Magician fails do happen! Have you ever looked at a magician you admire and thought ‘Seriously… do they EVER have an off night?!”

The truth is: absolutely, 100%, yes! The best professionals in the world admit there is no such thing as a perfect show every time. Between different audiences, different locations and different circumstances in your own personal life, it’s safe to say that one in every ten shows is going to be at least a little off.

You may have heard your mentors tell you this 10% rule, but perhaps you couldn’t quite believe it.

So we thought it would help everyone’s performing confidence if some of the best pros in the business shared one of their most challenging experiences with you. It really does happen to everybody and it really doesn’t have very much at all to do with whether or not you’re a competent magician.

*Disclaimer*: If you’re having negative experiences 50% or more of the time, it may be helpful to spend some energy fixing what isn’t working so that the majority of your experiences are positive.

And now, for your entertainment and information, we’re introducing our All-New Never-Improved UNBELIEVE-O-METER!

magician fails

Level 1: Happens to the Best of Us

Applies to stories that are truly terrible and also nearly inevitable if you perform regularly for more than a few years.

Level 2: Happens to Some of Us

Applies to stories that happen (or where something similar has happened) to a few other magicians out there.

Level 3: Happens to No One But You

Applies to stories that would only happen to the performer in question… you’ll see what we mean.

Level 4: Someone Literally Died



We hope you’ll take heart in these epic fails and horror stories and if anything like this has happened to you – have the courage to share it with us in the comment section! Here we go…


magician fails interview - john archer

magician fails interview 1Magician: John Archer

Title: Can You Please Hold My Baby?

Unbelieve-O-Meter Rating: THREE


I was once performing for a corporate event which was not going very well at all. Everyone was drunk and talking loudly to each other I had the attention of about 10% of the room and had tried everything to win more people over. It was on a cabaret floor and I was just trying to get through my time when a lady approached me and handed me a small baby (maybe 6 months old) and said "will you hold this for a minute"

In a slight state of what the @***! I took the baby from her and she went to the bathroom. I stood there for several minutes talking to the few who were listening to me about the strangeness of the situation until the lady returned and reclaimed her child..... Bizarre!


magician fails interview - r paul wilsonmagician fails interview 2Magician: R Paul Wilson

Title: The Disappearing Stack

Unbelieve-O-Meter Rating: TWO


Mostly I fail to communicate properly. Learning to convey ideas is always a powerful, profitable skill that anyone can improve.

As for in-show horror stories, I can recall performing Tamariz's Total Coincidence and realizing that I had lost the stack for the black cards. The reds were already in the boxes and in the spectators pockets but somehow I had no way to perform the first three phases. It was an important show for people that I worked with and I was on the spot. The answer? Sleight of hand! I performed an on-the-spot version of Larry Jennings' Synchronicity. Along the way I tried to figure out if I could make all the cards match but instead I had the spectators manually match the remaining 23 pairs and claimed that this caused the red cards in the boxes to match in sympathy.


magician fails interview - bill abbott

magician fails interview 1Magician: Bill Abbott

Title: Fat Santa Falls Down

Unbelieve-O-Meter Rating: THREE


Many years ago I was coerced into covering a gig for a magician who was double booked. It was a Christmas party for 300 children and their parents in the basement of a Catholic church. After I said yes, the magician then added that in addition to my regular show I would have to communicate with Santa "via satellite" (I later found out this meant pressing play on a VCR and pretending to speak and interact with a TV screen that featured one of the worst Santa impersonators I have ever seen) and would then "magically produce" the real Santa from a large box. The magician dropped the box off at the church the morning of the show and I arrived to find the box ready backstage along with a TV and VCR onstage plugged in and perched atop a four wheeled cart. A note stuck to the TV stated that Santa would be arriving 30 minutes prior to my performance to run through the illusion and to get into costume… finish reading this story.


magician fails interview - john gustaferro

magician fails interview 2Magician: John Guastaferro

Title: Not Your Average Floor Show

Unbelieve-O-Meter Rating: ONE


I've had my fair share of mishaps...losing a break, dropping a coin, etc. The key is how to recover and how to learn from these. I recall doing strolling magic at Red Lobster several years ago, and the cards just slipped out of my hands. All of them scattered over the floor. I could have covered it with the "floor show" gag, but I played it off as being intentional. "You laugh," I said. "But I do this to illustrate a point. Notice how they all get mixed, some face up and some face down. This is the impossible situation that faced me the other night when someone dropped my cards just like this. I was forced to continue with the cards in a topsy turvy condition." You get the idea. I thought on my toes and set up the situation as a premise for "Triumph." Sure, not ideal, but you better bet they left with a compelling image in their minds. This is one of many moments we face as magicians, when we are forced to think on our toes, draw from vast knowledge, be creative in the moment, and connect with our audience all at the same time. In many ways, this set of simultaneous skills is the real magic!


magician fails interview - ning cai

magician fails interview 3Magician: Ning Cai

Title: Weight of the World

Unbelieve-O-Meter Rating: TWO


The kind of illusion work and escapology feats I did were physically challenging; I put my body through a lot over the decade plus I was performing professionally as Magic Babe Ning.

One time just 30min before a live TV broadcast overseas, a rehearsal blocking went horribly wrong... It wasn't anyone's fault, but equipment failure... which can happen no matter how careful you and your team may be. I was squeezed inside Women's Revolution (we called it 360 Sawing) when the safety broke and I basically found myself tumbling upside down inside a small space, when the box was flipped 180 degrees. My entire weight suddenly bore down on my head and neck; I'd hurt my back, sprained my neck as it was in an awkward angle when my full weight fell on it, and an ugly huge bruise had also swelled up on my head. Thankfully I didn't suffer a concussion, so we quickly rearranged my hair to hide the injury after the guys extracted me out. The show must go on, so I got into the zone and did what I was booked to perform.

Work never ends and with every upside-down straitjacket escape I did from a crane, every physically demanding strain I put my body through when performing illusions for festivals and stages, my health was affected. When I started getting constant migraines and terrible body pains, my osteopath who treated me also noticed that my posture had become misaligned and I had a slipped disc in my neck. It was a wake up call because no matter how important work is, there's much more to life.

That's when I announced my retirement as Magic Babe Ning because I really needed the break. Trust me, when you're younger you believe you're completely invincible. But we're only human. So remember, if you do choose to break into the professional market, try to maintain a work-life balance.


magician fails interview - scott hammellmagician fails interview 2Magician: Scott Hammell

Title: Is This a Hustle?

Unbelieve-O-Meter Rating: ONE


A couple of years ago, I joined a speakers bureau after agreeing, in writing, to a percentage that the bureau would take. I was then hired by the bureau to speak at an out of town conference designed to bring exposure to the bureau. Again, a speaking fee was agreed upon in writing. I did the speech and everything went well. Everything except for their advertising and conference attendance. My speeches went really well and I went home and invoiced the client for the work. Two months later, I got a call from the client saying that they didn’t have the number of people attending the conference they were hoping for. The bureau owner said, “All of the other speakers have agreed to drop their fee and do the conference pro bono”. That told me two things. 1.)  He was subtly asking me to drop my fee. 2.) His conference expenses were drastically reduced now that he wasn’t paying any of the other speakers. I did my job and they didn’t do theirs and I was asked to make up the difference months later. After the bureau owner asked me to drop my fee, he told me that the bureau was costing him more than expected to run, and that he wants to take an extra 2% for bookings.  

I decided to drop my fee for the conference and accept the additional 2% take for the bureau. The dropped fee hurt, but I hoped I’d  keep getting booked to their other conferences. The additional 2% fee sucked, but if I played hard ball, I was worried they’d pitch me less. If I made the client happy, I hoped to get pitched more.

That is exactly what happened. I gave up an extra 2% per booking, but received about 15% more bookings. Over time, that’s more work, more bookings and more money. It’s always nice having a bureau owe you a couple, too!  


magician fails interview - david williamson

magician fails interview 1Magician: David Williamson

Title: You Will Be Held Responsible

Unbelieve-O-Meter Rating: THREE


You may recognize this story from our post How David Williamson Handles a Very Unreasonable Client”

“Years ago I was working for a client in New York City for an event being held at a famous museum. It was a very high end affair. The meeting planner was there to greet me and as we were looking over the rooms before the event, the head of the Museum Events staff came over and in a very condescending tone (I could tell she didn’t like the idea of a guy doing lowly magic in her Art Museum) she told me that there was to be “No open flames” (even though the caterer had cocktail candles at all of the tables- which I pointed out). Then she explained to me that I would be responsible for any damage to any of the priceless art if anything happened as a result of one of my magic tricks.

I was shocked and asked her to elaborate… “For example” she said “If anyone throws or spills a drink on a painting in surprise at one of your tricks…” So I said “So let me get this straight, if I do a card trick and someone is so surprised by it that they throw their drink on a priceless work of art, then I’m responsible for the damage?” “That’s right.” She said.

I calmly picked up my case and said to the Coordinator and to the Event Producer and the client “Have a nice party.” And I walked out the front door to hail a cab. I could see that there was a flurry of heated conversations in the entryway of the museum when the client came rushing out just before I stepped into my cab and asked where I was going? I told her that I couldn’t be expected to perform under such conditions and that I was going home, back to Washington D.C. She then begged me to reconsider, but I told her that the only way I would come back into the event was after I received an apology from the Museum rep and a written confirmation that I could not be held responsible for damage to any art. I basically made her eat her words. I got my apology and had a great time at the party.

I was happy that the client had my back, and it gave me a bit of confidence and from that moment on I wasn’t afraid to push back when I thought I was being disrespected at a gig.”


magician fails interview - lisa menna

magician fails interview 1Magician: Lisa Menna

Title: The Panty Thief

Unbelieve-O-Meter Rating: THREE


While performing for CAUSE TO WONDER in Mozambique, a baboon came into our camp and stole my underwear.


magician fails interview - dan sperry

magician fails interview 4Magician: Dan Sperry

Title: Does Anyone Have a Cell Phone?

Unbelieve-O-Meter Rating: FOUR


I had a guy die half way through a show once and had to call 911 because I was the only one with cell service. Meanwhile some people were trying to do CPR and stuff like that. It was CHAOS. I gave them a heavily discounted rate because I couldn’t finish the show.


So, now that you’ve heard some of our horror stories… do you have any of your own? Where would they rank on the Unbelieve-O-Meter? We hope these stories will help you push on and know that you’re not alone in the craziness of performing.

We’re REALLY looking forward to your comments!