Misdirecting Those Who Resist

This is a very specific technique with a very specific situation which arises every now and then to all of us close-up magicians.

I’m talking about the spectator who, no matter what, insists on spending your performance “grilling your hands.” This person will not let his or her eyes wander for they might miss “the move” which will tip the secret. Their reasons for this behavior vary; perhaps your presentation / character inspired them to devote their energies to this pursuit, perhaps their understanding of their role in a magic show is to resist deception at all costs, or perhaps they are insecure and need to feel like a bigger person than this hack with the cards impressing his / her friends.

We can try to understand “why” all we want at home, the real question is how the hell do we pull off this pass or mercury card fold or two handed palm when their eyes just won’t leave our hands?

Here’s a proven solution to this problem which I developed way back in high school where I encountered this type of behavior quite often. It’s effective, non-combative, and (as all misdirection should be) undetectable.


Before I explain the technique, it is important that you understand this: it is very exhausting for anyone to watch a magician with the sole purpose of catching them out. To do this they are consciously avoiding all of the elements of the performance which make it fun. They aren’t paying attention to your smile, your jokes, your charm, your style, your wit, your beauty, your magic: all they are watching is for “the move.” That is boring and very tiring.

So, knowing this, lets draw our “Griller” into a war of attrition.

The card has just be returned to the pack. You need to pass it to the top (I know: a double undercut might be more appropriate for this situation, but lets just assume you HAVE to do the pass). Your normal misdirection here has succeeded in nabbing the attention of the group, but you can see peripherally that the “Griller” is still staring down at your hands. He knows a move is coming. It has to. He isn’t going to look away!

So here’s what you are going to do.


Ready yourself for the move. Get your hands in position or whatnot. Prepare yourself so that at the sound of a gun shot you could execute the move. But don’t do it yet. Instead relax your entire body and address the group. (Whatever you do, do not draw attention to the “Griller.” You do not want him or her to know that you are aware of, or even care that, their eyes are burning your hands).

Now talk to the group. It really doesn’t matter what you say. Extend your script, (I hate the word patter, but in this case sure… patter away), tell a joke, recount the last time you did this effect, recap what has happened thus far, say anything! And keep saying it until you see / feel the “Griller” relax their attention and look away.

They will always look away at some point. Starring at someones hands while your friends have fun is boring and isolating. It takes a lot of discipline to maintain that for any length of time. Trust in the fact that it takes far more energy for them to consciously focus solely on your hands doing nothing than for you to just stand there and talk about nothing. They will cave, for a split second or more.

That’s when you do the move; when they take a quick timeout, or a quick cognitive and literal peek into the conversation. That’s all you needed, right?

But wait! Don’t carry on to the next step quite yet. If you do the “Griller” might catch on to the fact that you were stalling until they looked away. No, keep talking until you feel/see the “Griller” return to staring at your hands.

Their thought process should be this:

Okay, the card is back in the pack. Okay he’s going to do something sneaky, I can feel it. Hmm nothing yet… not yet. Hmmm. Come on, I know he’s going to do something soon! Man I wish he would hurry up (look away) and stop talking. He’s only (looks back) doing this to distract you guys. Come on. Alright soon. Come on, come on!

When the “Griller” looks back at his hands he needs to be looking at the same image as when he looked away. Only then will he A) assume that nothing happened while he looked away and/or B) forget that he ever looked away to begin with. This is what Lawrence Hass refers to as making your sleights “psychologically invisible.”

After you feel the “Griller” has resumed comfort with starring at your hands, then feel free to continue the effect. He or she will still be convinced that a move is coming because they have been starring at your hands the whole time.


Most laymen assume that distracting someone is an activity. You have to do something to distract people right? Well, not necessarily. You can distract and misdirect just as easily by not doing anything. The “Griller” is looking for you to do something, be it talking, gesturing, saying a joke, to distract him or her from your secret move. That is how they understand misdirection to work. I think it is very difficult for them to conceive that BORING them into looking away would be a calculated strategy to misdirect them.

This works because we are purposefully giving the “Griller” a boring show. The rest of your audience gets a great show, with a little extra commentary thrown in (which they aren’t even aware was extra). But because the “Griller” has chosen to be an adversary to your entertainment they deserved to be bored, just as your real audience deserves to be entertained and fooled.


Now obviously you can’t utilize this for every single move. Your performance will lag terribly. This is more of an emergency technique. Usually when dealing with a “Griller” I shift my magic to more self working, multiple method, or at least less bold magic.

Furthermore when I am faced with a close-up audience, or even one audience member in a group, who is completely devoted to catching me out or exposing my magic (I do not use the term “heckler” lightly) my immediate response is to leave. My job is not to be dissected by my client’s guests. I use this described technique to make it through one trick, thank them, and then excuse myself to go to the next table.

I, the “Griller,” and their friends will have a better time when the “Griller” isn’t around. If his or her friends want to see my magic, they know where to find me.

Know somebody who needs to hear this? Please pass it along to them!

Have your own insights? Please comment below!

Did you really read this far down? Thank you so much, you are awesome!

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