Heckler: (n) An immoral, humorless and boisterous beast masquerading as a human being. Some surviving magicians report it to be an elusive, solitary monster- a rare encounter better left unprovoked. To others, the vermin are rampant, swiftly infesting the show of any magician who’s close-up mat’s scent has attracted such vultures. The best defense against such horrific onslaughts are increasingly rapid and desperate one-liners intended to lower the creature’s self esteem below that of the magician’s. -Merriam-Webster
Hyperbole aside, I think many magicians are far too presumptuous and discriminatory of the heckler- a prejudice which leads, as it often does, to an unwarranted and excessive fear.
To many, any person who interrupts the performance at any time (except when called up, of course- but even then it must go exactly as the magician intended) for any reason is a “heckler.”
To me, none of the typical interruptions a spectator might say/do would warrant being classified as a heckle. They are just that, interruptions. By definition, they are often undesirable, but to instantly assume that the interrupter is a “heckler,” and thereby intent on destroying your show is absurd. Simply assess why they are saying what they are saying, and address it accordingly. Remain in control, but in a smart way.
What is a True Heckler?
The real Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a heckle as: “to harass and try to disconcert with questions, challenges or gibes.” I think this definition is a little too broad for our use in magic (remember, the term heckler is most often utilized in relation to politicians). However, it is definitely more on par than what many magician’s would use as a definition.
For myself, I would say that a heckler is someone who acts with the direct and unprovoked intent of harming your performance and/or your character. Note the words “direct and unprovoked,” for they make all the difference. If I offend someone in the audience, and they (or anybody else) feels the need to lash out at me- they are not a heckler. If somebody is not convinced that the card I give them is indeed the card it is supposed to be and so decides to turns it over- they are not a heckler. Neither is the kid who doesn’t understand my instructions, or the frat guy who blurts out “that’s what she said” after my poorly considered word choice.
These are all indirect ways of intentionally harming my show. Some won’t realize their interruptions were detrimental to the performance; many spectators who upstage the magician by making jokes often feel as if they are helping the show! Other actions are entirely provoked. If you have offended your audience, then your audience is merely reacting to you harming them first!
As for spectators who turn over cards too soon, say it went up the sleeve, ask to examine props, etc.- this is not heckling my friend, this is feedback! It is direct and important feedback that your technique and/or presentation require mending. Maybe they require replacement. Our craft is a two way street. We must match and overcome our audiences’ natural skepticism and intelligence with convincing technique and performance in order to create magic. They must be convinced of the situation at the start before they will be convinced of the impossible. So if they speak up, don’t be upset that they messed up the trick- be upset you didn’t know about this weak point until now! Think of all the people you’ve showed this trick to before who didn’t speak up and probably weren’t convinced of your little miracle!
Is There a True Heckler?
Of course, but they are incredibly rare and rather easy to avoid. Overly insecure audience members may lash out, as will drunken spectators. In close-up situations just leave em alone. I find you will rarely encounter such people at more formal shows- and even if you do, you have the microphone!
I hope I have impacted your view of hecklers. I feel that magicians need to be less quick to classify audience initiated interaction as heckling. Most magic performances break the 4th wall immediately, and there is absolutely no 4th wall in close-up. To expect the audience to instinctively understand when the 4th wall is okay to cross and when it is not is pretentious and delusional in such circumstances.
Lead, listen, and react- but don’t be prejudice.
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