A few years ago, I had what I originally thought was a really bad gig. I was audience-testing material for my next book, Game Changer (which will be released in 2017.) I was doing a formal set that included six new routines from the book. Each effect failed in some way. These weren’t small problems. I had to completely abandon the original premise and “jazz” my way through to some sort of a finish. The audience didn’t think I messed up though. They just didn’t see the effect I intended to show them. The audience had no idea how much better the effects could have been. I think I used this old classic four or five times: “Hmmm, that’s odd. I don’t see your card anywhere in the deck—because it’s in my wallet… again.”
In one particular effect I flashed a spectators card on the bottom of the deck. The spectator instantly called me out on it. One bottom palm later she was pleading to the rest of the audience, “I swear I saw it, I swear!” On another effect, I had laid out very clear rules of a proposition bet. Later a spectator informed me that I actually lost the bet due to a poor choice of words. (He was 100% right!) We played a quick game of Three-card Monte with the balance I owed him and we settled up right there. On a different trick I need to cut any indifferent card from the deck, except the Seven of Spades. (I cut to it twice.) Cards were lost, breaks were dropped, stacks were shuffled, witty spectator comments had no comebacks, and the list goes on. I was constantly trying to wiggle my way out of each problem during every effect for the entire performance.
At the end of the show, they were blown away by all the great tricks they saw. I received great feedback from everyone, especially the person that hired me. (I’ve been hired back each year since this show.) I was feeling like it was one of the worst shows I’ve ever done. After sitting in my car staring at the steering wheel for a few hours asking myself, “What am I doing with my life?” I went home and began writing down all the problems that happened.
Over the next few weeks, I began thinking of solutions to each problem. I fixed the flashing card on the bottom of the deck. I reworked the effect so that the Seven of Spades was impossible to cut to. I changed the patter on my proposition bet effect. I came up with a list of comebacks for hecklers. Over the next month or so, I refined each effect. The “worst show I’ve ever done” was actually the one of the best shows I’ve ever done. My audience pointed all the flaws in each effect. They are part of the reason the effects are so much stronger today.
So the next time you screw up, recover as best you can. If possible, don’t make your audience aware you’ve made a mistake. After the gig, don’t feel defeated. Think about how you can improve whatever went wrong. Repeat this cycle enough times, and you’ll never make mistakes again.