Let us all take a deep breath.
The esssence of the idea is that every human being on the planet has a
subconscious and some cases conscious resentment at being fooled by a
magician. No matter how wonderful the performer there is that underlying
resentment that is always there.
I will admit that the feeling does not always manifest itself in certain
appreciative spectators but it is there nevertheless, albeit on a
I believe there are 4 types of spectators. Actually 5 if you count magicians
but I do not consider them to be normal human beings.
The first type of viewer is the best. This is someone who laughs and enjoys
the trick and the performance. The defensive resentment is still there
although it has been muted. I believe the process that goes on in the
spectator's mind is that he or she gives up before he starts. His or her ego
is not affected by the performance because he or she surrenders straight
away. By not getting involved in a contest of wits the ego is placated. The
spectator cannot be defeated because he has not entered the contest. He or
she then has an excuse to enjoy the performance. The "defensive resentment"
factor is still there but it has been shoved under the rug.
Then we have the people who "want to know how the engine works". Their ego
will want to find out how the trick is done. They will not try to wreck the
performance but they may not react as well as you want. That subconcious
resentment at being fooled is ever present.
Next we have the rare person who will show no reaction of any kind at all.
He may be enjoying what you do but his ego will not allow him to show you
that he enjoys it. He does not want to admit that he has been fooled.
Then of course we have the heckler. The defensive resentment at being fooled
is rather obvious here.
All these groups consist of human beings with feelings and emotions. Each
one of them has this defensive feeling although some manifest it more openly
than others. It behooves the smart magician to find some way of assuaging
this feeling in any way he can. If he is able to do this then a Shangri La
of positive audience reaction awaits him. If on the other hand he charges
ahead like a bulldozer inflicting his magic in a full steam ahead style
without considering this important facet of audience psychology he may find
that the reaction he gets from his magic is muted.
I am referring strictly to close up magic here and impromptu magic in
particular. Stage work and even formal close up may have different rules
although I expect that some of what I say may even apply here.
I liken this process to "taking their guns away" I had better explain.
If you approach a table in a restaurant (say) and try to entertain them you
will be confronted by this phenomena to a greater or lesser degree. Very
often the spectators will have their guns loaded, so to speak, with this
"defensive resentment" I have seen some magicians foolishly try to outshoot
the audience by performing aggressively or in other ways trying to get
reaction and it doesn't come off as it should.
Instead I believe you should TAKE THEIR GUNS AWAY before you start! Remove
that "defensive resentment" before you even start and continue to remove it
as you continue.
How you do this is up to you. I can tell you how I do it but of course you
are not me. No doubt you are very relieved by this.
This is how I do it. I am not suggesting you do it this way. I am only
telling you for purposes of illustrating what I am trying to get at.
I act absent minded, eccentric, slightly incompetent and even stumble over
words. Not when I am selling svengalis or performing at a trade show. This
is a different medium and different rules apply. I am referring to
performing impromptu close up magic.
Sometimes I will forget what cards I force on people, sometimes I drop
cards, sometimes I make mistakes. In fact, I don't think I have ever
performed on a single occasion in my entire life when something hasn't gone
Yet this is how I get the strong reaction I do.
It seems that I am not in control but I know exactly what I am doing.
By being so disarming I remove all audience resentment. Or as much as I can
anyway. It is actually impossible to remove it completely. However it
behooves every magician to remove it as much as he can.
Again, I reiterate that the '"defensive resentment" is often manifested
subconsiously and is not shown openly. However, it is still there and must
be removed as best as you are able. Each magician must use his own ingenuity
to do this but do it he MUST.
Contrast this attitude to the magician who bulldozes in and tries to show
how clever he is. His superior attitude will not get results no matter how
good he is. He won't have swept up before he started the show. Or during it.
By "swept up" I mean cleared away all that resentment. In fact I doubt he
even thought of it. And with all due respect I think virtually every close
up magician I have ever seen does not seem to have considered this very
important factor in any way whatever.
I consider it all the time when I am working. I am constantly trying to
disarm everyone from the enthusiastic spectator to the heckler.
How do you do it? It is not for everyone to act absent minded and
incompetent like I do. However, there is always a way. If you are
handicapped in some way for example, you will automatically remove a great
deal of this resentment. If you are funny, this will help too although you
must take care not to dilute the magic. If you are modest or humble this
will help. If you have charm this will also help.
There is utterly no rule as to how you choose to remove this "defensive
However remove it you must.
By doing this for the last 40 years I have been able to garner amazingly
good reactions. I do not believe for one moment that I would have achieved
these results if I had not paid due attention to this basic fact of audience
Yet it is virtually never mentioned in any book.
Take their guns away. Your audience response will DOUBLE.
It has for me anyway.