Having worked relatively slowly up to this point, Daniels now performs swiftly, matching actions with words: “If the ball was in my left hand, then it can’t be here. If it wasn’t in the left hand, then it would be there; if it’s up there, it can’t be down here. If it’s in the pocket, it can’t be there….” Whilst he is saying this, the ball is jumping unexpectedly from under the cup to his pocket and back again. It is visual magic and so slickly done that it cannot help but amuse and entertain everybody. Daniels then repeats part of that sequence as a “television action replay”, both performing and speaking in slow motion. This, again, is very funny. It is noteworthy that Jeff Hobson uses the same conceit in his Egg Bag routine: and with equal effect.
Daniels changes the pace again and turns his attention back to Richard. “Where’s the ball? I take it out and put it in my pocket. Where is it now?” If Daniels had stopped at this question, then there would have been a danger of the trick losing its momentum. He has already asked Richard “where is the ball?” and Richard got it wrong. So the audience assume he will get it wrong again, especially as we have just seen Daniels do some unbelievably slick work with the ball and cup. However what Daniels actually says is: “Where is it now – for fifty quid?” The audience is intrigued: just possibly Richard might guess right now and win fifty pounds.
It is also an example of a closed question. Richard replies: “Under the cup”. “Wrong”, replies Daniels, “it’s in the pocket.” However if Richard had responded with: “In the pocket”, Daniels would come back with “wrong, it’s under the cup.” The answer in itself is not necessarily funny to the audience – they instinctively knew that Daniels would win and their sympathies are probably more with Richard. So Daniels continues: “If you had said it was in the pocket, I would have said ‘wrong’, it’s under the cup” (or vice versa, depending how Richard had initially answered). Now the laugh comes – with the realisation that whatever Richard had said, he would definitely have lost.
Once again Daniels adroitly changes tack. He offers to teach Richard the trick. This, again, engages the rest of the audience: because clearly they are going to learn too. Daniels now asks the third basic question: “What do you do for a living?” Again there is a reason for it, as we are about to discover. Richard replies he is a teacher. Daniels comes back with his standard response: “Give that up, son, give teaching up. Get a cup. You can make a lot of money with this. I’ve only been up here a few minutes and you owe me fifty quid.”
Again a huge laugh, not just because he has incorporated Richard’s profession into the gag; but more particularly because he has reminded Richard that he owes him fifty pounds. If Daniels had demanded his money straightway after Richard had guessed wrong, it would not have been especially amusing. But asking Richard what his job is has made the audience temporarily forget about the wager. The call back reference to the debt owed hits the funny bone.
Daniels then goes into a rather absurd cod explanation of how the trick works: which in itself is funny, as it is clearly nonsense. Under the misdirection of that patter, he loads the lemon. And on revealing the lemon, loads again. The routine ends with great visual magic combined with the perfect applause getter closing line: “If you liked that, you’ll go mad over the orange.”
As has been stressed, the danger of analysing a routine in this manner might somehow suggest that Daniels deliberately designed the trick from the outset in this fashion. My suspicion is that the trick only gradually evolved into the finished product: that is, he added, cut and substituted lines and bits of business over many performances. It is most unlikely that Daniels ever sat down during the course of its construction and rationalised why it was working, or not working, in the manner that I have done.
A little after I wrote that last paragraph, Daniels’ Chop Cup routine was featured on a British television programme called The Fifty Greatest Magic Tricks. Interviewed all too briefly about the trick Daniels said: “That took a lot of shows. That was an incredibly long process. I was doing a lot of working mens clubs and I guess I did about close to 300 performances before I came home one night and went ‘yes, that’s it – that’s right’.” It is some comfort to know that my instinct was correct and that great routines do take a considerable period to mature: they rarely, if ever, spring fully formed over night.