Dear Jerxy: F'ing Up



Dear Jerxy: I don't recall you ever writing about the following:

In your style of performing, what do you do if you mess up?

In regular non-Jerx style of magic, for example a card trick, if you mess up, you always can fall back on the "...wait. uh... six of HEARTS you said?...uh, there's no six of hearts in the deck.... its in my pocket..." Or whatever mediocre "save" you can come up with.

But in Jerx- style, when your whole experience is based on a premise, I don't really see how you could save a mistake. [Offhand, I can think of numerous Jerx tricks where if something messes up, the ending is gone and there's nowhere to turn.] You're kind of at the point of no return.

I assume in all your thousands of times, you must've messed up here and there. What do you do?

Eventually Failure Finds Even Demigods

Dear Effed:

The answer to the question is in the question itself. You ask about how I handle screwing up in my style of performing. The answer is to have a style of performing that handles failure well. 

The style of performing that deals with failure the worst is the magician-centric style, where you are the all-powerful prime-mover making it all happen. If you fully embrace this style, then messing up is going to reflect directly on you. 

In the styles I embrace, with the power shifted off you, you're generally not taking credit for the success, so you don't have to take credit for the failures either. This is another instance where your Performance Style can solve a lot of potential issues.

Let's go through the Styles and see how they handle failure. (Further info on Performance Styles can be found linked in their glossary entry.) 

Peek Backstage: If I have a trick that is anything less than 95% certain, I almost always perform it in this style. And that's because this style is designed to be "something I'm working on." So the possibility of failure is built into the style. And, in fact, I often purposely screw something up to make the eventual success more interesting. So something not working is completely covered by this style.

Of course you messing up, or the spectator messing up, or a gimmick malfunctioning and a trick "not working" is only one type of failure. Another type of failure—and one that's harder to recover from—is when the method gets fully exposed. I find this type of failure to happen pretty rarely. Even if something messes up bad I can usually hide the method itself.

But with the Peek Backstage, you can deftly brush off even a blown method. Let's say someone busts you on a double lift. "There's two cards there," they say. 

Here's what you do: "Okay, yes! Thank you. I knew it. So I'm on this secret magic message board and this guy was posting this stuff about this new technique he came up with where you hold two cards like they're one. And everyone was like, 'Uhm, I think that's going to be a little obvious.' But this guy—who is a total blowhard—was like, 'No it works. People are stupid, they can't tell, blah blah blah. Just try it out.' I knew he was full of shit."

Distracted Artist: This is a style of magic that happens on the offbeat with no prologue. It's very hard to mess this up because people don't know a trick is coming, so if it doesn't work, you just don't draw attention to it.

Example: Let's say you want to do Karate Coin. But instead of making it a "trick" you're just going to flip a coin and jab it with your finger and then be like, "HOLY SHIT!" 


But what if you mess up? What if you miss the normal coin and it goes flying across the room and the gimmick flips out of your hand into your friend's drink. Even a catastrophic failure such as that doesn't matter because as far as they know you were just screwing around with some coins. When they pull the gimmick out of their glass and they're like, "What is this?" You just say, "I don't know. I found it on the street. I thought it looked interesting."

It's difficult for a trick to truly fail if nobody knows a trick was happening.

Engagement Ceremony: With the Engagement Ceremony style, the power is shifted to the ritual. If the trick doesn't work, then the ritual didn't work. That's not your fault.

Wonder Room: With the Wonder Room style, the power is shifted to the object. If the trick doesn't work, then the object doesn't apparently possess the power you thought it had. That's not your fault.

The only Performance Style I use regularly that doesn't process failure well is The Romantic Adventure. This is built around an immersive presentation that is usually a more long-form experience for the spectator, so if something messes up, the build-up to the effect is pretty much wasted. So when doing an effect in that style I want to have something that's basically foolproof and have a back-up for it. 

On top of that, I only engage in this style with a person when I know they're the type who isn't going to fight the presentation in any way (this style is no fun for someone who isn't 100% on board). So if I know they're the type of person who is going to grab a gimmicked deck out of my hands, I wouldn't build a long-form experience around a trick with a gimmicked deck for them. 

Ultimately, this is all a matter of risk assessment. If a trick has a significant chance of messing up, I just don't do it. If it has a measurable chance, then I use a performance style that will account for a mess up. If, despite my planning, something fucks up spectacularly in a way I hadn't anticipated and I have no way to recover from it, I have the ultimate back-up plan: the fact that I don't give a shit. I have no ego wrapped up in my performances. Everyone involved knows they're just meant to be a good time. Maybe once a year I'll mess something up totally in a way there is no turning back from and no covering up and no rebounding from at a future date. In that case I say, "Aw, damn," and we all move on with our lives. Everyone else will only put as much emphasis on it as you do, so if you blow it off, so will they.

This is true of everything in your life that you mess up. Don't dwell, move on, and it will be forgotten.