How do you handle an obnoxious spectator

Discuss your favorite close-up tricks and methods.

Postby Guest » 01/04/05 08:12 PM

I have been in magic for about 13yrs. I am by no means a pro but i can handle my own when it comes to cards and general close up magic. I normally only perform for friends, coworkers and at parties when asked. Recently over the christmas holiday while at a family christmas party for my fiances side of the family, my future mother in law asked me to do some magic. Of course i could not deny her. I am always prepared for $100 bill switch so i did that, a few card effects (ambitious card, card under the glass and cards to pocket) and made a napkin vanish and reappear. Nothing spectacular but the reaction from everyone was great, except for that one spectator i always hear about. He knew how everything was done (he thought) and would not shut up. He was so bad everyone else was getting irritated with him and they started telling him to shut up, to no avail. Any advice on how to handle the obnoxious spectator. I really wanted to punch him square in his face. Is there an effect anyone could recommend that could be done for a person like this that will shut them up?

Postby Bill Duncan » 01/04/05 09:43 PM

Simple enough. Stop whatever you are doing. Wait for hims to finish whatever he is saying. Make it clear he has the floor but do not make it appear an aggresive action.

When he stops talking hand him the pack and walk away.
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Postby Pete McCabe » 01/04/05 10:37 PM

Any time a spectator says they know how something is done, I smile at them, nod, and say in my best conspiratorial tone, "do me a favor, don't tell anybody else. Okay?"

And then, the most important part, I wait for them to say it's okay.

This has never failed, but then as an amateur I almost never perform for total strangers. Your mileage may vary.
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Postby David Acer » 01/04/05 11:23 PM

NO trick exists that will defuse an obnoxious spectator, and if it makes you feel any better, every single magician ON THE PLANET has experienced what you did. Moreover, this is NOT a reflection on how well you perform - it's about a disempowered individual who wants a kind of approval he will likely never earn.

My advice is to rent the movie "Comedian," a documentary that follows Jerry Seinfeld from comedy club to comedy club as he tries to create a new act following the demise of his NBC series. Here's a man who has undeniably reached the top of his field, and he STILL gets heckled by boneheads!
Now tweeting daily from @David_Acer
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Postby Guest » 01/04/05 11:25 PM

My approach for the same situation would be to excuse myself as inept and hand them the cards(or what ever) an ask them to let me know when they are done. When EVER some says they know how something is "done" I immediatly back off and give them the floor, and inform the spectators that this must be someone that "really" knows what's going on and they should give them their full attention. This pressure is a beautiful thing. Then offer the props and allow them to show "US". This gets the point across and believe me, the audience knows who is in charge. Remember, if you have your trick(s) practiced and smooth, you will smoke those wantabies. I was told once that,"in this world you must learn how to step on someones toes with out scuffing the shine on their shoes". Never hurt, just bite. Unless the bite hurts, in that case....never mind.

Postby Guest » 01/04/05 11:29 PM

By the ....David Acer put it better...maybe I should read before I speak(type)...oh what the..

Postby cataquet » 01/05/05 07:33 AM

I think David said it best - you can't prevent hecklers, nor can you handle them with a specific magic trick.

For me, my thinking process is as follows:
1 - Don't look bothered, or let the heckler get to you. If the heckler sees that he's bothering you, that will just encourage him. If he's got to you, he's thrown you off your game; you may eventually shut him up, but he's won.
2 - Remind him that magic is a form of entertainment, and a demonstration of skill, not a puzzle to be openly discussed (don't obviously use that wording). Depending on the audience, I might just turn to the guy and say "I bet you were the one that went around telling everyone that Santa Claus wasn't real. Please, don't ruin it for those that still want to believe in magic." However, if I am feeling particularly nasty, I will just take out a modelling balloon and ask him to help me with the next trick by blowing it up. He won't be able to, but even if he does, it'll tire him out. So, either way, you just take back the balloon, blow it up to it's full length and make a balloon dog. Then just look at the heckler and say "Knowing how it's done is one thing. Being able to do it is another". However, be careful with this last one, as sometimes the fact that you openly ridiculed a heckler may lead the audience to sympathise with HIM and not you.

It is often said that the audience will tell the heckler to shut up, but I like to stop him early (when he's just a spoiler and long before he can become a nuisance). In short, it's a delicate balance between telling him to shut the **** up, and kindly be quiet.
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Postby Rafael Benatar » 01/05/05 01:18 PM

Don't lose sight of your actual goal, which is to carry on with your performance without undue interruptions, and not to "defeat" the guy. There are different kinds of hecklers who heckle for different reasons. The know-it-all type that you describe, it appears, is what I call "the intelligent heckler" (if such a thing existed). It is often a man trying to appear clever when women are watching.
They are too clever to believe in magic. Sometimes (actually very rarely do I need to) I say: "Of course it has to be done somehow. I'm an artist! Did you actually think that coin dematerialized into thin air?" This should geta good laugh from the rest of the audience, which is on your side.

As to appropriate tricks, there is a whole category of tricks, if you aren't yet heard about it, that are known as "sucker tricks", which are those where you apparently screwed up, letting the mark enjoy your failure, and you then prove everything was under control. One of my favorite is "Design for Laughter" from "The Royal Road to Card Magic".
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Postby Carl Mercurio » 01/05/05 01:45 PM

The funniest thing a heckler ever said to me was when I was performing bar magic in a pub in New York for a group of young people from Ireland. I did a card trick and when it was done a woman shouted out in that beautiful brogue. "I know how it's done. It's a trick of the hands." No S*** Sherlock.

You can count on running up against one real a-hole heckler every now and again who is impossible to deal with. Billy McComb had a funny story in Professional Touch. He was doing card to cigarette with one-way forcing deck he'd toss into the audience with a rubber band around it (hey, McComb has balls). Some obnoxious ass got the deck and called out a card that wasn't the force card. McComb spread the deck and said something like, "That's interesting. The one card you saw has vanished from the deck and every card has turned into the...."

One thing is true, however, the more confident and accomplished you are as a performer, the fewer times you'll be heckled. And you do have to watch what to say to shut up a heckler, especially if they are a guest or paying customer where you're performing. I once crushed a heckler by saying, "Someone who smells as bad as you shouldn't be drawing additional attention to himself." But the comment was so mean spirited and out of character for me that even I turned red--especially since the guy really did stink and everyone knew it.
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Postby Guest » 01/05/05 03:47 PM

I love the advice y'all give. Luckily I have only seen one major league heckler and it wasn't directed at me. He heckled, of all things, folk singers. It was so bizarre I thought it was some type of act until the man was ejected from the place because the folkies wouldn't go on until he was removed.
Steve V

Postby Guest » 01/05/05 08:30 PM

I agree with everyone- for this does occur many times. Either a child (ahh), or one adult in a group will shun and add their two cents. I personally have handled it many ways.

If it's a child- I merely let the 'tike' finish what he's saying. OR I raise my voice slightly and continue on, ignoring him- and normally the parent will hush the kid, or the other spectators will focus more on me; than the kid.

For an adult it depends- if it's at a bar; that's always fun. For you could 'poke fun' and use this to your advantage- inquiring as to how much the man has consumed. If it's an obvious 'prick' I would hand him the deck, make a big comical deal out of it, and allow him to demonstrate the exact same trick. I've never had a spectator complete this direct request. They never even attempt.

My thinking is simple- if someone wants to outdue me; then I shouldn't be there performing- they should; since they obviously can outdo me. But they never want to- why? I've come to think either the pressure gets to them, the looks from everyone else, or just they thought they knew everything, but in truth- then new jack about, 'oil and water, ambitious card, etc.'

Keep in touch-

Postby Pete Biro » 01/05/05 11:35 PM

I had a grabby, heckler lady during a close up set... the table had been cleared so I just whipped the table cloth off and put it over her saying, "sit tight, you will soon vanish."

She just sat there quietly under the cloth.
:D :D :D :D :D
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Postby Guest » 01/06/05 07:31 PM

When working in a restaurant and having those obnoxious spoiled kids that thought they knew how every thing was done, I would just stop and let them prattle on until the parents would shut them up. If they still carried on I would quietly put the props away and wait. This rarely failed but if it did I would just wish them a pleasant evening and leave - a real luxury afforded when one is working a restaurant.

Postby Brian Marks » 01/06/05 10:25 PM

I second watching Comedian
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Postby Guest » 01/08/05 01:35 AM

I have to remember that one Pete. Beautiful

Postby Guest » 01/20/05 01:19 PM

If its a lady, a bottom palm will quiet her down.

Postby Guest » 01/24/05 08:26 PM

I think that it is best to take an approach that doesn't challenge or insult the heckler in any way in order to avoid eliminating the chance of developing a "magician and spectator watch the magic together relationship" instead of a "heckler/spectator vs. magician relatioship" more than what has already been done. Lets first look at why the person is heckling. Go through the scripts of your routines and see if there are any spots which could be viewed as a line that challenges the person to figure out the magic or implies that you are trying to fool them. People don't like to be fooled. It is an insult to their intelligence.
The second step is to perform and see what happens. If a person heckles, you must first attempt to identify the cause for this. Some people may heckle by nature. They have been conditioned to believe that magic is like a puzzle. For these types of people there isn't too much you can do (at least that I know of. If you know of a way please tell me.). The only things that I find that help is to 1) confront the situation openly. Explain your purpose for performing. and 2) to move on with the performance and hope that your performance is strong enough to win them over.
Another type of heckler is someone who wants attention. They want attention because they are insecure. One way to stop the heckling is to give them what they want. . . To an extent. Try and perform a trick that has a presentation that basically makes them look like the one that did the magic, even though the audience still knows that you did it. Be careful though because they may try and screw up the trick for you by not following your directions exactly so it is best to use a trick that is mostly still in your control even though it appears as though it is in theirs.
These are just a couple of the reasons people heckle that I've found. Of course, the methods I've discussed may not work for everyone so I urge you to perform and find your own methods through experience. Any critisism (spelling?) or thoughts on these thoughts are very welcome. Also, Eric Evans has some great ways for handling spectators in his book "The Secret Art of Magic" for anyone that is interested.

Hope this input was helpful!

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