From The Trenches | Dealing with Difficult Characters

By Dan Farrant - Tuesday, April 2, 2019

There are well over 7 billion people in the world now. Inevitably some of them are going to be, well, difficult. Most of the people that I’ve met when performing as a magician are an absolute delight, but it’s good to be able to spot the ones that aren’t, and know how to deal with the situation when you do have the unfortunate pleasure of running into them. I’ll cover how I deal with difficult characters at the end of this post, but I’d love to know your thoughts on what to do as well. Feel free to contact me via my website Before that, I want to talk about some things to think about so you don’t rub people up the wrong way in the first place..

Magician Vs The Audience Personally, I don’t want the tricks I perform to be me, ‘the magician’ versus them ‘the audience’. Over the years I’ve worked on trying NOT to frame my act as me winning and them losing. It’s a subtle thing but your act shouldn’t be making people feel like they’ve lost or that they’ve been “fooled”. You want to leave them feeling amazed and astonished rather than with a feeling of frustration and disappointment. I recommend putting your phone on voice memo record on your next gig and stick it in the top pocket of your jacket. When you listen back, think about the words you use for each trick and how it comes across. Would you like your character if you saw them at an event?

Ego is the enemy We’ve all been guilty of it. You’re told how great you are all night and that you’re “the best magician I’ve ever seen.” It’s not surprising that magicians, in general, are notoriously arrogant and have huge egos. Arrogance is such a turn-off. I literally can’t stand watching an arrogant magician. Once your magician ego starts raising its head people will not like you, and will actively want you to fail. I don’t know about you but I want my audiences to be on side and willing me to succeed!

When performing, my persona is very self-deprecating, slightly nervous but cheeky and very non-confrontational (I talked a bit about how I introduce myself in this post on approaching groups at an event).

This very un-arrogant approach to my character has two benefits:

  1. People won’t feel threatened

If you go up to a group with one alpha male character and the rest of them women, he is going to feel threatened when you come in, take all the attention from him and everyone starts telling you how amazing you are. He’s not going to feel good.

I’m writing this as a male magician so most of the time the friction I experience will be with other men, but from conversations with some female magician friends, it seems that women can be equally confrontational too. A friend of mine one time got punched after doing a trick… People can be crazy!

  1. You’ll get better reactions.

If I go in, brimming with confidence and ego, the audience knows what is going to happen. I’m going to do a trick and it’s probably going to go right. They won’t know how it happened but they won’t really care.

But if I go in, slightly nervous, maybe things seem to be “going wrong,” then the reaction when the trick comes to its reveals is so much bigger because they didn’t think it was even going to work.

I can’t remember in which video I saw him speak about it but David Williamson talks about only giving an audience 40%. (Maybe someone can let me know and I’ll add a link in here.)

It’s so true that when you just do an overhand shuffle rather than a one-handed riffle with loads of fancy cardistry cuts your audience will be far more shocked when you then find their card. In the words of Mr Williamson, BAM!

Don’t try to impress your audience, try to astonish them.

How else to avoid those hard to please people From trying to practice the things I’ve talked about above, I don’t tend to get much grief when performing. I enjoy some cheeky heckles and harmless fun but...don’t be afraid to walk away if someone is being aggressive or very rude.

I’ve had people:

  • go through my pockets
  • throw my cards on the floor
  • lie about what card they chose

Most of the time it’s not worth trying to win them over. There will be countless other groups who love magic that want to see you. Just leave and move on.

When you say you’re leaving, the rest of the group will usually pipe up and tell them to shut up. They will often come over afterwards and apologise on their behalf. But, sometimes you’ll meet people who are just really difficult. They’ll announce how you did a trick the moment you reveal it, or they’ll say “that’s two cards” when you do a double lift. I’m still working out how best to deal with these people. So far I’ve found two ways that work fairly well. The first is to completely ignore them and try and cut them out. If you need someone to do something, then choose someone else. I’ve found it works with some people but others will play up even more.

When I was younger I would focus everything on the difficult individual and try and win them over by doing more and more tricks on them, but I realised this doesn’t work.

They’re not my audience. They’re being difficult and I’m rewarding them with even more attention and so now I try to involve them as little as possible.

The 2nd thing that I’ve found works well is to use them as a helper. Rather than doing the tricks for them, you join forces with them and do the trick together. Tricks like the invisible deck give them the limelight they want and make them look good, but you’re still in charge and giving them the directions.

Do you have any other ideas for dealing with someone difficult? Let me know, I’m up for trying new stuff.

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