A stooge, in magical terms, is someone pretending to be a audience member, but who is actually “in on the secret” and is secretly helping the magician perform various effects that range from mentalism to “normal” illusions. The use of a stooge is often thought of when magicians perform impossible effects on television or theatre performances, however, stooges aren’t just limited to TV – they can be used in table-hopping environments, small parties and even informal gatherings. Stooges are used for a variety of effects, and this article will explain a few of them.
While all eyes are on the magician, a stooge can subtly remove objects in order to make them disappear. In one such effect, the magician places a genuine spectator’s ring under a napkin and holds it from outside the napkin. He then lets various spectators feel under the napkin to confirm the ring is still there, and then very fairly wraps the ring with the napkin. After suitable dramatics, the ring has vanished and reappeared in some bizarre object next to the spectator.
How is this done? Simple – the last spectator to feel the ring is actually a stooge. Instead of just checking the ring is still under the napkin, the stooge takes the ring and conceals it in his hand (known as palming) before confirming that the ring is still there. The magician then keeps the audience’s attention while the stooge can place the ring in an impossible location.
There are literally thousands of mentalism (i.e. mind-reading) effects that can be made even more powerful with the use of a stooge. Imagine a magician, in an informal situation, asks one spectator to select any object in the room while the magician is out of the room; when he returns, he is able to “sense” the object and finally picks the chosen object – all thanks to secret communication with the stooge. Alternatively, a spectator may totally freely select a card from a deck of cards the magician never touches yet the magician is able to instantly (or after sufficient dramatic strain) reveal the chosen card.
This secret communication usually involves some kind of physical contact (usually under a table), visual cues (subtle nodding, pointing etc.), or in larger situations, audible prompts; all of which must be used with care to prevent detection. A new addition to the magic market is “Mobile Stooge” which turns your mobile phone into a totally undetectable way for a stooge and magician to communicate with each other with no physical, audible or visual cues – the magician can even be in a different room to the stooge. This has allowed for some more exciting, adventurous effects to be created.
Perhaps the least used, false inspections allow the magician to use a gimmicked device (i.e. something that appears normal but any real inspection will reveal that the object has been altered), have it inspected (by the stooge) so that the audience will believe the object is totally normal. This allows the magician to get away with murder!
Stooges aren’t just used for magic – less honest people may use very similar techniques while playing games or even gambling in order to beat the house, and have even been used in television competitions such as Who Wants To Be A Millionaire (where an audience member coughed at certain points – if only they were using Mobile Stooge!)