Late Night Television

Published on September 16th, 2011 | by Sharilyn Johnson


Colbert’s coin trick: how it’s done

I’m a sucker for close-up magic. It automatically turns me into a wide-eyed 5 year-old. (Funny enough, Stephen Colbert tends to have the same effect.)

On Thursday night’s Colbert Report, Stephen demonstrated a “problem” he’s had his entire life. He always puts one coin in his hand. And then another. He’ll close his fist, and when he reopens it, there’s only one coin. What’s the deal with that, he asks guest David Copperfield.

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Two coins become one. Casual magic fans would skip their PVRs back a bit to try to catch what Colbert actually did with that extra coin. Did he do a quick transfer into his unoccupied hand? Nope, we saw the coins in plain view, untouched. Did he drop it through his fingers? Nay, they were tightly pressed together.

What Colbert used was called “Scotch and Soda”, special coins purchased from a magic dealer. In most examples, the coins are two different colours and sizes, but they do exist in the form that Colbert used — nearly identical sizes, same colour.

The key is “nearly” identical sizes. The smaller coin is placed on the bottom, in his palm. The slightly larger coin is placed overlapping. The larger coin has a hollow bottom, so when he makes a fist, there’s enough of a shift in the coins that the bottom one fits perfectly into the top one. Ta-daa: two coins become one.

Scotch and Soda apparently comes in both a regular version and a magnetic version. I believe the non-magnetic version takes a bit of pressure in order to fit together, so this was likely magnetic.

As much as I’d love to imagine that we’ve stumbled upon a goldmine (er, sterling mine?) of Colbert talents that have previously gone unshowcased, Scotch and Soda is considered incredibly easy.

Here’s an example of a similar trick being done on Youtube.

(And to all the magic secrecy purists out there: everything here is available elsewhere online.)


About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.

26 Responses to Colbert’s coin trick: how it’s done

  1. alex says:

    thank you. I was trying so hard to figure out what he did. I will sleep much better tonight thanks to your explanation.

  2. Barrt Daft says:

    I don’t understand why you felt the need to tell all that.

  3. Sharilyn Johnson says:

    The same reason I feel the need to tell anything: people are interested. I’ve had literally thousands of people come here because they were looking for this via Google.

    As I mention at the end of the post: I knew none of this information before Thursday night. Zero. It’s called “research”. If you’re going to be annoyed at a spilled secret, blame the people who demo their tricks on Youtube, or post about them on messageboards. It took me less than 20 minutes to figure it out, from the comfort of my living room.

  4. Barrt Daft says:

    Thousands of people did not come here looking to see how maqgic tricks worked. If they did, they should have been left in suspence. Since you are interested in comedy perhaps you might have understand how upset and angry comics get when their material is stolen and the punchlines are out before they get to tell them. As for Youtube, just because others do it, it does not make it right and it is a pretty lame excuse for you to use. You of all people should understand this.

  5. Barrt Daft says:

    When I said I did not understand why you felt the need to tell all that, I was actually getting at something else anyhow. Its not you that you wanted to ruin the magic illusion but more that you wanted to ruin specifically,Colbert’s magic illusion. That is not really very nice and that is what I don’t understand.

  6. Sharilyn Johnson says:

    “Thousands of people did not come here looking to see how maqgic tricks worked.”

    Search terms that brought people here this morning:

    colbert coin trick
    how did colbert\’s coin trick work
    colbert magic coin trick
    colbert coin trick
    stephen colbert coin trick
    how did colbert do magic trick coins
    disappearing coin trick steven colbert

    “…when their material is stolen and the punchlines are out before they get to tell them”

    I’m not going to talk about “stolen” because standup material isn’t mass produced in China and sold in novelty stores. To to comparison to leaked material, the difference here is that 99% of the people reading this post already saw the show. Just like me, they saw the trick, and then went looking for an explanation. Not the other way around.

    Nothing is “ruined”. I’ve done nothing TO Stephen. This isn’t a signature, go-to trick that he rests his career on. Please stop being butthurt on his behalf.

  7. Barrt Daft says:

    I have not seen Colbert and his trick, it’s not available where I live. I did not come here to to find out about it. I came here as I always do to see what you’re up to and to read what you have to say. Normally I like it, but this page is shabby. No ammount of justification on your part, is in my mind, going to alter that. You have reduced your self to the level of the typical dumb ase, American kid with a new trick and a camcorder.

    To all the people that came here to see how Colbert did his trick, get a life.

  8. Ian says:

    I guess I’m one of the people Barrt Daft is telling to “get a life”. I just watched last Thursday’s Colbert Report online. I re-watched the little magic trick a handful of times but couldn’t figure it out, so I googled for how it was done. Colbert’s not a magician, so I figured it’d probably be amateur and easy to learn how he did it. But it was so slick, and I was super curious. This website was the first hit in google, and it gave a clear and concise summary of exactly what I was looking for, saving me the half hour I might have spent putzing around google and youtube to learn this. Thanks Sharilyn Johnson! I wouldn’t have written here at all, but after reading the argument here in the comments, I felt it necessary to add my two cents (which may, now, magically morph into one!).

  9. c-dub says:

    @Barrt Daft:

    The desire to know how a trick is done is fundamental to magic’s appeal. If a trick doesn’t make the audience wonder how it was done, it’s a failed trick. You can hardly blame people for following up on that impulse, especially since that curiosity and discovery aren’t capable of diminishing the skill and ingenuity of the magician (the contrary is more often true).

    Of course, there are people like you who would prefer for tricks to remain mysterious. That’s an equally valid way of appreciating magic – but if you know you’re one of those people, then you should also know to avoid reading a blog post called “Colbert’s Coin Trick: How It’s Done.”

    You’d have a better point to make, by the way, if this was a proprietary trick that was exposed without the author’s permission – but it’s not. It’s a common trick that can be purchased at any magic shop in the world. This isn’t akin to stealing a comedian’s material; it’s akin to reading an old joke out of a library book.

  10. Barrt Daft says:

    I agree with the analogy of an old joke out of a library book. I also realize I will have no luck trying to convince lay persons that they do not need to know how a magic trick works. But while you might have just come here to learn how a magic trick works, I know a great deal more about Sharilyn. I have read what she has to say, for a few years now and I thouht this post was a pretty cheap shot and she is capable of better.

  11. Buck says:

    Barrt, yes, you’re daft. Go back to playing World of Warcraft, where you might actually be able to protect a magician and all of his secrets. Thank you, Sharilyn!

  12. Bill says:

    I think Barrt is getting way too hyper and needs a nap.

  13. Phong says:

    Never been to this site before, but seeing Barrt’s ridiculous stance has incited me to respond. Maybe he’s trolling all of us, but I’m sure someone else out there is just as retarded and serious about it.

    I love how Barrt calls us all “lay people” for wanting to know how a trick is done. If people weren’t curious and wanted to find out how something worked, then we would not nearly be as technologically and scientifically advanced or knowledgeable as we are now. The desire to satisfy our natural-borne curiosity is what I would argue is the foundation of our intelligence–our one key trait that we hold in high regard when compared to other life forms on this earth.

    Barrt is clearly suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. If you don’t know what that is, I would say google it, but you’d probably rather prefer to keep it a mystery and remain as ignorant as ever, rofl.

  14. Barry Daft says:

    It was a typo, my name is Barry Daft.

    My point is Sharilyn appears to me to be exposing the magic trick, not so much to satisfy hers and yours curiosity but in order to deminish Colberts achievment. It is an unattractive trait I see occaisionally amongst some of the less well brought up children and chavs I might be performing for.

  15. coolotis says:

    wow. that was totally amazing. scotch and soda. one of the oldest coin tricks in the business. and you are exposing it…why? oh, dont worry magic purists..the imfo is already available? that is so lame. the imfo on how to blow up a building is also probably available, so will you be directing everyone over there too? exposing magic secrets makes you nothing more than a crummy fox masked magician…only less in your case.

  16. Sharilyn Johnson says:

    Coolotis, “that is so lame” is the kind of response I’d expect from an 8 year-old who just got assigned math homework. Please at least make a attempt to construct a proper argument, instead of pounding out a barely-readable comment that can be summerized as “you’re a stupidhead”.

    If you have so little confidence in your abilities that you think a blog entry about a coin trick is going to ruin your career, then either go see a therapist or get a different job. It’s not my responsibility to protect your self-esteem.

    I’m a journalist. I witnessed something that raised an eyebrow. I did research. I found answers from multiple sources. I reported those answers.

    I did my job, and there’s nothing irresponsible about the way I did it.

    Since you brought it up, anyone interested in how to blow up a building can give this a try:

    I’m sure everyone who clicked that link is now thinking to themselves “y’know, when I got up this morning I didn’t feel the need to blow up a building. But those instructions make it seem like a pretty darn good idea! Agnes, get your coat, we’re going out!”

    Now all I have to do is sit back and watch Anderson Cooper report on the mysterious sudden rash of explosions around the world. *munches popcorn*

  17. Gene says:

    Can’t wait to see the review of Peter Pan where we get a close-up look at the wires. Now that would be journalism in the best sense. Indeed, it may even be possible to find a youtube video that shows us how to do it – and it could be linked to this site. Some really crushing journalism would be an exposé of Spider-Man! As a follow-up piece we could have an in-depth report on those special effects that Hollywood’s been using to hoodwink us over the years. People would search the Web to find “the truth” that the Dark Star was really a model! (Oh, sorry, I wasn’t supposed to reveal that.) Got to love good journalism. Gets at the truthiness.

  18. coolotis says:

    what? math homework? 8 year old? what? confidence in my abilities? what? you crazy.

    i constructed the perfect argument for you. and i are a journalist too.

    here is the simple version for snotty journalists.

    some people make their livings performing old standards in magic, yes, and that may be of some concern to them that some dink is ruining their art. and…duh!!!…when you see how a magic trick is performed, it takes all the fun out of it. so going..hey look, i’m cool, i know how it’s done, i’m going to show everybody on my big jounalistic site, and everyone will think i’m the bomb. but it’s not cool, you are ruining for everyone.

    get it?

  19. coolotis says:

    haha. gene, didn’t see you there. magicians are coming. be scared, be very, very scared.

  20. Sharilyn Johnson says:

    “and i are a journalist too.”

    I’m very frightened. Just not for the reason you want me to be.

  21. Doug Sheppard says:

    “when you see how a magic trick is performed, it takes all the fun out of it.”

    Just listen to that crowd boo. I’m amazed that Teller got out with his scalp intact.

  22. Sharilyn Johnson says:

    No no Doug, you don’t understand — it’s not bad when you do a trick infront of cameras and distribute it. It’s only bad when you include the link on a blog and talk about it!! You’ve really done it now!

    RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, DOUG — I hear the magicians are coming.

  23. Richard Hart says:

    With the hindsight of three months added to the discussion, David Copperfield is still making about $100M a year with his magic, coolotis is still manufacturing the best magic products for the trade, and Sharilyn Johnson, self-proclaimed comedy and magic expert, is still relegated to the dustbin of the internet where she pretends to analyze comedy and magic because she can do neither.

  24. Sharilyn Johnson says:

    Awfully big sentence for such an uneducated person. Who helped you, Richard? That’s an even bigger mystery than the coin trick.

  25. Sharilyn Johnson says:

    I also want to point out here how laughably obvious it is when Coolotis has sent his little minions here to comment. I do *get* an overview of my traffic referrers, people. Richard was sent here from Coolotis’s blog at 11:22 this morning. Don’t think for a second that you’re fooling anyone, much less me. I can close these comments anytime I like, but you guys just insist on being so damn entertaining. It’s adorable.

    Related: thank you to Coolotis for increasing this post’s Google ranking with every person who clicks his link. This page is well on its way to becoming the first one people come to when they search for magic coins.

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