The Topic At Hand: How Do You Like Your Eggs?

An egg—and by an egg, I just mean a hen’s egg, the only kind most people I know have ever seen—looks kind of magic just sitting there, a mysterious, lopsided moon of a beast.

Once snatched from its mother, if it somehow ducks being breakfast, it waits for its blankness to be painted, dyed, and/or graffitied, so that a Magic Rabbit can hide it for human kids to find and play with (could that story be weirder?). Both a popular folk rhyme^ and a Timeless Children’s Classic testify to the egg’s whimsical and wildly breakable nature. Like in the old riddle (which is really about a nut), the inside of each egg is a place that no human eye has ever seen before, so if some small, long-gone thing can reappear there, well, that can be amazing, since its very nature seems to defy all but superhuman tinkering. And in the eyes of a child, when a raw egg suddenly has “a great fall,” it can be like a cool little cartoon kind of jumps from nowhere by surprise, happily splashing real goo. Is it any wonder that most kids like such a highly-mythologized-yet-everywhere object as that?

ghost potato

"It's like they're suddenly seeing a friend show up, somebody they feel like they already know and like."

I’m doing a series of magic shows for kids at some Kansas libraries this summer. Luckily for me, at least from a crowd control point of view, most kids under twelve don’t travel far alone, so there are also some parents, grandparents, library staff, and lonely humans of all kinds,  there. Performing for such a mixed audience of kids is kind of like performing for a crowd of happy drunks, since as many have noticed, kids in different age ranges have their own distinctive ways of behaving in public, some of which they share with booze-addled adults, at least when it comes to watching magic tricks.

The crowds have been bigger than I’d guessed they’d be and might actually make it into the thousands before the summer ends, based on the numbers where I’ve already been, which would be nothing at all to a big-name performer but is somewhat astonishing to me.

I’ve done magic shows for decades, but before now, I’ve always tried to skip kids shows as much as I could, since I didn’t like the kinds of tricks that I thought were the only kind kids really liked–noisy, prefab feats straight from magic store shelves, featuring all kinds of big stupid props, usually capped with the woozy appearance of a woozier white rabbit. Kids often do like such tricks, at least in the right hands, and they almost always like rabbits, just about no matter what, so if you’re up for all the amazing nonsense that goes into making such critters materialize, you can’t go too far wrong. But I’m learning that, if presented in the right way, kids can like sleight of hand tricks a lot, too, and that’s the wonderful luck that I’m starting to build on now.

David Kaye

David Kaye, aka Silly Billy

Despite the common wisdom among many kids’ show magicicans that what matters most when doing magic for kids is that you have a jillion wacky comic bits built into the show, not how magical the actual tricks are—it’s how much fun you can scare up getting there, not where you actually go, or so that story goes—what the kids I’ve been meeting want most from me is something that they’re surprised to see for at least that (please snap your fingers here) long. They do like to laugh, of course, so humor is important to just about any show for kids. But all kinds of things in life are funny to them all the time, and most kids do a lot of laughing, anyway. What they really want from magicians, almost uniquely, though, whether a given trickster is funny or not, is happy flashes of weirdness, at once cartoon-like and real, during which the facts of the world, at least for awhile, don’t win. (Now that I think about it, that’s what most adults who like magic tricks want, too). And the wildly strong desire that maybe 90% of kids at  a magic show have to get up onstage and play a hands-on part in the tricks they see is often linked, I believe, to wanting a close-quarters, eye-witness stripe of proof that the exciting possibilities that seem to jump from what they’re seeing are maybe for real, not just odd optical illusions, spun from distance and tricks of the light.

So as much as I plan to continue learning to integrate all the varied elements that nearly ninety years of secular children’s magic have shown to make kids like tricks more, especially as distilled in David Kaye’s (Silly Billy’s) Seriously Silly, I simultaneously want to be slowly morphing the tricks I do until, unlike the case with most kids shows, virtually nobody watching, even most magicians (should there ever happen to be any there) will be able to decipher how the tricks are done. Believe it or not, no matter what trick you might have floating in your head as a perfect example of just how stupid magic tricks can be, there are magicians out there somewhere right now who can do whatever idiot old thing you’re thinking of in a way that would astonish you. Most people imagine there to be a one-to-one correspondence between tricks and the ways that they’re done. But most tricks can, in fact, be done in God’s plenty of ways, ranging from the silly to the sublime–even though most magicians, for all kinds of reasons, never get nearly as far from the silly as they could.

Enter the egg. I’ve been thinking for many moons about how to use eggs in magic tricks. But sadly, with the streak o’ shows I’ve been hired to do slightly more than half over, I’m still toying with what parts eggs can/can’t

play, so they’ll likely have to wait until another season to make it into the show.  When kids see a trick involving a “real-life prop,” like eggs, or lemons–or a giant real potato with two faded old, sky blue, Mr Potato Head eyes stuck in it, like the one that appears in my shows–it’s like they’re suddenly seeing a friend show up, somebody they feel like they already know and like, since even the potato’s toy eyes, like a fake moustache on your mom, fool nobody.

Dariel Fitzkee

Dariel Fitzkee

But when an egg makes an offbeat appearance, unlike most other fruits and vegetables, which you can just let kids briefly handle onstage to prove that they’re for real, there is an added complication, since just about the only way that plays from the stage to prove that an egg is really an egg is to break it into a clear glass, and the second you do that, Elvis instantly leaves the building, since with very few exceptions, what’s left of the egg after its broken, as effective a climax as that act makes to many tricks, is pretty sleight-of-hand proof. So routining even a quick series of egg tricks is far trickier than it may at first appear, since the ultimate power of many of them relies on the same piece of one-time-only “ocular proof,” to steal Othello’s famous phrase.

Kids, tricks. Mediations on ownership of same.

Kids, tricks. Mediations on ownership of same.

So I’ve been reading all I can about egg tricks, and of the many I’ve stumbled upon, the three sources I like the best, just in case you’d like to play the home version of our game, are these: Eggstraordinary Ways of Exhibiting With Eggs, by Joseph Ovette (1932), The Strange Inventions of Dr Ervin, by Dariel Fitzkee (1937), and The Encyclopedia of Egg Magic, by Donato Colucci (2002).  In those three books, alone, are dozens of fascinating oosporic conjurations, stretching from the likes of The Chameleon Egg (Ovette), to Egg and Lemon (Fitzkee), to The Confetti Egg and The Spooky Egg (both in Colucci).

So since you just keep asking, based on those sources and other scattered writings, here’s roughly what I’d ultimately like to do with an egg, at least as I type this. In the 1960s and maybe before, Davenport’s Magic in London sold a version of the torn and restored paper (you know, the trick where something is ripped up, then somehow unripped again) that revolved around the Humpty Dumpty story. As luck would have it, I recently tracked down a copy of that trick being sold by a retiring British magician, as well as, in another source, a version of that routine that climaxes with the startling production of a real egg from the restored picture. The egg that appears is decorated to match the Humpty Dumpty picture used in the ripped-poof!-unripped trick just mentioned, so the original description has you use a boiled egg, which you then give to the child who helped you with the trick, ostensibly for him/her to eat.

Since that move feels a little law suit-happy to me, circa 2009, I’d rather produce a raw egg, scribbled up to look like Humpty, instead (which will be riskier and require a new method), find a way to apparently float him around a little and maybe bounce him off the stage without harming him (which there really are convincing ways to do), only to finally crack him open and discover one of two signed dollar bills, borrowed and vanished at the start of the show, inside, with the other popping up in a lemon that otherwise magically appears (the lemon part happens now in the show that I already do).  Max Malini, a wildly successful 19th-20th century Polish magician, who performed very successfully for numerous members of international royalty and other global elites, among innumerable others, used to vanish two bills and reproduce them from an egg and a lemon, respectively, so what I’d like to do would be a skewed kind of tribute to that idea. Cracking open Humpty  to get the borrowed bill would also provide the delayed proof that the white thing I’d been fooling with for a minute or two was, in fact, a real egg. But finding a way to quickly “uncrack” Humpty after the trick would likely be necessary as a quick coda, if, as I suspect it would, his crack up for the cause made some younger watchers sad. So that, to make a long story short (and as the old joke goes, I know it’s way too late for that) is the magic I’d like to do with an egg.

So when I hear the word “egg” these days, some streak from the jumble above is what usually tumbles through my head. Once upon a time, I guess it was otherwise. Aren’t you glad to be out of that loop? Glad that, as the silly ad never stops telling us, tricks are really for kids–not for those who, like the rabbit, are just too silly to quit?


Mr. Potato Head: faeryboots

Trix: jbcurio

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27 responses to “Impossibly Fold In One Egg…”

  1. “What they really want…is happy flashes of weirdness…during which the facts of the world, at least for awhile, don’t win.”

    And it must be especially effective when they don’t win over the egg specifically, it being a symbol of youth and fragility that they can perhaps relate to at some primal level.

  2. Jo McArthur says:

    What a jolly show you must do. Wish I could bring my kids.

  3. Eric Eicher says:

    Michael, thank you for your comment. There is something special about eggs, as you suggest, in that they have a kind of larger than life symbolic resonance, as well as being appealing on some kind of primal level, as you also suggest. For practical reasons, though, despite Malini’s wonderful success pairing the same trick done twice, first with a lemon and then with an egg (which I mention in the post), the lemon is far and away the most popular place for a vanished bill to reappear, in large part, I have to believe, because of the unmagical mess that using an egg in a trick always seems to involve. It’s sometimes almost impossible to guess exactly why some elements of magic speak to people louder than others, but people of all ages seem to see a reappearance in a lemon as just as suprising as one in an egg, even though the latter strikes me as more impossible. The lemon seems to have quite a bit of metaphorical zap of its own, though I find it harder to see why.

  4. Eric Eicher says:

    Jo, thank you for your kind words, and I, too, wish you could bring your kids to a show. I especially appreciate your choice of the word “jolly” to describe my shows, since jolliness really is a quality that I try hard to bring to them. Since we’re realizing now that library themes for a given summer stretch across much of the country, we’re talking about performing in other states, too, as time goes by, so maybe we’ll get to meet you and your kids in a library somewhere someday. I hope so.

  5. Jane Summer says:

    Wow. I really like the view from inside a magician’s mind. So much thought given to creating an illusion–the fascination of what isn’t really there in the first place. I love the idea of unexpected disappearances, seemingly innocent distractions, and then carefully-timed unveilings which make the observer realize that they cannot trust what they think they know, see or hear. Far from seeming like child’s play, it feels more like a seduction, the feeling of being wonderfully thrown off balance by someone who is artfully orchestrating a dream-world perception of an otherwise seemingly ordinary world. It’s such an ancient art (magic), and yet, we see the theme resonate so powerfully in pop culture and advertising today, yet with much less art, and with much more sinister motives than actual magic (as it tends to be practiced) today. A man–just an ordinary human, sans cameras, lights or the likes of Photoshop–spending so many, many, many hours practicing with a beautiful white egg and his skilled hands to create one precise perception from an audience of totally unknown and diverse other humans is amazing to me. And, of course, the greatest illusion of all is that the magician can make it look so completely effortless, and it all happens in the blink of an eye, as the old saying goes, when in truth, there must be untold years of study, thought, and practice behind that singular moment of fantasy. The intellectual and imaginative intensity of that is quite sexy, actually. Hmmm, I need to find myself a magician…

  6. Erin Mathews says:

    I think when you figure out how to put the egg back together, you need to allow all the king’s horses and all the king’s men a chance to attempt to help – or maybe allow them success this time?

  7. I was most impressed with your ability to use words to describe the thought and imagination that goes into the making of magic. My main thought is that I wish you could arrange to do a show at the chilren’s library in Salina so I could come. Let me know if I can help.

  8. Sabrina, age 8 says:

    dear dad,
    your great chunk of words is soooo
    much better then Webkinz.I think it’s more Eggy, CREATIVE,and last but not least,it’s you.
    your friend,Sabrina

  9. Lear, age 5 says:

    Lear says, “You know that trick where you feel the bill in the handkerchief? That’s a great trick. I like to go see your shows. Keep it real, Lear.”

  10. Nice! Maybe you could use one of my quail eggs?

    Or, shine a flashlight through your chicken egg – at least that’s how we check for viable embryos. 🙂

  11. Beverly Sims says:

    I am delighted to hear that so much thought goes into “tricks”–I thought it was all MAGIC! No seriously, I wish you all the best in
    your hope to use an egg in your show. Incidentally I have a torn paper I need restored if you have time. Keep on.

  12. Donna Henry says:

    How interesting that you found an egg to be an inspiration to you since it is such a dichotomy of possibility and scrambled (I know, lame) hopes. Are there really ways to bounce an egg without breaking it? That has certainly never happened in my house! Must have something to do with operator error. 🙂 Best of luck and continued success with your magic.

  13. Eric Eicher says:

    Jane, thank you for the remarkably kind message. I have little doubt that you can find yourself a magician, if that’s really your goal, and I wish you two all the best.

  14. Eric Eicher says:

    Erin, thank you for the suggestion. It would take magic of a truly fantastical stripe to free all the king’s horses and all the king’s men from the realm of nursery rhymes long enough to help in a magic show. And so far, the king hasn’t answered my emails. But I’ll keep trying, and if you have any suggestions about how to make what you’ve suggested real, I’d be happy to hear them.

  15. Eric Eicher says:

    Thank you for your kind words, Madge. We would love to do a show in Salina, if we could just get on their schedule. Everybody’s summer reading program is essentially over by now, of course, but it’s not impossible that we could be booked later in the year sometime. We’ll make contact with the library there and see what happens; thank you very much for your offer of help, and if you have any special insight into how to make this happen, please let us know.

  16. Eric Eicher says:

    Lear and Sabrina, thank you for leaving me messages here. I wondered where everybody was last night, then your messages appeared. It was very sweet of you to say such nice things about the show. I’ll see you soon.

  17. Eric Eicher says:

    Taylor, the idea of shining a light through the egg, if you could work out the details, could actually be a good one. You would likely know better than I, but I have a fuzzy memory of hearing about people “candling eggs,” which would seem to work on a similar principle. The trick would be to find a way to do it that rang true to people and was widely visible, but there may just be a way. I’ll think about it, and thanks again for the idea.

  18. Eric Eicher says:

    Beverly, I appreciate your offer of a torn paper to restore, but in my professional opinion, if it’s been ripped more than 48 hours, it’s probably a goner. I’d suggest scotch taping it back together and keeping it in a cool dark place for at least 88 days.

    Thank you also for your thoughts on tricks vs. magic snd for your good wishes on finding the right egg trick. You keep on, too.

  19. Eric Eicher says:

    Believe it or not, Donna, the bouncing egg illusion–and it really is just an illusion, though it’s a very convincing one in the right hands–can be done. People that are good at it can make it look exactly like whatever the object is is really bouncing off the floor. I think using a raw egg would likely be seen as a very dumb move by many, since, as the saying goes, everybody makes mistakes, and the results of such a mistake with an egg would be dramatic. But I’ve seen the bounce thing done with things like a dinner roll and an apple, and it really looks cool.

    Thank you again for your comment and continued success to you, too.

  20. Jennie says:

    It’s been so long since I’ve seen or thought about magic shows that the idea is instantly enchanting. And tumbling around in a magician’s head is similar to watching a magic show, objects appearing and disappearing, scenes unfold and change. Applause! Laughter!

    Now I want to see a magic show and oh, No! I’m hungry for an omelette!

    Keep writing, Please!

  21. Eric Eicher says:

    Jennie, I’m very glad if something I wrote renews the childhood appeal of magic, even if only for a brief time. Thank you for writing, and with any luck, I’ll eventually write something else that you’ll like–so keep reading, please!

  22. J. McMahon says:

    Interesting thoughts on magic. Who knew that Othello and Trix could blend into a cohesive narrative?

  23. Shannon says:

    I have no idea if it’s a normal kid phase or not, but my older daughter has had a strong fascination with eggs for a good solid two years now. She likes to eat them, and help me cook them, but she is also happy to re-read the part of any story that features one hatching, over and over and over again.

    She invented a game in which she stoops behind a table or chair, then declares “hatch” and jumps up. It’s her version of peek-a-boo.

    She, for one, would love your egg trick.

  24. Eric Eicher says:

    Thank you for writing a response, J.

    Even though my always-far-from-inclusive knowledge of Shakespearean criticism is now over a decade faded, one thing that I recall a certain contingent of critics, Stephen Greenblatt among them, having done a routinely brilliant job of recreating was the daylight world of Shakespeare’s Globe, where most of his plays were performed for an audience that included people of all levels of education, amidst a higher level of general hubbub than we’d be likely to accept, in a “shady” area of town that also featured the nearby likes of bear-baiting pits, with all kinds of noise floating in from the street outside, etc. Our current sense of Shakespearean theatrical decorum, which owes much to later times and places–of everybody sitting in a comfortable, darkenened space, dutifully and quietly facing an artfully illuminated stage, while straining to hear every widely-seen-as-timeless-and-profound word–is far different from anything that Shakespeare or his original audiences might have imagined. I intended no lese majesty by the kind of Trix/Othello juxtaposition that you highlight, in part because it would likely have struck much of Shakespeare’s original audience as a far less jarring thing than it tends to strike us as being now.
    So much more could be said, but I’ll close with this quotation from Emerson, which captures much in few words: “We have made a miracle of Shakespeare.” And though he gave us remarkable material to work with, it still took–and takes–some doing.

    But whether you agree with any of that or not, J., I take your comment as a compliment and appreciate your taking the time to make it. I hope you’ll return here again.

  25. Eric Eicher says:

    Your daughter sounds like a wonderful young person, Shannon–and that sounds like a cool game. I remember as a young boy going through a long period where eggs struck me as just about the coolest things on the planet, though in my case, it was just the look of them.

    My fear would be that somebody with such a strong connection to the quasi-miraculous process of eggs hatching may find the kind of trick that I propose to do with an egg someday to be brutish and/or scary. So lucky for her, she’s quite unlikely ever to see it done.

  26. Jennie says:

    Hi, Eric–What about this:

    Wouldn’t you qualify for touring your magic show in Kansas libraries?

    Would be sooo cooool to see you on the roster like Rick Averil and his children’s theater group. LOVE! Jennie

    PS. Take my advice, I’m not using it!

  27. Freddie576894034576 says:

    WOW… egg shaped RV…that speaks for you

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The Author

Eric Eicher

Bill Cosby once said this on a long-ago comedy album: "I started out as a child." As it turns out, Eric Eicher did, too. In the years since, he's somehow become, among other things, a father, a teacher, a writer, and a sleight-of-hand performer, with a Master's in English from the University of California at Berkeley and a doctorate in English from the University of Kansas. His major literary interests are Shakespeare (especially King Lear), the essay, and the nonsense of Stephen Leacock and Edward Lear.

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