How Fooling Penn and Teller Changed My Life
Performing for Penn and Teller changed my life in one way I never expected.
Up until then I had assumed I was going to remain, for the rest of my life, an anonymous, local magician.
And this wasn’t a bad thing.
My friend and I would talk about how we would retire by the beach and do magic tricks into our last days. We knew that doing magic would always make us happy because it made others happy.
So as a teenager I embraced this fact with aplomb: to be happy in life I wouldn’t need to be famous, I just needed to do magic.
And so came twenty years of “real world experience” - my full-time job was doing magic for people. The bulk of my shows until 2015 were private and corporate, and were not filmed or shared on Youtube. I built my career and my business one client at a time. And then came the chance to be on national television and get a taste of national exposure.
The show recorded in March of 2015 but didn’t air until August. For five months, I couldn’t tell anyone about it. Feeling a sense that this was the “quiet before the storm,” that June and July I went back to the place where, as a teenager, I had decided to retire.
I went to the beach to do magic tricks.
On free evenings, I performed at a unique and charming restaurant, The Garlic, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. And I was reminded of why I love performing magic at restaurants so much. Here I am, doing magic for people who don’t know who I am and don’t expect me to be there. And they don’t know that I’ve just filmed for a TV special, they don’t care where I’ve performed or who I’ve fooled. They only care about one thing and that is how much I care about them.
Performing for a group where you have to work hard to win them over—and take them from where they are to a whole other place—is a distinct and delightful challenge for me. It’s great when they have no clue who I am, and they expect me to be, well… terrible.
Their assumptions make them think a local magician will be corny, cheesy, or just plain suck.
While having to fight that stereotype irritated me when I was getting started, now I value the opportunity to change someone’s mind.
It can be a fun feeling knowing that the group is underestimating you; knowing that you’re about to meet and exceed their expectations. It’s fun when you know you can deliver.
Being on national TV doesn’t help with getting people to underestimate you. In fact, starting right after my episode of Penn & Teller: Fool Us aired, every gig I did became easier.
After my TV appearance, when I arrived at an event to present interactive close-up magic, instead of closed off, skeptical groups, I was met with cheers and requests, just by walking into the room. Before having to do a single magic trick to prove my ability, I was embraced with enthusiasm by everyone from the moment I arrived.
And that was a major change.
People were no longer underestimating me; now they were expecting the world. I felt the difference immediately.
The analogy I can provide is that of going to see a comedian. If you walk into a shady basement comedy club and hear a name you’ve never heard, you’re going to be a bit skeptical, with the “prove to me you’re good and make me laugh” attitude. But if you walk into a theater where a Netflix special is being filmed— even for a comedian you’ve never seen before—you’re going to get up with the rest of the crowd and give a standing ovation at the top of the show and be super-pumped and ready to laugh non-stop.
So in my business, whereas before many clients wanted to keep my performances as a surprise, now they wanted to advertise I was coming. They would send out the Fool Us video weeks ahead of time to promote my keynote speech, Think Like A Magician.
When I arrived on-site and approached the first group, there would be instant recognition. There was no need to break the ice, to lower the tension, adjust my approach based on body language, communicate my opening competency statement and facilitate a social process I had spent twenty years developing.
All of that was no longer needed because of the social proof I had received from two of the world’s greatest magicians through 7 minutes of TV.
“So this is what it’s like to walk into a room as a known celebrity,” I thought.
I quickly realized that there’s plenty of good/bad that comes with being known. And while I enjoyed how easy my job became, I also very quickly realized that being underestimated and performing for skeptical strangers had become one of the best parts of my job.
Having skeptical audiences and clients forced to me to hone my craft and my message. Knowing that I was at a disadvantage, it forced me to pay attention to people, to not take anything for granted, to always be aware how every word and action I said or did elicited a certain response.
I am so grateful that I waited 20 years before going on national television for the first time. And I’m grateful that for those 20 years I was forced to win people over. Now, seeing how easy life interactions can be when people already think you're going to be great, I appreciate the importance of the process I was put through when people thought I was going to suck.
I’m nowhere near famous, but I’ve appreciated the taste. And let’s be honest, while 10 million people may have watched the YouTube video, I’m in no way recognized on the street. I still treasure my anonymity and I don’t think that’s going away any time soon!
I’ll meet you out in the world and you probably won’t recognize me, until I exceed your expectations and surprise you with a moment of magic.