Professional magicians know that one thing that sets aside the men from the boys, the pros from the amateurs, the strong from the weak, etc., in the table-hopping business in magic is the APPROACH to a table or group of spectators. This is so tremendously important (even moreso than the tricks/effects which are performed) that it is discussed to the Nth degree in books, magazines, at magic conventions, and in online forums. There is no one correct way to do it, and there are many things to take into consideration. An experienced pro develops a real knack for it over time. His/her living depends upon it. It often makes the difference between a profitable night and walking away hungry, and can even cost the magician their gig if they're not careful. Sometimes all it takes in one complaint to the management of the establishment and you're out the door.
A few months ago I was table-hopping in a local private club and was just getting started for the evening. I had hit a couple of tables and things were underway. I typically try to strike right after the table has ordered their food or after they are finished eating and are settling in to relax with some after-dinner drinks, etc. I saw a table in the corner that was full of mature, middle-aged ladies who were fairly well-dressed. There were about eight of them. They had ordered their dinner and were sipping on some drinks. I noticed that one of the ladies seemed to be holding the attention of most everyone at the table as she was talking. She was somewhat stern in appearance, and seemed to be in charge. She was definitely somewhat of the A-type personality. A couple of other women chimed in with a word or two, but this other lady definitely headed the discussion. I kept myself busy for several minutes, and waiting until the time seemed right, I approached the table.
I introduced myself in typical fashion, and was greeted with a somewhat lukewarm response. They said they wanted to see what I could do, so I produced a deck of playing cards out of thin air with a flash-deck appearance (a small fireball and a deck of cards materializes). Instantly they were impressed and the mood lightened tremendously. I did a quick card trick and they applauded, laughed, etc. They realized then that I was no two-bit magician. Except for Captain Sternface. She sat back in her chair, leaned on one elbow, and drew up one corner of her mouth. One of the ladies actually made a rather forward comment to me, though it was delivered tastefully. I played along, generating some laughter. They were lightening up and starting to enjoy themselves all of a sudden.
Regardless of this, I thought it best to close and leave the table fairly quickly. Though many of the ladies seemed to be enjoying me, a couple of the others, particularly Captain Sternface, just watched me closely and appeared to be giving me the proverbial "once-over." I then performed my version of what magicians know as Michael Close's "Pothole" trick; one of my favorites because it absolutely SLAYS spectators, and they are left with my business card in their hand and a great story to go along with it.
I talk about how men hate asking for directions anywhere, crack a joke or two, and proceed to tell a story about what happened when I was giving directions to someone the other day. I pull out a couple of business cards, and with a sharpie draw some streets and houses on the back that indicate where I live and where one of the ladies sitting at the table lives (I choose someone to help me). I then talk about a pothole in the road in front of my house that is a distinguishing landmark that helps people know which house on the block is mine. To demonstrate this, I pull a small hole-punch out of my jacket pocket and firmly and directly punch a round hole in one of the business cards. I then proceed to tell a story about a neighborhood rivalry as I begin moving the hole around on the card from one place to another, just by grabbing it with my thumb and middle finger and pulling on it. The reactions this gets are always fantastic, because each time I stop, they can see that the hole goes completely through the card yet it is moving. I eventually pull the hole completely off of one business card (leaving it completely intact, without a hole in it), and place it onto the other business card which belongs to the lady sitting at the table and has been in full view, intact, the entire time. It has been a great closing trick at tables for me for some time.
This particular night at this table of ladies, the response was fairly good, but not what I was used to receiving. It was a tad bit more reserved. Some were laughing and applauding, others simply smiled, though ALL of them were astonished. I bowed slightly and wished them all a good night, and as I was about to walk away Captain Sternface spoke up. She had been examining the card with the hole in it for a moment or two, and she leaned forward and planted her elbow firmly on the table, waving the card with the inexplicable hole in it back and forth in the air. She said incredulously "So...what was the purpose of that?"
The table was quiet. "I beg your pardon," I said politely. Even though I heard her clearly, I was giving myself a moment to calm down and not pop off with some smart-ass answer.
"What was the purpose of all of that??" she repeated. "That you MOVED the HOLE?" This was said with an air of disdain.
At that moment something happened. Apparently I was not allowing myself to realize what was really going on at that table. It was evident that these women weren't together to enjoy a night out on the town; they were there to bitch and moan about whatever it was (probably men), and I just threw gasoline on their fire. This woman resented the fact that I had subverted some of her ladies at the table (they were probably sick of listening to her already), so she was attempting to make me out to be some kind of moron who wasting their time with pointless antics. She was taking herself and everything else way too seriously.
I strive to usually maintain my professional bearing regardless of some hecklers. I do, however, refuse to be anyone's punching bag, whether verbally or physically. I do NOT let people do that. Most of the time I am successful in winning enough people at any given table that someone will come to my defense and I don't have to say a word. Sometimes I reply with a witty comeback and they back down. I usually diffuse any tension immediately, and always endeavor to keep the mood fun and upbeat, even if people are being total jerks.
I knew at that moment, however, that this was a sticky situation. I also knew that there was only one way to deal with it; minimize the damage and walk away. She had already ruined the moment that had been created and now was attacking me. I looked at her directly, shrugged my shoulders and said very matter-of-factly "If that's how you want to look at it, then, yes I suppose so." I then smiled at the other ladies, who were no longer making eye contact with me and were very quiet, and I walked away.
Some people fail to realize that what I'm bringing to them is simply a few moments of entertainment. That's it. Let's forget the world's problems for a few moments and just have some fun and see something cool. Some people's egos, however, will not allow them to be entertained or enjoy something even for just a moment. They feel threatened, humiliated, or simply just don't like the fact that they aren't in control or that someone else has the spotlight for a few moments. They just don't get it. I ignored what my instincts and experience were trying to tell me was a table I should have simply avoided altogether. There are just some people and situations that I avoid, knowing that the situation isn't favorable in the least. A lot can be gathered about people by watching their behavior in a restaurant or club; even by the way they eat their food.
I've had people grab me, grab things out of my hands (adults, mind you), and even one local, prominent millionaire, who had become enraged that I fooled him with a trick, got in my face, yelled at me and demanded that I tell him how my trick was done. He was used to giving orders and having people jump at his command. I smiled as he made a fool of himself (and his wife put him in check) and maintained my dignity. The next time I saw that man (over a year later), I entertained a table of his friends and he gave me the largest tip I have ever received. He even tried to book me at an event he had coming up, though it didn't work out. I've seemed to have won him over.
Other people simply just don't get it; or perhaps they just don't want it.