We Want to Be Fooled

“Now you’re looking for the secret… But you wont find it… because you don’t really want to know…you want to be fooled.” -Cutter, from The Prestige

Positive Thinking

believe that every audience wants to be fooled by the magician.

I doubt most people, when they turn on a television program, go to a play, or see a magician perform at their company party are sitting there thinking “Wow, I really want this to be terrible, or at worst: mediocre.” That is crazy. We as human beings want to experience cool stuff, we want good quality entertainment, and this is especially true if we are committing resources (ticket money, time, attention) to it. Otherwise, why watch it?

Sure, they may not have come to this restaurant specifically to see a magician and feel amazed, but now that you are both here, it would be a great surprise if you were really good!

As a magician, the bare minimum requirement for your to be good is for the audience to be fooled by your magic. Bare minimum. It would be great if you were funny too. Or deep. Or philosophical. Or memorable. But square one to any of this is you have to fool them, and your audience understands that!

Since they understand that, as soon as you are introduced to them as a magician, I believe that they all want to be impressed, and therefore, want to be fooled. Even if they vocally, or even consciously, are resistant to the idea of being fooled, I think they do want you to be good, and therefore they would like to be fooled by you.

I like this outlook very much. It makes walking out on stage, or approaching a table, feel much brighter and easier. I’m not jumping into a colosseum where the crowd is cheering for me to be ripped limb from limb. To the contrary, they are cheering for me- on my side. They understand that my opponent is powerful, it is educated, it is skeptical. It has defeated countless magicians in the past, vivisected their fake thumbs, chewed through their sleeved coins, and punished them brutally for their unconvincing palmed cards. But my audience sits in their seats thinking, hoping, that maybe I will be different. Maybe I will be able to fell this vicious beast and give them an impressive surprise: astonishment.

The audience is on our side. Let’s not let em down.


As with every rule, there are exceptions to this one.

If the audience (or individual) feels threatened, or feels that you have committed some injustice to him/her or another, they will probably want you to suck.

The good news is situations such as these are rare if left to their own accord. If you encounter threatened audience members frequently, I would advise that you look at your own persona, act, approach, etc. because it is probably something you are creating by accident.

There are other types of “threatened” personalities which do pop up somewhat naturally, but can easily be defused. Some of them are:

The Othellos

Othello is anybody who is jealous of you, and therefore feels threatened that you may upset their status in the group. Don’t be naive and assume this only applies to couples, or only to guys. It is true that typically, a guy will feel threatened when you begin performing, especially if his date takes a strong interest in you/your magic. However, the “alpha” (again, doesn’t have to be a guy) of any group may also be weary of you being too funny or too interesting, as he may feel his status as the most popular one in the group beginning to slip. In fact, anybody in the group might feel jealous of you if they are attempting to win the affection of another member of the group (again, this isn’t limited to romantic relationships).

The key to defusing these situations is respect and humility. In close up performances identify any Othellos as quickly as possible and get them on your side with non-threatening charm. Whether close-up or on the stage, you need to portray that your only goal is to provide the best performance possible for everyone to enjoy. You could care less about their group politics.

The Yossarians

Yossarian is anybody with a deep distrust of magicians and a fear of being made to look/feel foolish. Note that this is different than being privately fooled, and thereby impressed, within the safety of his own skull. Yossarrian is often of the opinion that magicians are all elitist know-it-alls who make fun of their audience and make them feel stupid.

Depending upon your personality and character, Yossarian’s fears may be laid to rest rather quickly (I doubt Yossarian would fear being made to “look stupid” by Teller or Tommy Wonder). If you are like me, and portray a slightly cocky or other personal which might not naturally communicate “I don’t want you to feel stupid,” then some careful scripting and attention to detail may be necessary. Try finding ways to change the experience of “not knowing” from a negative to a positive one. Show that whether or not they are fooled is a private matter, one which you will not criticize or rudely excite. In doing this, avoid trying to come off as pompous. No spectator wants to hear “it’s so much better not knowing,” or even worse “I wish I could be in your shoes and be amazed.” That type of condescension only reinforces Yossarian’s assumptions.

Once he is comfortable that you fooling him will not be followed with or preceded with any malicious intent towards him or others, Yossarian will begin to, (like the rest of your audience), want you to be good. He wont admit it, even to himself, but deep down he would love to be fooled.

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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