Mentalism and Cards? How Dare We?
Anyone who knows anything about mentalism today knows that you cannot be a real mentalist and use playing cards. It’s a universal rule. This rule has always been true, and it will always be true. That’s just the facts, right?
Actually, no. The idea that mentalists cannot use cards has resurfaced as a relatively new idea. In fact, two people made this notion popular in my time. One of these people I will not name, but I know from personal experience that he came up with this rule so he could sell more mentalism props. This man was a wild magician that then decided to be a mentalist. When he realized the way to make money for him in mentalism was to sell props, he started to lecture, and tell people that they needed proper mentalism props. No one should use playing cards as that screamed “magician” to audiences, he preached. People believed him, and performers stopped using cards in mentalism, and started buying his props instead. The trick worked—for him.
The other person who some people claimed made an issue out of cards and mentalism was the legendary Bob Cassidy. Bob didn’t like some use of cards because, as he liked to point out, he worked in rough bars with motorcycle gangs. Those types of audiences saw cards as either something to be used for gambling and getting something from someone, or what a weakling magician would use to try and trick them, if used the way a magician used cards.
Bob understood his audience. As Jheff Poncher correctly points out, Cassidy did much mentalism with cards. He was against a magical use of cards, using cards the way a performing magician might. That said, I use cards the way a performing magician might, and no audience has ever thought less of my mentalism because of it.
Some people like to say that playing cards are a direct suggestion that someone is a magician. I tested that theory out. For several years I went up to normal people showing them a boxed deck of cards. I asked these normal people what they thought a box of cards like these might be used for by someone. Only eight people ever stated the cards might be used for a magic trick. Those people either liked magic tricks, did them, or knew someone who did magic regularly. Most of these people first stated that such a deck was probably used to play cards, and then added something about how the cards could be used for card tricks, as an afterthought.
Maybe that won’t change your mind about using playing cards in mentalism, but you should at least start to think more realistically about the facts.
I do know some people in business who say they do not want anyone using playing cards because cards seem tricky. If you are working for millionaires who don’t trust most people, are always on the lookout for cons, and hate magicians, you probably already know if they feel that way. This situation doesn’t make disuse of playing cards some sort of universal truth, of course. I have met plenty of millionaires who see a deck of cards as something they use in a game.
History, Real History
Some newer mentalists and magicians believe that mentalists don’t use playing cards, and that realistic mentalists never have used playing cards. Let’s honestly examine that.
Here are some of the biggest names in mentalism historically: Annemann, Dunninger, Nelson, Kreskin, Chan Canasta, David Hoy, Larry Becker, T.A. Waters, Max Maven, Ted Lesley, Punx, Tony Andruzzi, Docc Hilford, Derren Brown, Luke Jermay, Peter Turner, Fraser Parker, Banachek, to name just a few of historically well-known names in mentalism.
Annemann wrote more card tricks than mentalism. Dunninger, Kreskin, and Chan Canasta featured cards on radio and television shows. David Hoy, one of the most realistic mentalists of his time, created the Hoy Deck. Maybe you need to look up how many card effects Max Maven has currently. Derren Brown put a whole book out on card tricks, which included a take on something from Wonder Words. Many of my famous students also have made a name for themselves using playing cards, including Peter Turner, Fraser Parker, Luke Jermay, Luca Volpe, and Pablo Amira. I have a Kentonism Deck.
Historically, the facts are that mentalists have used cards more often than not. I became known as a mentalist in part because I did readings as playing card revelations when I was doing close-up magic. That was a very unique thing to do when I started doing it, and mentalists began calling me a mentalist because of things like that. I became an internationally known mentalist when I put out my Kolossal Killer effect and method, along with one of my friends and mentors, Larry Becker. That’s right, it was a card trick that made me a famous mentalist to other mentalists around the world. Only later did they learn about Wonder Words and all of my other mentalism work. Kolossal Killer is a card trick, a card out really, when you get right down to it.
So you can accept for yourself that you cannot get by using playing cards because you cannot make yourself look like a real mentalist if you use cards. Personally, I often open expensive private performances with a card trick. Why?
Because it isn’t about the trick, or the prop, it’s all about how you connect with others. I can make a card trick connect deeply.
It's no surprise that mentalists like to get in their heads and think. They can get stuck in there, and forget the other worlds of emotion, art, connection, and physical response. It may feel like a reassuring theory that if you don’t use playing cards you will appear to be a real mentalist, but you know that isn’t the truth. Props only mean to prop you up—to support your message. Whatever props you use, the props are not the entire suggestion, the meaning, the title, or lasting impact on an audience. Are you really afraid of printed pieces of paper ruining your mentalism? If so, keep studying mentalism until you feel more secure. I may not always use cards, but I can, and when I do it never takes away from whether or not I am a mentalist.
Playing cards are like any other prop. You have to decide if the prop fits your audience, your style, and your message.
Heck, I know mentalists who do rope tricks, blatant rope tricks, in their mental acts. Audiences don’t seem to care.
I wouldn’t likely do that, but the issue isn’t the thing. It’s what we do with it.
If I use a deck of cards to put someone into a trance, does that mean I can't really hypnotize people? Of course not. Yet oddly mentalists believe that if they use cards, it means that whatever they do must be viewed as a trick. They have been taught to buy into the rule, no matter how clearly untrue it may be.
I suggest you stop and think carefully about the greatest names in mentalism, and then realize how many of them have used playing cards. Most do.
If lesser names in chat groups tell you the rule is that mentalists can't use cards, just smile in a text, and walk away from the conversation. :)
Tell them they might be right.
After all, what does Annemann, Dunninger, Kreskin, Chan Canasta, David Hoy, Bob Cassidy, Larry Becker, T.A. Waters, Max Maven, Ted Lesley, Punx, Tony Andruzzi, Docc Hilford, Derren Brown, Luke Jermay, Peter Turner, Fraser Parker, or Kenton know?