The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Simon Coronel, World Champion of Magic — Quitting the Day Job, The Delights of the Magic Castle, Finding Glitches in Reality, Learning How to Use Your Own Brain, and Worshiping at the Altar of Wonder (#679)

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Simon Coronel (, a legally classified “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” by the United States Government for his skills as a magician and illusionist. Simon discovered magic in 1999 as a first-year student at Melbourne University. He then spent five years working full time in management consulting while juggling his “secret” performance career. 

He’s currently a jigsaw puzzle designer for The Magic Puzzle Company, which has the #1-backed puzzle on Kickstarter of all time, and is a regular performer at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.

Simon has appeared twice on the hit TV show Penn & Teller: Fool Us. He has won over a dozen international awards for magic, including being crowned the World Champion of Magic in 2022 at FISM, the Olympics of magic. 

Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform.

#679: Simon Coronel, World Champion of Magic — Quitting the Day Job, The Delights of the Magic Castle, Finding Glitches in Reality, Learning How to Use Your Own Brain, and Worshiping at the Altar of Wonder


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Tim Ferriss: Why don’t you begin with explaining your policy of radical earliness? Because I think number one, it’s incredibly strategic for Los Angeles, but it makes sense in a lot of other places.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. So I have noticed L.A. and L.A. geography and traffic aside, one of my weaknesses is that I am not great generally at estimating time and planning ahead. There’s almost certainly some kind of executive function disorder going on that I’m trying to — I’m in the process, in the journey of trying to figure out in my own life, but I’ve noticed I historically have been late a lot of my life. And I went, “You know what? I don’t want to be that. I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to do that to people. It’s not fun.”

And I’ve finally worked out, the only way I can reliably be on time for anything is, say, today, I know, all right, I’m meeting Tim here at this location. I Google Maps for a cafe nearby that has Wi-Fi and looks nice, and I get there an hour or two early, at least an hour, ideally more. Often, I end up there like half an hour or 20 minutes early because of all the reasons. And I just camp out and either do work or read a book or chill or meditate or whatever. It’s easy to kill time. And then by the time I set an alarm for 10 minutes before the thing and then just walk over and I’m exactly on time, reliably.

Tim Ferriss: No stress.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Works out great. I love it.

Tim Ferriss: No friction.

Simon Coronel: The only way that works.

Tim Ferriss: As I was prepping coffee before we started recording, I was saying I’ve never understood my friends who seem to want to set personal records each time that they go to the airport for how close they can come to missing their flight. Because what I’m going to be doing at the airport and what I’m going to be doing at home, thinking about how soon I need to go to the airport, are the same. So might as well — 

Simon Coronel: Completely. Yeah. You’re either hanging out, doing stuff at home, or hanging out, doing stuff at the airport. I also find a double benefit to that. I’ve really become a connoisseur of enjoying sitting in departure gates for an hour or two before a flight. Just relax because I’m exactly where I need to be, and how rarely are we exactly where we need to be ahead of time with no stress? And I often find it easier to get work done in those situations because there’s not all the distractions of my living space.

Tim Ferriss: Totally.

Simon Coronel: There’s not much I can do except write or think or work or design or whatever it is I’m meant to be working on. And I’m often really productive there.

Tim Ferriss: So there’s another place where I feel like you’ve demonstrated productivity and that is at this bizarre, amazing, enchanting location known as the Magic Castle. So we met for the first time, not long ago at all, was the last week maybe, at the Magic Castle. Can you do two things? One, describe what the Magic Castle is, and perhaps also tell the story of how you first heard of the Magic Castle.

Simon Coronel: Oh, yeah. So the Magic Castle, it’s a bizarre, completely unique place. There is nothing like it on Earth anywhere. And the easiest way I think to think of it is imagine two very separate, unrelated things mashed together. Thing number one is a nighttime country club for magicians. So I take a moment to imagine that. And when I say magicians, think of them more as cinematic or theatrical special effects designers, but live in person. That’s the good word. Don’t think wizards, don’t think Harry Potter, don’t think Gandalf, think engineers, designers, performers, special effects engineers who then perform them. Because that’s more the mindset. It’s like craft, it’s skill. And so it’s this club where they can hang out, network, have drinks or dinner together, talk shit, bring guests, private club for magicians to hang out, like a professional network. That’s thing number one.

Thing number two is a public-focused entertainment venue to take these illusions, these magic effects, and then present those to the general public. Because doing magic for magicians is, at best, I don’t think very useful, and at worst, impossible. Because the quote-unquote, “Magic,” the experience of the illusion of impossibility happens literally in the mind of the observer. And if you know how it’s done, that illusion doesn’t happen. And so the tree falls in the woods and there is no sound because there is no magic without the mystery.

So you need — the target audience for magic is the general public. So the Magic Castle mashes these two unusual, bizarre things together, and you get magicians mingling and hanging out and chatting and workshopping ideas and gossiping or whatever it is. And then you have the general public, like yourself, coming in to experience the results of this creativity and workshopping and everything. And it’s fascinating. It’s a fascinating, unique, bizarre place that’s the real deal. It’s a genuine, profound part of magic history as an art and a craft and a venue.

Tim Ferriss: It’s been around for just — 

Simon Coronel: Just over 60 years.

Tim Ferriss: Just over 60.

Simon Coronel: It just had its 62nd or something. Oh, 60th anniversary was a few years ago.

Tim Ferriss: And the number of stories that I was told, the number of stories that caused me to scratch my head as I wandered through this space with the guidance of Jordan and others who were with us blew my mind. The place is so strange.

Simon Coronel: It really is.

Tim Ferriss: And unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. I mean, it really is like you walked into the equivalent of, say, a brilliant mind melded with magic, plus maybe some type of psychomimetic drug, plus architecture, the way the whole place is put together and has developed over time. And I remember Jordan was mentioning over dinner that the entire place caught on fire, or a large portion of it, and it happened to be, number one, on a Halloween that was themed “Inferno.” Number two, was it on the date of Harry Houdini’s death?

Simon Coronel: Yep.

Tim Ferriss: So some people thought it was Harry Houdini’s ghost. Others said it could be some type of electrical short. Those people are called the fire department. And — 

Simon Coronel: It was actually a roofing accident.

Tim Ferriss: It was a roofing accident?

Simon Coronel: It was a roofing accident.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. And I was not aware, for instance, that I think that the Magic Castle didn’t open seven days a week nonstop for the entirety of its existence. So they’ve not had the ability to pause, to do repairs, to take a little breather until catastrophe struck.

Simon Coronel: Yep.

Tim Ferriss: Incredible. Just incredible.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. It’s one of those rare places, particularly in somewhere like L.A. that it’s the real deal. So many places in L.A. are trying to pretend to be the thing. This is the actual thing. This is the place. This is its history and significance in the world of magic is infinite. There’s nothing like it. It’s one of a kind.

Tim Ferriss: It really is. So when Elan Lee, mutual friend, mentioned that there might be the opportunity to go to a show at the Magic Castle, I leapt at the chance. And I did have to find a suit, which is a pre-req. Cannot show zippers. There are many rules as far as dress code goes. So Hollywood Suits, thank you for the $150 Joker suit that I was able to put together. It worked out. And as you put it, the eclectic mix is not Gandalf meets some lord of magic from the Elven Kingdom. It’s more hyper-specific, at least on, I want to say the main floor, I’m not using the right terminology, but the mingling era, you have technicians and specialists who are the best at what they do. And one example that comes to mind, and you probably know the name, I apologize, and I’m blanking on his name. I have a silhouette.

Simon Coronel: Dave Spafford. Yeah, the silhouette-cutting guy.

Tim Ferriss: Who will look at you from the side, you stand against the wall, and cut out a perfect silhouette with his prize scissors. And you won’t travel to do this because he cannot risk the possibility of being separated from these incredible scissors. And what this man can do is beyond incredible in two minutes or less for each person. And I don’t know, I imagine he wouldn’t mind, maybe you can tell me if I need to cut this out, but — 

Simon Coronel: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: He worked at Disney for a really long time, and I was being told that someone went up to him at one point, I’m masking names, maybe I don’t need to, and asked him, “Is it true that there are all these hidden dicks and so on and all of these frames in these Disney movies?” And he said, “It’s absolutely true.” And they said, “Well, how do you know?” And he goes, “Because I did it.” because back then there was no freeze-frame. There was no stick on one frame and hyper examine all the details

Simon Coronel: And you could just slip it in, so to speak, so to speak.

Tim Ferriss: How did you first come across the Magic Castle? This mecca?

Simon Coronel: It’s almost impossible to, no matter where you live in the world, if you get interested in magic, which I did at age 18, it’s a whole different topic we can get to, but everyone’s heard of it. Its influence extends all over the world. One of the many reasons for it is one of the things that made the Magic Castle the Magic Castle, apart from being this amazing venue, and again, the eclectic interior is back in, I don’t even know the decade. My magic history sucks. There was a guy called Dai Vernon, who, a good way to think of him is you could say he was to magic in a way what Einstein was to physics. Not the only person by a long shot, but one of the single ones that had the biggest single-handed influence that changed everything that went afterwards, a real paradigm shift.

And Vernon’s big contribution to magic, again, I’m oversimplifying this, is the theory of what’s called naturalness, natural action, that before Vernon, magic was mostly done in these very overstated, bombastic gestures. And he, from trying to understand gambling and card cheating, which has to be — magic is, again, historically very showy and dramatic and, “Look at this.” Whereas, if you’re a card cheat using some of the similar techniques of deception and sleight of hand, you have to look the opposite. You have to be completely unassuming and unnoticeable, draw no attention to yourself. And Vernon’s big innovation, again, oversimplifying, was to take this concept of unassuming naturalness hiding in plain sight and start to apply it to magic theory. And this just really changed everything that went after him. And to this day, pretty much every competent magician that performs has elements of Vernon’s influence in their technique, their approach.

And he basically lived and hung out at the Castle for decades. And he was the main, again, not the only, but the main reason why magicians gradually, again, practitioners of the craft and students of it and technicians and everything, flooded from all over the world to visit the place. And then more people started to move here. And slowly Hollywood, because of the Castle, because of Vernon, because of the Larsen family’s vision to offer Vernon a really sweet deal to live there and stay there, it became this mecca, and this community gathered around it and this incubator, it became this kind of incubator, this pressure cooker, this critical mass of talent and ability and creativity that still lingers to this day.

Tim Ferriss: I’m so fascinated by the history of places like that. These, in some respects, possibly arbitrary locations that gain a tiny critical mass, and maybe because of one or two people, handful of people, this is true of Silicon Valley as well, suddenly develop this momentum and this snowball rolls and rolls and rolls until you have the definitive mecca of fill-in-the-blank.

Simon Coronel: Yeah, completely.

Tim Ferriss: It’s wild. That’s the Castle.

Simon Coronel: That’s the Castle. And it’s gone through many shifts in its history, but still it lingers. That reputation stays.

Tim Ferriss: So 18, knowing nothing about magic myself when I hear 18, I think that sounds relative to some of the stories I have heard of the personal histories of people who perform magic. Pretty late.

Simon Coronel: Extremely late. Yeah. Much, much later than average. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It seems like magic for a lot of folks, at least in my mind. I’m like, “Yeah, it’s kind of like piano or gymnastics. You start really early.”

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: 18. So how did you become interested in magic at 18?

Simon Coronel: The first thing to note about it, I think, is that I think I was lucky to get into it late, and we’ll sort of get to why, but I was at university in Melbourne. I’d finished high school, I was interested in everything. I was just an insatiably curious, like sciencey, engineery, nerdy brained kid who just wanted to understand the whole universe, micro all the way to macro, and everything in between.

Tim Ferriss: Underachiever.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Small ambitions.

Simon Coronel: Oh, look, I don’t know if I was doing a good job with it, but I was interested. Motivation is different from results. And I had no idea what to do with my life. I had no real thing I was good at. I had never really excelled at anything at that point. I tried a whole bunch of stuff, but back then, and this is a topic I know you’re into, I hadn’t learned how to learn yet. I hadn’t figured out how to use my own brain yet. And so I was sort of fumbling through most things and tried a bunch of sports and a bunch of martial arts and a bunch of creative arts, and got a couple of small roles in a school play, and just nothing really clicked. I wasn’t really good at anything. I was like adequate at a bunch, and I got okay grades, but again, school was stressful and difficult, and I didn’t really find it easy. So everyone I knew just, “Well, you go to university next, that’s what you do.”

Tim Ferriss: And to place you geographically, this was in Trenton, New Jersey. That’s the strong New Jersey accent?

Simon Coronel: Or Detroit actually, but yeah, close. Yeah, Melbourne, Australia. Uzbekistan.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, exactly. I knew it. I knew it.

Simon Coronel: It comes through. And again, in the bubble I lived in that I hadn’t yet realized was a bubble, because everyone grows up, what’s normal to you, you think, “Yeah, this is what everyone does.” You go to university next, that’s what you do, and then you get some kind of job and then you work and retire and die. That’s it. That’s like, “What the fuck? I don’t know.”That didn’t sound very exciting to me, but I didn’t know any other options.

And so I went to university and I failed to get into the degree I applied for, which was engineering/law as a double major, because I don’t know, that’s what everyone said was good, “Be a doctor or a lawyer if you can.” I didn’t have any better ideas and I missed out on it. I didn’t quite have the grades. And I got into engineering arts instead. 

And so I did a psychology major under arts and a software major under engineering. I started off in a computer major, but I sucked at the electrical subjects and did okay at the software subjects. So I saw the writing on the wall and shifted. And blah, blah, blah.

Tim Ferriss: Why do you think that was?

Simon Coronel: There are two things, not counting quantum physics, because no one understands that. There are two things that I have completely failed to understand in my life. One is music, one is electronics.

Tim Ferriss: Apart from the hardware perspective.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Well, from any perspective, what is the electrons doing? What’s going on? What happens in a capacitor or an inductor? How do you design a circuit? All the stuff. And I think eventually I realized after many decades of going, “Why can’t I understand these two damn things no matter how much I try, no matter how many people I ask for explanations?” And I think it’s because, for better and worse, it’s a lot of both, I don’t feel like I understand something unless I completely understand it from the ground up, from the protons upwards, to the human experience and everything in between. And I think the way, because of how electricity and music in their own very different ways work, in a way, no one understands them to that level. And it took me a long time to realize that. And so I was always asking these questions about, “But how? What’s actually going on down there?” And I realized that’s not the way it’s taught or thought of, because I think actually, we really don’t know. And so I was always frustrated by those two things.

Tim Ferriss: So I mentioned Jordan’s name earlier, Jordan Gold for people who want to check him out also. And that’ll probably wrap back around into the context of puzzles, but let’s bookmark that for now.

Simon Coronel: Totally.

Tim Ferriss: I want to incorporate a few things. So first I think, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but that you’ve described yourself as neurodivergent. Would that be fair to say something like that? Neurodiverse?

Simon Coronel: Yeah. That’s a new thing for me. I have spent my entire adult life kind of hiding that and not acknowledging that. And literally, in the past few months, I’ve kind of gone, “You know what? Maybe it’s time to start being more open about that.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I think it’s a service to be open about it. And I think there is incredible potential and also a “Know thyself” sort of recommendation and funny stories all wrapped into one in the sense that when Jordan was explaining the many things that make you who you are, unique, idiosyncratic, incredible at what you do, which we haven’t yet made the leap across from where we were, were we left off in the timeline to that, but we’ll get there.

And he said, “Well, there’s something you need to know,” and I’m not doing justice to the story, but he said, “Let’s say we’re going to sit down and make a cake,” and you’ve probably heard this before, “And you give Simon the recipe, and recipe number one is take one egg and break it into the bowl. And then there are 10 more steps.” Well, Simon would say, “What is an egg?” And Jordan would say, “It’s an egg. Everybody knows what an egg is, just one egg, one egg, just that’s what it is.” And he said, “But what is really an egg?” And then you would disappear for a year and come back and you would’ve read all the manuscripts, the history of the egg and the chicken, “What is a chicken?” And it would’ve gone on and on and on until to the finest level of granularity and an inch wide and a mile deep. You would know everything about eggs. And I’d be like, “Okay, step number two.”

And if you’re aware of that predilection and that superpower, but also the risk of doing that all the time, then you can make better choices in life, which comes back to your phrasing of learning how to use your own brain. Yeah, please. So we may come back to that, but let’s resume the timeline. So you were saying, not particularly excellent at anything, had trouble figuring out the electronics. So you shifted to software, and then what happened?

Simon Coronel: Shifted to software. And in first year, Melbourne University, it’s about a 30,000, at the time, was a 30,000 student campus. So it’s a big, serious university, one of the big two or three in Australia. And as with many universities, I think it’s similar in the US, there were lots of student clubs and societies around the place. And during orientation week, one of the main things is they have there, a couple of hundred clubs have, “Join us, the Fantasy Science Fiction Society, the Chocolate Lover Society, the Beer Connoisseur Society, the Taekwondo Club.” It’s just everything you can imagine and a lot more that — some of them are stupid, ridiculous ones, some of them are very serious, special interest ones.

And I was just wandering around trying to join stuff to try and get out of my shell and explore a bit and take advantage of being on a university campus, and there was a table for the Melbourne University Magician Society. And at the time, I’d had a magic kit when I was 10, but it had as much effect on me as it did almost 10 year olds. Nothing. I had no ability at it, it was confusing, I gave up after two days, but magic was one of the many things. I was interested in everything. I wanted to learn how everything worked in the world. Again, wasn’t doing a great job of it.

And I was like, “Magic club, what do you guys do?” And they said, “Well, magic, card tricks and stuff.” And I’m like, “Oh, I can’t do any of that. I tried, but I sucked.” So gave up, as you do. And they said, “Well, if you join, we teach you that we’ve got a beginner’s course.” And I was like, “Eh.” This looked vacillated a bit. I was like, “I don’t know. I’m not very dextrous.” And I was like, “Eh, why not give it a shot?” And I remember they had really cool membership cards, which I thought was cool. That kind of tipped me over the edge.

And so I just kind of joined, and then I forgot that I joined for the next month because I had other things going on. It was very busy. And then Tina, the club secretary, called me up on my parents’ landline, because this is pre — I didn’t own my Nokia 3310 yet at this point in the story and said, “Hey, we’ve got you down as having signed up but not turned up. Do you still want to come?” I was like, “Oh, yeah, Magic Club? Right. That’s right. Oh, yeah. When do you meet again? Wednesdays, 1:00 p.m. Great.”

And then Wednesday, 1:00 p.m. rocked around, and I was like, “1:00 p.m. I was supposed to be somewhere.” I hadn’t discovered radical earliness yet. I’m like, “I think, oh, crap. Magic Club. That’s right. Oh, God, where is it again? Damn it.” So I turned up about 15 minutes late just in time to see someone, this guy Brian, who was one of the special guests, sort of teachers, explaining this trick. And he was basically going, ‘Okay, now via the blah, blah, blah technique,” a jargon term I didn’t know at the time, “You know their card is the king of clubs, and you could just say that, or you could use the blah, blah technique that we talked about last week.” And then he took us a seven of diamonds, waved it on the table, and it changed right 10 inches in front of me into a king of clubs.

And this was the most incredible thing I had ever seen in my entire life. It was just reality broke down in front of me. Everything I knew about life and physics and blah, blah, “What the?” It was just this transcendent, consuming moment. And I made semi-incoherent noises of like, “Wait, what the? Huh? What did the duh?” And Brian, not realizing I hadn’t been turning up so far, quote-unquote, reminded me, “Oh, the blah blah technique like, this from last week where you do this and this.” And so in seconds, I went from being profoundly transcendently amazed, to seeing how it was done. And it was like, whose quote is it? “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand?”

Tim Ferriss: Archimedes.

Simon Coronel: It was Archimedes. Yeah. It felt like that. It was this revelation that from this, not easy but simple technique, you could do the most profoundly transcendently amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life. And the implication of the leverage of that was just extraordinary. It’s like discovering that you can poke a table and power the entire city with the energy of that poke. I was so fascinated and just started going to that club every week and just became completely intrigued by, “What is this art and craft and what the hell?” And the motivation was purely understanding. It was just knowledge seeking. I just wanted to understand this thing I’d seen. Yeah. If you see something amazing, intrinsically, I want to understand it and learn more about it.

Tim Ferriss: So that’s where you got your first hit of magic dope?

Simon Coronel: Oh, yeah. Oh, it’s a powerful drug.

Tim Ferriss: All right. So you get that hit. And the way I want to play this is I’d love to flash way forward, and then we’re going to fill in some of the gaps along the way.

Simon Coronel: I like it. I can see the screenplay now.

Tim Ferriss: Exactly. I’m writing the screenplay in my head as we go. I’ve already bought your life rights, I hope you don’t mind.

Simon Coronel: It’s fine.

Tim Ferriss: It’s fine.

Simon Coronel: I wasn’t doing anything with — 

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you signed the release. Right?

Simon Coronel: I wasn’t doing anything good with them.

Tim Ferriss: All right. The name of the show that I saw at the Magic Castle, what is it?

Simon Coronel: Glitches in Reality.

Tim Ferriss: Glitches in Reality.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: All right. So Glitches in Reality, setting the stage. I’ve never heard your name before, but Elan says, “Trust me, I’m not sure if we can get space, but if we can get a seat, you need to come.” And I take that very seriously. He’s an enthusiastic guy, but he’s not a bullshitter.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Completely.

Tim Ferriss: And I wanted to move anything and everything necessary to come to the show just based on pure faith. Landed the show. And Jordan was kind enough to also get a spot for a friend of mine who had never been to a magic show, which would be relevant shortly. Rule number one, unless you only ever want to go downhill, you do not go to Simon’s show first as your only magic show. You should just quit while you’re ahead in that case. And we go in, my favorite magic, not that I have much vocabulary, much experience, but as a spectator, as an awe seeker, but also a truth seeker, maybe we’ll come back to that at some point, I love anything that is reasonably close-up, just like the car changing in front of you, 10 inches from your face.

Simon Coronel: Completely.

Tim Ferriss: And by far the best magic show I’ve ever seen. So I want to say that publicly, number one. And we can parse out why that is the case, but the combination of wonder, explanation, surprise. And also for me, your ability to showcase almost a decathlon of magic in terms of, to my muggle mind, a wide breadth of different skills, if that makes any sense?

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Completely.

Tim Ferriss: And when you, towards the end, began to set up and tell the story of FISM, and we’re going to come back to that, Elan, almost ejaculated in his pants. I don’t know how else to put it, and I don’t want to make too strong a case, but I thought he was either having a seizure or ejaculating. I wasn’t sure, maybe both. He was so excited because you guys are friends, and he had told me that after the World Championship, which we’ll get to in a moment, he thought, you may never perform this trick, and we’ll get to what this trick is, ever again. And it was one of the most spectacular mind-bending things I’ve ever seen in my life.

Simon Coronel: Thanks.

Tim Ferriss: You’re welcome. Now, could you please tell the story of the World Championship?

Simon Coronel: Oh, boy.

Tim Ferriss: And I know, there are a million ways this can be told. And guess what? They’re all good.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. So how many hours have you got?

Tim Ferriss: We have all the time in the world.

Simon Coronel: I’m still working out how to tell this story, because again, there are so many ways it can be told. Let’s start with a short version, and then you can unpack, request unpacking any bits you think are relevant.

Tim Ferriss: And maybe, do you mind if I make this participatory journalism?

Simon Coronel: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: And I’ll give people just a snapshot from the screenplay.

Simon Coronel: Absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Simon Coronel: I defer to your expertise.

Tim Ferriss: All right. So the sort of in medias res, we start in the middle of the action. And so to set the stage, pun intended, you can correct me on some of the particulars, but you’re being judged by your peers at this event?

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: They’re watching magic all day long. You are close to the end. You perform your trick and then invite people up to inspect your work if they don’t believe it’s real. And it effectively shuts down the venue because there is a rush of 2,000-plus people to the stage to inspect this. To the extent that it becomes a problem for the organizers, becomes a safety risk. It’s just the ultimate magical mic drop. No one had ever seen anything like it.

Simon Coronel: Yep. That is basically correct.

Tim Ferriss: And now, you can start wherever you like.

Simon Coronel: The only small correction I’d make to that, it wasn’t quite 2,000 people. It was a lot. It was hundreds of people.

Tim Ferriss: Hundreds of people.

Simon Coronel: Hundreds of people. But the thing that made it even more powerful for me personally, was that I didn’t actually invite them up. What happened was I had one person on stage who gets given the thing that is created, and they then go back to their seat. I’m like, “Thank you very much. You get to keep that, that now gets to linger in the world.” And I just went, “Cool, thanks. Bye.” And just left the stage. I’m like, “Thank God that’s over. Oh, my God, that was so stressful. Whew. We did it. We got there.” And then I was just backstage decompressing going, “Oh, God, thanks. Oh, man. So glad that’s over. Finally, I can relax.” And for months, I’ve been looking forward to this moment where I could finally stop stressing. Then a friend comes backstage and goes, “You should come look at this.” I’m like, “What?” And he goes, “Just come. Come look.” And I walk out and I see this mob has gathered spontaneously. It wasn’t even invited. I didn’t expect this would happen.

Tim Ferriss: That makes it even better.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. I’m just like, “Oh, my God. Holy.” Yeah. 

So as a kid, I was not particularly happy. I was not having a great time growing up. Nothing so super horrifying, but I just didn’t fit in. Again, I now know, neurodivergent, that tends to not be a good time if you don’t know that, and you’re a kid in a normal sort of area.

And I realized I was always interested, I figured this out in hindsight, looking back, I saw the pattern, I was interested in stuff that evolved kind of breaking out of reality, like ESP and aliens, and The X-Files and space exploration and quantum physics and science fiction, and just ways that life felt just so mundane and uninspiring and gray and dreary and just, ugh.

And all those things for different reasons just weren’t accessible to me. Australia didn’t have a space program, so I couldn’t be an astronaut. Quantum physics was real, but too hard. Hypnosis was real, but not that interesting to me. Aliens don’t seem to be real, sadly, as far as I can tell. Who knows? Yeah. And there was just no way — I wanted out of reality. I wanted life to be more extraordinary.

And so when I saw this magic club, and I saw this card trick at age 18, it was the first time in my life that it felt like, again, there was a crack in reality that I could sort of see something brighter and more extraordinary through. And again, I only realized this a decade later, looking back and trying to make sense of the path. It only becomes clearer in hindsight. So it makes sense now. I got so captivated by magic. It was the first time I could engage with that, with something more extraordinary, and that altered state of consciousness that was profound. And so I became obsessed, but again, I wasn’t particularly gifted at it. There was no apparent natural talent. But I loved it so much, that I kept going despite the absence of natural talent. And as we know, that’s what tends to make a difference is if you love it enough to stick with it and enjoy the process with no thought as to the destination, which will become a theme as well, I think.

So then fast forward a bunch of years, I’m working full-time at a graduate job, which I don’t really like, but is good experience. Some of the people there were great, and I’m glad I did it, but I didn’t really fit in. It wasn’t really — 

Tim Ferriss: What was the job?

Simon Coronel: I worked for Accenture, a big business consulting company. And again, I met some great people there. Shout out to Grant and Thomas and Jackie and everybody else. But it wasn’t really my thing. It didn’t play to my strengths. It played to a lot of my weaknesses, which I didn’t really understand at the time. And the magic was continuing to grow in the background as a real passion, but there wasn’t really a sense I could ever do that professionally. I didn’t see much of a market for it where I lived.

And I started to sort of win little competitions locally. Which was amazing. This was the first time I displayed any sort of noteworthy skill at anything, which was kind of addictive. It’s a good feeling. We want to feel significant and competent at things, and I hadn’t, mostly, in my life so far.

Tim Ferriss: How did you decide to participate in your first competition?

Simon Coronel: It was a thing — a guy called Nigel McCullough in Melbourne, a magician, ran a little one-day magic convention, a get-together just to have a bunch of workshops and shows, called Melbourne’s Magic Malarkey in 2001, and it had this close-up magic competition. At the time, I can’t remember why. I think I’d read something or just this idea that it’s worth trying things even if they fail, because you gain experience from it. And again, at the time, this was a new idea to me, because I was young and everything. And I went, “Yeah, you know what? Why not? Step into the arena, try a thing.” There was zero percent chance in my mind that I had a shot at it, and I ended up winning it, partly because — again, the thing with competitions, it’s often who turns up on the day — 

Tim Ferriss: For sure.

Simon Coronel: — and also the theme that I’ve often not really realized how what I’m doing will be experienced or perceived by others. Again, neurodivergency — 

Tim Ferriss: Well, we talked about this. I don’t want to take you off track, so keep your place. But even before we started, I was asking — 

Simon Coronel: Interactive journalism.

Tim Ferriss: Exactly. I was asking you if you had any greatest hit stories or stories that were really well-received by the audience, and you’re like — I’m paraphrasing, but that’s not a superpower that I have in terms of identifying what will be interesting to other people. So that’s my job.

Simon Coronel: I’ve frequently been surprised by what people have and haven’t found resonant. So I enter and I unexpectedly win. I go, “Holy shit. That was not a — oh, my God, very unexpected.” So that was the first sort of sense I got that maybe I’m kind of onto something here. Maybe I’ve got something I’m doing that’s working that’s kind of exciting. So I kept starting to enter other competitions, and also I learned from it. It’s great to have a deadline. It’s great to have a challenging, sort of slightly healthy, stressful thing to work towards. So I kept sort of doing that. I found competitions useful as a way to grow, and I kept winning little ones locally, which was really gratifying.

And then fast forward a few years of this and still working full-time at the job, doing magic on the side and on weekends, often when exhausted from 12 hour days at a big corporate job, and then going out to open mics to grind in material and try and get experience and workshop things and just burning the candle. Just holding the candle in the fire with tongs. Not even with both ends. I was just really burning out. But I was so excited. I needed to make a living and still chase this passion. Again, with no thought that it was going to be a profession or anything at this point. It was just I just loved it intrinsically. It was fascinating.

And then 2009, so the Magic World Championship, this thing, FISM, which stands for something in French that we can get into or not. It’s basically — a way to think of it is imagine the UN of magic clubs. And again, magic clubs, professional organizations for technicians, designers who try to create the illusions of impossibility, right? That’s the way to think of magic. Special effects design, but live and in some ways, more powerful. So organizations where these people get together and workshop and talk and exchange ideas, some of those then affiliate with FISM, which is French for International Federation of Magic Societies, that began in the ’50s as a way to kind of try to unite, to make some international collaboration, which is a really healthy, nice thing. And like any organization, there’s politics and there’s a bunch of bullshit, but mostly it’s a really good thing overall.

The main thing they run is every three years, they have a big competition that is kind of the de facto magic world championship as a way to kind of — I think of it as, to paraphrase Rick and Morty, every three years, FISM says to the world of magic, “Show us what you’ve got.” And the world of magic shows what it’s got, and it’s always got something cool and also a lot of stuff that sucks and everything in between.

In 2009, it was going to be in China for the first time ever. It’s mostly been in Europe, right? It’s history. It’s always in a different city around the world. And I ended up with the opportunity to be the only Australian entrant, because clubs get given entry slots, pro rata based on membership and Australia has a very small population. So again, getting those critical masses is very hard in Australia, and it’s one of the reasons I eventually came to the US, to seek more people and more inspiration than — there are plenty of really cool people there, but again, the critical mass just isn’t there as much.

And I went, “Oh, my God, the prospect to…” Who gets the chance to represent their country at the World Championship of anything? Particularly a kid who didn’t really have much he felt he was talented at. This was extraordinary and terrifying and all the things. So I did it. And much like kind of Rocky, the only goal was to just go — I just wanted to compete and not embarrass myself and my country. That was the goal. Just to compete at a world stage was already more than I’d ever imagined.

And I did and I ended up worked for over a year on preparing the routine and getting ready for the competition, and ended up tying for third prize in the close-up magic category, which was so far beyond what I’d imagined. I think about that thing that the bronze medalist is often happier than the silver medalist.

Tim Ferriss: Totally.

Simon Coronel: Because the silver medalist missed out on gold, the bronze medalist missed out on having nothing. You know who’s even happier than the bronze medalist?

Tim Ferriss: Who’s that?

Simon Coronel: The person who tied for bronze, because maybe fourth place was a long way below you, but when you tie for third, you are a hair’s breadth from nothing. You just squeaked into something, and I was ecstatic and it was amazing.

Very quickly, I realized that — I was like, “Oh, my God, I’ve made it. This is incredible,” and then it did nothing for my career or life in any way whatsoever. So that Band-Aid got ripped off pretty quickly, which was probably healthy, in hindsight. There was a moment where the Chinese media came up and I was there with a friend who’d won second prize in his category, and we were going, “Oh, my God, this is amazing.” The Chinese media come up and go, “You’re prize winners?” and we’re like, “Yeah,” thinking, “Yes, this is awesome. We’re going to be famous now.” And they go, “What did you win?” I go, “I tied for third in close-up magic, and Charlie here came second in parlor magic.” And they went, “Not first.” I’m like, “No.” And then they just, “Sorry,” and left. It’s like I don’t even think we got 15 minutes of glory before just the cold water was dumped on us, which is the shortest route from exuberance to just Charlie Brown walk away from the room.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. So that happens.

Simon Coronel: That happened. Then in 2012, three years later, I enter again. It’s now in the UK this time. The very short version of that very long story is I prepare a different routine, again for over a year, and I find out about two weeks before the competition, that a big chunk of what I’m planning to do isn’t going to work.

Now, normally what you would do is pull out of the competition at that point, or try and find something else to replace it and come up with something. I possibly, naively, stupidly chose the latter. Turns out I’m not a quitter. Once we’re doing it, we’re doing it. And it was insane. I am still kind of astonished. You could call it legal insanity that went for it, worked with an amazing group of people, friends. Shout out to Dave and Yao and YC and everybody in Melbourne who helped with that, and all the names I’m now forgetting in the moment. And somehow got something adequate over the line, and it ended up winning the award for most original close-up act. Not best close-up act, but most original, which isn’t necessarily the same.

I think it was because in that insane pressure cooker of having to come up with something, I came up with something so bizarre and unusual out of just sheer brute force necessity of what can we do with what’s available. There wasn’t any time to develop any sort of good, polished methods. We had to just use some bizarre stuff and just decide, “You know what? I don’t even know if this is going to work, but let’s try it.” And miraculously, it did work. Barely.

I still watch the video of that and just oh, God, the amount of things that almost went wrong but failed to is still insane. Somehow it got across the line and got this originality award, which again, I hadn’t expected. Hadn’t been aiming for originality. I’d just been aiming to not shit the bed in front of 2,000 people. That was a hundred percent of my goal at that point of like, “Oh, God.”

Tim Ferriss: Sometimes close bedfellows, pun intended. Yeah.

Simon Coronel: Right. Exactly. There’s still this amazing photo somewhere of me on stage in 2012, accepting this award with this completely bemused expression on my face. Belated, but just surprised. It’s the last thing I saw coming.

So that happened. The idea that I threw together at the last minute that came to me at 4:00 a.m. whilst stressed out and vaguely panicked was I’d always been obsessed with this idea of can you take this fleeting, transcendent instant of wonder and somehow preserve it into something physical and tangible that lengthens that moment, lets you sit in that space longer, because I love that space. That space is powerful and life-changing. The idea was what if you didn’t act where you create one of these things live, because these things exist, but they’re almost always made — you see the finished result, but not the process. I wonder if you could create the illusion of it being created instantly so a piece of the act then lingers beyond the end of it into the world. That was the idea.

In 2012, I did this first kind of very rough, janky, thrown together, seat-of-the-pants version of it that was not good, but worked and I loved the idea. I also then gave up on magic competitions, because they’re great, they serve a purpose, but at the time, I was trying to have a career. I’d now quit my full-time job to go full magic. Which I don’t necessarily recommend, but has been going okay.

Tim Ferriss: We’ll come back to that.

Simon Coronel: We’ll come to that. And I was trying to make a career. I was trying to find a way to make a living, which is often the opposite of art and creativity, sadly. Not always, but sometimes. This idea of this creating the impossible object in the act, I didn’t see any commercial potential to it. It was so high touch, so much setup, played so small. And I’m like, “I love this, but I need to shelve this and work on something else.” But it nagged at me. It ate away at me.

And putting effort into magic competitions, I wasn’t seeing any career payoff to that at the time. So I went, “You know what? I’ve got to focus on actual getting gigs, earning money. Shelf competitions and the creative projects.” For 10 years, that stayed that way until in 2019 — again, still this is the short version.

Tim Ferriss: Highly abbreviated.

Simon Coronel: Yeah, this is the incredibly abbreviated story. I started, ended up in jigsaw puzzle design, separate story we’ll get to, and left magic as a profession. Which was really liberating because I love magic, I love it as an art, it’s a horrible business to be in, like most of the arts. The comedians know, the jugglers know, all the variety of entertainers know, the actors know, most of the musicians know. It’s rough, it’s brutal, it’s hard. A lot of my weaknesses were very relevant. My strengths didn’t play well. My weaknesses were very hindering, and I found it really hard to build a career.

So when the prospect of getting into product as a creative product designer came up, work on a thing with a good team of people, put it into the world and have it scale passively in the background, not completely passively, was amazing. And you don’t have to turn up to be earning the money. Also, being a magician is like being unemployed. Every gig is often a once-off, so you’re constantly having to hustle and hustle for the next gig, and I’m not great at that.

So quit magic full-time. I’m like, “Great, it’s now a hobby. Glorious. I can just do the bits I’m excited by and passionate by.” And then the pandemic happened and all kinds of crazy stuff happened, and it was a weird time for everybody. During that time, the 2022 Magic Championship was coming up, and I just went, “Great, this is awesome. I’m a hobbyist amateur magician now. I can just go and hang out. It doesn’t matter. There’s no stress.” And then I realized that I am going to — I know myself now. I’m going to enjoy it more if I’m — I’ll always pick creating over consuming if given a choice. It’s more rewarding. You’ve got to get that little garnish of trauma, right? That little — yeah, really feel it. It’s like the spicy chili or the bit of coffee. You feel it. You know you’re alive.

And I thought, “Well, I could maybe get booked to do a show. There’s all kinds of events.” And then I remembered that 2012 routine. That kind of very janky version of a really beautiful idea that I’d loved and worked on. I went, “You know…” and I’d been thinking about that ever since. In weak moments, I would sort of work on bits of a version or idea on how to fix it and improve it, and I’d go, “No, no, I shouldn’t be working on this. I should be working on my career.” And then a year later, I’d be like, “I think I have another idea on how to solve this problem.” And I kept trying to find it and it kept not being solvable. It was one of these impossible problems.

And then in that lockdown, hiding out in the Midwest in 2021, away from everything and all the insanity and the chaos, I was like, “I think I finally have the last piece of it.” But this is not quite the right analogy, but having the idea and actually actualizing it, executing it, as our buddy Derek Sivers says, ideas and execution, is so different. And I was like, “I think I can do this, but it’s going to take months of work to even test it to find out.”

And the way the Magic Championship works is the year before, they have regional continental qualifiers. They have the North American, the South American, the Asian, the European, the African, and the Oceanian mini championships. The North American Championship was coming up in about six months, and I went, “You know what? I need a deadline to make my brain hyperfocus. I’ll enter that. It’ll be small.” This was still during lockdown. It was post-vaccines, but still in lockdowns. It won’t be very well attended. If I can’t get this idea together and it shits the bed, it’ll only shit the bed in front of a relatively small audience. And if it doesn’t shit the bed, I’ll know, “All right, I’ve got something and I have a year to really work on it to make it good.” I went, “Great. Low stress. Just high enough stress to do it.”

So I spend the next six months in crunch mode, going, “Okay, let’s take a swing at this. Let’s see if I can bring this thing to life.” I work like a maniac. I go into full workshop rehearsal, testing theory mode, and I go to the North American Championship. Again, just to kind of see if this thing’s got legs or not. I don’t really know yet. I don’t know what I’ve got or not. And I win the whole thing. I become the North American close-up magic champion. And once again, I’m shocked. I’m completely surprised. I did not see this coming. And I go, “I guess it does have legs. Oh, shit, okay. All right, we’ve got something here.”

And then how much do you know about when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, what happens inside the chrysalis?

Tim Ferriss: I’m going to go with very little.

Simon Coronel: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Just so I don’t get caught as the emperor with no clothes.

Simon Coronel: I also am not a biologist. A — what is it? Entomological biologist. Basically, this is one of the most amazing things I’ve learned about the natural world. You would think that the caterpillar maybe changes shape a bit then sprouts wings and now it’s a butterfly. Turns out the caterpillar basically liquifies into primordial sludge with small chunks of neural matter still in there. And then from that primordial soup, the butterfly then just basically grows into its full form. Which is astounding. And it retains memories and experience through this process. And they’ve done scans of this to see that this is what happens. Which is one of the most, again, magical in the sense of how — seems impossible. Turns to sludge and then reforms into a completely different organism.

And I realized in the months I was working before the real championship, that at the North American Championship, I felt like I’d won the prize for best caterpillar in show, and I’m like, “This thing’s great. Great caterpillar. Oh, my God, what a caterpillar. Damn.” But I had this hunch that I think this thing could fly. I think this thing might be able to grow wings. Maybe. That meant it had to turn into sludge. And there’s a lot of people who can relate to that creativity.

So for the next like eight months, I went to the Magic Castle, because one of the best things about that place is it has these areas where magician members can go and do little impromptu shows for whichever public members are around. That is basically — it’s hard to find open mics. You need places to test stuff. You only get good by doing and experiencing, and that’s hard to find for most variety arts, magic included, and it’s one of the reasons I live near the place.

I went there on quiet nights, because to get the routine to this better place, I had to kind of break it and test out these things that you — you can only test them in front of people. You need an observer’s mind is where the magic happens. And it wasn’t good, and it was awkward, it was uncomfortable, and I hated it. And I would wait till there were just like three people. Rather than gathering a big crowd to get good energy, I’d be like, “No, I don’t want anyone to see it sucking while it’s in this crappy phase,” and just went there night after night, just again and again. It was brutal and it was unpleasant, but slowly wove it together and started to find a way to get the improvements.

Tim Ferriss: So a question just on that process, because I saw the room where you did a lot of that practice. Tiny little room. And I saw the performance when things worked. Okay. So when you’re workshopping this rough material — and it makes me think of a long time ago when I was in the Bay Area, I was actually a judge for an amateur comedy competition. But there were a couple of pros and they would bring their notebooks up on stage and something would just die on the vine. They wouldn’t get any response, and they’d be like, “Okay, we’re going to cut that one.” And then they’d pull up in their notebook and on stage they would make their notes. I loved seeing the under-the-hood process.

When you were performing for, say, three people, and it sucks, to use your word, does that mean it works but it’s not pretty? Does that mean it just completely falls apart and does not work, it doesn’t produce the illusion? And what do you say or do when people have come to be entertained and it doesn’t work?

Simon Coronel: Yeah, that’s a good question. The answer is sort of all of the above. There are so many different failure modes. Which again, is sort of the engineering mindset, the different ways it can fail. With this particular thing I was working on in this story, there was one particular thing I needed to accomplish secretly without anyone seeing. It was some mission impossible type shit. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is — the parameters should have been impossible, and I was trying to find a way to make this work. And I had a hunch there might be a way, but it relied on sort of nuanced body language based misdirection and how human perception actually works and how to kind of slip that through the cracks in ways that were really hard to theorize. And you have to kind of feel it.

So I would prefix it, knowing that there was a solid chance of it failing, by going, “Hi, would you be — I’m testing on something new. If it works, it’ll be amazing. If it doesn’t work, it’ll be hilarious. So win, win, win, win. Either way, hopefully you’ll get an entertaining experience.”

Tim Ferriss: That’s perfect.

Simon Coronel: So set expectations, right? Informed consent. They know what they’re getting into. And it’s a weird place because I don’t know which one of those it’s going to be. And if it works, they’re going to see something astounding. And then they’re going to see me go, “Was that any good?” Which is such a jarring experience for them to see me just break reality and then go, “Was that any good? Did you see the thing that I hoped you didn’t see?” And they’re like, “What the hell?” But then if they did see the thing, they’d be like, “I mean, yeah,” because I’m letting them know I want their feedback. And it’s often hard to get people to give you that feedback, because often they mistakenly think that being polite is better.

Tim Ferriss: Is helpful. They don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. It’s the opposite. “Hurt me. Punch me in the face. Let’s go. Give me the pain. I need to know. I want the painful truth of the beautiful lie,” and this is what we need right now. And usually you can see it on their faces, even if they’re trying to hide it. You can sort of see that their eyes flicker to where the thing happened. I’m like, “Damn it. All right, well, lesson learned. Back to the drawing board. Let’s try it again tomorrow.” And if it does work, you see the wonder. So it’s, “Great. We got it that time. Now let’s try and make sure that happens every time with an error margin.”

Tim Ferriss: So you’re putting in the reps.

Simon Coronel: Putting in the reps.

Tim Ferriss: Putting in the reps.

Simon Coronel: Just grinding through the reps for weeks and months. And then eventually — and it gets down to the point where I’ve sort of got two approaches kind of figured out. There’s two paths to making this thing work, and they each have different pros and cons. And I can’t really decide between them. One is the slightly risky one that looks better, but has a different problem. Again, a classic engineering situation. You just have to decide between the trade-offs. And with now it’s just a few weeks away, and I go, “All right, we’re going to pick one and focus on it,” and I pick the safer one that is less amazing, but more reliable.

So we go to the competition and it’s a six-day event. It’s the competition, but also shows and workshops and panel discussions and events and all kinds of cool. It’s a whole big, beautiful celebration.

Tim Ferriss: Festival.

Simon Coronel: Yeah, exactly. And the competition’s the main thing. And annoyingly, my friend Shoot and I — so Shoot is a really good magician friend who was also competing in a different category. And we’d been training each other. Really supporting each other on the journey and trying to do our thing. And we’re both on the final day. Which is annoying because what I want to do is rip off the Band-Aid early and then enjoy the festival, but instead, I have to make sure I get to sleep and make sure I stay healthy, and so I can’t go too hard.

Because I spent a year and a half working towards this. In a way, I spent 10 years working towards this. I don’t care if I win. I’m just there to do the thing and to see if we can close this narrative arc, because it’ll be more engaging. Because the fact that it was exactly 10 years felt just too perfect to let that go. It’s such a beautiful plot arc. I’m like, “I want to see if this thing can fly. And if it can’t, that’s okay, because at least I’ll know. At least I tried the thing.”

And Shoot’s in a similar place. He’s just entering because it’s been a pandemic. We haven’t been able to do this for so many years. He wants to be part of it.

So it’s the final day. Actually, it’s not yet, because two days before the final day, I’m lying awake, Shoot and I are sharing a hotel room, and I have insomnia, which doesn’t happen to me much. I’m lying awake because adrenaline and time zone and just — it’s not surprising. I’m lying awake, staring at the ceiling and going, “God damn it, get to sleep.” 

And then suddenly it’s one of those moments where my eyes widen and I just suddenly see the matrix and I’m like, “Holy shit.” I suddenly think I’ve seen a way to combine these two approaches and get the best bits of both.

Tim Ferriss: Two days before go time.

Simon Coronel: Two days before. Yeah. And this always happens to me. It’s a running joke with friends in Melbourne who know the muse only visits 48 to 36 hours before the deadline.

Tim Ferriss: 48 hours before go time.

Simon Coronel: Every damn time. That’s when the muse turns up. I playfully anthropomorphize my muse. I think of her as — I’m arguing with her, going, “Could you one time turn up three weeks out?” And she’s like, “No.” And I’m like, “You know what? Terribly sorry. Appreciate you. Please don’t stop turning up.” No. All right, I guess that’s what it’s going to be.

Tim Ferriss: Looks like that’s the schedule.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. “All right, thank you. Appreciate you. Please don’t leave.” So she turns up at 4:00 a.m., two days before, and just punches me in the face with this idea, and I’m like, “Oh, my God, hang on.” And Shoot is asleep in the — he’s a pretty sound sleeper. We’ve traveled together a lot now for many gigs. And I realize, “Hang on, I think…” and these things, you can’t really — often you need to think with your body, I find. You need to sort of work through it and block through it.

So I get up very slight, quietly, try not to wake him up. And in the darkness, there’s the dim light of the moon through a slit in the window, I sort of work through this idea thinking, “Am I insane? Will this work?” And I kind of think, “I think this might have legs,” but I don’t know if I’m just sleep deprived and delusional. So I write down a bunch of notes on it for my future self in the morning to go, in case I forget. And then I don’t get to sleep. I’m just lying there. My mind’s racing. I’m like, “Hang on. Maybe is this — 

Tim Ferriss: I’m not surprised.

Simon Coronel: Is this going to work? And finally, Shoot wakes up.

Tim Ferriss: “What the fuck are you doing?”

Simon Coronel: He’s used to it. He’s not surprised. The amount of weird shit we’ve seen each other doing for magic over the years. It’s all so much stranger than fiction. And he just looks at me, he’s like, “Uh-huh.” I go, “Okay, so full disclosure, I haven’t slept, so I might be a little manic. What do you think of this idea?” And Shoot is legendary for being a friendly, beautiful human, but very sort of blunt with his feedback and his opinion. He breaks a lot of people’s spirits, unintentionally, because he’s just — 

Tim Ferriss: The dream destroyer.

Simon Coronel: Exactly. Very sort of — like a younger Mr. Miyagi. And I go, “Okay, here’s the idea,” because we all know everything about each other’s act at this point. I’m going, “So this version, this version, I think if I do this and do this and then that, and that gives the best bit of this, but without the drawback of this, because this angle and this perceptive, this focal direction, this here, and then this. What do you think? Is this something? Has it got legs?” And he looks at me and thinks and goes, “I can’t say no.” Which from him is — 

Tim Ferriss: Which is like A+.

Simon Coronel: — high praise. Yeah. Because normally, he’d be like, “But this wouldn’t work.” So I’m like, “Oh, shit, okay.” And then I ran it by Jordan as well later on. I’m like, again, “Haven’t slept, might be a little manic. Forgive me, I’m learning how to interact and filter properly.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I think maybe.” And I’m like, “All right.”

So then I spend the next day and a half, because that’s all I’ve got. Blocking through this new version. It’s not a massive change.

Tim Ferriss: When you say blocking, what do you mean? Just — 

Simon Coronel: Blocking in the theatrical sense. As in kind of walking through it physically. Going through the whole motions. Because a lot of magic, again, the Vernon theory of naturalness, is about looking like your body has no tension, where there is actually a lot of tension, or vice versa, or faking tension where there is none. And you kind of need to — in the same way that a special effects designer is lying with their CGI, lying for the benefit of the audience. Lying to create something beautiful. You have to sort of lie with your whole body in a way that really takes a long time to kind of get intuitive. It’s one of the hardest things about learning magic at a high level.

Tim Ferriss: I just realized also something about you, which tell me if this is an accurate perception, and that is you may not be able to put yourself in the minds or the shoes of, say, certain listeners of stories, but you would have to be quite good at putting yourself behind the eyes, at the very least — 

Simon Coronel: Absolutely. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: — of your spectators — 

Simon Coronel: Completely.

Tim Ferriss: — of your marks — 

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: — because the angles matter.

Simon Coronel: Yeah, absolutely. And the knowledge and the pre — I’m trying to remember. I’m blanking on the word. The preconceptions and the assumptions and just the ways people perceive reality around them, absolutely, is literally the medium with which the magician/illusionist works.

The common misconception is the hands or the cards or the coins or the whatever, but no, I mean, those are the tools, but you are sculpting the perceptions of an observer into a beautiful, amazing shape. And you need to be present to that. That is the sculpture that you are crafting.

The thing where I find that’s different about things like what stories would be interesting is perception of physical reality is a much more universal, consistent thing than people’s creative preferences or personal preferences or wants or needs or desires or interests. That is hugely variable between people. And I think in any sort of — at least for me, the neurodivergencies are more about those things are more divergent, what I like, what I’m interested in, what I want to hear about, what I don’t. Whereas perception of physical objects — 

Tim Ferriss: Perceptual faculties for survival that have evolved over time.

Simon Coronel: Exactly. That’s pretty much the same for everybody.

Tim Ferriss: Pretty consistent.

Simon Coronel: Not everybody, but way high percentage of people.

Tim Ferriss: So you’re 48 hours, roughly, out, you’re not sleeping. “Come on, Simon. For fuck’s sake, get to sleep.”

Simon Coronel: “Get it together.”

Tim Ferriss: Muse is — 

Simon Coronel: Muse is just punching me in the face — 

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, just punching — 

Simon Coronel: — with amazing things. I’m like — 

Tim Ferriss: — the face.

Simon Coronel: — “Thank you, I think.”

Tim Ferriss: So now you think you have something.

Simon Coronel: I think I’ve got something.

Tim Ferriss: How do you balance? Maybe that’s not even the word to use. Prepping with something new before game time with trying to get some sleep, and — 

Simon Coronel: Yeah. I definitely try to get sleep. Sleep is important. And I don’t really have a process. I just sort of feel it and I get it to a point where I think it’s good enough. And I have a bit of a background in improv acting, which is one of the best things I ever studied in my life. And being okay with just kind of — again, the friends from Melbourne who are listening, shout out to Dom and Viam and everybody else, know that I’m inevitably, hours before a show, building something new to try in it. And I think a lot about this idea of the two thresholds of imagine that you oversimplify how good is a performance into a single axis, which is ridiculously oversimplify. But say at the bottom is the worst thing you’ve ever seen.

Tim Ferriss: Got it. This is like the Y-axis on a graph.

Simon Coronel: Exactly. The top is the best thing you’ve ever seen in your life. Again, oversimplification, but for the sake of argument, it’s that George Box quote, “All conceptual models are wrong, but some are useful,” and this is wrong, but useful. And I often think about we’re trying to go upwards, we’re trying to get high on this scale. You want it to be, “That show was really good.” Some people think it was the best thing they’ve ever seen. Some people think it’s really good. There’s an infinite number of lines you could draw on that graph. The two that I think about the most is somewhere very high up is people in the audience are thinking, “That is one of the best things I’ve ever seen ever in my life, across all categories of experience. Holy shit.” That’s always where I’m aiming at. I don’t think I hit it. I think most people never hit it. Maybe I’ll hit it one day before I die. That would be amazing. Maybe I won’t. That’s okay. But I’m aiming at that.

I think about the Bruce Lee quote, “Aim the punch two inches beyond the intended point of impact.” Aiming at the line, I don’t need to hit it to feel happy. But then way lower is the line above which not one person in the audience felt like they wasted their time or their money. I’m willing to take risks down to that line, but not below it. If I go below that line, then I’ll beat myself up. Then I have a karmic debt to repay to the world. But above that line, my conscience is clean, my karma is clear, and I’m willing to take risks to explore and experiment down to that line. This is a bit different because it’s the World damn Championship, so the minimum line’s a bit higher. So it’s more I get it to the line where I’m confident that this is going to — extremely likely to work to the highest level. You can never be certain. But I’m confident, I’ve got this, and it’ll work. At that point, I chill and get some sleep and try and relax.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. And then?

Simon Coronel: Then it’s the competition. Then I’m up, and it’s terrifying, and I’m ready. A little tangent about, again, a thousand stories we could tell, because why is it actually worth doing anything? What do we do before we die? What makes you happy? What do you find fulfilling? One of the things back in 2012 that made that performance I did so insane as a weird method is one of my best friends in Melbourne, Dave, helped out by — this is a massive spoiler, first time it’s revealed — hiding under the table during the act. This is not a method. This is not something magicians do. This is ridiculous and absurd. This was a desperation move of just a brute force approach, heinously inelegant, and basically constructing things during the act to make this thing possible, which was such a ridiculous thing to do as a method. But I’m like, “We don’t have time to come up with something better. We’re just going brute force thing.”

Tim Ferriss: Under the table you go.

Simon Coronel: Yep. Dave’s like, “I’ve got this.” Again, there’s a group of friends there, again, like Dave and Dom and VM and YC and Yout, that many of us have done this for each other, like, “What do you need? We’re on it.” A nonviolent Jason Bourne kind of mentality, like, “What needs to be done? We’ll get it done.” I’ve hidden under the table for friends in various other bizarre situations to build shit, which is wonderful. It’s like the behind the scenes. So it became a running joke that Simon’s magic is done by Dave being under the table, which is not the case. This is not how magic is done, but it became a running joke. Again, that was 10 years ago.

For this one, I’ve realized for six months I’ve got a bit that I want to do. I’ve got a joke I want to make in homage to these wonderful friends and these beautiful people who have helped along the way. In this act, it doesn’t use a table. It uses this tiny little side stand. That’s one of the problems with the 2012 one. It was cumbersome. It was bulky. It was inefficient, inelegant. This one’s very simple and clear and minimalist. On this little side stand that I’m putting the very few props I have, I’ve always been a minimalist in my tastes, I make a little video 10 minutes before I go on stage for the World Championship. To me, that’s what makes this funny. That’s what makes this good, that it’s there in the arena.

I record a little video of the table going, “All right, guys. Going on stage in 10 minutes. World Championship. Just pre-show check.” I open my little box. I’m like, “Yep. All the props are there. Is everyone where they need to be?” I pan down and look under the table, and there’s a photo of Dave taped under the table. “Yep. Everyone’s in place. We’ve got everyone where they need to be. All right. We’re ready.” I sent that to the group chat. That was the thing I really wanted to do. Stuff like that. That’s the actual beauty of it. So do that.

Tim Ferriss: On the game day, I’m just wondering because you’re on the last day.

Simon Coronel: The last day.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. I have had the fortunate opposite experience. The only time that I spoke on the TED main stage, I was in the opening session. I was so grateful because it was a lot of pressure and stress on one hand, but then I could enjoy the rest of the event.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Completely.

Tim Ferriss: I knew that I would otherwise just be mentally rehearsing my own act the entire time. So walk us through game day and what it’s like leading up to it, also.

Simon Coronel: Okay. You’re so right. Exactly what you described is what’s way better. Instead, I’m watching all the competitions with friends. It’s also a great celebration of magic and amazement. But we’re watching going — again, so much of how it goes is who’s there. Is there someone way better than you? Who’s turning up? Who are the Belgians bringing? Who are the Italians bringing? Who’s here from South Korea? What is the world going to deliver that might be amazing? Again, the goal isn’t to win, but still, you can’t help but want to maybe imagine. No, but then you don’t imagine that. That’s setting yourself up for disappointment. You don’t want to think about that. Game day, get up, final preps. Doing things like this joke of Dave under the table is also what’s keeping me sane, because that’s something else — 

Tim Ferriss: Makes sense.

Simon Coronel: — fun and beautiful to focus on.

Tim Ferriss: Just to let a little pressure out of the box.

Simon Coronel: Exactly. Those are, in many ways, the things that really matter in some ways, about just being a human being and friendships and relationships and all those things. So I get there, just double check the props. I’ve got backups of everything. I get there. Also, I’ve spent the last few days trying to write a script.

Tim Ferriss: While you’re there?

Simon Coronel: While I’m there, because I’m not good at scripting. I’m not good at script writing. I’ve always found it very hard to write in my own voice.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, I see. Script. I thought you were writing a totally unrelated screenplay.

Simon Coronel: All right.

Tim Ferriss: Script meaning for the act.

Simon Coronel: Well, I was writing some unrelated software, but that’s a separate story.

Tim Ferriss: I was writing my rom com just in my spare time.

Simon Coronel: No. Writing what I’m actually meant to be saying during this act.

Tim Ferriss: Got it. Got it.

Simon Coronel: Usually, my process for, quote-unquote, “scripting” is I work out roughly what I want the thing to be about. I go to the literal or figurative open mic, and I think of it like sketching a line. You do a lot of light sketches and gradually find the shape of the line until you thicken it and thicken it and find the actual bold line. That’s usually how I work on material.

Tim Ferriss: So meaning that you would have a few bullets, and then you would improv, and you would gradually find the right sculpting — 

Simon Coronel: Exactly.

Tim Ferriss: — of the words that are the connective tissue between those bullet points.

Simon Coronel: Exactly. Yeah. Or even how to articulate those bullet points in the moment. I know semantically the idea I want to get across, and I discover what words come out of me in that moment. For whatever reason, for me, I’ve found that’s the best way to find the real stuff, because in that moment, in the spotlight, it’s more real. I then record all the shows and go, “Ooh, those words were good today. Yeah. Damn. What did I say? Oh, that’s good shit. I’ll say that again next time.” That’s slowly how the script emerges most of the time. I don’t necessarily think that’s a good way to work, but it’s the way I’ve got that I’ve found.

But for this one, I want to have this nailed. I failed to write this script. I keep trying. I’ve got friends who are like, “Come on, write your script.” I’m like, “I’m on it. I’m going to do it.” Lock myself in the room for an hour. Can’t do it. Brain just slips off the task. So on the day, I don’t have a script, and I’m like, “You know what? I’m just going to accept that. I wish I did. I didn’t. It is what it is.” I hit up a friend, Jared, an amazing magician who is also there just hanging out, performing. There’s this one line. I want to nail the ending line. I know what I’m going to open with. I know a bunch of key phrases that are going to be good. I’m confident. I’ve got through this many times in rehearsal. It’s always a little bit different, but it’s fine.

There’s this one bit at the end that it’s a chance to give the final line before the ending. I’ve never worked out what to say there. Jared is just an amazing human being, philosopher, writer, speaker. We overlap a lot in some of our theories of magic. He’s me, but more poetic and philosophical. So I hit him up. I’m like, “Hey, I’m trying to figure out this line.” We just sit down. The competition’s going on. I’m the second last act of the whole day, of the 15 competitors on the Friday. We just sit down. There’s this odd, ironic, Zen-like calm because I’ve now done everything. The preparation’s over. It’s in that calm before the storm. We’ve done everything we realistically could, and we just chat about this final line.

It’s this beautiful, peaceful moment of just him and I, these grizzled veterans of this bizarre art form, just going, “Yeah, what’s this want to be?” We figure out a line for it. I’m like, “That’s pretty good. Thanks. Thanks, man. We’ll see if I remember it in the moment because I don’t know. We don’t know what’s going to happen.” Then backstage, and again, a couple of friends, Dom and Shoot, are there. They’re going, “Okay. You’re going to be…” We have this term, being the special agent, which again, is like the nonviolent Jason Bourne, just the person who’s capable, motivated, and just on top of whatever inevitably is going to go wrong, as something is.

Tim Ferriss: So this is your a-team fixer?

Simon Coronel: Yes. Exactly. Yeah. I’m often that for other friends as well. We all take turns. Who’s just on it and gets it and is there? When Dom went on America’s Got Talent, I was his special agent. I’m like, “We’re there. We’re ready. Just going to deal with whatever’s going to happen.” So he’s there, and it’s great, and it’s calm. Then I do the stupid video joke because I’ve realized from experience, going on stage at something like that is terrifying. I’ve realized that it helps me to have something else to think about.

Tim Ferriss: Absolutely.

Simon Coronel: That’s part of the reason why jokes like that are funny little side projects. There are a couple of other ones that are other stories. One thing I love, actually, that’s relevant at FISM, I’ve been there five times. I’ve competed three times, attended two times. Something that has happened every single time is a contestant will go out and begin their act, and something will go wrong. They’ll have a fumble or a clear issue or a lighting problem that they have to pause. You’ve got this audience of up to 3,000 magicians from all over the world. Every time this happens, someone has an awkward fumble moment, the audience applauds supportively in that sort of nice, quiet applause, to say they know how scary it is and how much bravery it takes to walk out on that stage. It’s like, “We see you. We’ve got you. Even if we are hoping someone else wins, we want everyone to at least be able to do a great job. We want to see something amazing.” Every damn time it makes me choke up slightly when I see that happen.

Tim Ferriss: That’s lovely.

Simon Coronel: It’s my favorite damn thing about the whole thing. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It’s not true for all communities.

Simon Coronel: No.

Tim Ferriss: There are really hyper-competitive communities, and then there are others that seem to be really supportive in that way.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Most people. There’s a few narcissists and shitheads and everything. But mostly, people are there worshiping at the altar of wonder. They want to feel the thing. They want to see people be able to do the thing. I love it. I know that as well. That also helps me. I’m going out there to a warm room. It’s always warm. People want to be amazed. They want you to be good. You just have to not screw it up. So I go out, and I do the thing, and it goes okay, and I bring the person up, and I do the thing. I’m going to create this moment that then is going to linger beyond the end of it. It goes okay, and the new bit goes fine. It goes really well. It’s one of those rare, beautiful moments where the thing goes as you planned. Usually, things don’t. It takes a lot of iterations to get through it. But it just works, and it’s deeply satisfying.

I do the thing. I give the person to the person. They go back. All the lines land. All the moments hit. I go, “Thank you. Goodnight.” The whole room stands up to applaud. It gets a full standing ovation, which again, I did not expect. I was just trying to focus on, I just want to do the thing and not shit the bed. Just going to get through this with my janky-ass half-written script, and remember the line that Jared gave me, and just trying. I’m just completely focused on getting through it, again, not knowing how it’s going to be perceived. I’ve learned that I just don’t know. It might be great. It might be terrible. The main thing, they have very strict time limits. Minimum five minutes, maximum 10 minutes. A second over or under, you get disqualified. I think the theory is you’re professional. You should be able to keep within a five-minute range.

Tim Ferriss: You’re professional.

Simon Coronel: Get it together. I still remember when everyone’s standing up to applaud, my main thought is, “Wait. Is this going to put me over time?”

Tim Ferriss: Does this count as my session?

Simon Coronel: Oh, God. I don’t know. They’re still applauding. Luckily, there’s a time where I can look at, and we’re only at eight minutes 50. So I’m like, “Oh, okay. Thank God. All right. We’re fine. We’re fine. We can accept applause. It’s great.”

Tim Ferriss: Oh, man.

Simon Coronel: I feel awkward about it. It’s that weird duality. It’s lovely. The recognition is beautiful. But I also feel very awkward about it at the same time. I’m a shy-ass introvert. I mask very effectively and pretend not to be, but I’m shy and awkward in most situations. This is definitely one of them. So I’m like, “Don’t look at me. But also, thanks. I really appreciate it.” It’s complicated. Finally, I’m like, “All right,” and I just go backstage. Then the moment happens. The riot happens. The friend’s like, “Come out and look at this.” I’m like, “Oh, my God. What?” It’s just crowd is gathered around the person with the object, and they’re taking photos and examining it and this. There’s a whole bunch of photos out there of people just looking like they’re getting high.

Tim Ferriss: Jordan showed me a diagonal top-down photo from someone who had that vantage point of this. The variety of extreme facial expressions is tremendous.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Some people, they look like they’re inspecting a diamond. They’re really trying to scrutinize. You have one guy, I think he had a very short white beard, he looks like he’s blissed out on cloud nine in an opium den. He’s just soaking it in. It was wild. Yeah.

Simon Coronel: It was wild.

Tim Ferriss: He’s taking in his communion with wonder. What an experience.

Simon Coronel: Right? Thank God it’s over. Shoot and I had been joking for weeks about we were so tired. We were giving it everything we had, just trying. We’re doing this once. This is also the only time I’m ever going to do this again. I’m never going to enter another magic competition after that at the time is what I’m thinking. I’m like, “This is the shot, so I want to give it everything. I want to at least give it the chance to just bloom and to be whatever it’s going to be.” I don’t want to think, “What if?” I want to just give it a shot because, either way, this is the end of this 10-year story arc for this routine, one way or the other. So now Shoot and I are like, “Oh, my God. We’re done. Thank God.” Now we can actually join the party and celebrate and relax. It’s great. But the way this thing works is they do all the preliminaries. There’s eight different categories, three subcategories of close-up magic, five subcategories of stage magic.

Tim Ferriss: Would you mind just mentioning some of the categories for people who don’t know anything about it?

Simon Coronel: Sure. Under close-up magic, they have general close-up magic. They call it micro magic, which is just European for close-up magic, basically. Parlor magic, which is more medium scale, and then card magic gets its own category as a specialist.

Tim Ferriss: Medium scale refers to the size of the props?

Simon Coronel: The audience.

Tim Ferriss: The audience.

Simon Coronel: I would debate whether these are useful categories because I think they’re — but the way they define it is close-up magic is done where you can physically touch the audience, where you’re in physical proximity. It’s truly close-up. Parlor magic is more for 50 to a hundred people in a more standup situation, generally. Again, that’s an oversimplification, but that’s how they roughly define it. It’s always a bit nebulous and blurry.

Tim Ferriss: Got it. Outside of the subcategories of close-up magic, what are some of the other categories of magic?

Simon Coronel: Under stage magic, they have general stage magic, manipulation, which is heavy sleight of hand focused. So difficult dexterity to give the illusion of impossibility. State grand illusion, which is big box tricks, basically. Not really my thing.

Tim Ferriss: Big box, like cutting someone in half type stuff?

Simon Coronel: Yeah. That kind of thing. Yeah. The cutting a person in half is the classic big box grand illusion as they call it. Mentalism, the illusion of mind reading or fake psychological abilities or whatever. Oh, comedy magic. It gets its own category, which again, is an odd — false dichotomies all over the place. But that’s the categories they go.

Tim Ferriss: Still makes it fun. Adds some spice.

Simon Coronel: Yeah, exactly. Makes it interesting. The way it works is they award a first, second, and third prize in each of these eight categories. One of the things I really respect about FISM, because again, it has many flaws. It’s not perfect by a long shot, but I respect that the judges don’t have to award any of the prizes. If an act isn’t up to standard, they don’t have to award the first prize, for example. Often, they don’t.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, interesting. So it’s not a ranked podium finish. You could have the top winner in a category get the equivalent of second place.

Simon Coronel: You could. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: No one gets first.

Simon Coronel: That does happen. That has happened many times in its history. They try to make it mean something over the decades.

Tim Ferriss: I love that.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. I really respect that.

Tim Ferriss: No grade inflation.

Simon Coronel: Yep. Absolutely. Yeah. It’s not just who’s best on the day. It’s like, “Is this good enough by the standards we’ve admittedly arbitrarily subjectively set?” But yeah, I respect that intent.

Tim Ferriss: Just a breath of fresh air.

Simon Coronel: Right? That’s kind of cool. I dig.

Tim Ferriss: Make it mean something.

Simon Coronel: Right. Exactly. Obviously, it’s subjective. How do you judge art? Should you try and judge art? Should you even have competitions? These are very reasonable questions. But at least they’re trying. They’re genuinely going in. Then, of the winners, the first prizes, they have the option, but not the obligation, to give out one overall, quote-unquote, “Grand Prix.” It’s French, big prize, for overall close-up and overall stage, the two big mega prizes that they don’t have to award, but that’s the big final thing. So now, Shoot and I are like, “We’re done. It’s great. It’s over. Thank God. We get to relax and finally party and hang out.” Then one of the organizers comes up to us and goes, and I forget the words, but like, “Yeah, be ready to perform again tomorrow,” which is simultaneously amazing and terrible news. It’s amazing.

Tim Ferriss: You’re like, “What about the cheesecake and rum?”

Simon Coronel: Damn it. Horrible, horrible success. This is incredible because what that — we’re pretty sure. We don’t know for certain. This is also what makes it complex.

Tim Ferriss: Right. It implies there might be.

Simon Coronel: It seems likely we have probably won our categories, or you can tie for first. They can offer a special prize. You never quite know. There’s a lot of exception cases throughout history that have happened. So we’re like, “Probably means,” which is a weird place to be. We’re like, “We think that means we might have won our categories.”

Tim Ferriss: It definitely means I shouldn’t get blackout drunk.

Simon Coronel: It definitely means we have to do it again tomorrow. It felt exactly like getting to the end of a marathon, having given it everything to make it to the finish, and suddenly you need to run another five miles. We’re just like, “Oh, my God. Oh, God.” We did not prepare for this. We did not think this was what was going to happen. So we go back to the hotel room and start prepping for another performance. For both of us in different ways, that’s a non-trivial undertaking. It’s like, “Oh, God damn it.” But also, “Amazing. Oh, my God. This is incredible. Oh, my God. What a joy.” It’s such a complex yin and yang of emotion.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the Janus-faced blessing.

Simon Coronel: Exactly. Oh, yeah. We then get some sleep and get up the next day and go into preparation mode. Again, that day is its own insane story of all kinds of weird things went wrong. There’s a whole 10 minutes before walking on stage for the — the first place winners all perform again, this time for all 12 judges. The close-up and stage judges join together to judge everything. So the close-ups haven’t seen the stage thing. The stage judges haven’t seen the close-ups. They’re all now going to watch them and judge, “Are any of these acts worthy of the Grand Prix? And, if so, which one for each?”

10 minutes before walking out for that performance, I am in the fire escape stairwell in my t-shirt and jeans, not my suit, fixing a problem with one of the props that has gone wrong for reasons. It’s a whole story. There are visual aids. It’s a separate thing. Again, Dom and Ruben and VM and everyone are not surprised because they’re like, “Yeah, classic Coronel. It’s always like this.” I’m like, “Yeah, I wish that wasn’t true, but it is.” One day I’ll be fully ready for a performance. One day it’ll be great. At that point, I’m thinking, “If it comes down to it, I would rather walk out in my crappy t-shirt and jeans with a trick that works than in my nice stage suit with a trick that doesn’t work.” Luckily, we get both, barely.

So I walk out on stage fighting the trembles. I’m adrenaline-soaked and haven’t had time to get in the zone at all, but I do the thing. It goes okay. I’m freaking out but holding it together. No one can tell. The tremor is very slight in the hand, but I keep it together. The different person I bring up is amazed, and it works well. I’m like, “Now it’s over. Thank God. God damn. Now we’re actually done.” So then there’s a few hours while the judges deliberate, and then there’s going to be the awards ceremony. The awards ceremony is the first time we find out what actually happened.

It turns out that Shoot wins first prize in parlor magic, which is amazing and wonderful, and I tie for first in close-up magic, in micro magic, which is incredible. Holy shit. I just wanted to make this thing real, and I was so happy back in 2009 to tie for third. One day I’ll get my own award. I keep tying for things. It seems to be a running joke. Then we go back and sit in the audience with the trophies. This is the first moment I’ve had in days, if not weeks, to pause for breath. I’m sitting there in the crowd amongst friends. Vincent, a guy from Australia, came second in parlor magic after Shoot, which is amazing. Dom went there to do a stupid joke for a show he’s working on and achieved it. Just everyone got some version of what they came for. It’s just beautiful.

All the other prize winners, I would call it worthy, because sometimes someone wins, and you’re like, “Eh, really? Is that who’s the world champion of that?” But it was all beautiful. It was just this beautiful moment. Everything was great. I’m sitting there, and when there’s 150 contestants, or thousands from in the preliminaries, anything could happen. You don’t know. You’re up against so many people. You don’t even think about what the outcome’s going to be. So much of it’s, again, Epictetus, right? It’s out of your control. But now I’m sitting there, and they’re slow rolling the award ceremony. There’s other announcements. They announce the next one’s going to be in Italy, and that’s a whole thing. They thank the sponsors, and they do the thing.

I’m sitting there holding this first place trophy and now thinking about, “Wait a minute. They’re still going to announce the Grand Prix.” Now, rather than 150 people or hundreds or thousands of people, it’s down to four people. It’s me, the guy I tied with, Shoot, and the card guy from France, I think. That’s slightly embarrassing. Wherever he’s from. When it’s one in four, that’s something your brain can engage with. I’m sitting there trying not to think about it because the internal dialogue is going, “Don’t you do this to yourself, you son of a bitch. Don’t you do it. This is what leads to disappointment. Don’t you fucking think about it.” Can we swear?

Tim Ferriss: Yes, you can swear.

Simon Coronel: “Don’t you fucking do this to yourself. Don’t you get your hopes up because you get disappointed. That is how that happens. Don’t you do it.” But then the brain goes, “Well, look, imagine you’re a FISM judge and you’re thinking, ‘Who do we give the Grand Prix to?'” My brain was like, “There was a riot. Something happened that’s never happened before.” I’m like, “Don’t. Shut up. Shut up, internal voice. Shut the fuck up. Don’t you do this. Don’t get the hopes up.” This goes on for 10-20 minutes. They’re slow rolling this thing. I’m there with this internal — 

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s just like, “We’d like to thank our bronze sponsor.”

Simon Coronel: I’m there in this deep, internal struggle of like, “Don’t think about it. Made it Zen. Remember the mindfulness. Focus on the breath.” But then the inner voice is like, “But maybe.” And I’m like, “No!” I’m thinking about it because it’s the first time I’ve had to catch my breath. I am thinking about the last year and a half and the last 10 years and the last decades and this whole journey. It becomes very clear to me over that half hour sitting there that, as much as I try not to think about it at all, if they say my name, I realize I am absolutely going to burst into tears. I’m not a crier. I cry once every year or two, maybe. I realize, “Oh, yeah. There’s no way.” I’m already just at the memories of what it had taken and what it had cost and how much it had taken to walk this path and get to this point, and how I never thought it would get anywhere, let alone here, let alone what I’m, despite myself, thinking, “Maybe.”

I realized, “Oh, yeah. I’m just going to break down.” I realize in that moment that one thing that’s always made me sad is when people cry, so often, the first instinct is to hide or apologize or pretend not to. That always breaks my heart because I wish that weren’t the case. It’s sad that society teaches us to hide that or to shelve that. I decide, “You know what?” It’s like a little side quest in my head now at this point, to just so I can not think about it, is that all we can ever do is try to lead by example. Even that, you very rarely get a chance to do. What is it? Be the change you want in the world, even if it’s in a tiny, almost trivial way.

I go, “You know what? If this happens, don’t think about it. Don’t think about it, but if, but don’t think about — okay. If it happens, I realize I’m not going to hide it. I’m not even going to wipe a tear away. I’m just going to let it rip. At least, I don’t know. I mean, I’m going to cry. At least I can do it on my own terms.” Then they say my God damn name, and, as predicted, I burst into tears, just uncontrollable, convulsive sobbing. I walk up on stage, and I stand there, and the only thing I’m thinking about is “Try to keep your shoulders back, head up. Make it clear that you are not going to hide.” I just stand there on stage.

I find out later that the presenter was awkwardly expecting to give me the mic to give a speech, where I’m just fucking heaving and sobbing. Someone called it ugly crying, just holding this enormous God damn trophy, just bawling my eyes out on stage. I found out later this was live-streamed as well, so I’m like, “Okay. Cool. Great. Fine.” Then the main FISM guy comes over, and we pose the photo, and I’m still just weeping. I’m like, “What the hell?” And then walk off stage and try to find a tissue.

Tim Ferriss: What did it feel like to let it rip?

Simon Coronel: Really cathartic. Really good. It felt right. It was the right decision. I mean, it’s not what I would’ve chosen to do if I’d had the option. But it was very clear that I was not going to have a choice. This was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not. So it felt good to not hide and to not be ashamed because that’s what I want for everybody else.

Tim Ferriss: What did the hour or two or three after that feel like?

Simon Coronel: God. Then they announced the Stage Grand Prix person, which is this jeweler from Belgium, who also did this amazing stage act. Then we come back out. All the winners come back out, which is three times eight, plus a heap of people on stage for all the photos and the video and to everyone to come up. It was just this genteel pandemonium, in the loveliest sense, because again, everyone’s there out of love. It just had been this beautiful thing. Basically, everyone felt good about all the announcements. We just stood on the stage, and all the official photographers took photos, and then everyone else took photos, and a bunch of people wanted to pose for selfies. There’s this photo somewhere.

Once it had started to calm down, as in went from 3,000 people down to only a few hundred people, then Shoot and I just sat down on the steps of the front of the stage and just sat there, just empty. Yeah. Completely. People kept coming up and just saying, “Oh, it was great,” or “Congrats,” or “Can we get a photo?” or “Can you sign my thing?” It was just the first time I’d felt clearheaded in weeks or months. The catharsis of it, I don’t even know how to describe it.

Tim Ferriss: In addition to the catharsis, in that case, let’s make it specific, were you able to sit in the afterglow or celebrate?

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Kind of.

Tim Ferriss: I ask in part because I’m not terribly good at it.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Or were you like, “Let me catch my breath,” and then already, maybe, a few days later, thinking about where you might be pointed?

Simon Coronel: Good question. A bit of both. It was one of the many things. I mean, one thing, I still haven’t fully processed it. This was July last year. It’s now April. It feels like eating a six-foot wide donut. I don’t know how to get all of this into my — I don’t know how to get all of this knowledge into me.

Tim Ferriss: Not sure how to do this.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. I’m nibbling at it, but it’s not going in. It still hasn’t gone in yet. I’m still actively figuring it out. Did that really happen? I keep forgetting it happened. It’s not fitting into my brain. But one of the things that came out of it, two big things. One was, for the first time, I felt my imposter syndrome, which nearly everyone has unless you’re a raging narcissist, I think everyone has imposter syndrome to some degree, I felt it just pop like a soap bubble, just a delicate little — and felt free of it. Which isn’t the same as having an ego or anything because not everything I do is good, but that demon on the shoulder that tells you, “No, you suck, you’re not good enough,” that was finally a big enough event that even that demon got squashed by it and couldn’t rebut. The demon was like, “Oh, all right. Okay. Fine. You can do good stuff. All right. Fine. Shut up.” That was one.

The other thing was, it was the first time in my adult life since finishing high school that I felt like I could stop and catch a breath for a moment because I’d never felt that before. I always felt like I hadn’t proved myself, or I hadn’t figured out a career, or I hadn’t achieved the thing. There was always something to do. There was always that pressure, that forward movement. For the first time, I felt, “You know what? I’m going to take a few months and just, I don’t know. Just do nothing and just sit and just regroup and catch my breath. Because also I was unsurprisingly, massively burnt out. I was so burnt out at that point. I’d been going — 

Tim Ferriss: Not shocked.

Simon Coronel: Yeah, right. I mean, pandemic alone and everything else, plus all of that. But the thing that was great was Shoot and I flew back to L.A., and we got back and we got back and we slept. And then the next day we did what we had been knowing for months or over a year at this point, that we knew what we wanted to do more than anything. And we did. And we went to a cafe and we just hung out and had coffee without stress or worry or the upcoming pressure. And it was perfect.

That was what we were told for years. Once this is over, oh, man, we can just hang out and have coffee. And that’s the best possible thing.

Tim Ferriss: The simple things.

Simon Coronel: And then we went to the Magic Castle that night just to have a drink. And we, I remember we, actually the night we flew back, we went to the Magic Castle, this is before the coffee. And we went, “You know what? Let’s go have a drink at the Castle. Why not hang out?” And as we walked up the hill to it, we were going, “I wonder if anyone’s heard?” Because it’d been that day. It was that same afternoon. We’re like, “I wonder if anyone’s heard? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not.” And we walk in and everyone has heard. Everyone who works there, the people in the kitchen, everybody. It was the number one news.

We were like, “Oh, God.” And that night was amazing.

Tim Ferriss: What fun. What a homecoming.

Simon Coronel: Right. And because the thing is, the Magic Castle was, I mean, again, it’s the real place. But there had been, even pre-pandemic, it had been going through kind of a dark age, in that it had just been less inspiring. There were fewer really amazing people hanging out there. It was under management that wasn’t particularly tapping into the beautiful, wonderful things about the place. And I’d found myself just less inclined to go there on any given night. Normally you go there and you have an amazing night. And it’s incredible and you meet amazing people and see amazing things. And that had just been happening less and less in the years leading up to the pandemic. And then the pandemic obviously was awful.

And so many people that night mentioned versions of, “You know what this feels like? This feels like the old school Castle again.”

Tim Ferriss: Mm.

Simon Coronel: And there was a vibe. And people I hadn’t seen for years were there. And this is the closest I will ever come to saying something self-congratulatory. Because even just being Australian, it’s like, ah, awkward. But this is something someone else said, so I feel less uncomfortable about it, even though it’s still very uncomfortable. And this friend said, “Well, yeah, because the Magic Castle was founded back in the ’50s and Dai Vernon and the best magic in the world was there.” And that was true. And for a long time, that had kind of stopped being true. And the best magic was maybe in Madrid or South Korea or Germany or a bunch of other places, that are these real hotspots of magical innovation and excellence. And it hadn’t been the Castle actually for a long time. And then she said in this amazingly dramatic way, “But tonight that changed.” And I was like, ooh, chills, tingles. And also, I don’t know how to handle the implied responsibility of that. I’m still kind of figuring that out. I don’t know. I’m mostly just not thinking about it as much as I can.

Tim Ferriss: So you went to have a drink. What was your drink? What’s your go-to?

Simon Coronel: I had a vodka lime and soda.

Tim Ferriss: Vodka, lime, and soda.

Simon Coronel: It’s the low-calorie option. Trying to keep it together.

Tim Ferriss: Simple. Trying to keep it together.

Simon Coronel: If I’m not thinking about the calories, it’s a French 75.

Tim Ferriss: What is a French 75?

Simon Coronel: I think it’s champagne, gin, lemon juice and simple syrup. Sort of like a fancy Tom Collins 

Tim Ferriss: cheat day.

Simon Coronel: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Tim Ferriss: I have a long list of questions.

Simon Coronel: Break it down.

Tim Ferriss: I’m like, let’s go.

Simon Coronel: We’ll see if we can answer them in less than an hour and a half each, unlike the last one.

Tim Ferriss: So feeling lucky having started later with magic.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Why is that?

Simon Coronel: The main reason is magic, much like a lot of things, I think a lot of good things begin from empathy. Understanding the experience of the other person or people in so many ways, in so many fields of human endeavor. And magic in particular, like you observed earlier, requires an understanding and awareness of the mind of the observer, of what’s happening perceptually. 

And one of the things that I think is really difficult about magic is that once you learn how it’s done, it becomes very hard to remember what it was like to not know how it was done.

Tim Ferriss: Totally.

Simon Coronel: It’s very hard to maintain empathy with the audience experience. Very, very difficult. Even more so than most other arts.

Tim Ferriss: I have thought about this. I don’t want to take us down a side alley too far, but I’ll let out a secret that we probably won’t have time to unpack today. But you speak Chinese very well.

Simon Coronel: I do.

Tim Ferriss: Mandarin. And I’ve spent time in China, I’ve spent time in Japan. And I often wonder what it used to be like to look at Japanese or Chinese writing when it just looked illegible.

Simon Coronel: Yep.

Tim Ferriss: But I can’t revert.

Simon Coronel: Right.

Tim Ferriss: Absolutely.

Simon Coronel: Yep. And it’s similar.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Simon Coronel: It is very hard to maintain that sense of what it is actually like to literally see the magic, to see the thing that looks impossible. Because you can’t once you know. And I think I see a lot of magicians who get into it when they’re younger, there’s often this disconnect of — so I have very clear memories as an adult, technically, legally, legal adult, 18. I can remember seeing what are considered in the magic industry, very sort of simple, almost beginner tricks. And I can remember the visceral memory of being profoundly affected by them and being profoundly amazed. And I run into many magicians, not the good ones, the good ones get it, the good ones understand who, have long ago lost touch with the power of these illusions. And they’re like, “Oh, that’s just basic.” I’m like, “Listen man, do not underestimate the power of that.”

Because I have those memories still. And those guide so much of my creative process with magic. I remember what it felt like to see these things, just barely. I try to hold those memories because they’re so precious and valuable, because they enable that empathy with the audience.

Tim Ferriss: Right. So you can position switch in a sense, perhaps more effectively than people who started so young that their reference set of experiences makes it very hard to stand in for the audience.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. And it’s still hard for me, but less hard.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

All right. So we hop, skipped, and jumped across a few lily pads and consulting was in there at one point.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And so Accenture, to talk about that. That’s a name that a lot of people will recognize, very well-respected.

Simon Coronel: Mostly.

Tim Ferriss: Mostly.

Simon Coronel: Depends who you are.

Tim Ferriss: Depends on when it was.

Simon Coronel: Depends on — exactly right. They have a complex history.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Depends on the point in time. But yeah, a recognizable name, absolutely.

Simon Coronel: I think it’s a Fortune 300 company, at least back when I worked there. It’s huge. Huge.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So I guess a few questions related to that.

The first is diving into some phrasing that you used that I think I’m capturing accurately, which is you said that Accenture played to some of your weaknesses.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: What do you mean by that?

Simon Coronel: I mean, this gets into the, and this is the thing that, again, as I mentioned earlier, I feel very sort of, I’m not nervous, timid about talking about, because I’ve spent most of my life adult life actively avoiding, hiding the neurodivergent stuff.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

Simon Coronel: And I figured, why not? When you asked me on this, this is a good chance to just rip off the Band-Aid in the most public possible arena. We’re going to the honest, truthful phase of my life or something. But in my early twenties, I was diagnosed with, at the time, Asperger’s syndrome, like high-functioning autism spectrum thing, which to the surprise of no one at a time. So many people have the same experience. It was a relief. I was like, “Oh, that’s why all that stuff was confusing and awkward and didn’t make sense.” It’s bad news. It’s not good news, but at least it makes sense now.

Tim Ferriss: There’s some explanatory power.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. At least I now know what we’re working with and can start the incredibly long, difficult process of working out what to do about that.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

Simon Coronel: And that then was the next couple of decades of my life, trying to work out what to do about that and how to learn those skills that weren’t there naturally and learn how to read non-verbal signals and communication and just all that. That’s still ongoing. It’s still a challenge every day. It’s a pain in the ass, but there are worse problems. I don’t know.

And so humanness interaction is challenging. It’s difficult. There’s extra layers. There’s a lot of extra thinking and analysis to figure out. And in a high pressure-business environment, there’s a lot of that. And so it was a lot of situations I found very awkward and uncomfortable and stressful, even more so than they would be for anybody, I think. A lot of it’s trying to figure out what is universal and what is unique. And the answer is lots of both.

And also I’m now realizing I spent so many years focused on trying to work around that and make up for those deficits and do the extra work to deal with it. That is now increasingly apparent that I probably also have some kind of executive function disorder situation going on. Maybe ADHD, maybe something else. I’m not going to wait till I can actually get to a professional to deal with that. Because again, things I didn’t realize weren’t universal; difficulty with scheduling, with remembering things, keeping track of time, being organized, organizing data, things like that. All the kinds of things that you’re doing a lot of in a high pressure, high-powered business strategy consulting environment.

And I was doing okay. I was getting the job done and doing a pretty okay job of it, but it was just exhausting. It was killing me to do. So all the extra cognitive load to deal with some of those things that are not easy for anybody necessarily, but were extra exhausting. And at the time I now have learned the term masking, hiding it, trying to do the work to pretend to not be dealing with this stuff. Because for all the reasons that people learn to do that and learn that they should.

Tim Ferriss: Sure.

Simon Coronel: And I’m only just now going, “You know what? What if we try not doing that? What if we acknowledge it?” And I think one of the reasons I hid it was, I’ve just seen so many people use it as an excuse or a crutch where they’re just kind of being an asshole and go, “Oh, I’m on the autism spectrum so it’s okay.” I’m like, “What? No. You’re still just an asshole.” And I think I’d seen too much of that, that I wanted to make sure I didn’t give myself that out, that I didn’t give myself the crutch. There’s a quote from — Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors.

Tim Ferriss: Amazing author.

Simon Coronel: God, that man, I feel so lucky to have gotten to his books when I was an early teenager. Learned so much about just being a human being in the best way. And one of his characters, Granny Weatherwax, one of the witches who’s just an amazing character, there was this quote she says to one of the other witches that, “The hard way is pretty hard, but it’s not nearly as hard as the easy way.” And there’s deep wisdom there.

But I think maybe I ran too far with that. I think maybe I made it too hard for myself. And that’s been good. And now let’s try maybe acknowledging it a bit. So yeah, it’s very scary and very intimidating.

Tim Ferriss: Well, I appreciate you being so candid. And I know that there are many people, not only in my audience, but there are many people in my audience who have children who also fit this profile. Many of my very close friends right now have neurodivergent children.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So it gives them permission to also have conversations, which is important.

If we look at Accenture, at the job, I find this of interest to put under microscope for a little bit because it’s also a path that contrasts with maybe some of the often apocryphal but storied histories of say magicians or authors who throw caution to the wind. And if you’re going to be a writer, write, God damn it. And they don’t have a backup plan and they’re just living hand to mouth, barely making ends meet, and they figure out a way to make writing financially viable. But then there’s the other track, which I would say just based on what I’m hearing, this would fit into, which is similar to say a friend of mine who’s a very successful novelist, Soman Chainani. And even after he had had one or two New York Times bestsellers, he still had an SAT tutoring company. Very small. I mean, I think he was a solo proprietor. But he kept it running because he didn’t want to feel too much pressure imposed on his creative love, and what he hoped would have wings, but that he didn’t want to bet on.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And there are philosophical differences here. One is, give yourself no options, that you take the only option that you can.

Simon Coronel: Burn the boats.

Tim Ferriss: Exactly, burn the boats. The other is, good idea to have a little bit of savings, maybe a little bit of stability so that you can develop your craft without having to make a lot of creative compromises.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: How did you feel during this process when you were basically Bruce Wayne by day, Batman by night, or on the weekends?

Simon Coronel: That’s a very generous analogy, but I’ll take it.

Tim Ferriss: I’m feeling generous today.

Simon Coronel: Likewise.

Tim Ferriss: And how did you make the decision to go full-time? What did that process look like?

Simon Coronel: I realized when I joined Accenture, I joined it with the intent of doing it for a couple of years, seeing what it was like, get enough experience on the resume that it would hold its value. That was at least the conventional wisdom at the time. And then do something else. Start a startup or go full magic or something, I didn’t really know. I think I was also lucky to get into magic late because I was just barely wise enough to make some smart choices. Barely. Like that 18-year-old wisdom. Wisdom is a heavy word for what you have when you’re 18.

Tim Ferriss: Lowercase wisdom.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Compared to a nine-year-old.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Simon Coronel: You got a little — very wise. And when I joined Accenture, I realized I had this sort of flash forward to going, “Yeah, I’m young and idealistic. I’m going to join for a couple years, then quit and do something that leads me towards something. Whatever, I don’t know.” And I just had a sudden flicker of like, “Wait a minute. I’ve heard this story.”

Tim Ferriss: Yes.

Simon Coronel: “I’ve heard how this can go.”

Tim Ferriss: Very common.

Simon Coronel: And then you blink, and you’re 40 in middle management and wondering where the decades went. And I kind of sensed, “Wait. That could be me.” You never know who you are until you’re there in the moment, until you’re faced with the trolley lever. You don’t know what you’ll do. And so I went on this round-the-world pilgrimage with all my remaining savings at the time. It was the first time I came to America to see the Magic Castle, to see Vegas and all the Cirque du Soleil shows and all the stuff I’d heard of.

Tim Ferriss: And this is before — 

Simon Coronel: This is before Accenture. This was in the months — because I realized it was going to be a while before I had free time. I was going to go into this high-pressure corporate environment. And I did it as kind of an almost created pilgrimage to, I thought it was almost injecting inspiration intravenously to kind of keep that fire burning.

Tim Ferriss: Stockpile some fire.

Simon Coronel: Exactly. Hide my soul on my sock where they can’t find it and drag it into the corporate drudgery. That was sort of the mindset at the time. And I think that was good because I did have a sense I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what or when.

And so at Accenture, while I was there and earning a okay salary, I still lived pretty frugally. And I stockpiled savings. I deliberately didn’t buy a car, even though I could have afforded one. And instead I spent the money on trips to the US to keep getting inspired and connecting and everything and building savings. And I didn’t live extravagantly, because I had a sense, “Whatever’s next, I don’t know what’s next, but it’s going to be good to have a stockpile of savings.” And then I realized the phrase I wrote once in a diary entry was, “Fear and enthusiasm battled. And fear kept winning.”

Tim Ferriss: Mm.

Simon Coronel: I’m like, “I want to leave and do something cool and do the thing and go full magic or something. But ah, it’s scary. I don’t feel ready.” I was at the company for five years, and after three years longer than I intended to be, just out of fear and out of the golden handcuffs and the stability, one day finally some pieces clicked together in my head. There was an actual moment where I realized, I’d read an article by a palliative care nurse about her observations on people’s end of life, like regrets. And the number one, as is well-documented, is that they never tried the thing.

Tim Ferriss: Mmhmm.

Simon Coronel: Didn’t try the thing. Always wondered, never found out. And I realized, yeah, I don’t want to die that way. I want to know. Even if it fails, at least you know. It’s okay. Number one, I have to try the thing. Number two, I’d been waiting until I felt ready, enough savings and enough career contacts, enough good magic material or whatever. And I realized I was a perfectionist and I was never going to feel ready. And so number three, if there’s no right time, then sooner is better than later. And I started drafting my resignation letter. It was one of those rare moments. Normally life doesn’t work with these epiphanies, but that was one where it was. There was A, B, C. It was a simple equation, it was an algorithm. I’m like, “Yep, that logically checks out. All right, fuck, I guess I’m doing it.”

Tim Ferriss: And in your mind, did you think to yourself something along the lines of the management or strategy consulting, it’s like, “Okay, I’m going to do this for X number of years to accumulate A, B, and C, and then assess course or do the thing.”

Simon Coronel: Yeah, completely. Absolutely right.

Tim Ferriss: And so with magic, did you have something similar? You’re like, “Okay, I’m not going to leave this open-ended. I’m going to, say, travel to L.A., I’m going to be in the thick of things. I’m going to give it six months or 12 months and then reassess.” Or was it like, “Okay, come hell or high water.”

Simon Coronel: It was something in between the two. It definitely wasn’t the former. There was no plan. I just went for it. And I think I just went out there. Again, I kept the beginner’s mind. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. Let’s go and find out. Let’s jump into it with full strength and full intensity and just reevaluate as we go.” I think that’s the only way to sort of, again, be like water, right? Stay open, no fixed positions in the martial arts. See what happens.

And it basically didn’t work, which is the weird twist. My full-time job was magic for the next 10 years. And I would say I failed at it. I mostly lived off those savings. I was earning money, but not enough. The savings were dwindling. And most of those years, safe space, no one else is listening, it’s fine, it’s just us, Tim. For that 10 years, I mostly earned poverty line or below income for those 10 years. It was hard.

Because the tragedy is what gets financial success is not artistic ability. It’s networking, client relationship management, negotiating, et cetera, et cetera. So those business skills, replying to emails in a timely manner, all that stuff that I just did not have at all. Or being able to find the right people. But again, shy, introverted spectrum type. I wasn’t good at finding people. I was good at connecting with people I really felt resonance with, but they often weren’t the ones who could build my career. And I just never found a way to make it work. And in the end, when the puzzles came along, I was so ready to be done with it.

Tim Ferriss: Mm.

Simon Coronel: I love the magic, but not the business of it.

Tim Ferriss: So we’re going to talk, and you have though, at least for the show that I saw, assembled a core team of people who do complement — 

Simon Coronel: Which is amazing.

Tim Ferriss: — your strengths and weaknesses.

Simon Coronel: And it is the first time I’ve really felt this.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Simon Coronel: And that is, I think a lot about the parable, is it the right word? Of the cat who sits on the hot stove and gets burnt and it learns not to sit on the hot stove, but it also doesn’t sit on the cold stove.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Simon Coronel: And I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently, about looking back over my experiences in the 10 years I was full-time magic and going, “Oh, God, no.” But maybe it’s a different stove now, and I haven’t made conclusions on that yet. I don’t know. But Chad Rabinovitz, the director and producer of the show, who’s amazing, incredible magic director, of which there are not many in the world. He might be the only good magic director in North America that I know of. He nudged me to do this. He went, “Come on, we should get this show up.” And I’m like, “Oh, God damn it. No, professional magic sucks. I failed at that. It was bad. It wasn’t for me. I’m done with it.” And he’s like, “Come on, let’s do this show.” And I’m like, “You know what? I would like this to happen. There’s creative lead.” And I’m like, “I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a failure this time. I’m not sure. I don’t know.”

Tim Ferriss: So I wanted to highlight that, that you have this core team now, and then we will talk about the puzzles. Before we get there, I have a whole slew of miscellanea that I need to address or it’s going to bother me.

Simon Coronel: Sure. Let’s go.

Tim Ferriss: So the first is, hotbeds of magical innovation. I’m always fascinated within these subcultures of which locations seem to be producing interesting things. And I just wrote down Madrid, South Korea, Germany.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And before we started recording, we were also looking at some of the tabletop games that I have behind me, which I’m testing out. And there are certain places that just take tabletop gaming very seriously. Germany would, absolutely.

Simon Coronel: Absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: In the world of magic, what are the top high concentration spots for magic innovation?

Simon Coronel: I think the biggest one right now is probably South Korea. The South Korean magic scene is extraordinary right now. And really, the rest of the world found out about it, I think it would’ve been roughly 2012 the one that I got the weird originality prize out, when a guy called Yu Hojin won the stage Grand Prix. And it’s still one of those just defining moments I remember in my life, of being there just in the audience hanging out. I’d competed on the first day, got it off. And acts come out, and Yu Hojin comes out and is transcended, just does; it’s just amazing.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Simon Coronel: One of those Grand Prix moments that captivates everybody. And I remember afterwards just instant standing ovation, I remembered thinking, I’m just going to stand here and applaud until I cannot physically applaud anymore. I’m just going to clap these hands until they fall off. He’s amazing. And this was the world kind of going, oh, my God. And there were a bunch of other South Korean magicians there as well, who also placed very highly. Everyone was going, what is happening in South Korea?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Simon Coronel: And I’m not qualified to speak to the details of it, but apparently there was the Korean War and the North Korean situation, and there’d been this artistic slump for a long time. But then a couple of people there had really done a lot to re-incubate it. And this amazingly collaborative scene had emerged where they were really innovating. There was government funding, I think like arts council funding that was helping as well. And just to this day, just South Korea, it’s really exciting.

Tim Ferriss: I was literally just having a conversation yesterday with this entrepreneur and also a very, very skilled writer named Bobby Hundreds, who’s here in L.A. famous for creating the iconic streetwear brand. And he is Korean American. And we were talking about South Korea, because there are so many sectors in which South Korea just comes out of seemingly nowhere and begins to dominate. That’s true of all things. Breakdancing. For many years, they had the best breakdancers in the world, the most innovative. They were doing things people didn’t think was even in the realm of possibility for human bodies to produce.

Simon Coronel: Wow.

Tim Ferriss: This would include even comparing them to Olympic gymnasts.

Simon Coronel: Wow.

Tim Ferriss: I mean, they’re doing some of the most incredible things anyone had ever seen. And then you have desktop gaming, right? PC gaming. Archery.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: They’ve been the most dominant in Olympic archery. No close second place forever. And this is something I want to study.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So I’ll just make another note. South Korea, revisit.

Simon Coronel: Absolutely.

Tim Ferriss: Revisit South Korea.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: You were mentioning the categories of magic in the FISM competition. And I’m wondering if there are any particular experts or specialists, they don’t have to be specialists, but people who are particularly impressive to you in the world of mentalism.

Simon Coronel: My opinions on mentalism may be controversial.

Tim Ferriss: Or you me can start with your opinions on mentalism.

Simon Coronel: I am not a fan of mentalism.

Tim Ferriss: Why is that?

Simon Coronel: All right. Oh, God, this is going to get me hate mail. So what the hell? Radical honesty. Let’s go. So again, this is not universal. There are exceptions to this. There are wonderful people who do mentalism. Some of them are friends, they’re cool.

Tim Ferriss: And for people who don’t remember the definition, maybe you could just define the term broadly.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. So mentalism broadly, you could define it as magic used to create, rather than the illusion of vanishing and reappearing and things like that, used to create the illusion of psychic or psychological abilities that you do not have. And the thing about it — 

Tim Ferriss: Think of a number from one to 17.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Oh, my God, you got it. Right. Holy shit. You must have either psychic powers or really good body language, ENLP stuff that overwhelmingly is not the case. Here’s the thing is, oh, boy. Oh, this is really going to piss some people off.

Tim Ferriss: Can’t please everyone.

Simon Coronel: You really can’t. One of the things I realized back when I first got into magic, I was really intrigued by mentalism, because how would you not be? It’s compelling, it’s powerful. It gets a reaction. Of course, you like all the things, many of the things that draw you to it. But I’ve always held the golden rule. Do as you would be done by, ethic of reciprocity. It doesn’t always work because people are different. But it’s a pretty good place to start from. And I remembered way back, seeing a magician as a teenager and being amazed by something and going, “Oh, how did you do that?” It’s a natural, healthy, scientific question. And getting a glib, dismissive reply. And I was like, “This guy’s an asshole.” I felt dismissed. I didn’t feel good.

And so when finding myself on the other side of that interaction, I take it very seriously. And I realize that the things I do magically, personally, are all things where if someone goes, “How’d you do that?” I have to hide the method to keep it amazing, but I can go, “It’s a combination of sleight of hand and misdirection and a bunch of other complicated things to create the illusion of a thing that definitely didn’t happen. The coin didn’t actually disappear. I did a bunch of complicated shit to make it look like it disappeared.” And that is the truth. That is the literal truth of what happened. So you can give them a lot of the truth without ruining it.

Tim Ferriss: I don’t know if this is too much of a reveal. We can take it out if you want, but you do a fair amount of this in Glitches in Reality.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And you explain some of the elements and bob and weave in a very interesting dance, which I really enjoyed.

Simon Coronel: Yeah, yeah. And very much doing as I would be done by, that is how I would like to be treated by a show.

Tim Ferriss: So you can do that with what you do?

Simon Coronel: Yeah. And also if people do, say, find out the actual method, all of them, I think stand up as, yeah, wow, that’s intriguing. I’m proud of it. I’m not going to be ashamed by the revelation of the truth. It’s not like, “Oh, no, I’m ruined. I’m a fraud now.” Yeah. I did what I claim to do. We did clever, complicated, sneaky stuff. But with mentalism, I found when I was doing it and people said, “Oh, my God, how did you know I was thinking of 17?” I realized I couldn’t tell them any of the truth without completely destroying the illusion. Because with mentalism, what you are claiming to do is completely false. You are naughty. You are claiming a category of ability you absolutely do not have. It is all a lie. Like one percent, yeah, maybe sometimes you take a guess and read a bit of body language, but that’s like one percent of it maybe.

And I just didn’t feel comfortable with that. Because I also realized doing magic, I meet people. I’ve met you through magic.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm.

Simon Coronel: We literally met at a show. And I realized if I was doing a mentalism show, you would be impressed by me doing things that I absolutely cannot do. And the foundation of our relationship would be based on a lie. And I realized I didn’t want to live that way. If I meet friends or people in a dating context or whatever, I don’t want our relationship to be based on a fundamental mis-categorization of my art, craft, job abilities. And I think, again, exceptions, I think you kind of have to be a bit of a sociopath to be okay with that. And again, or have not really thought it through. And I think a lot of lovely people who are mentalists, I think they just haven’t really thought through what the ramifications of what they’re actually doing are.

Tim Ferriss: The social ramifications.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Yeah. The social.

Tim Ferriss: What about the cultural? What if you open your act by saying, “I have none of these abilities.”

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: If you proceed your act with that disclaimer, does that solve the problem or not really?

Simon Coronel: It helps. And someone like Derren Brown who is a masterful showman, a beautiful human being, and again, one of the people I would call mostly an exception, but the problem is I think it doesn’t quite solve — 

Tim Ferriss: Like his show Miracle, right?

Simon Coronel: Oh, God, yeah.

Tim Ferriss: As an example.

Simon Coronel: Derren’s amazing. Incredible inspiration. But even Derren, who goes out of his way to be a servant of the truth, I don’t think there’s any disclaimer strong enough. Because the illusions are so powerful and so compelling that people are still going to go, “Oh, yeah, the disclaimer is fake. Obviously you have some kind of actual powers, and these things are actually possible and real.” And it just makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know. I’m not going to say mentalism is evil or anything.

Tim Ferriss: Come on. I need my headline on YouTube.

Simon Coronel: Yeah, right.

Tim Ferriss: I’m kidding.

Simon Coronel: But it makes me uncomfortable.

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Simon Coronel: I don’t dust. Yeah. It’s not my thing.

Tim Ferriss: So you don’t have to name names, which is what I was going for with my initial question, but if we skip that, are there magicians, broadly speaking, and you could just look at this question any way that makes sense, who have just such ability to compute or do unusual things mentally that stand out to you? I would imagine there are types of performances where there’s a lot that you need to sort of hold in working memory. I don’t know. I’m just kind of speculating.

Simon Coronel: I’m probably paraphrasing as best I can. Teller, from Penn and Teller, who is an extraordinarily brilliant performer and person has this talks about the fact that often the method to a lot of magic is just that no one would ever imagine you went to as much effort as you actually did to do a thing. Just half the times the secrets are hidden by the being so off the scale, crazy extent of effort and it wouldn’t even occur to someone. And sometimes something you watch all the time is people will see a magic trick and often guess the method correctly and then talk themselves out of it going, whatever, “No, no one would do that. I have no idea.” And they will actually get it and then go that “It couldn’t be. That’s ridiculous.”

Tim Ferriss: Now because it seems too simplistic or it just seems like too much work?

Simon Coronel: Both. Both. Sometimes A, sometimes B, sometimes both together. Magic is so much broader and so much deeper than people ever realize. There are so many different rooms in the house of magic. You could spend 10 lifetimes on it and not even get close to everything there is to know and learn.

Tim Ferriss: So given that the breadth and depth is — I mean, I hesitate to say infinite, but just beyond the scope of anything one human could digest. Let alone master. If say someone wanted to, as an adult, delve into the world of magic as a practitioner, not to become a professional, but to experiment with something that might be enjoyable, to become more aware of perceptual faculties and how perception can be shaped. How might they start because if it’s say, baseball or a given sport, you’re like, “Okay, we can break this down into a few components. We can practice those components. Here’s a logical progression so we can put A through F in some type of logical buildup.” 

If I said I would love to experiment with magic somehow, how would we even navigate that? And what questions might you ask me or what recommendations might you make? Because I know there’s so many different types and so on.

Simon Coronel: I think the truest answer is it’s hard. There isn’t an easy answer. And I mean, again, we can only ever speak for ourselves. I’m always wary of advice because all advice is wrong for somebody. Everyone’s situation is so different. And I found that, again, when I was a kid I had a magic set and I had a few magic books and none of them helped me. I concluded I was terrible at magic and had no potential. Which tells you something about those books and those kits. And for me, what made the difference was going to that university club and having a person to guide me because a good teacher, and teaching’s hard, teaching’s a complex art and craft, and I teach a lot of magic. I used to teach beginner magic courses in Melbourne at this organization. And I still sometimes take on students if it’s the right kind of person, and the schedule allows is — the job of the teacher to adapt to the student.

And having a person to see what I was struggling with, the unique struggles I was having that everyone wouldn’t, and then be adapt to that and guide that. Knowing whether it’s you or someone, what is it you want to achieve? Why you want to get to magic, what do you want out of life that is making you think about magic? These are all relevant questions that will then affect what you would teach and how you would teach it, and what that journey would be.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I would say it’s the pervasive ADD, meaning Awe Deficiency Disorder, that I think humans suffer from increasingly this despondent nihilism where there is severe deficiency in moments of awe and the ability to conjure that simply, or maybe not simply, but both in learning the skill myself, but also to provide those moments even it’s just for kids who maybe absolutely aren’t going to discern what I’m doing as easily as an adult. That’s fine. I mean, I don’t want to perform birthday parties, so maybe it makes sense for me to practice for adults. The only, let’s call it magic book that ever clicked for me, and I didn’t take it seriously, this was a gift, but I did buy a handful of books here and there. And similar to your experience, most of them was like, “I’m not good at this. I can’t do it. This doesn’t work.”

There was one very short book and it was basically science magic tricks. And it was very straightforward, but it was like, “Okay, here’s how you can take a fork and a spoon and, say, shove them together and use a toothpick to balance it on the side of a glass.” And it just blows people’s minds. It doesn’t seem to make any sense. And then you can burn the ends of the toothpick and it looks insane and you can pick it up in two minutes and then demonstrate it. And that was extremely gratifying for me. I also just learning new things, taking it seriously for a period of time and seeing what comes of it. It’s like, okay, if I did a sprint for a few weeks with magic, whatever that would end up, meaning what could I do? And there are certain things that go through my mind where I’m looking at, for instance, some of the demonstrations that you did. It’s a very strong opener by the way in the show. God, I love the opener.

I’m just looking at some of the things you can do with your hands, and I’m like, “Okay, there’s no fucking way that I’m going to develop that in a few weeks.” Also, because I simply just don’t have much learning to speak Mandarin. It’s like you can take somebody who’s never spoken mandarin and try to get them, even if they have very good hearing, to mimic some of the tones and sounds, they’re not going to have the musculature and the control in their throat, in their vocal cords to produce those sounds. It doesn’t matter how smart they are. Similarly, I’m like, “Okay, I probably am not going to develop the attributes to do some of a lot of what you can do, but I wonder what I could do in a shorter period of time.”

Simon Coronel: And you could if you gave it long enough, but that may not be a thing that you care enough to do, and that’s nothing wrong with that.

Tim Ferriss: So when you’re teaching, let’s say these introductory courses, what did the course look like?

Simon Coronel: So it always began with exactly that question. And I usually cap it about 10 to 15 people. Now, it’s more one-on-one or very small groups, usually, on the occasions I do it. And it was always going around and asking, “First of all, why is everyone here? Why are you here? What do you want? What are you hoping to get out of this? And let’s see if we can find an overlap that we can achieve.” And I’ll also ask if they’ve ever either learned a martial art, or played a sport, or learned a musical instrument, or even just learn to drive a manual car.

And I’m looking for some way I can find an analogous experience of going up a mastery journey, going from “I have no idea how to do this thing,” and, “Now I can do this thing,” because a lot of people just tap out, they get demotivated and they are the common misconception that it’s about natural talent or natural dexterity that, “Oh, my hands are not big enough or not dextrous enough, or I won’t be able to do this.” And it’s like, “No, well, you learn that other thing. You’ll be able to learn this.” And that’s trying to find that way to reach them because I know from experience, that’s one of the common stumbling bits.

And then usually started by teaching a couple of basic tricks. And I always get some instant gratification because you want to have that response. You want to get them in some sort of flow state, give them a very simple thing, and then right from the start, the thing I do that’s pretty unusual compared to most teachers is from the very beginning I’m teaching them to put their own unique presentational spin on it.

It is always, ideally, “Do this trick in a way that no other person would do it exactly the same way. What are you saying? How are you saying it? What’s your vibe? Who are you? And how are you as you going to do this trick for whoever you do it for?” And the theory is that, particularly in a casual sort of social performance as opposed to a formal show like you saw, I sort of think that ideally the performance should be a bit different every time. You should never say exactly the same thing because the situation’s different. The being present to that person in that moment and how to guide that, how to feel that, how to keep it adaptable and keep it real and everything.

Tim Ferriss: How long were these courses that you’ve done in the small groups?

Simon Coronel: The ones I did back then, it was four weeks, four, three hour sessions once a week for a month. And it was pretty good. There’s a bunch of people who I’m still in touch with who got started there and that’s always very gratifying. But I love the different reasons why people would do it, there was a bartender who wanted to get better tips and I’m like, “Oh, cool.” That’s a very different thing to — that’s cool.

Tim Ferriss: That’s a great use case.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. There was a woman in her 70s who was developing arthritis and wanted something to do with her hands as more fun, occupational therapy. Great. That’s a totally different objective that we’ll teach to very differently. So there was certain author who was working on a novel, he was published author, legit, who wanted to research for a magician character and wanted to make sure he actually understood the source material. And I’m like, “I respect that. Good for you. I actually want to know what you’re talking about.” Doesn’t matter if he gets the side of hand down, he just needs to understand and be present. I’m like, “This is great.” These are all wonderful reasons that we can feed to all of these.

Tim Ferriss: So in my case, I would say that I would like to be able to use found objects, so rather than travel with a kit?

Simon Coronel: Yep. It’s very relatable and understandable.

Tim Ferriss: Sort of the dinner with the toothpick and the silverware. I can do that anywhere.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Feels more organic. It’s more relatable.

Tim Ferriss: And it could be — I mean this isn’t magic, but I had a friend who was incredibly good at turning paper napkins into roses and all sorts of stuff. And it was wonderful because it traveled with him. You could do it anywhere. 

The question I have next, I suppose, because you mentioned, kind of lead into this with what you just said, are there any films or books that relate to magic in some way that you like or that magicians like? And the reason I ask is because I’m sure there are a ton that you do not like. And I have one friend who’s an extremely high-level professional drummer. I loved the movie Whiplash. He can’t watch it though because there are all these technical aspects that they took a lot of creative license with. So are there any movies, docs, books, anything that comes to mind?

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s a few because an interesting one because you’ve got the — to start with the very famous one, The Prestige is interesting because I would rate its magic accuracy is extremely lowclose-u, but it’s a good movie. I like the movie. The complete — couple of things that actually gets pretty good, but mostly they never kill the doves in the cages, the whole twins. It’s very not representative, but good movie. I liked it.

In terms of magic accuracy, there’s a book I would recommend to anyone, a book called Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer, which is the only magic history book I’ve ever completely enjoyed. I’m not a good non-fiction reader. I need a plot to keep me going. Hiding the Elephant‘s amazing, you learn a lot about perception, psychology, history, Houdini, goes into some of the details, really interesting and a good read. Patience. Arrested Development, a cult classic sitcom. I remember when it came out in the Melbourne magic scene, we were watching this show. It was just hilarious and incredibly written going. And there’s GOB Bluth the magician character who plays this awful, awful magician parody character, but it’s like it’s accurate, awful parody. And that’s not normally the case, Burt Wonderstone, for example. Again, good movie, not accurate for magic. It’s this whimsical, silly thing of fine GOB Bluth, whoever wrote this knows the magic industry. It’s too on the nose.

Tim Ferriss: It’s kind of like when musicians talk about Spinal Tap.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Exactly.

Tim Ferriss: And then the lost backstage, and not being able to get through the curtains.

Simon Coronel: Exactly. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: This person knew.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. GOB Bluth, Arrested Development is that for magic. It’s so dead on. The gothic castle is a perfect parody of the Magic Castle. The Alliance of Magicians is so in the same way that the real estate people are parodies of awful real estate tropes. The magic is so accurate in this twisted parody way. It’s so good. In fact, it turns out, I think it was Mitch Hurwitz is like a Magic Castle member and knows the industry. I’m like, yep, that checks out.

Tim Ferriss: So there are a number of docs that I’ve watched. I’ve had this maybe fascination from a distance with magic for a long time, but I’ve never jumped into it because I haven’t known how, in part because it’s so expansive in its scope. I’m like, I don’t know how to do this. Whereas if it’s something like a language, it’s like, “Okay, well let’s figure out what a thousand most frequently occurring words are. Let’s figure out the sentence structure.”

I know how to break it down. Whereas with magic, I’m like, “Ah, how do we boil this ocean?” “I’m not really sure.” But I have watched a bunch of docs. I really enjoyed Dealt, which is a fantastic documentary about Richard Turner, who lives near Austin in San Antonio, who lost his eyesight. And — 

Simon Coronel: Extraordinary guy.

Tim Ferriss: — is one of a kind, an amazing character, an incredible card mechanic. Also, An Honest Liar about — is it The Amazing Randi?

Simon Coronel: James Randi. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: James Randi. And that leads into my next question and here’s how it connects. So for people who watch An Honest Liar, Randi was famous as a magician, but he is also famous, and I’m not sure if he’s still around, but as a debunker. And he wanted to identify frauds and charlatans, and he actually provided a real service in a bunch of cases where there were some very manipulative cult-like figures who were convincing people to leave their medications and donate money and do all of these things that were certainly not in their best interest. I have noticed, at least among some of the magicians I’ve had exposure to who are from either the US, UK, or Australia, that there’s a strong atheistic identity. Okay.

Simon Coronel: Very common.

Tim Ferriss: Right. Now, on one hand, I can see why that would make sense. If you feel like you are able to identify part of your skill in magic is deconstructing illusion and truth seeking. But my question for you is, are there religious magicians out there? There must have been at some point, but — 

Simon Coronel: Oh, yeah. There still are.

Tim Ferriss: And the reason that I’m curious is I’m wondering is it almost a prerequisite to have an atheistic, or at the very least agnostic stance to be accepted by magicians now, if they’re from a sort of secular western frame?

Simon Coronel: There absolutely are religious magicians. And much like any demographic trend, it’s a huge spectrum of someone who’s a chill, observant Quaker, or whatever, who does magic all the way up to someone who’s an evangelical whatever, who uses magic in their sermons and everything in between. And again, this is not my area. I’m not really highly qualified to speak to it, but if you ever want a fascinating Google rabbit hole, just Google “gospel magic.” 

Tim Ferriss: Gospel magic.

Simon Coronel: As a genre. And there is a genre of magic that is products and books and things are released for about how to use magic with religious themes to communicate religious concepts. And it is fascinating without placing any value judgment either way on that. It is an eye-opening little niche that exists. Again, magic is broad and deep. There is so much more in there than you can imagine.

Tim Ferriss: Jigsaw puzzles. How on Earth did we get to jigsaw puzzles?

Simon Coronel: While struggling to be a professional magician and work out how to make a living and pay my rent, and afford healthcare in America, and all those things, and struggling really badly. I realized that also it really hit me that with magic, even the best case, you become David Copperfield or Penn and Teller or whoever, Shin Lim, you’re crushing it. Your shows are successful. It hit me that I realized I don’t enjoy doing the same thing day in, day out. And it suddenly hit me that even if I achieved “success in magic,” I still think I wouldn’t be happy. And that was a really confronting realization.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, totally.

Simon Coronel: And also, I was reading a lot of passive income is good, trying to work out my long-term financial future, learning more about business theory and everything else. And basically, long story short, someone I knew was thinking of making some jigsaw puzzles and ran into the idea that I had been working completely separately with the engineering and geometry in math and programming background on these scenes called geometric vanishes, which is a genre — the most famous one is the infinite chocolate illusion that many people have seen on — 

Tim Ferriss: Which I haven’t seen, but I need to look it up.

Simon Coronel: Look it up. Infinite chocolate illusion. It’s great. You chop up a block of chocolate and rearrange the pieces and it looks like you remove a piece, but the block is still intact. It’s a really delightful, very clever little geometric illusion. And I had a bunch of ideas on ways I could use this. A lot of the material I do starts with me seeing something that’s pretty good, and I’m like, “I think this could be better. I think there’s more here than is being explored.” That’s where a lot of my things begin.

And again, I went, what is an egg on it? I’m like, “Okay, let’s really…” and went away the as Jordan’s very accurate story. And I’m like, “What is going on here? Let’s really get into this.” And started drawing diagrams and doing mathematical research and reading the source material. And six months later I found that when I work on things, 19 out of 20th go nowhere, or like, “Okay, but not great.” And I’m like, “Oh, well, that’s fine. That’s just the ratio it takes to try stuff.” And this one was like that, I sort of had some ideas, but it never got there, but I’d done all the reverse engineering. I knew what an egg was in that regard. And then it was the sort of like, “What if we just make a product that goes on shelves and jigsaw puzzles are popular.” But at the time they were all kind of boring.

They were just get a piece of art whacking on a puzzle. And while we were talking about this ran the idea of like, “Wait a minute, could that geometric vanish be applied to a jigsaw puzzle?” I’m like, “I don’t know, but maybe.” And I went away and didn’t shower for six days and went fully into the tank. I went into full creative mode and realized, “Yeah, I think can, there’s a few complicated constraints on how it would have to happen and how the dial lines would be cut, but I think this is doable.” And again, long complicated story, ledger then did some prototypes and eventually put the puzzles up on Kickstarter. And by absurd coincidence, this happened to be right at the beginning of the first 2020 pandemic lockdown.

Tim Ferriss: So for you guys, good timing probably.

Simon Coronel: Kind of too good. I learned a term apparently that it originates from Xerox: a success disaster, whereas something is so big it causes problems, and it’s actually worse than if it had been smaller.

Tim Ferriss: Sometimes I call that the hug of death.

Simon Coronel: Yeah. Completely. In so many ways because also this was a time where — so in the pandemic lockdown, global supply chain crisis, this was like before it was cool, we were having a supply chain crisis before the rest of the world was, it was just insane and dealing with it. But the puzzles were good, and I suddenly realized, oh, my God, this is a thing, maybe I don’t have to just want to shoot myself in the face from trying to be a professional magician all the time. Maybe I can actually be a product designer and create beautiful things that bring people happiness and wonder and joy that then I just scale and sell, and I don’t have to be just dealing with the contracts and the negotiation and the hustling and just the exhausting dynamics of doing it. And it was this real revelation of realizing that all the things about that I’d learned in software engineering and in psychology and in magic, they’re all kind of the same. It’s all experience design to some degree.

And it was an amazing exercise to be able to apply all of that thinking and realize it absolutely translates across different fields, and applying that to a jigsaw puzzle to give the same experience of surprise wonder delight. And it was a real eye-opener for me, and now as I think about the future, I’m like, “Okay, what else can we apply these thinking to? What is the next thing that can use this kind of background and understanding of human experience, and psychology, and engineering, and everything else to make optimize something else in a surprising way?”

Tim Ferriss: You have some good friends as far as I can tell to help with thinking through these things as well.

Simon Coronel: We’ll find out.

Tim Ferriss: You have a good crew, lots of special agents. And so that is the number- one-backed puzzle of all time, a Kickstarter. And I highly recommend people check this out, so I have not yet received mine, but certainly magic puzzle company. People need to check out People can find you at Where would you like your show to go? What is your sort of ideal dream manifestation of that? What does it look like?

Simon Coronel: Mostly this show began — the show launch I don’t know yet. I’m going in there with the beginner’s mind. I’m not sure. I’ve learned that no matter what you expect — I was talking about this with my good friend, Vyom Sharma, medical doctor and magician in Melbourne. After FISM, I went through, as I’ve learned is not uncommon after a massive success, I went into a deep existential depression for about six months, which was a really weird, complicated, messy time for all kinds of reasons that — and one of the many things that helped me claw out of it was something actually he said that, “As we see throughout history, all the time you can have the best plan. You can have everything figured out. You know what you’re doing, you’ve got the plan, it’s going to be great, and then out of nowhere it can fail. Or you can also have no idea what you’re doing, no idea where you’re going, but move forward, work hard, be a good person, keep your eyes open and things can just work out of nowhere.”

And so it made me kind of feel more okay that I didn’t know where I was going or what I was doing. Which is a lot of the cause of, “Well, what do I do now? How do I make a living? What is going to happen?” And so that’s kind of where I’m at with the show right now. I don’t know, but I want it to — I first had the idea of this show back in 2013 as sort of a full show version of this idea of take a moment to preserve it in the world in a wonderful way. And it has never quite hit the full vision of the vision in my mind of what it was going to be. It’s very close now. Thanks to Chad and thanks to another friend, Tim, who introduced me to Chad, and a few other people. Again, the team, the wonderful people who have been involved.

Right now, I mostly want to see it hit the full vision. I want to see the full version of it. And it’s like 90 percent there now. It’s a few more improvements. And just for my own internal spiritual satisfaction, I want to close this plot arc. It’s what took me to the World Championship. I just wanted to end the story. Just wanted to try the thing, see what happens.

Tim Ferriss: Find the thing.

Simon Coronel: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Complete the story arc.

Simon Coronel: I don’t know, and then whatever comes next, we’ll find out. Maybe nothing. Maybe that’ll be it and it’ll go nowhere. That often is what happens with these things. Maybe it’ll go somewhere.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I mean, sometimes doors close, sometimes more interesting doors open than we could have planned for.

Simon Coronel: Right. And from the ashes, new phoenixes are sometimes born.

Tim Ferriss: Is there anything else you would like to say? Any requests to my audience? Anything at all that you’d like to add before we wrap up, this first recorded conversation?

Simon Coronel: How many more hours have you got? Well, the world’s confusing. The world’s complicated. It’s difficult. It’s hard. For most people, it’s just really hard. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have to be great as well. I don’t know. Yeah. I’m wary of advice. Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. But I mean pontificating, it’s not necessarily equal prescription.

Simon Coronel: Yeah, true. True.

Tim Ferriss: So I think that’s a good place to wrap.

Simon Coronel: Try the puzzles, they’re delightful.

Tim Ferriss: I’m trying the puzzles.

Simon Coronel: I’m a person who is incredibly critical of his own work. Every time I watch back a show, I’m like, “Ah, the audience liked it, but I’m unhappy. The puzzles are so good. They just really make me smile with just how well they turned out. It’s a beautiful thing.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s the reason they’ve been backed as much as they have been backed. And there’s a lot of excitement as people will see online if they go look around Check it out, folks. And for links to everything we’ve talked about, you can find them in the show notes as per usual at Thank you, Simon.

Simon Coronel: My pleasure.

Tim Ferriss: Appreciate it. And until next time, folks, be a little kinder than as necessary, not only to others, to yourself as well. And thanks for tuning in.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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