Gardyloo #56

"You're not thinking of a red card, are you?... I knew it."

If you use this type of sentence structure in the course of some sort of fishing in a mentalism routine, there's a decent chance you're not very good at what you do. I can make that statement because being a good mentalist (or magician) means being able to listen to your audience and give an honest assessment of what works and what doesn't work.

This weaselly sentence structure (that some mentalists suggest will be seen as a "hit" either way) has never—in the history of mentalism—come across as anything other than the mentalist flailing to get a piece of information that he has no clue about.

I've made this point before (in more detail) in an earlier post on this site.

This ploy has never caused a single spectator to think, "Wow, how did you know that?" And the reason it doesn't is because it's a question. It's said as a question. And your spectator realizes it's a question. 

But Andy, I've heard many famous magicians and mentalists use this sort of sentence structure while fishing.

I've seen it used by dozens of mentalists and magicians too. And when the spectator knows the potential options are binary, this only ever comes across as a dodgy guess. (If the spectator doesn't know the options are binary—if, for example, you know they're thinking of one of two cards, but they think they could have been thinking of any card in the deck—then this ploy is a little less transparent.)

In the previously linked post I suggest the alternative I use (which is to make a definitive statement and be right 50% of the time and deal with being wrong the other 50% of the time). I find this much preferable than coming across like a goon 100% of the time.

Here is 5th Beatle, Devin Knight, trying to use this tactic in his recent Penguin Live lecture. You'll notice the spectator doesn't react as if he's provided information, she reacts as if she's giving him information, because she is. And what does the audience do? They laugh, because it such a shitty, obvious gambit that they assume he must have meant it as a joke.

I had an email this week about the subject of hecklers and I was reminded of something that I want you to keep in mind if you're a non-professional. Especially if you're younger.

There is something that is true only for amateur magicians and for those who reach the status of, say, David Copperfield, and that is this:

You never have to perform for anyone who isn't 100% into engaging with your performance and enjoying the interaction.

Strolling performers, restaurant performers, guys who do corporate shows or school shows, kids performers—magicians at almost every other level— they have to work to win people over, at least some of the time. But you don't have to if you don't want to. 

As I said, this is primarily geared at younger performers who are concerned about dealing with antagonistic spectators, although it's true for all of us.

But understand what heckling is. Heckling is not someone saying, "You turned over two cards," or, "You still have the coin in that hand." That's not heckling, that's helping. Address the weakness in your technique or in the effect and you'll only get better. You don't need to fear this. If someone busts you, just say, "Damn. You got me." Don't let your ego get involved.

"Heckling" is when someone is unwilling to engage with the experience in a positive manner. You have the power in this situation because you can just choose not to perform for these people. It can be confusing because magic has the element of trickery going on so performers often confuse people not being fooled or noticing some element of the method as them being "hecklers," but don't get caught up in that trap. Remove the magic element altogether. Instead imagine yourself doing something respectable... like being a stripper. If you were an amateur stripper, stripping for someone who was being hostile, you'd just step off stage. You'd feel no inclination to perform for them, instead you'd go find the audience who is drooling, whooping, and creaming their jeans over your fat ta-tas and entertain them.

Penguin magic has hosted about 280 different lecturers for their Penguin Live series. Of those, I believe seven have died:

  • Tom Mullica
  • Daryl
  • Aldo Colombini
  • Harry Anderson
  • Bob Cassidy
  • Eugene Burger 
  • Don England

(When I say, "I believe," I don't mean that I'm not sure that those guys are all dead. I mean there might be more I'm not remembering.)

Now look, I'm not suggesting anything nefarious here. Just pointing out that if you lectured for Penguin there is a 1 in 40 chance you're dead. Test pilots and ice road truckers don't die that frequently.

Actually, what really made me think about this was the passing of Harry Anderson. His daughter and I run in the same circles and she's always been a delightful person to be around.

I was thinking of her and her father recently and so I rewatched her father's Penguin live lecture and I was very happy to have this record of his teaching and talking about magic.

You may not remember, but when the Penguin lectures first started, they got a lot of flack. I can't remember the reason why. I have a feeling there wasn't a reason why beyond, "This is something new so I don't like it." But now, a few years later, isn't it fortunate that we have good quality video of these people not only performing, but teaching magic as well (in a relaxed, conversational way—as opposed to the way they might teach on a commercially released magic DVD)? 

The fact of the matter is, that list of dead magicians... that's just going to get longer. And these live lectures are just going to become more valuable as a record of those we've lost as both people and performers. This may sound like the world's most morbid sponsored post, but no one's paying me shit for this. It's just something that was on my mind.

Here's a thought for Penguin. The next time someone dies (the smart money is on Andi Gladwin) make their lecture half price for a few days and donate all the proceeds to a charity chosen by the deceased's family. It's a win-win for everyone. And no, this isn't just some clever ploy of mine to save $15 by suffocating Josh Janousky and then picking up his lecture at a discounted rate.