If you’re currently doing any of the three things below, I would recommend you stop. These are things that are used more often by professionals than amateurs, so you may think I’m in no position to comment on them. But they are all overt, audience-facing techniques, and you don’t need to be a fellow professional to see these don’t work.
“Can I get a bill from someone? Oh, thanks! [Puts bill in pocket.]”
Look, I get it, you need to switch the bill, and jamming it in your pocket seems like just about the easiest way there is to do so. The problem is, this is wildly transparent to people. I briefly mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that this was one of the first things we tested in the earliest days of the focus group testing, back when it was very informal and done for just a small amount of people. When shown a trick using this type of switch, the overwhelming majority of the group (it was either 7 or 8 out of ten) mentioned that moment as either being suspicious or being a likely part of the method in their written feedback to us.
Of course they did. In what context would borrowing something from someone and putting it in your pocket not arouse suspicion?
“I do it all the time and it fools people.”
Wanna bet? If you want to fund it, I’ll put you in touch with some of the people who help conduct the testing and you can come in and perform for a group of random people live (or do it on tape). I guarantee over half of them question the part where you put the bill in your pocket.
In fact, you should hope they question it. Here’s why: it’s not a funny joke. It’s maybe a 2 out of 10 as far as being funny goes. If you make this “joke” and it doesn’t stand out as being particularly lame, that means the rest of the “funny” lines in your show are equally as shitty.
What you should do instead: Beats me. I would say it depends on the trick you’re performing. One would think any sort of switch that doesn’t involve something going in your fucking pocket would be an upgrade.
The Dumb Mentalist
The conceit behind mentalism is that it is some form of advanced mental acuity so it always makes me laugh when—in the midst of an effect—the mentalist becomes briefly mentally retarded.
I wish I could remember the exact performance I saw (if it rings a bell for you, let me know) but it involved a mentalist reading the mind of a spectator who was thinking of an object and the performer said, “I’m getting some sort of vehicle… and it’s… on the water I think.” Now, instead of saying “It must be a boat,” like any 5 year old would in that circumstance, he still had his face contorted and felt the need to put together some more pieces. “I’m getting the sense of a triangle shape up here.” Yeah, dummy, it’s a sailboat. “And some other longer shape down below.” Still a sailboat, moron. “Is it maybe… a boat? A sailboat?”
What made his struggling even stupider was the fact that the person was thinking of one imagine from a number of different images provided by the mentalist. You could be mostly braindead and have a good idea it was a boat if you saw a triangle shape or knew it was a vehicle and you were the one who provided the 20 or so images they could choose from.
I’ve seen something similar when someone draws a house. The mentalist will be like, “I see a triangle on top of a square.” Okay, well every non-mentalist in the audience understands that’s probably going to be a house, so why are you still struggling?
What you should do instead: When using your “psychic vibrations” to discern something, don’t let the audience get a step ahead of you. You’re supposed to be the smart and intuitive one here. Instead, say things that are true but that wouldn’t obviously reveal the word or object they’re thinking of. There should be a leap in logic between the details you “see” and the thing you ultimately reveal.
For example, if they’re thinking of a sailboat you could say, “I’m getting a sense of motion…. I’m not sure if it’s the object moving, or something around the object. There’s something up in this area with a number of corners. Is it a kite? No wait… it’s a sailboat.” This way you’re still getting hits but there’s still a sense of revelation or surprise when you ultimately name it.
That is a much more satisfying structure than over-hitting to the point that it’s obvious. “It’s an animal. And it’s pretty small. I’m not sure what it could be… It has long floppy ears and a big bushy tail. And it eats carrots. And…hmmm… I’m sensing this is something a magician might find in his hat? Is that right? Okay, don’t tell me what it is. Is this something that might visit you on Easter? Okay… it’s coming to me….”
The Forced Standing Ovation
“Now, if I get this card right, I want everyone to jump up and applaud.”
Stop this sort of thing. It’s obvious and pathetic and it’s not fooling anybody.
“But if the booker sees the audience standing for me at the end of the show, then they’ll hire me again.”
Uh, was the booker’s brain recently pulled out through her nose like they used to do when prepping Egyptian mummies? Is that how fucking dumb she is? Are you really going to structure the climax of your show on the off chance the booker is half-paying attention and does notice the people standing at the end of your show, but doesn’t notice the fact that you told them to do so?
Have you never put yourself in the position of the audience to think how corny it would feel to be forced into giving someone a standing ovation?
What you should do instead: Create a show that generates an actual standing ovation, goofball. Don’t you want to be able to judge the strength of the show based on actual feedback rather than something you coerced them into doing?
Or just go the other way and string up our audience like marionettes and you can make them stand, clap, and stomp their feet at your whim. Apparently it’s all the same to you anyway.