One of the perils of live performance is that things can and will go wrong, I think it’s one of the reasons for the current fascination with talent shows on telly. Here are some examples of when things have gone wrong for me.
Barry the Bird
In showbiz they say ‘never work with children or animals’ but I invite chaos into my shows like an old friend by doing both! While getting kids (or members of the audience in general) to help me onstage can be unpredictable this can be matched by my magical dove Barry the Bird. Over the years he has emerged unexpectedly from his hiding place, he’s had a little fly around the stage before sitting on a lighting rig over the audience completely unreachable and he’s spent the entire show cooing as loud as he can. But the worst thing he has occasionally done is poo on me. One time it seemed to be the worlds biggest bird poo and he managed to get it all down my suit, which the audience thought was hilarious! He’s even managed to poo on telly during my appearance on Real Housewives of Cheshire!
Extreme stunts I’ve performed include hammering nails up my nose, eating razor blades, pushing needles through my arm and giving piggy backs barefoot over broken glass which, predictably, has led to a series of small cuts and minor injuries. The most dangerous thing I do is play with fire which quite regularly leads to minor burns. The worst one was while filming with Peter Kay, I was outside with a flame in my mouth when a sudden gust of wind blew the flame sideways but I didn’t want to ruin the take so I just kept the fire in there and carried on. The next day my lip was a mess and I was spending the weekend surfing so constant soaking in saltwater didn’t really help. Sometimes you’ve got to suffer for your art and the reactions these stunts get are definitely worth a tiny bit of pain.
I usually juggle fire in my show but I always check it’s ok with the venue beforehand. On one such occasion I’d been given the go ahead and juggled three blazing and smoking torches with no problems at all. Later in the show I made a rose appear in a little flash of fire with no smoke (see most romantic tricks) and sirens started wailing, lights started flashing and a thousand people had to be evacuated while the fire service came out and checked the whole building! We got through it with real ‘blitz spirit’ by having sing songs, I mingled doing bits of close-up magic and generally we made the best of all being stood outside before heading back in after half an hour and finishing the show (I only had one routine left!).
Sometimes what goes wrong is your ‘friends’ who decide it’s funny to throw unexpected spanners in the works. I’ve been halfway through my show and found that my playing cards have been glued together (thanks Mark James); I’ve been doing a family-show double-act when the other half of the act suddenly decides to change the script and not interrupt when you’re heading towards a swear word (thanks Paul Roberts) and I’ve had unexpected sound-effects from the sound person (Thanks James Timson). My favourite though was a more generous prank. I had a terrible joke in a show, “I think I’ve got bird flu…. I’m as sick as a parrot” and understandably this always got nothing but groans. But one day I said the same old joke expecting the same old reaction but instead the audience ERUPTED! They were standing, clapping and cheering as loud as they could. I had no idea what was going on but it turned out my colleague (thanks Paul Roberts, again!) had arranged it so that as the audience were on their way in they all got a note with instructions to go absolutely wild when I said “sick as a parrot”. Thankfully I get plenty of big reactions from audiences but that one was a really nice surprise; it almost makes me feel bad for filling the mask that Paul had to wear during a show with shaving foam!
Falling Into The Audience
I used to do a head-twister illusion where I’d be put into an upright box, my head would twist all the way round over and over again and when the box opened my body would be all twisted up. I was once doing this with Mark James when the box started to topple forwards so that I was falling face first into the audience with no way to stop myself! Luckily Mark was quick to react and caught the illusion but not before my hands burst out in absolute panic. The panic and relief caused me to start laughing which started Mark laughing which made the whole audience laugh. We were just about regaining our composure when Mark went to open the doors of the illusion to let me out but I warned him not too… because I’d left a rather big mess in the box. That set everyone off again, in fact we laughed so long we were late for the next show!
I have done thousands of performances for millions of people and almost all of them go off without a hitch. When things go wrong or the unexpected happens you just have to roll with it. A good performer can turn these hiccups into highlights of the show, something that the audience will remember for good reasons. If you would like to book a magician who is experienced enough to make a show entertaining no matter what happens please get in contact. I’d also be interested in hearing any other stories of performances gone wrong so feel free to leave your anecdotes in the comments. As always please like and share, and finally take my advice, I’m not using it!