Dear Mentalists: Pre-Show Work

Happy November, my darlings!

Today I have a quick tip about pre-show work for my dear friends in the mentalism community. 

In the past couple of weeks I have heard the following statements said by two mentalists in two different performances.

"Before the show today I spoke with a gentleman and asked him to think of any card in the deck. You never told anyone what it was? You never wrote it down, correct?"


"Earlier, before the show, I asked a person to think of any city anywhere in the world."

Do you notice a problem with these statements? It's an issue that's so glaring that I'm sure it's one of the first things mentioned in whatever the fundamental texts are that talk about pre-show work. And yet, I would say that I see it more often than not in routines that use pre-show. 

I almost feel dumb saying it myself. It would be like telling some coin guys, "Hey, when you do a false transfer you need to close the hand that 'takes' the coin or else people will see that there's nothing in it." But if you kept seeing people performing a false transfer like this


then you would probably say, "Huh, I guess people don't know they're not supposed to show the receiving hand empty after a false transfer."

So, again, I know this is basic, but enough of you are screwing it up that I think it warrants mentioning. 

What you claim to have done pre-show needs to be something that would be too cumbersome to do in the show itself.

It is wildly suspicious to say, "Before the show I asked someone to think of a card," because it takes two seconds to ask someone to think of a card, so it makes no sense to do that before the show. Especially when you spend a minute and a half telling people how fair the selection was. "You could have thought of any card, yes? You never wrote it down. You never told anyone. Nobody asked you what it was." Etc., etc. If this was all so above-board, why didn't you just do it in this moment rather than before the show?

I'm not suggesting pre-show has no place. (Although I think most mentalists would agree that there was a time, a few years ago, where the method was used and abused as a solution to every problem. "Drawing duplication? Just pre-show it! Any card at any number? Just pre-show a card, and pre-show a number! Straight-jacket escape? Just get out of it pre-show with the help of a buddy!") But you need to justify why you did this thing before the show. Maybe you needed to hypnotize the person, or interview them to find out how they think, or you needed to do it outside, or they had to draw the card they were thinking of to activate a certain part of their brain. I don't now, it's your show, you come up with something. But understand that coming out and saying, "Before the show I asked someone to think of a city," is only slightly more credible than coming out and saying, "Before the show, I placed a coin in this closed fist. Presto! It's gone!"