“Hi, I’m a Magician!” – A Social Experiment
“Hi, I’m a Magician.” I said this last night more than I have in a long time. It was part of a social experiment.
Ever since I was young, I’ve had an issue with saying “I’m a Magician.” When I was young and first studying magic, it was difficult to determine at what point I WAS a Magician. After I had mastered one trick? Three tricks? One show? One year of performing? Later, the issue became whether or not I wanted OTHER people to call me a Magician. I always thought being a Magician made me look nerdy, and I wasn’t okay with that. So I did what many other Magicians did. I used other terms. At first, it was “I’m an Illusionist.” Then I realized how ridiculously pretentious that is unless you’re doing large-scale illusions (in magic jargon, the terms “illusion” and “illusionist” are generally reserved for large-scale tricks involving people, large stage props, big animals, cars, etc.). Then I was a “Magical Entertainer” because that’s what my boss at the time told me to tell people.
As my act developed into a comedy act, I would learn to tell people I was a “Comedy Magician,” but no one knew exactly what that was. So I started saying “Comic and Magician” or “Comedian and Magician” which is easier for people to understand. There are common social situations in which people commonly ask what you do. One of them is when you’re getting your haircut. This has been a time for me to play with different ways of explaining what I do and giving my little elevator speech. Sometimes I’ll simply say “I’m a comedian” because that way I know they won’t ask to see a trick. Another fear is if I say “I’m a Magician,” the next words out of their mouths are “Aww, my 6 year old daughter would LOVE that!”
Last night I attended a Speed Networking event for the local Chamber of Commerce. For those of you who don’t know what that is, Speed Networking works the same way as Speed Dating. There are several small tables set up and you rotate every three minutes to meet someone new and briefly explain who you are and what you do, exchange business cards, then it’s off to the next table. Just enough time to tell someone what I do – not enough time to do a trick. It was the perfect opportunity to try an experiment. I wanted to tell every table there very plainly and very openly nothing but the words “I am a Magician” and see how they react.
It may not seem like a big deal, but it actually was for me. It’s been a really long time since I’ve simply introduced myself as a Magician without adding some sort of other word to help distinguish me from what my insecurities told me was already going on in his or her head. In my head, they’re asking questions like “when are you going to grow up and get a real job?” “you can make a living out of that?” or “Aww, my 6 year old daughter would LOVE that!” So I added things like “I am a Magician for adults,” or “I am a Magician who makes fun of magic while also doing magic.” These are fairly accurate descriptions and they set me apart from the other Magicians. But part of what I’ve realized is that most of the people I meet have never met another Magician. And some might not ever meet another Magician. So instead of trying to distinguish myself from the other Magicians with words – why not just tell them “I’m a Magician,” and see where their imagination takes them?
I used the Speed Networking event to do just that. I sat down at the first table and said “Hi, I’m Michael Kent. I’m a Magician.” I said it with bright eyes and it was kind of fun to say. Every set of eyes I said it to lit up. It was a different reaction than “I’m a Magician, but…” or “I’m a Magician who…” It wasn’t confusing. It was straight forward and direct. I am a Magician. I am. That’s what I do. I would let my personality, my appearance and my rapport with them tell the rest of the story. Maybe THEY would go home and say “I met a Magician, but he wasn’t like other Magicians.” I don’t need to tell them that. If I’m a Magician who’s also funny, I would tell them “I’m a Magician” and simply BE funny. Otherwise I’m not telling them the truth. Don’t call yourself an Illusionist if you don’t do Illusions. Don’t call yourself a Mentalist if you read minds for 10 minutes of a 60 minute magic show. I’m a Magician. All of the other things will come out socially and naturally. But the core of what I do – the most marketable aspect of what I do is just that – magic. The experiment was a success. I received so many interesting reactions last night that from now on, I believe I’ll be thinking differently about how I introduce myself to people.
How do mimes do it?