Here’s another common question I get a lot. At some time in all of our lives we come across a complete jerk when we are performing. They talk over us as we perform and grab at anything they can to try to ruin the trick. So, here’s how I handle these situations.
First, see if you can avoid confrontation before it begins. Here are two thoughts on that.
Make sure you have the right tone when you perform. There’s a subtext in magic that rubs some people the wrong way. With each effect you do the subtext is, ‘I’m fooling you and I’m smarter than you.’ This annoys some people and they’ll begin to give you trouble. So my first tip is make sure you aren’t initiating hecklers with an abrasive persona. Don’t say things like, “So, bet ya didn’t know how I did that one.” If you do, you’re going to create hecklers.
The next tip is spectator selection. You may have a mixed group of people you’re performing for. One spectator in particular keeps hounding you to try to fool him. (AKA Come at me Bro Syndrome.) As you perform, he’s constantly talking or trying to draw attention back to him. He’s just fighting for the spotlight. He’ll say things like, “Wow, you’re good. But not as good as David Blaine. How did Blaine do the one with the coin?” or “Hey Chris, sign the card with the name Bob instead!! That’ll get him.” or “Bet you can’t fool me.” Or this classic, “Oh, I caught that palm, I saw how he did it!!” (But you actually didn’t palm anything.) As much as you’d like to destroy him, just don’t pick him as a spectator. If you pick him and he starts giving you a hard time, it’s purely your fault. Use people that are enjoying the show.
Let’s say you’ve done your best to avoid one but you’ve ended up with a real bad spectator that’s heckling you like crazy. Johnny Heckler says, “Let’s see the card on top. Show me what’s in that hand. Let me count the cards. What’s on the bottom of the deck? Give me the deck so I can put my card where I want.” You know the ones. My advice is to find out where they live and if they have any small pets. (I’m joking!! I’m… kind-of joking.) Here’s the solution and it’s so simple: Just ignore them. Don’t look at them. Don’t prove them wrong when they’re wrong. Don’t answer any of his questions. Just do the trick exactly as you’ve rehearsed it and stay on script. It’s that easy. Now, you’ll be SO tempted to prove him wrong. But don’t. Let’s play out both scenarios.
He says, “Show me the bottom of the deck” and you do. He says, “Show me what’s in your hand” and you do. He says, “Count the cards again” and you do. You’re putting him in charge. He makes any request and you instantly respond by doing as he pleases. The audience isn’t thinking about the magic effect any more. They’re just watching this contest between you and the heckler. Eventually, the heckler may ask for something you can’t do. You’ve lost the contest. You look like a loser and the audience is amazed someone figured you out. Even if you successfully respond to all of his requests, you still aren’t showing the magic you intended. You’re showing a contest. You’re still losing. Each trick becomes a contest as you continue your show.
Now let’s play this out my way. He says, “Show me the bottom card of the deck” and you ignore him continuing with the effect. He says, “Show me what’s in your hand” and you ignore him and continue with the effect. He says, “Count the cards again” and you ignore him and continue with the effect. You have now made him look like a loser. You’re trying to perform for a group of people and this one guy won’t shut up. By ignoring him, you’ve turned him into that guy at the movie theater that talks during the entire film. (We’ve all wanted to kill that guy for ruining our experience.) If he persists, and you continue to ignore, the audience will help you. They’ll ask him to be quiet or go away. Or, he’ll simply get tired of annoying you. It’s no fun for him if you don’t play along. I can tell you from experience, ignoring hecklers always works.
I’ve had my share of hecklers. I’ve tried it both ways. I’ve destroyed a few spectators from time to time. I walk away with the satisfaction of putting him in his place. I’d perform a sucker ending effect and let him fall right into it. Then, drenched in sarcasm, I’d say, “Great job, Champ. No, no… You’re doing a great job. I’ll talk a little slower next time so you can follow along with the rest of the group.” But all that did was made me look like a bigger jerk. What client wants to hire someone that’s going to destroy his or her guests? I’ve also gone up against some real hard-hitting hecklers. Sometimes they’re so smart and so fast. (You might be going up against someone like Jimmy Carr!) They’re like professional a**holes. You might end up looking really bad if you engage them. The problem here is that they can step way over the line. They can take it too far. It’s their party and they can do what they want. You’re being paid and you’re a guest. There’s a definite line that you can cross. You’re the performer and you have to be professional. Once you start with them, you’re in their arena.
So, if you ignore these people you are avoiding all sorts of terrible situations. Just do the effect as you rehearsed it and trust me, you’ll be fine. It’s that easy. And then find their car in the parking lot before they leave.
Jason, really great, great advice over here!
Yes, really great advice. You are correct. This always works in performing magic. I sometimes will use the heckler as a spectator (if they’re not too brash) and make it seem like he’s in on the effect. I’m not sure if this will work for everyone, because I think my character personality makes it work. However, that has always made the heckler/spectator quiet down by giving them some of that attention they so crave. I try to turn them into a friend as opposed to shutting them down. Often after that, the heckler is now telling others “how good a magician” I am and to watch my performance.
Hi Jason, great article. Do you have any advice on what to do if the heckler knows some magic and starts naming the particular technique or sleight that you’re using and basically explaining what you are doing in real time? Would you ask them to stop or just move on to performing for another group (although I realise the latter option might not always be possible)?
Wrap up the effect he’s explaining immediately and move to a new group. If he follows, approach him privately and tell him to stop. This type of heckling has only happened to me once and I just couldn’t believe that another magician would sit in the back of the room explaining the methods as I did the trick.