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When it all goes wrong...

What do you do when it all goes wrong? Well, I have worked practically every single week for the past 6 years in restaurants and pubs. If you ever want to discover what CAN go wrong and what WILL go wrong, this is the place to gig. I promise you, you’ll run into many, many interesting scenarios!

You might presume that after thousands of hours of gigging in these environments that nothing goes wrong now, right? Well, it is such a diverse environment, some things inevitably still go wrong. A few weeks ago, I had a drunk spectator slap an entire deck of cards out of my hand and onto the floor. I’ve had props (expensive props!) thrown across the table and even have people dipping their hands into my jacket pocket to find out ‘where the cards went’ when I made the Omni-deck appear.

You might now think that maybe I work in particularly ‘rough’ areas. I don’t! And I’ve learnt over years and years of gigs, these things can happen anywhere. So, should we be scared of these things happening and bury our heads in the sand thinking ‘it’ll never happen to me?’ Or should we discuss these events openly and share the knowledge of how we got out of them?

I think the latter…

So here we go! When the cards were slapped from my hands, what did I do? Well, the worst thing to do is become aggressive or raise your tone. I come from a customer service background and I have worked for some big companies including for the John Lewis Partnership here in the UK. When in a professional environment, even when a customer is screaming and shouting and it is nothing to do with you, you have to remain calm and collected. I think the same thing in these situations. One of the hardest skills to have in these situations is self control. The problem is, if someones behaviour is getting more intense, that typically makes your behaviour get worse. That spurs them to get even more angry and visa versa. No one wins in this situation. So, stay calm and make it a part of your act.

A wonderful reaction to Two Card Monte. The second reaction is when he notices

his cards are sticking out of my top jacket pocket. I load them in when the

first reaction is happening to add a kicker!

I asked the man to leave the cards on the floor and I asked him to name his favourite playing card, just to make sure it wasn’t one of the face up cards. Once he named the card, he was instantly invested in what I was going to do. He was expecting me to be upset or angry or annoyed at the situation but, I changed his perception of the situation and therefore, he wasn’t expecting this to happen. It makes everything suddenly much more interesting. The funny thing is, I told him to collect up all of the face up cards and because (I’m presuming… and maybe a bit of guilt for his actions) the situation seemed so strange and I asked him to leave some on the floor, he was compliant. He picked up all the face up cards. Then, I had him eliminate one side of the cards and pick them up face down. He handed them to me and I added them to the top of the deck. I turned the deck towards me and fanned through the faces seeing if his card was actually one of the ones just handed to me. If it is in there, I subtly cut it to the top of the deck. If it isn’t in there, I turn the deck back face down. In both instances, I say, “well done! You’ve not found it yet!”. I have him continue to do this until we have one face down card on the floor. There are two eventualities here. Either, I have his card now onto of the deck or, by some absolute miracle, his card is still on the floor. If it is on the floor, get him to turn it over and you’ll be a God! If it isn’t on the floor, pick it up and perform a double lift. Equally… a God!

His reaction was incredible and before he turned over the last card, he preempted what was going to happen and said something the effect of, “I swear if this is my card, I’m gone!” And sure enough, he ran away from his friend’s in shock when I revealed the card. A simple save to a normally horrific issue.

One of the biggest issues I’ve faced doing restaurant work is, it is easy to become complacent. Just because you’ve done hundreds of shows, It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be a bit more ‘present’ in the moment. Last week, a friend of mine Jack who is also a magician came to a residency to see me work. When there, I performed Double Cross to a lady and she felt me stamp her. For the first time in quite literally YEARS and hundreds of times performing it, she felt it. It was entirely my fault. I had been complacent and gone into ‘auto pilot’, not considering what I was doing. But what did I do? I just carried on! She said, “I know what you did” and turned her hand over to show the cross. Not ideal. So, I said, “excellent! Now you have that cross on your hand, let’s use it as a marker. X marks the spot! Here I have a Rubik’s cube. Pick a colour and put it on top and then place the X on it to cover it”

Then I went into the MD Mini by ProMystic. I just carried on and owned the moment. She felt me stamp her on the hand but she didn’t know that was a ‘secret’. So I took responsibility and told her, she was meant to feel it and it was there so she knows where to position her hand. They will remember the good parts generally so that moment was nearly definitely erased in her mind by the end of the set. Equally, they had a bit to drink by that point so, they probably wouldnt remember in the morning anyway!

The point here is, your audience never know which direction you’re going in even thought to you it might be obvious. So change the direction of an awkward moment, don’t escalate things and use it to your advantage.

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May 18, 2022

I used to do Jiggernaut by Mark Jenest and I would use real olives from the bar. And one time I actually had a guy take a bite out of one of the olives! Couldn't believe that he actually did it! I played it totally tounge and cheek. At the end, the table was upset with him for doing it! Couldn't have planned it better!

May 18, 2022
Replying to

Another time while doing the same trick, a guy wanted me to produce a engagement ring magically and I told him sure, just give me a heads up before you come in to the restaurant. But of course he called me last minute and said that he would be there in like 15 minutes. Normally when I do it I pop a lime out for the final load. This time I popped the ring into her hand, and said "normally when I do this, something pops out at the end. sometimes it's lemon, sometimes it's a potato my point is,I never really know. I popped it out and said, look it there, it's a couple carrots!" They loved it!


Mark Foster
Mark Foster
May 15, 2022

Thought provoking post Jamie. I suppose the moral is always be ready for the unexpected, regardless of how many times you have performed.

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