The table cloth pull trick is one of the most famous magic and juggling tricks in the world. While it’s probably more associated with magic, the origins and presentation of the trick stem from juggling. For those who aren’t familiar with the trick, the performer pulls a table cloth out from under a set of dinner ware. Check out the following video to see a classic example of the trick (with the addition of a live rabbit) performed by magician David Ginn.
There is no trickery to this feat. You do need the right props and technique, but you really do what you appear to do. Thus, this trick is much more a juggling feat than a magic trick.
To the best of my knowledge and research, the table cloth pull was invented by famed gentleman juggler Kara (1867-1939). You can see the trick mentioned in the description of Kara’s act that can be read by clicking here. I recently consulted with three magic historians, who all said that they were not able to find any mention of a magician inventing the trick or performing it prior to when Kara did it.
The props you need are a table cloth that has no hem along the edge that will go under the tableware, a smooth table, and heavy tableware with smooth undersides. You want to pull the cloth very quickly down and out away from the table. The following video teaches the technique and some of the science behind the trick.
Another variation of the table cloth pull that adds an additional juggling element can be seen below in a description by Joe Marsh from 1966.
Versions of this trick are currently performed by a number of jugglers. Ian Marchant is well-known for performing it, as you can see below.
Click here to see a version of it performed in the Pickle Family Circus in 1988.
It was also performed by Michael Pearse (Pearse Halpenny), who later taught Steve Rawlings to perform it.
Here is Steve Rawlings doing the trick.
Bob Cates from Canada has taken this trick one step further with a more interesting and old school balance. You can see his version below.
I (David Cain) figured out a way of combining toss juggling with the table cloth pull, as you can see in the following video.
Nathan Wakefield demonstrates two novel versions of the table cloth pull in the following video.
You can see Matt Pang do a novel version of the trick toward the end of the following brief video.
The juggler most associated with the table cloth pull trick today is probably Mat Ricardo, who was also trained by Michael Pearse. Mat not only does the traditional pull, but he does a reverse of the trick, putting the table cloth back under a set of table ware. This reverse trick was originally done by Hungarian juggler Emmerich Toerek in the 1940s and 1950s.
Matt can even switch a table cloth from one table to another in one motion.
The basic table cloth pull can be learned quickly if you have the right props. For a trick that’s over a hundred years old and so well known, it’s surprising that more variations aren’t known to exist. Why not get to work brainstorming new ways to doing it or incorporating it into your act. This is a timeless trick that is still waiting to be explored.