It’s OK for Them to Not Like You!

Dear Friends,
Our guest contributor this month is Jay Fortune. A long-time friend and contributor to the McBride Magic & Mystery School, Jay resides in the seaside town of Blackpool, England in the UK, where he follows his passions as a magician, artist, producer, author, and illustrator. In this Museletter, Jay reminds us of a simple, yet empowering, truth.

Back in 2006, during a Master Class in Cornwall, England, I was performing a comedy Lie Detector routine for the group. At the end, we opened to questions and one student asked, ‘How do you be funny?’ Whilst there are many techniques in books on how to write and perform comedy material, it’s what’s implied behind the question that has always stuck with me. As magicians, why do we feel the need, or the desire, to be funny? Is it because the performers we like best make us laugh, so we think that by making our audiences laugh they will like us more?
When I was a working professional I always remembered the shows where the audience was enjoying it, but there was that one person who sat with their arms crossed, clearly not having as good a time as I thought they should be having. On the long drive home from those gigs, I would spend my time and energy thinking about that person, that tiny minority, and wondering what I could have done differently to make them enjoy the show more – to make them laugh more. Because in my mind, if I made them laugh, they’d like me. 
I was a comedy performer until 2018, when I transitioned into being an artist and author. With the release of my debut novel All Fall Down hitting UK bookshops this summer (cheeky plug!), I have once again found myself returning to the question ‘What if they don’t like me or my art/writing?’ Here’s the thing I eventually learned as a performer –  I stopped doing the mental tug-of-war between that 1% of my audience who didn’t seem to enjoy the show, and the majority who had. I simply dropped the rope. And now, with my art and writing, I’m relearning to do that once again. It’s OK for them to not like me!

If we think about other disciplines like art, writing, or music, we don’t automatically feel we need to laugh to enjoy the experience. Yet, with magic, more often than not, magicians try to be funny, because they think that funny equates to entertainment. Yet we know this isn’t always true. Let me tie these rather abstract thoughts together (if I can!).
If you want to make them laugh, do so, but go all in. Use your comedic writing and acting ability to create situations and lines that will really make them laugh. Think about what you find hilarious and then put that kind of humor into your magic. You won’t win them all over, but that’s OK. What you will do is build venues and audiences who seek you out. This is the difference between being a bland run-of-the-mill unmemorable magician and being a personality who people make time and effort, and pay money, to see. 
As I write, Jerry Sadowitz has just been canceled from one of the major venues at the Edinburgh Festival. A minority of people were offended by his show. They obviously didn’t know who Jerry was or what he did. Jerry is offensive, but that’s what makes his fans seek him out and pay hard-earned money to enjoy as entertainment. One thing I guarantee this cancellation will do is sell out his UK tour next month quickly! Fans will fight to support those they enjoy. 

Be more Marmite than Magnolia (Marmite is a food spread, and their entire marketing is about people loving or hating it). People either love or loathe Marmite, whereas almost everybody can live for a while in a magnolia-painted room! One is a memorable experience, the other is easily forgettable. I’d encourage you to be more “Marmite” in your performances. 
As a past agent, we would manage acts that were “Marmite.” We had countless unmemorable “Magnolia” singers, magicians and comedians. They’d get occasional work, but at a lower fee. The “Marmite” performers would be requested, and that usually commanded a much higher fee. Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying it’s OK to offend, or that you should try to do so!
I’ve recently released some ebooks with which feature some of my pro routines. In these I repeat my Golden Rule; if in doubt, leave it out. As Eugene said, ‘Not all laughs are good laughs.’ But if you really crack-up at a particular line you’ve written or situation you’ve imagined, then try it out at the right venue for the right audience, and then stick to playing those venues! (An example–I recently released Gobsmacked!, a routine about mugging I performed in London, at the right venue for the right audience.)

Many performers take any work offered, even if it is not suitable for their show or style, just to keep working and paying the bills. Whilst I can sympathize with that position, I feel we’d have stronger, more memorable performers if we all played the venues we best fit. We’d then have less chance of them not liking us. To get the biggest laugh, you sometimes need to take the biggest risk, and this is much easier when we’re playing those “best fit” venues.
To wrap up, as performers and artists we put ourselves out there – and that’s scary! In a world where everyone is encouraged to constantly review everything, it makes everyone a critic. If you stay true to yourself, your strengths as a performer, play venues that suit you, and build an audience of fans who enjoy your work, then you can sleep well at night knowing you’re not suppressing your creativity and personality (or your magic). 
And as for those who don’t enjoy your work…it’s OK for them to not like you! 
– Jay Fortune

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