A few posts back I took a deep dive on my work on cards across. Now I want to take a situational deep dive for something that will eventually happen if you do cards across for a long time. It two or three times in twenty years, but it’s nice to be prepared when it does happen. This strategy could also apply to another trick where the spectator counts cards.
You hand the spectator twelve cards. You are sure there are twelve cards. You asked the spectator to count the twelve cards. She says there are eleven. There are three possibilities.
One, there are actually eleven cards. I’m going to rule out that possibility for the purpose of this post and because, frankly, it’s never happened to me because of the setup shared in the previous card across post.
Two, there are twelve and the spectator is messing with you.
Three, there are twelve and the spectator made a mistake.
It’s possibilities two and three that the gambit works for. You reply, “There’s only eleven? We need twelve.” Snap your fingers above the cards. “Now, carefully count them again.” I believe the slightly more deliberate pronunciation of careful is what makes this work.
Spectator, “…seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, TWELVE. What the?”
If the spectator was originally mistaken, you’ve done a bonus mini-miracle.
If the spectator was messing you, you’ve shown him you’re on your game.
Over the past twenty plus years of performing cards across I think I’ve had to do this three times. Once for a spectator that made a mistake. Maybe twice for a spectator that was ribbing me. The two that were ribbing me gave an honest count the second time, as I watched and counted along with them.
I should add, the tone of this isn’t that of a smart alec. It’s more whimsical than anything else. The subtext is, “Oh, there’s not twelve? No problem. (snap) Got it covered.” Low key fun.
Having additional arrows in the quiver, especially arrows that don’t take up space, is a good thing.
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Continuing my ongoing obsession with smart ways to pack small & play big …
An appreciation of Mr. Chris Power’s coins through silk performance. Enjoy.
Before continuing, if you’d like to learn this trick, here’s a link. I have no profit motive or affiliation with Mr. Power. I simply really dig this performance, and expected you would, too. Feel free to go forth, purchase, and learn.
There’s a ton of goodness in this performance, but I want to focus on one aspect: how a smart script magnified small props to a large audience.
Mr. Power spent two plus minutes introducing the props before he did a thing with them. It gave the audience an exact impression of the lay of the land he wanted to convey. Very importantly, he did it in a funny, entertaining manner. Only with that understanding, was the audience then ready to appreciate the trick.
Coins through silk is not a big trick. Chris Power got the audience to care about the trick and to be interested in the trick by first getting them to be interestedin HIM with an engaging introduction. So smart.
Then in presenting the trick, reminded me of old speech writing advice:
Tell’em what your going to tell’em. Tell’em. Tell’em what you told them.
We all know the Vernon quote, “Confusion is not magic.” With that in mind, I’d add this corollary: “An audience wondering what the heck is he holding is definitely confusion.” Yes …yes …it’s easy to become bored with a script that is merely a description of the movement of the props. I get that. That’s not what’s going on in this performance. The humor …the panache … the pauses (especially the pauses) ...all magnify what is going on with the coins and handkerchief.
BONUS: The glass ashtray has nothing to do with the magic or method, yet everything to do with the presentation. Again, so smart.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about imitating his delivery or script. Instead, I watch this and ask myself:
What tricks in my current or potential stage repertoire would benefit from fine tuning my script with an entertaining description of the “lay of the land”?
I’d encourage you to ask the same. Again, you can purchase Mr. Power’s routine here.
This post is part of a much larger essay on presenting the cups and balls on stage. It will appear in a book planned for a 2023 release.
The thoughts covered here go beyond the cups to routines where the performer is typically standing behind a table for the duration of the routine, like the multiplying bottles, a card stab, and beyond.
The cups and balls is about holding court while performing the routine. Frankly, that’s true with nearly all magic, but even more with the cups, as metal cups, little balls, and produce are emotionally inert items with few if any hooks. The audience won’t care about them unless they care about you.
Holding court, as defined in this essay, consists of making yourself and the audience interactions the focus of the routine. This is done through scripting, pacing, jokes, and what I want to focus on in this post: literally walking away from the performance table.
Think about it. Why stand behind the table the entire time when doing the cups? A stand up cups and balls routine is at minimum a five minute chunk of stage time, so why stand behind the table the whole time?? Ugh. The movement and visual variety of being both beside, away from, and behind the table add to the energy of the routine.
It not only increases the energy of the routine, it ups the amazement value, as in, “How did he know what cup I would choose when he was standing all the way over there?” That’s a huge bang for the buck. It makes the trick BIGGER. A magician standing behind a table is, what, three square feet of floor space? What about a magician standing six feet from the table? That movement plays to the back of the room.
This movement doesn’t dilute focus. It adds focus, as what is more interesting — a stationary performer giving what is most likely a canned script, or a performer that just might walk up to the edge of the stage and address me, a guy in the front row?
This post, like much of what I cover in this blog, isn’t about a new trick, or that matter, a single trick. It’s about making old tricks — or even better, tricks you already do — play better, bigger, stronger …you know, all that good stuff we want.
This post also reflects my packing preferences. With few exceptions, most of the props I use fit in a carry on bag, and the rest in a checked bag. That’s not a lot of real estate. With that in mind, I don’t want the show to feel small. I want big impact with the props I have. Again, it’s about getting more bang for your buck.
All that to say, the advice shared here isn’t just about the cups and balls. With only minor alterations, it’s about getting giving more in your performances with the tools you have.
This post is for comedy magic performers working family events, like shows at fairs, festivals, amusement parks, you name it. This post may not be for the mugging averse, but I think it will resonate with the schtick friendly.
Here’s my challenge to you: pick a pose that you can strike with a kid or kids that’s … #1 Funny #2 Shows your hands to avoid any appearance of impropriety #3 Requires minimal or no props, because the last thing you want to worry about is “Where’s that photo thing??!!”
Why? Why not just do a a normal stand next to each other and smile pic?
Because it will make people happier. Because they’ll look at a silly, funny pic many more times than a dull one. Because it will make people happier. Because you might get another booking from it. Because it will make people happier. Because it will make you look better to the venue that booked you. Because it will make people happier.
You know, maybe I’m getting sappy in my dotage, but find myself looking for ways to share kindness in my performances where I’m not tracking the results like an email sales funnel.
Example to get you started: you and the kid apparently “fight” over a magic wand with both of your gripping it. That’s it. Simple stuff. You mug. The kids mug. Simple stuff. It will make people happier.
Don’t rush through these moments. They are special.
Her: May I take a picture with you? Me: Of course. I’m honored. What’s your name? Her: Linda Me: Where are you from Linda? Her: Orlando. Me: Great place. I perform there occasionally. (Takes pic.) Me: Did the pic turn out OK? No heads cut off? Her: (Laughs) Nope. Thank you. Me: It was my pleasure.
As opposed to …
Her: May I take a picture with you? Me: Sure. (click) Her: Thank you.
Listen, I’m not going to say that treating people like, you know, people, will necessarily lead to new clients. And it won’t necessarily lead to a longer lasting relationship with a current client, though it might. That would be great, but that has nothing to do with the motivation for this. It is simply a more pleasurable way to interact with others.
It’s like the reciprocating thank yous that occur when you buy something. You thank them because you wanted the product more than money and they thank you because they wanted the money more than the product. Journalist John Stossel calls this the “Double Thank You Moment.” In our scenario, they want the pic and, hopefully, you enjoy the honor of someone asking you for one.
Don’t rush through these moments. They are special.
If you ever wanted to get inside my head (Oh, mercy, you don’t want that, but if you did) today’s blog post is for you. One of my favorite sayings is “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.” That not only applies to practice, but to the design of a routine itself. And that’s what addressed in today’s post.
I’ve been performing a version Cards Across With Envelopes over two millennia.
I’m not teaching the routine here. What I’m doing here is sharing how I efficiently make sure each spectator gets the appropriate of number of cards. (I use 12 as opposed to the traditional 10. That’s a subject for another post.) But first, here are other ways people have counted cards for a cards across routine.
#1 Have the spectator deal the cards into your hand.
I’ll pass on this. Not every spectator you bring on stage can comfortably deal cards.
#2 Marking the backs of the cards so you know when you reach the desired number. Then handing the cards to the spectator to verify the the number.
I did this for a while. While handing the cards to the spectator for verification is fine, there’s another problem. Not all stage lighting is created equally. Neither are all magician eyes for that matter. Seeing the marks can be difficult. So the handing off the batch of cards to the spectator still took a more deliberate, slower procedure than I wanted. And more obvious marks aren’t an option either. The marks on the back of the cards are for efficient counting and have nothing to do with the secret of the trick, BUT I guarantee if a spectator notices them he’ll think otherwise.
So what did I do?
There are two banks of cards on top of the deck. Each bank is going to one of the helpers. The first bank of cards are all face down. The second bank of cards are all face up. The rest of the deck is face down.
When I hand off the cards to the first spectator, I simply push off cards until the first face up card and hand them off for verification of the count. Much quicker and more certain than counting or looking for cryptic marks.
When I hand off the cards to the second spectator, I simply push off cards until the first face down card and hand them off for verification of the count. Much quicker and more certain than counting or looking for cryptic marks.
This has no effect on the deceptiveness of the trick, but it helps the smoothness of the trick. And in case you’re wondering, having done this for hundreds of shows, I’ve never had a spectator display any suspicion about it.
BONUS: I glue the rest of the deck together as a block. Why? Doing this has NO effect on the routine. Those cards are not used. So why do it? The glued block makes prop management and reset that much easier. This glued block isn’t a make the show better thing. It’s a make my life easier thing, and that has value, too.
The Koran-inspired Gene Anderson torn and restored newspaper was a part of my stand up set for years. If it has a downside, it’s when it’s over. When the newspaper is tossed back into the case it will unfold like a quickly blooming flower, and take up space, blocking easy access to other items in the case.
Here’s my solution to the problem. Before the performance, I wrapped a rubber band around the prepared newspaper. It’s folded in half, then thirds, much like you’d fold a newspaper if you put it under your arm. When I picked up the newspaper to perform the trick, I removed the rubber band and put it on my wrist. Tear the paper. Restore the paper. Then I folded it up as it was originally folded when I brought it out and wrapped the rubber band around it. Now, when I tossed it back in your case it remained tightly wrapped in a bundle, allowing easy access to my other props.
I admit, many readers might not think this is the most earth shattering thing they’ve read in magic, but I love this kind of stuff. It’s a near effortless solution to a nagging problem. It didn’t make the trick better. It made the show better. Again, I confess, I love this kind of stuff.
Tomorrow: Another effort saving, show improving solution.
I remember the first time I packed my prop case after the covid lockdowns in Spring 2021. A task which normally takes less than thirty minutes took more than two hours, primarily due to my constant self-doubt and worry I’d forget a prop. If I had been following the example of this blog post before the shutdown, I could have taken out the prop scroll and been done in 30-40 minutes. Maybe less.
A prop scroll (or at least that’s what I call it) is a roll of paper that can be spread out on a table. It’s an idea that goes back to theater prop masters. You outline every single one of your props and then write within the outline what they are. Think of it as a checklist on steroids.
When it’s time to set your show, unfurl the scroll and place the props in their outlines. Any notes you want to add, like what pocket that thumb tip goes it, can be written directly on the scroll.
This idea goes to a concept I want in my work: The amateur practices until he gets it right. The professional practices until he can’t get it wrong. For me, I want this go beyond simply practice, so I’ll rephrase the saying:
The amateur uses methods, tools, routines, props, etc. that make sure he gets it right. The professional uses methods, tools, routines, props, etc. that make sure he can’t get it wrong.
Of course, not getting it wrong is never 100%. It’s a fallen world, brothers and sisters. But ideas like the prop scroll bring us a little bit closer to %99.99.
I am six feet three inches tall in my stocking feet.*
Probably a good sixteenth of an inch shorter in my bare feet.
In shoes? Well, Probably six feet four inches tall or more in dress shoes. If I ever get hold of a pair of the platform shoes that have live goldfish swimming in them, made famous by two time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steeler Frenchy Fuqua (the man who was NOT touched by the ball in the Immaculate Reception) well …
Yeah, where was I? Yes. I’m a tall, big guy.
When I’m in a show where I expect to bring up a kid to help with a routine, I frequently like to perform the routine with both of us are sitting down. This is especially true of the theater shows I do. The benefits of both of us sitting are particularly helpful in a theater setting.
It tightens the shot. I could be as much two feet taller than the kid. With both of us seated it puts the focus of the shot, my face and the kid’s face, within the same frame.
It tells the audience this interaction is something special. That big snarky guy that was just having fun with the loud guy in the front row just put on the kid gloves when the kid came up.
Kids fidget. Chairs don’t. Having the kid sit in the chair limits the challenging fidgeting that can come with a child volunteer.
It gives me the opportunity to lean back in my chair when the kid says something funny. I love these moments. The kid says something funny. Often unintentionally. Then I get to lean back in my chair and obviously enjoy the moment. This subtly encourages the audiences to more deeply enjoy the moment. Instantly we shift from them watching me to all of us caught up in the joy that is this child.
And adults, too. Having talked about kids for the previous points in this post, let me conclude by saying that’s not the only situation for the chairs. A little conversation, a fun back and forth, can all be enhanced when both the magician and the spectator are seated. I confess, this isn’t something I could have carried off when I was younger. But as the years passed I found myself not being in such a stinkin’ hurry.
Is this a good idea for you? I’m not sure, but I am sure it’s a good idea for you to consider.
This is a guest post from close friend and fellow magician, Michael Misko.
Right now I’m neck deep in preparing for the release of Reign Man, so Michael’s generous offer to share this essay is even more appreciated.
I’m sure I’m going to repeat myself, but this essay is the real work.
I’m not going to get deep in the weeds in this introduction, other than to say if you ever wanted to take a live mind reading X-ray machine to the thoughts of a working pro in a heckler situation, this is your chance.
If you consistently get in front of people to be funny, you will feel this post. I know I did. And you get to ride the roller coaster of working out a response along side Michael. This is the good stuff and the real work.
How to Handle a Heckle When You’re Brain is Empty by Michael Misko, 6/3/2022
When audiences go to see a comedian, heckling is a normal occurrence. Some comedians build a brand on this, almost encouraging dialogue with their audiences. Jimmy Carr and Steve Hofstetter immediately come to mind. Other comedians want nothing to do with the audience. Louis C.K. has gone on record as saying that he’s performing a monologue, a play, and that there’s only one character – and that’s him. Regardless of which category the comedian falls under, hecklers are a part of the game. If you perform comedy magic, the challenge is ten-fold. You’re inviting a challenge as a comedian AND as a magician.
As magicians, we are begging the audience to engage with us in some way. And that engagement, if it isn’t astonishment, will most likely be a challenge. Some people don’t even know they’re doing it when they shout, “no way,” after the wonder has worked. Sometimes they’re doing it to feel involved; sometimes they’re doing it because they have no other thing to offer in the moment – as if a guttural response. Sometimes they’re doing it to impress a date or the rest of their group. Sometimes they’re drunk. Regardless of why, they are challenging us.
If you were blessed with a quick wit, you should have no problem dispatching these attention seekers. Similarly, or more importantly, if you have enough time on the boards, you’ve conditioned yourself to expect certain comments and have a Rolodex in your brain prepared to spit out a seemingly impromptu, though well-rehearsed, ad-lib. But what happens when you’re completely thrown off guard? What happens if you’ve never heard this one before? What happens if it comes in an unusual place? What if your head is in the wrong place (It happens to the best of us)?
As a magical performer, our job is to be like a duck. We need to be calm, cool, and collected on the surface; below the water line we are paddling like hell. We’re focused on the audience, on the jokes, on the routine, on the moves, the sightlines, etc. The audience should never be aware of how hard we’re working (unless we want them to, that is). When we’re lucky enough to be given a heckle that delivers an ad-lib on a silver platter, the duck remains pristine, and even glistens after delivering the fatal blow. But when we’ve got nothing in the tank, the duck paddles for its life.
You can’t let the audience think you don’t have control – and that the heckler “won” the engagement. They may have shouted out only in good fun but ignoring them is essentially opening Pandora’s Box. You have got to respond – but you’re coming up with nothing.
So, what do you do? Nothing…but not really.
On the surface. Remain calm and think. It will feel like hours have passed before you open your mouth to speak, but trust me, it really is only a few seconds. You can aid the passage of time by remaining physically active in the moment. Staring around the room as if to say, “can you believe this,” raising your eyebrows, narrowing your vision, pursing your lips, chuckling to yourself, taking a drink of water, adjusting your tie, scratching your head, brushing dust off your jacket, etc. All these actions keep you physically involved in the moment and project to the audience that you are still in control. Mentally – you’re paddling. Wracking the old think box for the perfect response (Pro Tip: the funniest response, is not always the correct response…more on this later). All this physical posturing keeps the audience engaged with you, and if you’ve done your comedic job up until this point, they should be on the edge of their seat waiting to hear how you’re going to respond. The art of the posture has just given you ten free seconds to think of the best way to respond to the rogue heckle.
All heckles are not created equal and knowing how to handle them is a skill that can only be gained by road time. Sometimes the heckle is good-natured and funny. If you shoot down this heckle too harshly, you’ll lose the crowd. Sometimes the heckle is mean-spirited and rude. If you don’t deal with this heckle definitively enough, you’ll leave the door open for more. Unfortunately, there is no real way to know how much is too much or not enough in response level other than to say, when you know, you’ll know. Not helpful? I know.
Let me give you a few examples.
Recently I was performing for a cruise ship audience, mostly empty nesters with some families present. As a rule, cruise ship crowds err on the side of conservative comedy – they don’t particularly enjoy lewdness or four-letter words. I was performing a version of Pop Hadyn’s “Mongolian Pop Knot.” In the script there is a moment, just after sprinkling “pixie dust,” where the audience is given a chance to ask a question. In this instance, I was met by the diligent hand raise of a seven-year-old girl in the front row. She was seated with her family and spoke loud enough for the whole crowd to hear her. This is what happened:
Misko: Are there any questions so far?
Little girl raises her hand.
Little Girl: Pixie dust isn’t real! There’s nothing in your hand. It’s just make believe!
Audience: Oooooooh! Hahahaha! Wow! Baha! Etc. etc.
Misko: Let me tell you something about Santa Claus…
The audience went nuts. The parents laughed. The little girl laughed because everyone was laughing. The response wasn’t rude. It wasn’t mean. It wasn’t overly aggressive. But it was definitive and controlled. It was also delivered with a wink to the little girl, who didn’t “get” the joke, but knew that she was included in the fun. It also served as a gentle warning to the parents…because they have no idea if I might finish that sentence. To be clear, I would never…but they don’t know that.
I don’t share this with you to gloat, or to say, “look how fast I can think.” Honestly, it’s quite the opposite. I was able to watch the recording back (read that again), and the time between her comment and mine was about eleven seconds. I was thinking of the correct thing to say the whole time. The first thing that came to mind would have been inappropriate to say to a child, so I threw that away. The next thing I thought was “what else is make believe,” and then began to quickly run through fake things that would have the biggest overall impact.
Dreams? No. Cartoons? Meh…not specific enough. Tooth Fairy? Yes. What’s bigger than that? Santa. Yes! Wait…you can’t ruin Santa for a kid, you’ll lose the audience and be a jerk. How do I say this? Ho, ho, ho? No, that means nothing. Do you believe in Santa? No…that’s not strong enough and asking for a response. Wait, this is information that I have that she doesn’t. I’ll tell her about it. But you can’t tell her. Just start the sentence. The audience will finish it.
From that moment on, the rest of the eleven seconds was spent constructing the half-sentence that was spoken. I know reading that section takes longer than eleven seconds, but that’s the best way I can demonstrate my brain’s shorthand.
The only reason that the audience bought into that eleven second break was because I remained physically active while I was paddling. I raised my eyebrows and looked around the room, making eye contact with other audience members. I picked up the mic stand and gently tapped it on the ground. I scratched my head and winced slightly as if to suggest, “this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you.” If I couldn’t fill that time physically, the audience would have lost interest.
Had I been sass-mouthed from an adult, my response would have been entirely different. Santa hath no pull with a guy in his fifties. For this specific instance, I needed to think, quickly, about how to handle this heckle without alienating the crowd. Fortunately, this came up as a win…and now I’ve got another arrow in my quiver for when I encounter a situation like this.
Alright, so you’ve been heckled, and you’ve got nothing – so you posture and you think, and time passes and…still, you’ve got nothing. How can you save this situation? Well – one solution is to be brutally honest and say, “yeah, I’ve got nothing.” Sometimes, especially if your wit has been on display all night, revealing that you’re human and couldn’t think of something will work to get you a laugh. It won’t be the biggest or best laugh of the night, but there’s something to be said for that honest admission that will work for you. However, you can’t use this in all scenarios.
So, what to do when you just need a little more time? Answer: buy it.
You’ve postured. You’ve thought. You’ve got nothing. You need more time. Try this: continue your posturing. But begin to get more pointed, as if you’re about to deliver the kill shot. Put your mouth up to the mic and pause again. Invariably, someone from the audience will chime in and say something. Sometimes it will be one person, sometimes it will be a few. Regardless, let them. But as soon as you hear the chatter, turn your attention to the noise. Lift your hand in a “stop” gesture, gently shake your head “no,” and in an amusing tone say to the new person, “no, no. I’ve got it. Thanks.” Finish that beat with a wink or thumbs up, or something. This will get you a laugh and BUY YOU ADDITIONAL VALUABLE SECONDS!
Also – the audience is facing you (duh), which means their sound is facing you…which means, depending on volume, the only person that might hear what they say is YOU. Audiences can be funny. Sometimes they’ll give you the ad-lib you need. Take this time to listen to what they’re chirping before you cut them off, and they just might deliver you gold. Let them be your Rumpelstiltskin.
Now that you’ve kept the wolves at bay a bit longer, you’re free to continue to think of the line. I have even employed this when I already had the line but hadn’t yet figured out the correct word order. Yes…word order matters.
A word of warning: you will feel like a 747 could complete a cross-country flight in this pause. It is uncomfortable. Trust me, it will not come across that way. If you do it correctly, the audience will never even suspect that you lost control (because you didn’t), nor will they doubt that you literally have a line for every single moment (which you do).
In contrast to the little girl on a cruise ship mentioned above, here is a different example using the “I’ve got it” ruse – involving an intoxicated woman in a comedy club. Same rope trick. Different moment, involving magic scissors. Also of note: my mother-in-law was seated in this audience. This will play a role in the thought process you’re about to see.
Misko: For this we use the magic scissors. They live inside the pocket.
Left hand comes out of pocket with ring and middle fingers showing a peace sign and making a “snip snip” motion.
Intoxicated Lady: Wait, wait, wait!
Intoxicated Lady: If you’ve got magic scissors on that hand, how do you masturbate?!
Audience: [Beginning to shout answers].
Misko: No, no. I’ve got it. Thanks.
Misko: I would tell you, but that’s my Mother-in-Law.
Indicates Mother-in-law in audience
Audience: Ha ha ha.
Misko: Besides…I’m right-handed.
Ok. A lot to unpack here. First and foremost, I knew that this heckler was going to require a firm response. My show is riddled with double entendre, but I don’t work off color. There is no room in my show for someone to shout out something like “masturbate,” and I can’t leave the door open for anyone after, either. This heckler needed to be dispatched deftly and quickly.
Secondly, this is about as bold of a heckle as I’ve ever received (unless you count that one time while I was doing the card stab…ask me about it next time you see me). The science behind heckles is thus: the harder the heckle, the harder the response (h = r2). But remember, the response must stay controlled. So, shouting something back like, “why the f*&k do YOU care?!,” while strong…is not effective and essentially brings you down to their level. You’ve got to beat them in a battle of wits. Fortunately, you have the wit. Use it.
Third, this is a comedy club setting. The rules are different here. If you don’t take control of this heckle, and subsequently, the crowd, immediately, you may never get them back. Whether you like it or not, you’ve now entered a dialogue and are performing a two-person scene. The heckler’s line needs to breathe, but you cannot let up your control for one second, or they’ll walk all over you. Let their line land and ride out the audience response. Theatrically, it makes sense. Practically, you’re using that time to think.
After reviewing the tape from this moment, I can tell you that it was a solid 25 seconds before I delivered the mother-in-law line, and an additional ten before the final punch. To break it down, here’s the stream of consciousness that encompassed my paddling that evening.
Holy crap, did she just say that? Yes, she did. Why the f*&k do you care? No. Don’t swear. Carefully? That’s funny. But that’s accepting the comment. Shut it down. She’s having fun. Is she drunk? She’s drunk. Be gentile. Did the bouncer hear this? He’s watching. Wave him off. Think. Ok, here comes the audience chirps…stop them. “No, no, I’ve got it. Thanks.” Ok, they’re laughing, good. Ugh. How do you answer this question when your mother-in-law is sitting right there? Wait. That’s it. Everyone relates to that. “I would tell you, but that’s my Mother-in-Law!” Good. They’re laughing. It needs a button. What’s the button? Well, how WOULD I do that. Ha. With my other hand, dummy. “Besides…I’m right-handed.”
At the risk of TMI, I think it’s important to show the road map that goes on while you posture in front of the crowd. This is the real work of being a performer. It’s not as glamorous as a flawless Diagonal Palm Shift, but it is just as, if not more, valuable.
This one-two punch of responses did a few things. One, it brought to light the fact that I don’t really want to talk about it. It answers the question by saying, “my mother-in-law wouldn’t like to talk about this, and by extension no one else would either, so let’s drop it.” Two, you get the final word on the subject, and you’ve answered the inappropriate question without being inappropriate yourself. You haven’t lowered yourself to their level of crudeness, but you’ve put a period on the whole encounter.
Again, I don’t share this exchange to brag, but to show how I fought through a weakness. In that moment, I was so shocked by her question that I literally had nothing. If I was Anthony Jeselnik, I could meet her brash comment on that level. But I’m not…to respond like that would be entirely out of character for me. It took me a few seconds to get over the shock and then to become analytical. Nothing was feeling right because I knew I couldn’t encourage further response. I’d like to think I would have gotten to the right-handed response had I not bought myself the time with the mother-in-law line, but I don’t know…because at that time, I didn’t have it yet. On the other hand, if my brain hadn’t strayed away in the first place, I might’ve found something better. Monday morning QB is an easy role to play. I don’t beat myself up over it – and you shouldn’t either.
It should also be noted that not every type of performer can get away with responding to a heckler like this. My performing character is a lovable smart-ass; throughout my show, I have very quick quips and lines that would lead someone to believe “he’s got one for everything.” If you perform comedy magic professionally, chances are that you already know what type of lines work for you. Please understand this is not a “one size fits all” solution. What works for me or the next person might not work for you. Proceed with caution.
No two heckles are created the same, ditto the heckler. Each one must be met with respect (i.e., how you handle this engagement matters and will ALWAYS say more about you than them), and your response will have a direct impact on the rest of the show. The right response: you’re a hero. The wrong response: well…get used to looking at the backs of heads.
You must think, quickly and critically, about every aspect of the scenario in front of you, all while appearing to glide across the surface of the water. You can’t teach that thought process, but you CAN teach ways to aid it. If you appear to be in control, the audience will believe it. If you look like you’re drowning, they will believe it, too.
Be a duck: paddle like hell, but only on the inside.