3 Things You Should Never Say to a Mystery Artist

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“Look out, here comes Alex Ka-Pow. Watch your wallet and your keys!”

I have heard the above words, or at least some variation on them, far too often. The most recent of which took place only a few days ago, which is what sparked the following article. My name is Alex Kazam. I’m 26 years old. I am a professional mystery artist.

I combine elements of  magic and mind-reading, with storytelling, dramatic writing and comedy. The goal is to create a lasting experience, rich in wonder and mystery for my audiences. My work is underlined by a 4 year university degree in dramatic arts, as well as 12 years training and performing in improvisational comedy.

In like manner, I first became interested in magic at the age of 6, and have sustained  that interest with regular practice to this day. I performed my first paid magic show when I was 14 and began performing close-up magic in restaurants (on a weekly basis) by the age of 15. By age 19, I had performed for celebrities, and made my first appearance on national television. I spend an average of 2 hours a day on the creative side of my craft: Whether that’s writing a new script; Coming up with a new effect; Practising a technical sleight; Or doing research.

To say nothing of the mispronounced-name slap, Alex “Ka-Pow”, I have no interest in your wallet, or your watch. If you want to proposition your car keys, I’m game. But I’ll probably forego the trouble of pick-pocketing you if you’re anything short of mayor. I have already demonstrated my ability, as a matter of fact: it’s on Youtube, so let’s move-on. Here are the top three things I hope to never hear again.

NUMBER ONE: “Oh My God, You Should Do Kids Birthday Parties!”

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Well-behaved Children

In one sentence, I’m being labelled a deity, and equally told how to operate my business. Look lady, I appreciate the compliment. I’m glad I was able to bring you to experience that childlike-wonder. I suppose it seems only natural, that while you’re in this state, the first quasi-rational thing that would come to your mind is to want me to come do this for your kids. I have the utmost respect for performers who specialize in children’s parties.

Many people look down, or trivialize this category of performers. Although, they usually get all wide-eyed when I tell them about my friend John, who makes a 7-figure annual income. He exclusively performs as a magician for kids’ birthday parties, and family shows in malls across the United States.

“But how? Most kid magicians are so tacky and lame?”  Most are, John is not. He is a father, a family man, and became one of the best children’s magic performers in North America. Know your market.
To the offenders of this first point, I usually ask:

Does everything I just did make it seem like I ought to be performing for kids? Was it the routine with the cigarette? The moments we discussed aesthetics, epistemology and ethics? Perhaps it was my failure to come across as mature and professional? Did I  fail to treat you with the intelligence and dignity you deserve in the treatment of my work?

Or could it just be the 4 glasses of wine you’ve quaffed?

Overall, I wouldn’t mind your comment if it came as a question, instead of a blatant command. Rather than telling me what I should do, perhaps you could ask what I do. For example, “Do you perform anywhere else?” or even “Would you consider performing for my kid’s birthday party?” 

Number Two: “If you were a real magician you could…”

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Don’t Be This Guy

The suspension point is usually followed by half-witted remarks like:

  • “Make my wife disappear”
  • “Make the bill disappear”
  • “Work somewhere better than this”
  • “Get those women over there to materialize right beside me”
  • “Multiply my money”
  • “Make the Maple Leafs win the cup”

It’s important to note, I hear these most often when I have first been introduced or welcomed by a group to perform for (in a restaurant setting). Usually before even getting a chance to say or ask anything.

In reply to the disappearing wife comment, look sir (it’s almost exclusively men that say this insolent malarkey), just shut up. Seriously. I mean, you’re bringing up some phenomenal, and extremely human themes, but you’re doing it in a way that is lowering the IQ of the entire block. Not to mention the misogynistic, insulting and patriarchal bullshit. Enough already.

Let’s break this down, to try and understand this fella’s position in life.

First, if you’re not happy in your marriage. “Be a man” (as you would probably say) and leave your marriage. You can seek counseling, look up the term polyamory, or maybe practice being more grateful as a humble beginning. Anything, honestly ANYTHING is better than placing your spouse (usually sitting right beside the schmuck when he utters this phrase), your group of friends, and myself in this terribly awkward and uncomfortable position. In order to rectify it, I usually say:


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Thoughtless Beliefs

There is no way that I’ve found, to treat this remark with any reply that doesn’t create an even more divisive environment. The stock line of “I do magic not miracles” gets a great laugh from most of the people that hear it.Though it seems like a line that goes right along with befriending this early-bird would-be heckler; For me, it’s actually a way to support the woman. Hard to believe? Let me explain.

I say the line looking at the man. As the final word rolls of my tongue, before he (or anyone else) registers the joke: I look to the woman with a look of utter empathy, usually with an acknowledging wink. My internal monologue being:

“If I could do miracles, I’d disappear the two of us to a tropical place, where we could get a break from this unappreciative and unfunny low-life you decided to wed.”

Second, the underlying psychological motives for the rest of the common lines are interesting. Here is a brief breakdown of them:

“If you were a real magician, you could…”

“Make the bill disappear” = “I’m not in the place I want to be financially. I can’t even afford to tip the server. We should have just had dinner at home like I wanted to. I secretly resent you because you’ll probably manipulate me into feeling obligated to tip you at the end of your schtick. I’m going to challenge you now, before you make me feel more stupid than I already do.”

“Multiply my money” = Same as above + “I have a lot of debt.”

“Get those hotties over there to materialize right beside me” = “I have a small penis.”

“Work somewhere better than this” = See above No Imagination

“Make the Maple Leafs win the cup” = See above + Doesn’t have a passport.

Third, anytime you say anything to anyone in a field that is specialized, whatever you’re about to say, they’ve heard it at least a hundred times. If you’re still tempted, you can use the formula from number one and ask it as a question rather than make yourself look stupid and alter the group dynamic (sometimes damaging it beyond repair).

You might say: “Has anyone ever asked if you can make their wife disappear? I am an unoriginal, unfunny white male. I am dissatisfied with my marriage, and my life overall. When I found out you were a magician, having you rid me of my wife was the first thing that popped into my head. I am asking you this banal question in a straightforward manner because it will help my silent suffering to be assured that I am not alone, suffering this way.”

NUMBER THREE: “Let me show YOU a trick!”

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Infamous 21 Card Trick

Quickly, just take a moment to think about everything that is wrong with this. It isn’t cute, nice or appropriate. It’s immature and rude. While I am actually very impressed by the fact that at one point in your life you had enough interest (or boredom) to actually learn a trick from start to finish, I cannot condone this behavior. Not for a second. At least, not in the way it’s usually proposed. Similarly to the guy in point two, when someone wants to show me something, it is usually immediately after finding out that I am a magician.

Though chronologically, this is the best time for muggle-magic to happen. As it is usually so dull and abysmal that basically anything I do will be god-like by comparison.  It still isn’t ever an enjoyable experience.

Prior to my being able to introduce one of the various themes I’d like to. Before I’m able to sense what kind of treatment might be best in order to build an environment conducive to the performance of my art for your particular group. I feel an unknown and unannounced hand going into my pocket. My personal space has been breached. Ignoring the fact you just triggered symptoms of my PTSD. As well as the fact that if I did this to you, I’d likely get slapped, punched and probably arrested. I now see a deck of cards leaving my pants, being remorselessly-handled by the greasy phalanges of some strange hand. I am horrified, but feign dignity with the most genuine smile I can muster. Not able to get a word out from beneath it before:

“Here, let me see those. I’m a magician too.
I just have to organize the cards making three piles with seven cards”,
she says.

It might be a she in the above proposed scenario. I promise you however, this account isn’t just some clever piece of fantasy I have made-up. It is has been reality. Women, men, and at one point even someone who identified as “gender neutral” have been guilty of this. I don’t know of any other profession that has to put up with this type of behavior. You don’t grab at your doctor’s medical instruments, not the band’s either. No matter how bad that cover of Don’t Stop Believin’ was. You wouldn’t grab at your pilot’s flight instruments saying: “I played a flight-sim game once, let me show you.” If you have done any of the above, next time you see a police-officer, I invite you to grab their weapon, point it at them and say: “You know the one called target practice?” Godspeed.

All in all, if you have a trick you desperately need to show off and you have to say: “You probably know this one” before showing me what I probably do, in fact, already know: Then save us both the trouble, and give me space to work.

Magician or not, I promise, I’m here because I want to add some light to your world.

I’m not here to insult you, challenge you or try to fool you. As a matter of fact, I usually give you the deck of cards I have used throughout my performance at the end of my time with you. If at that point you can still remember whatever it was you wanted so badly to show-off.  And you still feel you need to show-it off: I invite you to do it then – once I’ve left.

A note to fellow magicians: I have definitely made exceptions to this rule. I think it can be super important for us to take a few moments to observe someone’s attempt at performing magic. As long as the context has been negotiated appropriately, I think it puts us in an extremely good light. Making us more memorable. More importantly you never know what that kind of nurturing might lead to. Sir Ken Robinson did a great job making this point clear in his TED Talk, where he says:

You don’t think of Shakespeare having a father, do you? […] He was in somebody’s English class, wasn’t he? How annoying would that be? “Must try harder.” Being sent to bed by his dad, you know, to Shakespeare, “Go to bed, now, Billy” […] and put the pencil down. And stop speaking like that. It’s confusing everybody.”

Therefore I will simply add the caveat, that I think it’s more likely appropriate if the person who’s performing magic for us to be under the age of 18. If an adult is playing magician for me, it best be because I’ve learned they genuinely love magic. (If not just for themselves, sometimes it’s because they have kids or friends that they want to share the art with.) In which case, if I’m invited to do so, I will spend a few moments observing and adding suggestions on whatever they showed me. If they don’t have anything in their repertoire, but would like to, I usually teach them one of my ten, go-to, beginner effects.

On balance, I think it’s important to realize that the majority of people aren’t being purposefully malicious. Recently, I’ve found new ways to engage people in a conversation after they make a rude or hostile magician-fueled remark. Breaking down the techniques I use to negotiate these situations will be a whole project in itself. If you’re ever in a situation where someone is speaking down to an entertainer or artist, even if they don’t know they’re doing it, say something. Or, if you’re bad at confrontation, you can refer them here, or to any one of the links below.

Recommendations & Resources:

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Magician by Jordy Doust

Shit Spectators Say (To Magicians) by Mark Correia & Rosemary Reid

How to Graciously Deal with Rude People by Debby Mayne