Wanna hear about my nightmare gig?

Most of the emails I write, I write knowing that there is going to be a point at the end.

You can probably tell that this one may be different.

I’m going to use this as a cathartic vent (because hiring a therapist is expensive) and just hope that I magically come up with something of value along the way.

So you can play along, I promise to type “***” when inspiration strikes.

Let’s see how it goes…

As most of you know, I’m a magician. Not one of those god awful kids magicians, who wear bright ties and makes animals and filthy innuendoes out of balloons.

No.

I’m one of those god awful close-up magicians, who wears a normal-looking suit and makes filthy innuendos while doing card tricks.

(“How many balls have you got in your hand now, Beryl?”)

Anyway, a few Saturday’s ago, I did a gig that I shouldn’t have.

Right from the off, I could tell it wasn’t for me.

Someone wanted to book me for three hours to entertain a bunch of 18-year-old girls.

On its own, this would be enough for me to open up Evernote and search for my “not a fucking chance” template, but it got worse.

“There’s only 6 of them coming”, the email continued.

Oh, God.

“And I’d like you to be a surprise!”

Oh God, oh God.

Now, I don’t know how old you are, or what gender you are, but I want you to try and imagine what it would be like to be an 18-year-old girl, having a small, intimate gathering, in a very well to do areas of Cheshire…

Now, imagine that, halfway into your nice, quiet party, your Dad enters the kitchen to announce that he has a surprise for you…

Do you think there’s any part of you that is hoping the surprise is a tired-looking 44-year-old man in a suit?

I thought not.

I get the “I want you to be a surprise!” thing a lot. 

I get it. It’s a reaction only YOU get to witness.

It’s like a bonus reaction – a little hit of emotion that you wouldn’t get if you’d put “we’re having a magician” on the invites.

Surprises work well when the whole audience gets to witness the surprise at the same time.

This is why it works for strippers, singing waiters and marriage proposals.

A stripper enters the room with loud music – everyone can see and hears what’s happening.

The waiters suddenly spring up with microphones and start singing. Everyone, at the same moment, realises they’ve been had.

Your procrastinating partner finally gets down on one knee, and you, the audience, see it.

With a close-up magician, there is no big reveal – we just start working our way around your guests.

The first people we perform to are the ones that get the surprise. 

After that, it’s just a Mexican wave of,

“Who the hell is that guy?”

“What kind of saddo brings a deck of cards to a party?”

Anyway, I digress (and the eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that there still hasn’t been a “***”…)

Where were we?

Ah yes. So, I get the email and everything about it is screaming, DO NOT TAKE THIS GIG!!!”. Trouble is, I find turning work down difficult.

I like eating.

If I was Scrooge McDuck, sat on piles of money, it would be easier. 

Anyway, we had a few emails back and forth, clarifying the details of the night, where I tried to figure out how I could best be of help.

(In reality, I’m looking for a red flag – something definitive that will make me go “No way!” to taking this gig)

(FYI, some of my red flags include:

  • “Don’t touch the buffet.”
  • People trying to convince me that performing for their knitting circle would be great exposure.
  • “I think the kids will love it!”, and
  • Amanda Holden is going to be there.)

In the end, he didn’t offer anything I massively objected to.

Balls to it, I’ll scare him off with a massive quote. That way HE’LL be the one to say ‘No'”.

So I did.

“Sounds great. See you Saturday!”

Shit.

(Also – ***)

Now, I’m lumbered with the gig that, while being not totally terrible (it could be worse) is not ideal for a few reasons.

Firstly, it’s not my usual crowd. I perform best when I’m relaxed and can let my sense of play go nuts. Give me a table full of drunken, rude rugby fans any day of the week. With those guys I know I can let loose and have some fun.

A bunch of 18-year-old girls at a house party? Not so much.

I’m going to have to devote 98% of my energy into not being weird, scary and arrested. 

It’s like meeting your girlfriend’s parents for the first time. You’re you, but not the real “you”, if you know what I mean?

Putting on a character is a bloody nightmare and keeping it up for a whole evening zaps my energy and wipes me out.

(I’m going to be needing some Tunnocks!)

The other thing I don’t like about small, intimate house parties is that so much is riding on ME.

If I perform at a wedding, I’m a very small part of the day. If I mess up a card trick, no one is going to remember that. 

When you’re performing at a house party though – when the host has revealed you as the big SURPRISE – the pressure’s on you to deliver.

There is also no escape.

At a massive corporate event, if I perform for one table and they are not so hot, I can cut it short and move to a more appreciative table.

When you’re standing in a kitchen, feeling awkward in front of 5 teenagers, there’s nowhere to go. If you want to experience the longest sixty minutes of your life, I’d recommend that.

When I get gigs like this – gigs that I’m not totally comfortable with – I tend to worry and dwell on the things that can go wrong.

With this one though, I used it as an exercise to remind myself what I CAN control.

I can’t control how they are going to react, but I can control how I choose to show up and act on the night.

I can’t guarantee that I can make them laugh, but performing my act as best as I can is totally within my control.

I can’t control anything about the performing conditions (house parties are always variable – “are you OK doing a card trick for Aunt Kath. She’s upstairs, third commode on the left…”)…

… but I can take responsibility as the expert and ask for a table and look around for a suitable space.

I can’t control whether there will be interruptions, but I can think about what these might look like and how I would deal with them if they happen.

Most of all though, I’m in total control of my main goal for the night.

It’s NOT to perform every trick perfectly, make every joke land and have a perfectly attentive audience.

It’s to do the best I can with whatever is on the other side of that door.

If they all hate magic, or me, I’m in for a long, uncomfortable hour…

… and that’s OK.

I know this sounds like worrying and dwelling, but it’s not. It’s reminding me to focus on what’s in my control and anytime you do that, you’re empowering yourself.

I’m reminding myself not to pin my worth on how other people react. 

The only thing I can control is my own thoughts and actions.

Do the best you can.

I wish I could round this email off with a Disney-esque finale, by telling you I was fabulous, I stormed it and they begged me not to leave.

Don’t get me wrong, it was good, and went far better than I expected, but, as I thought, it was hard work.

There was the moment when the dad announced me to the room and then immediately nipped out to go and find another guest, leaving me alone in a kitchen with four 18-year-olds as they ate. 

It was as awkward as it sounds.

There was the moment when the Dad suggested we go upstairs to the bar area, and all the girls crowded in the corner, taking selfies, as I stood there, wondering when I should start.

There was also the moment at the end of one of the tricks – where two of the guests are holding hands to create an impossible moment of magic – where a late guest arrived and I had to wait for three minutes for the hugs and selfies to settle.

And then, in the end, there was the moment when I said to the mum, “My God, you must have a lot of memory on your phone…”, as, every time I looked over, she’d been filming me.

“Oh, I don’t need memory for Instagram Live…”

Yep. The whole thing. LIVE. On Instagram.

Shit.

So, after all that, here’s the lesson.

When doing anything creative, we often worry about the things we can’t control:

“What will my boss think of this report?”

“Will this launch sell more than last years?”

Stop.

Instead, focus on what you can control. 

“How can I make this report as good as I can?”

“What can I do to to help generate sales?”

Pay attention to your efforts, not your results.

Remember what we say to kids…

“TURN THAT F*****G YOUTUBE OFF, WILL YOU?”

Not that.

“Don’t worry about whether you win or lose. Try. Do your best, that’s all you can do”.

It’s no different for you. 

Have a great week,

John

P.S. “SMACK MY PITCH UP!” is no longer available for pre-order. 

Because I’ve released it. That’s right people – it’s out in the world.

If you bought it, thank you.

If you didn’t, why not? Even my wife told me that it’s not totally shit!