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Take Two #17: Paul Gertner

PAUL GERTNER

Paul Gertner is one of the finest close-up magicians in the world, and one of the most accomplished of my generation. Hailing from Pittsburgh, Paul was one of the youngest magicians to ever achieve success in the specialized world of performing magic on the trade show floor, communicating exhibitors' marketing and branding information by seamlessly integrating it with magic performance, while drawing crowds and obtaining customer leads for his clients. Paul began doing this work in the mid-1970s, a heyday for trade show magic, and is one of the most successful such specialists of our time.

However, this is only one aspect of Paul’s achievements. The caliber of magic that one sees at trade shows, then and now, is highly variable. There have certainly been marvelous magicians who have specialized in this field at various times in their lives, from Eddie Tullock (the original pioneer of this field), to Johnny Thompson, Derek Dingle and Mike Rogers, to Danny Orleans, Tim Conover and of course Paul himself. But there are also many in this territory who have carved out solid careers based more on their pitchman skills then the strength of their magic abilities.

Gertner is a very different kind of beast. He is an original artist who has garnered the highest accolades within the world of magic, including (and I’m going to list these complete as they appear on his website because these are among the most prestigious awards in all of magic):

First Prize: 1994 & 1995 ACADEMY OF MAGICAL ARTS, HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA
Close-up magician of the Year

First Prize: 1994 ACADEMY OF MAGICAL ARTS, HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA
Lecturer of the Year

First Prize: 1994 ACADEMY OF MAGICAL ARTS, HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA
Lecturer of the Year

First Prize: 1985 FISM MAGIC CONGRESS, MADRID, SPAIN

First Prize: 1983 $20,000 LAS VEGAS SLEIGHT-OF-HAND CHALLENGE

Second Prize: 1978 GRAND PRIX OF WORLD MAGIC 78, TOKYO, JAPAN

First Prize: 1975 SOCIETY OF AMERICAN MAGICIANS COMPETITION, CHICAGO

First Prize: 1975 COLUMBUS MAGI-FEST STAGE COMPETITION, COLUMBUS

First Prize: 1973 IBM INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION, MIAMI
Paul became the youngest magician too ever win this first prize award.

Note that these include two close-up magic prizes at FISM (which I wrote about last week), and that the 1983 Vegas Challenge prize was at the time the most prestigious close-up contest in the world, filled with heavy hitters doing the “real work” rather than contrived contest-driven acts as are often seen at FISM.

Paul has also made a number of outstanding television appearances over several decades, including no less than three appearances on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson (who was himself a discerning and enthusiastic amateur magician) and two appearances on That’s Incredible! 

Recently, Paul returned to TV with a superb appearance on Penn & Teller’s FOOL US, unarguably the best magic television series to come along in many years (I’m also a fan of Michael Carbonaro’s The Carbonaro Effect, but this is not really a magic show, but rather a clever show that utilizes magic in marvelous and original ways). As I mentioned in Take Two #12 about Ben Earl’s appearance on the show, while there is an admittedly somewhat frustrating message inherent in FOOL US, focusing as it does on, well, fooling and method, nevertheless, the show uses the fooling idea mostly as a reality TV hook. In actuality the show is an art appreciation show for presenting and understanding magic, in which a great deal of good magic is beautifully shot, and then Penn & Teller comment, frequently emphasizing the important artistic point that magic is largely an interpretive art, and that “it’s never the song, it’s always the singer,” as Penn points out in the documentary he produced, The Aristocrats, about the world’s dirtiest joke, and which makes the exact same artistic point from start to finish.

Paul’s appearance is notable because he took a signature trick and original creation that is widely known in the magic world, including to Penn & Teller, and crafted something extra that floored them and won him a FOOL US award. I’m a great fan of this trick, and have been using it in my own repertoire since it was first published decades ago. I use it regularly when I perform behind the W.C. Fields Bar at the Magic Castle, and it has also long been a staple of my trade show repertoire. Indeed, a couple of years ago, Paul and I were working at the same trade show, a particularly large one with more than 40,000 attendees, and Paul was kind enough to give me permission to continue using it in the same show.

And so, here it is, Paul Gertner performing his signature card trick on Penn & Teller’s FOOL US, in its entirety, as I think the entire spot, from the opening bio package to the closing Penn & Teller discussion, makes for great viewing. But you need to do your part, too—so expand the browser, turn up the sound, and please, put the smart phone down for awhile, and turn your full attention to a great performance by the inimitable magician’s magician, Paul Gertner.

Paul Gertner | Unshuffled


If you asked most magicians to name the performance pieces for which Paul Gertner is most renown, they are probably most likely to name the card routine you just watched, along with Paul’s signature version of the Cups and Balls (although they also might mention “That’s Ridiculous,” “The Hourglass,” or another of my personal favorites, “Triple Die-Lemma.”). While Paul’s routine is based (like most 20th-century Cups-and-Balls routines) on the seminal Dai Vernon routine, Paul made the piece his own with the use of steel balls, and the role sound plays in his presentation. A very young Paul Gertner once performed this on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood; a somewhat older Paul Gertner did it for Johnny Carson; and here is a recent iteration performed as part of his one-man show, Paul Gertner: Ten Fingers.

I first met Paul in the late 1970s, and recently I’ve had the pleasure of talking magic with him a little more than usual. I am reminded of his relentless focus and creative drive, and that’s what put him in mind for this week’s Take Two feature. It’s a privilege to know him as a friend and colleague (and he has great hair [Hi, Chad]). Ladies and gentlemen, please take a few moments to focus on and thoroughly enjoy a routine that requires balls of steel in more ways than one. 

Paul Gertner’s Cups and Steel Balls


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Take Two

Jamy Ian Swiss is a magician, performer, author and consultant. Follow Jamy as he posts a pair of video clips wtih curated commentary, offering a fresh perspective on great magic and magicians. 

Learn more about his latest book: Preserving MysteryMore about Jamy Ian Swiss.

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