Dealing with that uncooperative "helper"!

All beginners in magic should address their questions here.

Postby Guest » 05/05/05 09:59 PM

O.K., this has been on my mind ALL DAY LONG.

This morning we all hopped into the family car and I drove my wife to the hospital for a fairly significant surgical procedure. My 13 year-old son and 9 year-old daughter had stayed out of school because they wanted to be close to mom on this day.

We arrived at the hospital and after a few short kisses and hugs my wife was whisked back into surgery almost immediately, (that is a record in and of itself). At the suggestion of the nurse, the kids and I decided to run a few errands in an effort to keep our minds off of the surgery.

About an hour later we had completed all of our errands and we headed back to the hospital. A short ten minute wait (another record) and my wife was out of surgery. I met with the doctor and he assured us all that the surgery could not have gone better. In short, my wife was almost as good as new.

While we were in the recovery room one of the nurses recognized that I was a full-time magician. She asked if I would consider performing a short trick.

Actually, magic was the LAST thing on my mind at that point, but instead of saying no, I jokingly said, "Do you have a deck of cards?" She replied, "SURE, I'll go get them." :whack:

Still feeling a bit uneasy about being put into the position of having to be "on" at a time like this, I looked at my kids, made a face at them and resigned myself to performing a quick card trick.

The nurse was gone for only a short time and then she returned to the recovery room. She was carrying a pack of cards and had also managed to round up a small group of co-workers. They followed her into that tiny recovery room and they all somehow managed to squeeze inside.

I looked over at my wife, who was drifting in and out of consciousness. She was still recovering from the anesthesia administered prior to her surgery. I silently wondered what I had gotten myself into, but I knew there was no backing out now.

I shuffled the cards and noticed one male nurse had moved to the head of the pack. He suggested he would like to help and told me that he absolutely LOVED magic.

Now, one of my favorite card tricks is from Roberto Giobbi's Card College - Volume 1 and is called "The Lie Detector". I won't get into the routine here, but I will tell you that it ALWAYS gets an excellent audience reaction.

I forced a card on the helper using the criss-cross force. I have used that force many times with this one and it always works perfectly. I used time misdirection appropriately and then went into the presentation part of the routine.

Well... the trick immediately fell apart. My "helper" named all seven cards, but did not name the force card. I looked confused and then asked him if he had misnamed one of the seven cards with the card to which he had "cut" (forced). He told me that he had misunderstood my original instructions. He assured me that he now understood the instructions and that he would try once more. Again, he named seven cards, but the force card was not one of them. By now this had become a major complication and other co-workers had started leaving the room. I was both embarrassed and mad. I was mad, mainly because I felt pretty sure he was intentionally messing things up and trying to make me look bad. Once more I asked him if he had misnamed one of the seven cards with the card to which he had cut. This time he assured me that he HAD, in fact, done just that. I knew this was not the case. I asked to see the card case (I have every helper place the chosen card in the card case with just such and occasion in mind.) I opened the case and saw he had placed TWO cards in the case. As requested, he had placed the force card in the case, but he had also secreted an additional card into the case. He was mis-naming THIS card.

I asked him why there were two cards in the case. He told me that he had placed the top AND bottom cards in the case because he had cut to BOTH cards. He then tried playing dumb and asked if this was wrong. I didn't think... I just said, "well... that really all depends on your motivation. If you wanted to see a magic trick WORK, it was wrong. If you wanted to ensure the trick failed, it was the PERFECT THING TO DO!"

O.K., I know... not very nice of me. He then smiled a little mischievous smile, apologized and said, "Maybe we will get it next time". He then walked out of the room. I was furious.

I proceeded to help my wife dress and we left the hospital.

Long story I know, but... how SHOULD I have handled that guy? I'm not asking whether or not I should have performed the trick. I think I already already KNOW the answer to that one. BUT... how do some of YOU handle people like that... people who are intentionally ruining your little miracle?

Any advice will help.

Kevin
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Postby Mark Collier » 05/06/05 10:21 AM

The other night I asked a lady why she was messing with me. She said, "I'm a bitch."

I said, "I'm an [censored]. Maybe we should get together and have some brats."

With this guy, after the first mess-up I would have just turned away from him and not looked at him again. I would say to someone else (a woman most likely), "You look like you can follow simple directions, will you help me?"

Of course there are many variables as to how much abrasiveness you can get away with. Sometimes its better to just abandon the effect and do something visual that doesn't require an assistant.
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Postby Guest » 05/06/05 10:37 AM

I just get ticked and stop the trick. I will admit that not long ago I did hit someone in the head with a balloon pump who was not cooperating. It was a flash back to the days when I was not such a nice person and shouldn't have hit 'em but, well, they did behave after that (luckily I didn't have my wand, a metal rod).
Steve V
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Postby Jim Maloney_dup1 » 05/06/05 10:39 AM

Originally posted by Hanskj:
I asked him why there were two cards in the case. He told me that he had placed the top AND bottom cards in the case because he had cut to BOTH cards. He then tried playing dumb and asked if this was wrong. I didn't think... I just said, "well... that really all depends on your motivation. If you wanted to see a magic trick WORK, it was wrong. If you wanted to ensure the trick failed, it was the PERFECT THING TO DO!"
Perhaps being more explicit in your directions can prevent situations like this in the future. If someone is looking to mess you up, they can feed on any ambiguity that you give them.

Other than that, I'd probably just say, "Sorry folks but I guess, as my wife can tell you, I can't be perfect all the time." (wink, smile)

-Jim
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Postby Larry Horowitz » 05/06/05 10:41 AM

Always have the Helper show his chosen card to another spectator, so that it is not "forgotten". This generally prevents lying as the other spectator will jump right in and correct the helper.
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Postby Jeff Haas » 05/06/05 11:24 AM

If you have any doubts about someone being cooperative, avoid tricks in which you depend on people following instructions properly. Just show them something quick. You're in a situation in which you have to establish your credentials.

You know that perpetual discussion, about whether you should do flourishes or conceal your skill? In this situation, you definitely want the flourishes. The more impressive, the better. Then follow up with a color change. Ideally, do something in under ten seconds, get a positive reaction, then do something else that is simple, visual and can't be messed with.

FYI, I would only go to tricks that depend on instructions being followed after you know that people are interested and willing to work with you. Most mindreading tricks fall into this category. And only as part of a longer performance, not an impromptu diversion at a workplace.

Jeff
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Postby Guest » 05/06/05 11:33 AM

Kevin,
I wrote an entire chapter in Tubthumping about how I defuse this sort of person before s/he becomes a problem, with my default "show me a trick" opener, Card On Forehead.

In short, I show them that I am in control of their attention (using a trick which is low in "fooling" because they know you just put it there when they weren't looking). This is important because they aren't challenge by the magic itself but what they perceive to be the skill associated with it.

This puts me in a position of power, but since the trick makes ME the one who looks silly (after all, I have a card stuck to my face) and not him, it's a good way to nip that sort of competitive behavior in the bud in a way which is absolutely NOT a challenge to him but which gets the point across nicely.

It says, without words, that I'm doing this to entertain people. I'll share the spotlight with you, but if you behave like an ass I'm fully capable of making you look as foolish as I do right now.

It attempts to set up a "partners in crime" sort of dynamic which can turn that person it an ally.
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Postby Doug Brewer » 05/06/05 01:41 PM

Don't kick yourself over this episode.

You were in a very sympathetic position and the ass took advantage of this. The more important question is how is your wife? I hope she's well.
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Postby Guest » 05/06/05 02:03 PM

There are no-win situations in magic, and you got into one. The way in which he misunderstood your instructions was perverse, indeed.

Hey, my own mother does this, and I've learned not to give her power in any of my tricks. Some people can't be trusted with power. (I am self-censoring a political comment here, knowing it will stir up a hornet's nest, and besides, Dustin will, quite rightly, delete it, anyway....)
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Postby Guest » 05/06/05 03:12 PM

Thanks guys. The wife is doing fine. A bit sore and running a small fever, but this is normal.

Even still, it wouldn't be entirely honest to say that I am over the incident. I KNOW he understood my instructions. They were clear, concise and I have performed this trick many times.

I even pointed to the force card and removed the other packet as I looked away. That's when he grabbed the extra card.

Guess I just took it more personally because of the stress of yesterday's events. I'm also a bit upset because I feel it made me LOOK bad in front of the others in the room!

Thanks for the excellent replies. It won't hurt my feelings if someone has anything more to add.

Kevin
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Postby Guest » 05/06/05 03:49 PM

Kevin,

Glad to hear the wife is well. That's much more important than anything else that happened that day. (or week, month, etc.)

And of course I think you have the card shown to other audience members (if the trick allows -- I don't know Giobbi's Lie Detector). Not just because it prevents unhelpful helpers from screwing you, but because it increases the audience's involvement in the trick.

But I would think the real lesson here is, don't perform if you don't want to. Many of us are very eager to perform -- that's one of the reasons we do magic.

Of course, we can't always help ourselves -- especially if we're distracted. It sounds like the helper put the card in the card case while you were looking away. If that's so then you might try reblocking the trick so that you'll be able to tell if the spectator does something wrong.
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Postby Guest » 05/06/05 04:52 PM

Originally posted by Pete McCabe:
Kevin,

Glad to hear the wife is well. That's much more important than anything else that happened that day. (or week, month, etc.)

And of course I think you have the card shown to other audience members (if the trick allows -- I don't know Giobbi's Lie Detector). Not just because it prevents unhelpful helpers from screwing you, but because it increases the audience's involvement in the trick.

But I would think the real lesson here is, don't perform if you don't want to. Many of us are very eager to perform -- that's one of the reasons we do magic.

Of course, we can't always help ourselves -- especially if we're distracted. It sounds like the helper put the card in the card case while you were looking away. If that's so then you might try reblocking the trick so that you'll be able to tell if the spectator does something wrong.
Good point Pete. I DID watch him pick up the force card and that was when I looked away. I have always felt that having the helper place the force card in the case would be the perfect insurance against those who accidentally (or intentionally) misname cards. I will now have to rethink that idea. Perhaps having them show the card to others will be the easiest solution.

Thanks,
Kevin
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Postby Jeff Eline » 05/06/05 07:23 PM

Originally posted by Pete McCabe:
But I would think the real lesson here is, don't perform if you don't want to.
I think this is the best advice for the situation. Don't get me wrong Hanskj, I know people can be persistant and you don't want to disappoint others.

However, in this particular incident, I'd think about things you should have said to get out of performing in the recovery room as your wife is groggy from a "fairly significant surgery" (and you're probably not at your best either) than what went wrong with an inconsiderate spectator.
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Postby Guest » 05/06/05 08:52 PM

Originally posted by Jeff Eline:
Originally posted by Pete McCabe:
[b] But I would think the real lesson here is, don't perform if you don't want to.
I think this is the best advice for the situation. Don't get me wrong Hanskj, I know people can be persistant and you don't want to disappoint others.

However, in this particular incident, I'd think about things you should have said to get out of performing in the recovery room as your wife is groggy from a "fairly significant surgery" (and you're probably not at your best either) than what went wrong with an inconsiderate spectator. [/b]
Jeff, the point is certainly taken. I even mentioned THAT in my first post. Please refer to the below listed quote.
Originally posted by Hanskj:
I'm not asking whether or not I should have performed the trick. I think I already already KNOW the answer to that one. BUT... how do some of YOU handle people like that... people who are intentionally ruining your little miracle?..,
In point of fact, right or wrong, it HAPPENED. I guess I was just trying to set aside the "shouldn't have performed the trick" in order to learn a bit more about how others have handled these types of situations (bad helpers... not wife in recovery, trick request).

Hope you understand my intentions.

Kevin
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Postby Matthew Field » 05/07/05 02:34 AM

Kevin -- As others have written, this happens to everyone sooner or later.

The secret, it seems to me, is knowing who to avoid as a helper. The oh-so-eager male nurse is a perfect candidate for the "I'm smarter than the magician" school. Pick someone else.

My boss asked me to do a trick some years ago. He was a millionaire, smug, joker kind of guy. I knew he would try to screw up anything I did. There were others in the room and I chose them as helpers. He finally said, "What about me?" I could have told him where to go, but the guy was paying my salary, after all. So I did one of the tricks that doesn't require much spectator participation (what Eugene Burger calls "The Adventures of the Props in the Magician's Hands") which I normally don't use and did an end-run around any possible peskiness.

Of course, it's easy to look at this in retrospect. You were in a difficult situation
where Pete McCabe's advice ("Don't perform if you don't want to"), which echoes that of Slydini, is apt as well.

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Postby Guest » 05/07/05 11:21 AM

It's impossible to know exactly what the mood was, what the guy was like, etc., because I wasn't there, so I intend these ideas with that undertstanding.

First - when someone seems so eager to help (e.g. "I love magic!") -- say, "great, I hope you enjoy this," and pick someone else. Granted, it's not always easy to tell who will mess around and who will be great, but when in doubt, go with someone else.

Second - when there was a problem, I would have bailed immediately and done an effect that is quick, fairly easy, and doesn't require a helper (maybe have someone pick a card, double-cut it to the top, DL to show you got it wrong, top switch, get it right -- usually a surprisingly good reaction).

-David L.
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Postby Guest » 05/07/05 07:25 PM

I just rememembered a time when a woman I worked with wanted to help and I knew she would not cooperate from past experience with her (she felt magic was an attempt to make people look stupid). She wanted to take part so I had her pick a card, did other things and never did do anything with the card she picked. She did sit there waiting though.
Steve V
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Postby Guest » 05/07/05 11:00 PM

Originally posted by Steve V:
I just rememembered a time when a woman I worked with wanted to help and I knew she would not cooperate from past experience with her (she felt magic was an attempt to make people look stupid). She wanted to take part so I had her pick a card, did other things and never did do anything with the card she picked. She did sit there waiting though.
Steve V
You sure made her look stupid!
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Postby Ryan Matney » 05/07/05 11:35 PM

Always, always, have everyone present look at a selected card. Even in this trick. I've used this trick myself and while this hasn't happened to me, if it had, I would have simply said. "You're not as good a liar as you think you are, you didn't even name the Ten of Hearts (or whatever)"

Now the other spectators who saw the card would have been even more impressed that you got it right when the guy was screwing it up.

My advice, don't be so dead-set on whatever effect you are doing. In other words, when something like this happens, be prepared to change the effect. And, always have every present look at a selected card. In addition to safeguading against that type of thing, it also makes everyone watching involved instead of passive onlookers.

Or, two swift kicks administered to the groin area of the offending spectator should nip the problem in the bud.
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Postby Guest » 05/08/05 12:44 PM

Actually, Pete, I doubt anyone recalled she picked a card and all that because I never went back to it. She asked me later about it but I told her I forgot and she shrugged it off. She is also one you have to watch because she tries to grab cards etc.. Nice gal other than that one issue with magic though.
Steve V
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Postby Guest » 05/08/05 01:30 PM

Originally posted by Ryan Matney:
...I've used this trick myself and while this hasn't happened to me, if it had, I would have simply said. "You're not as good a liar as you think you are, you didn't even name the Ten of Hearts (or whatever)..."
Ryan, that is absolutely BRILLIANT! May I borrow it?
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Postby Ryan Matney » 05/08/05 05:11 PM

Oh sure, go ahead. :-)Just make sure everyone sees the card.

I hope the situation doesn't come up again for you. Like I said my way of thinking is it's ok to lessen or weaken the effect on the fly, as long as you still have an effect, that's what matters.

Do you guys find that people don't tend to mess with you or intentionally foul up a trick when you are working one on one? Must be the group mentality.
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Postby Guest » 05/08/05 06:21 PM

Originally posted by Ryan Matney:
Oh sure, go ahead. :-)Just make sure everyone sees the card.

I hope the situation doesn't come up again for you. Like I said my way of thinking is it's ok to lessen or weaken the effect on the fly, as long as you still have an effect, that's what matters.

Do you guys find that people don't tend to mess with you or intentionally foul up a trick when you are working one on one? Must be the group mentality.
Thank you Ryan... I certainly can't answer for everyone, but, in retrospect, this guy came in just BEGGING to be a part of the trick and I really think he wanted to BE that monkey wrench. His eagerness and the fact that it was an environment that was COMFORTABLE to him, and UNCOMFORTABLE to me, should have been a BIG CLUE. I guess I was just too overwhelmed to notice those things.

I think his response would certainly have been different in a one-on-one situation.

Thanks again for the great advice!

Hanskj
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Postby Guest » 05/12/05 08:21 AM

I think, what with your wife in a delicate and unknown condition and having to see your kids through the situation and being, understandably, an emotional wreck, you should have just looked at the nurse who first suggested a performance and said "Sure I'll do magic here if you'll show up when I'm working and administer an enema."
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Postby Guest » 05/13/05 02:55 PM

It's easy in retrospect to say that the cues were all there. Of course, they were. He was way too eager to help. And there isn't much you can do once the fellow miscalls the card.

If the rest of the staff knew that he was messing with you, you could always use the old. "Next time you miss, I'll smear you with Preparation H and you will disappear" line.

I wonder how he would feel if someone claimed that he had administered the wrong dosage to a patient or had somehow proven to be professionally incompetent.
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Postby Guest » 05/13/05 07:02 PM

Soneone may be able to use this .It's a old ( at

least 40 years ago ) pitchmans' heckler stopper.

" When I was a boy I wanted a pony and cart but

my dad could not afford one so he bought a used

cart and a small jackass. Now jackasses pretty

much do what they want.I would say getty-up

and he would just stand there and eat grass.

I went to a trade day ( that what flea markets

were called then ) and found a buggy whip. I

bought it , learned to crack it , right on the

south end of him going north.Crack, crack, untill

he did did what I told him to. My Daddy told me

" Son, you're giong to beat that jackass to death

and he going to come back and haunt you ! " I

didn't believe him but I just heard him now !!!

Mike Walsh
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Postby Guest » 05/13/05 11:15 PM

Steve V:

Yeah, I was being a little flip. It just seemed like a somewhat ironic perspective, which is what I live for sometimes. Sounds like you handled it pretty well, actually.

I certainly like your approach much better than all the clever ways to call the spectator an [censored]. I understand the motivation to try to inflict pain on a difficult spectator (although I can't imagine why the nurse should be a target). But I think you're much better off not to give in to that impulse.

People often make fun of this next idea, but just try it one time: The next time somebody does something mean to you, instead of doing something mean back to them, or to someone else, do something nice for someone else instead. Just try it one time.
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Postby Guest » 05/17/05 11:53 AM

To clarify why I felt the nurse was a suitable target for invective: The man was at the hospital for a reason. His wife was coming out of major surgery and things seemed a little touch and go there for a moment. The nurse was there in a professional capacity, allegedly to attend to not only the man's wife but the family as well, and it was in this set of fragile circumstances the nurse felt the most theraputically appropriate thing to do was suggest that her patient's husband give a free magic show to entertain her and her friends. Clara Barton she's not.
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Postby Guest » 05/18/05 11:50 AM

Originally posted by Dan Huffman:
I think, what with your wife in a delicate and unknown condition and having to see your kids through the situation and being, understandably, an emotional wreck, you should have just looked at the nurse who first suggested a performance and said "Sure I'll do magic here if you'll show up when I'm working and administer an enema."
:D :D :D :D :D
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