Offbeat by Nick Diffatte
Review by Michael Close
Readers of this newsletter are savvy people, so, if you attended this year’s MAGIC Live, you probably came home with a copy of Nick Diffatte’s book, Offbeat. As I type this, the book is currently out of print; more will be on the way shortly. This is good news, because Offbeat should be in your library.
So, who is this Nick Diffatte guy, anyway? Here’s what Mac King says about him in the Foreword to Offbeat: “Seriously, Nick is simply one-of-a-kind. Of course he’s really only twenty-five-years old, but he’s the most knowledgeable twenty-five-year-old I’ve ever met. And when I say knowledgeable, I obviously mean he knows a lot about magic and comedy. But I also mean he knows a lot about music, and art, and film and a whole host of other completely impractical stuff. And that’s because he has completely disregarded the practical stuff. Nick doesn’t have a driver’s license or own a couch. But he knows that all that seemingly trivial expertise informs his performance and his writing, even if only subliminally.”
Although still a whippersnapper, Nick has been recognized as one of the best comedy magicians working today. By all accounts, his performance at MAGIC Live was one of the highlights of the convention. Because he has spent much of short time on the planet studying magic and comedy and churning out hundreds (maybe thousands?) of performances, you’ll find Offbeat to be full of practical routines and useful advice.
Let’s talk about the magic first. Offbeat contains sixteen routines from Nick’s personal repertoire. Most of them are completely scripted performance pieces, designed for stand-up shows. These include: a visual, one-handed bill change; a rope routine (with some fresh ideas); a balloon-animal prediction; a Seven Keys to Baldpate routine with a funny premise and a sneaky method; a transposition between a selected card and a tea bag; a handling for Tom Mullica’s Sight Saver gag; a prediction routine that utilizes a clever combination of the methods for The Koran Medallion and the venerable Pocket Change prediction; a paper hat routine with a groaner punch line; and a practical handling for Billy McComb’s Half-dyed Hank.
When I read a magic book these days, I’m generally not looking for routines to add to my repertoire. Rather, I’m studying how the routines are constructed, how practical they are, how many layers of deception are built in, and whether I can find the nugget of information that tells me the performer has done this routine a thousand times. The magic in Offbeat fulfills that objective admirably. Even if you never perform any of this material, you’ll learn much by studying how Nick solves problems. But if you’re a stand-up magician, I know you’ll want to try out a few of these routines in front of an audience.
Three items (Nest of Office Supplies, Sealer Boy, and 15 Crayons to Pocket) are utility items you can adapt to other routines. In particular, the gimmick used in the crayon trick may solve a problem for those of you who would like to do my routine You Hue but can’t find the proper markers to construct the gaff.
Most of the routines will require some rudimentary arts-and-crafts skills; I’m a bungler at this type of thing, but I’m pretty sure I could make all the props involved.
In addition to the routines, Offbeat contains nine astute essays on subjects like adding comedy to magic (“You can’t teach someone how to be funny. ‘Funny’ is something you either develop at a very young age, or you don’t.”), failure (“Bombing is a hundred percent necessary step in the process of writing a comedy magic show.”), the importance of keeping a notebook (“One tip changed my entire creative process: switching from writing ideas down in fancy, leather-bound journals to cheap paper notebooks and dime-a-dozen legal pads.”), and writing comedy (“As surely as I wake up in the morning, I’m bound to wonder whether I forgot how to be funny on a daily basis.”). I was particularly happy find out Nick agrees with me about the importance of finding inspiration outside of the world of conjuring. He writes, “If I had never pulled back from the magic community a little bit and looked into music, film, and visual art, I would have missed out on so many things that have directly influenced my live shows massively.” Don’t bypass the essays; they are full of valuable advice.
The text of Offbeat is accompanied by beautiful color photos (by Brett Loudermilk) and whimsical artwork (by Vernon James).
Here’s the bottom line: Offbeat is a terrific book by a young man with an old soul. The routines are quirky, funny, and worthy of study. The essays are thoughtful and contain valuable insights. If you are interested in performing stand-up magic or comedy magic, or if you just like studying well-constructed, practical material, this book is for you. Highly recommended. ♦