn't forget stuff.
Ryan Joyce: Yeah, that is a, that is a problem. Um, it's really, but it is a process. This is something that people can refine and get better at is, is really the, the second major takeaway is that this, this is a muscle like everything else at first it's going to be uncomfortable, but like magicians can do this and, and we use something you mentioned to watching back here material, the parts in the show that you watch back to the parts that you fast forward, I w I've always told me that's where you should start. That's the place that you got to start refining your show. In many cases, all of those refinements can be done with just a few script items and a few little, little gags
Ryan Kane: Really doesn't take that much. People think of scripting as this, this massive project and it's really just line by line, moment by moment. And the best way you're going to do that is by listening to or watching video of your show. Um, you can't do it sitting down to write cause you're, there are things that you do on stage, things that you say that you don't know that you're saying and you only say cause you're nervous but you're going to be nervous on stage. So be prepared for that.
Ryan Joyce: I just remember what the second thing was. Thank you for refreshing my memory. I wrote it down too, so I don't, and that is you're going to, if you're going to succeed this, you're going to have to have the upbeat, honest with yourself moments in your show because a lot of magicians you said that they, they'll just deliver the line and then becomes habit and it's like, it's just forgotten. It's not even, it's not ever thought of. It just happens, comes out of their mouth. And you have to be honest enough with yourself to go back and look at every part of the show, including those things that you just assume are a given, uh, an established part of your routine. And that's what a lot of these Stock jokes have become. He's just an established part of the, and when
Ryan Kane: You look at pros there, they don't have those elements. If the biggest laughs in your show are Stock laughs, then you're doing it wrong. Yeah, I, in the book, I call them training wheels. I think using Stock material to get your feet on the ground is, is fine. Um, because there's so much you have to learn when you become a magician. You have to understand how to be on stage, how to perform a trick with confidence, how to say a joke, how a trick is constructed. So if you're just getting into magic, like, you know, it's okay to do toss out deck or to do it double deck with the standard lines, that's great. Right? But at a certain point, you've got to stop away and as soon as you are no longer beginner, you should be taking those training wheels off. And you know, if you've been doing magic for double digit years, you're no longer beginner, right?
If you've performed at the same annual event three years in a row, you're no longer beginning. If booking your act involves a tax form, you're no longer beginner. You can write your own lines. And coming back to what I was thinking about earlier was it's about setting that standard for yourself, of, of just telling yourself, look, I'm not going to use Stock lines any more. Tell this, tell your friends this. So they'll call you out and it's a journey that you're going to go on. And you can do it line by line. You just every show you trade out one and commit to that. And that's what the book talks about is just, you know, this is going to be a product project for you, right? It's not gonna happen overnight, but, but over. But you will be able to, to, to eventually get out of this.
And that's what I did. I, the reason I did this for my show, I went through and I eliminate dozens of dozens of lines to make an act that I, that I genuinely feel proud of, um, and I, and is at the very least mind my own jokes now. And you've tip the hat on how you test your material. Um, what are some suggestions for magicians to tests these gags? Again, we're, we have to be sensitive, obviously right now is, yeah. Well, yeah. So, um, great question. Um, I'm so fortunate that I had street shows growing up and, and more recently, pier 39, uh, you do have to find some place where you can perform regularly and record your shows. And, and, and I don't like the phrase bond. Like I don't really bomb ever cause I don't change enough of my show, right. Like it's always like a little line or a little bit beat.
Um, it's never the whole thing, so I'm never bombing. He was like, Oh that joke didn't do as well, whatever. Like the next beat I know will work. Right. Um, so virtual and then we'll get back to like real world stuff. Um, I've been using a lot of comedians will have, um, virtual open mic nights, which is what they're doing to just try out new material. And you know, I just jump on there and try out stuff. It's, it's really annoying because uh, most people mute themselves and uh, and so normally you can just listen to a recording to, to know how a joke received, but now you have to go back and you have to look at each little square to see when they laughed or if they laughed at a joke. It's really, it's a lot more time consuming. There is certainly virtual platforms now for the masterclass.
We've got a comedy writer's room. I just came from, it's the hour before this. We're just a bunch of guys just hash out there where they're working on. And that's always like the first screen is just ask your, ask your, you know, whoever you live with, your friends, your family, see what makes them laugh and that I will do that as I will do that with jokes that I'm not sure about, just to give me more confidence with it. You can use walk around magic to try out ideas for your stage show, which because when you think about it, if you do, if you're booked for a stage show gig, you're only doing your show once. But if you're booked for walk around, you're doing it, you know, 12 times, 12 more times, you know, so you can, you can pare down ideas, hold tricks that you might be thinking about doing on stage, up close, right?
So if I'm doing like a trick on stage that uses an amaze box and I have these beats and it's about, I don't know, whatever, like some whatever, like sports teams or whatever, right? Um, maybe I just make a spend at a spend pad and go around and just add that routine to my Walker on set just to try out my, my, my joke, my jokes about the Sacramento Kings just to see how they work and now I get to run that 12 times and really kind of refresh it. And then the next time that I do that on stage for the, uh, for the first time or whatever, I'll, I'll know that that joke works. I'll have a lot of confidence cause I did it 12 times at the last walk round cake. So there's, if you're creative, you can find ways to try out new ideas and I encourage you to modify your material to make that work.
Um, you know, you test things in little pieces. Yeah. There's all sorts of opportunities for little micro shows. Any, anything that makes you a little bit, um, nervous I guess. Anything that's like, Oh, I got to get opportunity to do that. Line items. That moment gives you the ability to test your material. I would say there should be a new thing in your show. By new thing. I mean like a new line is this tiny, I'm not saying do a whole new five minute routine every show. Don't do that. Do 10, you know, 10 seconds of new stuff. Um, and then this, this is good. This is good smack in the ass for me. Again, the thing for me is like, I appeared there nine shows, which are really not like the type of shows I really enjoy doing. I have to gather a crowd.
It's not great money. It's, it's always thing. So, and whenever I go out and do a hyper polished show with all stuff that I know, it's just like I don't feel like I'm getting anything out of it. But when I'm have something new that I'm like, I don't care that, that this didn't go that well or, or I didn't make that much money or like it was cold and I only performed for four people cause I got to run this new routine once in front of real people and, and, and if a joke plays in that environment, pier 39 where it's cold, it's windy, they're distracted, their kids are on sugar hot. If the, if they laughed, they're on that joke. It is going to kill in my corporate show. It is going to kill onstage. Mmm.
Ryan Joyce: That's solid advice. So that's, it brings up another point. Recording your ideas after the show. It's essential. Jot those ideas down. How do you log your, your ideas?
Ryan Kane: So there's a feedback loop of recording your shows. I have an app on my, uh, my Apple watch called just press record app. It's like five bucks. I swear by it. It is amazing. I'm not involved in it. There's probably other ones that are free too, but I like that app. Um, and I literally, um, I don't, I'm not wearing my watch right now, but, uh, you, I literally just put the record button on the home screen so I can just go beep and I'm recording and uh, and it records everything. And so I can record the show and listen to it back there. Um, however you decide to write is whatever. If you, if it's pen and paper, great. If it's going to be, um, on your phone or word processor, whatever, I think whatever you need to develop a system that allows you to record your shows, allows you to jot down ideas wherever they are.
So if I'm walking along or driving, I can just, and I have a funny idea, I can just say it into my watch. Um, and then I usually use either, um, I actually have a mole skin, uh, notepad that has a smart pen that logs everything to my phone and my Evernote. So all my handwritten stuff goes to my online too. And then I use Evernote a lot for organizing ideas. So that's kind of my system. But I use whatever works for you. My buddy Thomas, John does everything on pen and paper. He writes, he wrote, he has tons of journals. He uses index cards to like move things around and he is coming back to like, how do you try out new ideas? He's got a bit in his show that he developed just to try out new jokes and it has a structure that, that he knows it's going to, he'd always ends on a good laugh.
And the whole idea is trying out new jokes. So that's how he, he does like 10 new jokes every show because he's developed a structure that allows him to do that. So yeah. And he does that on cruise ships for like paid gigs because everything else in his act is going to be really killer and, um, and, and so he can afford, you know, two minutes of, well, we'll see how this goes. Also knowing that at the end of that two minutes, he has a really good gag, um, that that makes it worth it. Even if every other joke bomb, which I assume knowing him because he does take the risks probably has happened more than once.
Ryan Joyce: Yeah. That's great. Well, and just the watch app idea alone was awesome. That's so great. There's, I guess there's really no excuse anymore. I've seen a lot of comics on SunChips just press record on their phone and drop it on the stool. Yeah. Um, yeah. I used to record every show with like videos so I could critique and things that I hope, I hope we magicians started doing that if they aren't at least do it for a little bit. Yeah. I do video when
Ryan Kane: I do video for two reasons. One is to get footage, which is for like promotional stuff and that's a big thing. Is divorce yourself. Like those are different goals between getting footage for your, your video, which is you're aiming different things versus if I'm working, like honestly if I'm recording a new and I want to make sure that it's not flashing, I don't even point the camera at me. I pointed the audience because they'll be able to tell me. I can see who's laughing when, when they're laughing and I can see if if half the audience is, is w w you know, was wowed at that moment. But the other half was, and I know, I know that I'm flashing and I know exactly the parameters there. Um, and that, and again, I just use GoPros cause I'm never getting, nobody else is going to see that footage.
It's just for me. But generally I just audio record. I you only really need audio according I think. And it makes the listening a little bit less scary because now I'm only listening to what I'm saying and I don't have to, I'll be like, Oh, I still, my posture still isn't what I want it to be. Right. Or that was a stupid face. You know, you're not distracted by these things, which are also important, but you kind of have to focus on, on what you, what is the issue here. And I think the, the words are a little bit more important than some other stuff. It sounds like a great book, man. And so tell us a little bit about it and how people can get it. As soon as shelter in place went in to effect here in the Bay area, I started compiling it and I, you know, again, it's my story of the process I use to do this thing and no other book does this.
We're all magicians are told don't use Stock lines, but, but nobody really talks about how to get rid of them and at speed, right. I'm not asking you, the book doesn't tell you to like stop performing. It tells you to, to keep performing and it's not trying to change your show. It's just trying to get rid of Stock lines and teach you to write. It's called, um, the book is called Out of Stock, a magician's guide to writing your own lines by Ryan Kane. It's available on Amazon, on ebook, Kendall and uh, and paperback. Uh, if you go to Amazon and type in Out of Stock, Ryan, Kane, it'll pop up. You can also go to Ryan Kane magic.com that is Kane with a K, K any Ryan Kane magic.com/the hyphen book, um, is a landing page that will also direct you. That's a good price. Like it's, yeah, it's super cheap. I think the eBooks like nine 99 and the book is 15 jewel and digital. And anywhere you go there you have it worldwide shipping, anything. It's all done. That sounds great, man. I wish you the best on the book and I hope everybody listening a decides to dive into the show and B decides to pick up a copy of your book. So thanks for sharing your insights and your information with us. Ryan thank you so much for having me.