How To Say No

“A veterinarian! You know, when I was a kid I remember every girl dreaming of growing up to be a vet, but I’ve never actually met one who made it happen. Well done.”

“Thank you. And what do you do?”

“Good question.”

One final sip of chilled Canadian whisky from my glass before I smile and casually drop the bomb.

“I’m a magician.”

Only two possible reactions may be incoming. Either she will display an expression similar to that of attempting to decipher the origin of a suddenly detected obscene odor whist remaining socially engaged with current polite company (although she no longer is), or an inexplicable jolt will part her lips and widen her eyes sharply- signifying the imminent arrival of:

“Oh my god, show me a trick!”


Saying No

On rare circumstances I enjoy this situation quite alot. However, the rest of the time I am looking for a way to move on with the conversation, and my evening. What follows are some techniques I’ve developed for avoiding giving impromptu performances. But first:

Should You Say No?

Yes Camp
-A real magician would be able to perform anywhere, anytime.
-It’s rude to say no to the invitation.
-This is an opportunity to showcase your skills, either for business or social interests.
-If a friend has talked you up to the group, you may put them in a difficult spot by refusing.

No Camp
-A real magician wouldn’t have to prove his skills for every request. This goes doubly for professionals. Your business card says you’re the real deal.
-Your character may be different from your real personality and a sudden shift into character can be jarring.
-If this is your profession, you are essentially being asked to work for free and on your time off.
-Performing just one trick can snowball into more and more requests.
-You may not be prepared or in a situation to showcase your best material.
-You may not feel like performing at that moment.

I pitch my tent in the No Camp, but I do recognize and give credit to the arguments of the Yes Campers. This is why I have listed them here. However, I feel the arguments against performing simply outweigh the opposing side.

When I feel like performing, I do. If not, I feel no guilt about politely refusing. Neither should you.


How To Say No

All of the following are audience tested standbys. Feel free to borrow them.

“I just came from performing two shows downtown. Give me a minute to settle in and maybe I’ll show you something later.”
This is usually the truth, although it works equally well as a lie so long as you are dressed well enough. It stresses that magic is work for you and you are now off the clock while not completely shutting out the requester. They may still see magic later, though they usually forget or lose interest.

Another perk is this line continues the conversation without a hitch. The requester’s next course is obviously to ask you about the show you just came from. You can satisfy their interest in your work without having to whip out the cards.

“Oh, I only get ‘The Magic’ for five minutes at a time. I don’t have it anymore. See that man over there? He has it now. Go ask him to show you a trick!”
This is a line to get rid of kids, and to pester your magician friends if they are nearby. Be careful though: this can create an arms race of clever “leave me alone” lines.

Even when flying solo I often use the idea that “The Magic” comes and goes as a premise for distancing myself from the necessity of performing. Sometimes the kid will buy into it. More likely they will argue with you. That’s fine. Insist that what you say is true and never back down. When they comeback and ask you about it in ten minutes say that they just missed you a second time.

It’s a fun game.


“I’m really not here to perform, but I’ll show you one quick thing.”
If there are objects at hand which allows me a very quick out, I will sometimes do one trick. I am careful to phrase it as a gift and, again, point out that this is my time off.

My current favorites to perform are:
-The second phase of Daniel Garcia’s Void (an impromptu straw through bill).
-Garrett Thomas’ Ring Thing.
-Sponge balls using Napkins. (“Sponge Napkins” by Gregory Wilson).
-ReCap by Gregory Wilson (a visual routine using a ballpoint pen and cap).

All of these tricks require minimal presentation, so I don’t need to shift character to do them. They use borrowed or found objects and take less than a minute to perform.


“I’m really not here to perform for you.”
I stole this from Jerry Seinfeld and I think it’s brilliant. It comes from Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. Barry Marder asks Jerry to continue telling a bit from Jerry’s show which has been brought up. Jerry responded with this.

I usually reserve this for friends who I am comfortable being somewhat upfront with. When it comes to delivery, the rest of us need more of a smile than what Jerry can get away with. However, I think this succinctly sums up the reasons for your refusal. A magic trick is a performance. It is work. You aren’t at work right now. Let’s do something else.

Do note that this is an abrupt end to your current conversational thread. The responsibility is on you to neatly redirect the conversation towards something else. Otherwise things can get awkward or be interpreted as a little too harsh.







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

Have your own insights? Please comment below!

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