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The easiest way to attract a crowd is to let it be known that at a given time and a given place some one is going to attempt something that in the event of failure will mean sudden death.
"Now you're looking for the secret... but you won't find it... because you're not really looking... You don't really want to know... You want to be fooled."
—Cutter, The Prestige
You know them: they wear tuxedoes (or if female, fishnets), top hats, swishing satin capes, and fine white gloves. They flourish black batons with white tips, and brandish decks of cards, metal rings, rubber balls, paper cups and silk handkerchiefs. Their favorite words are "Abracadabra", "Hocus Pocus", "Presto (change-o)", "Voila", and "Alakazam!"
Using their nimble fingers, hidden devices and deliberate misdirection, they can Pull a Rabbit Out of My Hat, pull a dove from their sleeve, Saw a Woman In Half, and hypnotize hapless audience members or even make them disappear! Sometimes they're also escape artists, able to get out of handcuffs and straitjackets and still find out what your card was. Some of them solve crimes in their spare time. And maybe, just maybe, some of them can do real magic.
For one of their most common tricks, see What Have We Ear?.
- The main character in Kaitou Saint Tail as well as her father.
- Kaitou Kid from Detective Conan (as well as suspects or victims in various episodes).
- Yamada Naoko in Trick.
- Joseph Joestar in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure uses stage magic tricks to supplement his superhuman martial arts.
- Magical Star Magical Emi is about a young elementary school girl named Mai who is a Circus Brat but not a very good magician, who can transform into an Older Alter Ego named Magical Emi who is a cool stage magician with a Fan Service-providing version outfit of the standard Stage Magician outfit.
- In Private Actress, a Christmas-themed chapter has Shiho hired by the mother of a magician named Takanori Mikumo. He's suffered of severe mental and emotional problems after the death of his wife Youko, so his worried mom hires Shiho to pose as a maid so she can help him deal through the pain. And then it turns out Mikumo actually has Psychic Powers, which are acting up due to his grief...
- Zatanna from the DCU and her deceased father, Zatara. Both are real sorcerers pretending to be stage magicians.
- The main character from Jar Of Fools, Ernie Weiss (based on Harry Houdini, whose real name was Ehric Weiss), and his mentor Al Floss (based on the actual magician named Al Floss).
- DC also had Misto, a nonmagical crimesolving Stage Magician, very likely based on Mandrake.
- Mandrake the Magician was the very first comic book superhero — he could do "real" magic as opposed to illusions — making this Older Than Superman (if there is such a category, and if not there should be).
- One arc in Spawn had the title character encounter and work alongside Houdini, who is revealed to be an actual dimension-travelling mage using his show as a cover. Houdini teaches Spawn a few tricks about what his suit can do.
- Wim Magwit in the Star Wars Expanded Universe comics.
- Moloch the Mystic from Watchmen.
- Both main characters in The Prestige.
- The main character in The Illusionist, with a powerful touch of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane.
- Most of the main characters in Magicians.
- One of main characters in Terror Train, played by David Copperfield.
- Celine, in Celine and Julie Go Boating, and Julie tries her hand at it, too.
- Nicolas Cage's character from Next.
- Manny the praying mantis on A Bugs Life is the magician on a bug circus. His Lovely Assistant is Gypsy, a gypsy moth.
- The main character of Carter Beats the Devil.
- Harry Dresden's father.
- Alistair MacKinnon in The Shadow in the North.
- Aziraphale in Good Omens. He certainly could do "real magic" if he wanted, but he much prefers prestidigitation, despite how awful he is at it.
- Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters novel Reserved for the Cat featured a Fire Master (i.e., a mage) who spent his career being a very good stage magician. He did occasionally use 'real magic' in his performances.
- The conjuror in G. K. Chesterton's Magic
- The mystery of Mr. Todhunter, in the Father Brown story The Absence of Mr Glass, is explained by his being a stage magician.
- The Weasley Twins in Harry Potter have shades of this, using their magical ability to develop tricks for pranksters, being grade-A pranksters themselves. In one book, they use this trope as a cover to impress a local village girl, who thinks that their tricks are "almost like real magic". They actually open their own joke shop later on in the series. The Marauders, their inspiration, may have also been like this.
- Reg Chronotis from Douglas Adams's Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is one of these. But he tries taking one trick too far ...
- Adam Klaus, Jonathan's boss from Jonathan Creek.
- On Pushing Daisies, Ned's half-brothers and their mentor, the Great Hermann.
- GOB Bluth on Arrested Development
- The 1970s ITV kids' show Ace of Wands featured a stage magician called Tarot who solved mysteries in his spare time. The show had a magic advisor, but most of the tricks depicted in the show were cheats using video effects.
- Occasionally Sesame Street would feature The Amazing Mumford, for whom Grover was always eager to be the audience volunteer. Sometimes Mumford's tricks would have an educational bent (for example, when he subtracted pineapples), sometimes they were just gags. On one occasion Grover came to watch, but there was no show—Mumford was just practicing. Mumford didn't get the trick right, but Grover did get a hop and a skip for his exit.
- The Supernatural episode "Criss Angel is a Douchebag" features several.
- "The Great Montarro" from Friday the 13th: The Series.
- The patient in the House episode "You Don't Want to Know" is a stage magician.
- Law & Order: Criminal Intent had an episode that featured stage magic.
- The Magician, a TV series staring Bill Bixby, before The Incredible Hulk in which he played stage illusionist Anthony "Tony" Blake, who used his skills to solve crimes.
- Columbo has featured magicians twice, as the murderer in "Now You See Him..." and as the victim in "Columbo Goes to the Guillotine."
- CSI and CSI: NY both had episodes with magician suspects. 'Abra Cadaver' on the original and 'Sleight Out Of Hand' with Criss Angel on CSI NY.
- Chandu The Magician, a 1930s radio series that also got made into a movie serial.
- In both Tabletop Game/ Mage: The Ascension and Mage: The Awakening, certain magic-users are presented as using stage magic as a cover story. Magic in this setting is made more dangerous by mortals perceiving it, an effect called Disbelief, but it is possible to suspend Disbelief by masking it. (This won't work with the really flashy stuff like lightning bolts.)
- The Wizard in Once Upon a Mattress, who used to perform under the stage name Candamon (but doesn't want anyone to call him that any more).
- The Magician (Nika Magadoff) in The Consul.
- One of Kirby's powers in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror. His moves include releasing doves, card-throwing and releasing a jack-in-the-box.
- Troupe Gramarye, a troupe of stage magicians play an important part in Apollo Justice Ace Attorney, Apollo's boss/sidekick Trucy is the youngest member and successor to the troupe's magic..
- Max Galactica from earlier in the same series is also one.
- The Rank 4 boss in No More Heroes, Harvey Moisewich Volodarskii, is a professional magician who has a Siegfried/Roy accent and dresses like David Copperfield. He fights Travis at his show, and has a One-Hit Kill attack where he has his assistants lock Travis into an exploding box.
- This is how Magic Man of Mega Man and Bass is designed; he's set in a carnival, he looks like a stage magician crossed with a deck of cards, and he uses attacks that involve throwing cards or releasing birds (naturally, given the series, the protagonists can copy the card throw.)
- Sam, the main character in Gray Matter is a Stage Magician in training and she really wants to become full fledged by joining the mysterious Daedalus Club. Her ability also plays a part in solving puzzles.
- Stage magician are a operative class in "Watch dogs : legion" they can hypnotize the ennemy to make them fall asleep or make them obey.
- An arc of The Wotch featured a character who "cheated" by using real magic. He said he was actually helping true stage magicians by reinforcing the myth.
- The Amazing Mumbo from Teen Titans.
- Rocky and Bullwinkle: "Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat!"
- One episode of Fillmore involved a missing robot dog that a junior magician made vanish at the school talent show. The Chase Scene got a lot more interesting when the suspect was using magic tricks to escape.
- Presto Digitagione of the Pixar short Presto is one of these, but with (presumably) much more talent at real magic since he's created two portals and hid them in his hats.
- Mickey Mouse played one in the Classic Disney Short Magician Mickey. He gets heckled by Donald Duck and Hilarity Ensues when Mickey starts performing ever more implausible tricks at Don's expense.
- Ace Cooper from The Magician is one. However, he's also fits Magicians Are Wizards
- Princess Tenko is this, and her animated counterpart in Tenko and the Guardians of the Magic combines this with Magical Girl Warrior.
- Carl Clover from Blaz Blue dresses like this, and has several moves that involve pulling things out of thin air.
- Abra Cadaver, the magical zombie on The Powerpuff Girls.
- The Great and Powerful Trixie from My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic. Granted, genuine magic does exist in this world (and Trixie herself wields it), but few ponies make a magic act out of it. She backs it up with tools such as smoke bombs.
- The villain of Frosty the Snowman
- Harry Houdini was, within the trade, admired for his preparation and command. A lot of his contemporaries thought he was out of his depth doing basic stage magic (basically everything he did had to be made more awesome than it really was). Normal magicians pulled a dozen threaded needles out of their mouths to a small audience. Houdini would stretch the thread from one stage wing to the other. As one fellow magician said. "How did the audience see the needles? Houdini told them they were there."
- Doug Henning was a famous stylistic subversion of this kind of performer. Most famously, he rejected the tuxedo, top hat and clean shaven look cliche and opted to have more of a hippie day-glo look along with an earnest enthusiasm which help revitalized the magic show as a popular entertainment in the 1970s.
- Penn & Teller, who came to prominence in The Eighties, are a huge subversion — they cheerfully admit to stage magic being fakery to the point that they don't hesitate to show how some conventional tricks are performed. They also incorporate tons of comedy and social commentary into their shows.
- They often follow up said explanation with an even more elaborate or surprising illusion (which they don't explain) to close off an act and leave audiences wondering. One of their main aims is to make people think critically about events and acts that seem supernatural.
- David Copperfield became famous in The Eighties with TV specials that included such stunts as making the Statue of Liberty appear to vanish and escaping from Alcatraz. Probably the best-known traditional magician working now.
- Lance Burton, a Las Vegas favorite, is another traditional example who specializes in close-up magic (producing doves, cards, etc.).
- He's also done several TV specials in the late '90s and early '00s in which he points out that often it's not so much magic as science (of misdirection) but he's still quite a competent illusionist, and well respected in the field.
- Siegfried (Fischbacher) and Roy (Horn) got their start in Las Vegas as a supporting act in showgirl revues in The Seventies, but eventually headlined their own shows, the biggest of which ran at the groundbreaking Mirage Hotel and Casino from 1989-2003. They were famous for using huge setpieces and exotic animals in their acts; infamously it was Roy being mauled by one of their white tigers during a performance that ended their stage careers. Their flamboyance made them by far the most frequently parodied modern magicians during their run, subsequently replaced by:
- Criss Angel (Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos). This magician with a rock and roll "bad boy" persona came to prominence at the Turn of the Millennium with his colorful stunts on the A&E show Criss Angel Mindfreak. He launched a Las Vegas show co-produced by Cirque Du Soleil (Believe) in 2008.
- Dirk Arthur seems to have taken the animal act torch from Siegfried & Roy, but unlike them is very meticulous in making sure that the animals he works with on stage are properly trained (He's a very competent animal trainer and advocate for wildlife conservation). He's produced a documentary for the Discovery Channel in which he discusses the behind the scenes aspect of what it takes to keep the animals healthy, happy, and properly trained. Doesn't show how he does any tricks but he does show that each cat has their own personality.
- The Amazing Johnathan is a subversion of this whole image, he's dirty, he's fat, he's hairy, and all of his tricks usually end up back firing spectacularly. He relies heavily on comedy magic. Sadly he's had to lighten his schedule somewhat since having some cardiac problems.
- "Welp, chalk another thing up on the list of 'Shit I can't do'."
- David Blaine formed his creative persona as a direct inversion of this kind of magic (hence his usual title, "street magician"). Increasingly, however, he has gained popularity for increasingly showy, increasingly public (and publicized) feats of magic, though the stunts are more endurance-based than typical illusions.
- During World War Two, Jasper Maskelyne actually used stage magic as warfare. He disguised jeeps as tanks and tanks as trucks. He faked entire armies and navies. He faked an invasion. He could in fact be considered a key man behind Allied victory — As the war dragged on, the Allies realized that they would eventually lose Alexandria and the Suez Canal to German bombers, cutting off their oil supplies. Maskelyne created a fake (night-lit)Alexandria three miles off-target and masked the canal itself with a wheel of spinning light nine miles wide.
- Several years ago, there was a magician who seemed to be growing in popularity for a while and was known only as the Masked Magician, or something similar. Every year, he would have a television special, preforming death-defying illusions, until one year he finally unmasked himself on television and made it known who he really was.
- You're talking about Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed (Yes, that's the entire title) that was on Fox from 1997-98. The Masked Magician was revealed to be Val Valentino at the end. He was seen as a threat by many stage magicians at the time for breaking the long-standing taboo of NEVER revealing how to do a trick. Valentino countered with saying that he wanted to reinvigorate children's interest in magic by showing that even the most complex of illusions often had simple tricks to pulling them off as well as allowing the audience to marvel at the magician's showmanship more than trying to wrack their brains figuring out how he did it.
- The Amazing Randi presents us with an interesting case: starting off as a stage magician, he eventually became a noted debunker of claimed Psychic Powers and other forms of charlatanry...frequently by performing the same feats as a stage magician, and explaining how it's done.
- Derren Brown uses misdirection to exploit and explore facets of human psychology that make us vulnerable to deception. He often explains how he does his tricks as well to demonstrate that these flaws are natural and not as easy to overcome as we may think even if we consider ourselves Genre Savvy.
- Although much of what he does is classic magic tricks disguised as psychological tricks. One notable and easily proved example is when he convinced several bodybuilders that he could hypnotize them to convince them that they would be unable to lift a small woman that Derren was easily able to lift. In reality, she was simply shifting her center of gravity further back when the bodybuilders tried to lift her, it is much easier to pick someone up when they are standing right next to you as opposed to being further away.
- Dai Vernon — one of the most legendary magicians to have been overshadowed by Houdini. In addition to inspiring many magicians and developing the most imitated cups and balls routine known to man, Dai Vernon is credited with helping perfect a lot of sleight-of-hand techniques used by today's magicians. He is also known to have been the only man to ever outfox Houdini himself, earning himself the laconic description — "The man who fooled Houdini."