Nothing Up My Sleeve

Jon Gallagher

The Magic in My Life


I’ve performed magic shows for the past 30 some years throughout the Midwest.  I’ve performed for as few as one person and as many as 5000.  I’ve had shows where people thought I could walk on water and shows where people thought I should take a long walk in water, preferably over my head.

Every time I think I’ve seen it all, something new happens and someone surprises me.  It’s been a fun 30 years and I wouldn’t have missed a minute of it for anything.

My favorite type of magic is called “close-up” by those of us in the trade.  It’s done for small groups of people and it’s highly personalized.  I’ve worked cocktail parties, wedding receptions and restaurants doing this type of magic, entertaining guests “up close.”  It’s the most challenging type of magic because it’s done so close to the audience, sometimes even in their hands.  It’s also the most satisfying for a magician, at least for me.

Several years ago when working a restaurant and going table to table, I approached a table of women.  I don’t remember what effect I opened with, but it must not have been all that impressive because the women all laughed as they tried to figure out what I’d done.  The second trick I did for them must have blown them away. 

One of the ladies acted as a spokesman for the rest of the table.  Silence enveloped them, their eyes grew wide, and the one lady started reaching into her purse.  Usually when that happened, it meant that I was going to get a tip (which I would politely decline since I was being paid by the restaurant).  This lady, however, came out of her purse with a large cross.

She started pushing the Crucifix toward me like I was a vampire or something.  “You’re the Devil!” she started shouting.

Okay, so I can cross off the idea of getting a tip.

But I thought she was kidding.

She wasn’t.

Oh no.  She was as serious as a trip to the ER.  There was no logical explanation for the trick I’d just done (it was a very simple rope trick – I do remember that), and because she couldn’t explain it, that meant I was in cahoots with the Devil himself.  The more I tried to explain that I was a Christian as well a magician, the more adamant she became and the more of a scene she continued to make.  Now other tables were starting to notice and it also got the manager’s attention.

I was given a half hour break (till the table of ladies left) and their meal was free.  The manager wasn’t very happy (despite the fact that I had helped to double his business on nights that I was there) and before long, the strain on our relationship was too much trouble for the money I was making.  I left, but a little wiser.

There are people who just flat out don’t like magic.  They don’t like to be fooled.  They don’t like things they can’t figure out.  I’ve learned that if you try to perform for these people, it’s not going to go well.  They don’t want to be entertained by being fooled. 

There are other people who also don’t like being fooled.  Unlike the previous mentioned people, however, people in this group don’t mind watching the magic, but they’re going to figure out how the magic was done. 

It doesn’t matter to these people that they really don’t have a clue as to how something was done; it only matters that they are able to come up with an explanation.  I remember doing a routine for a guy one time that had sponge balls that jumped from my hand to his invisibly.  He accused me of treating the special sponges with a chemical that made them disintegrate or multiply depending on what I wanted to happen.

“That’s how you do it, isn’t it?  Huh?  I got it right!  Put a chemical on there!  Can’t fool me!”

It’s such a shame when cousins marry and have kids. 

Instead of telling him what a moron he was, I just agreed with him and in a conspiratorial tone asked him not to tell anyone else.  He seemed to relish the idea of being privy to this type of secret before rushing off to tell all his friends that he’d just discovered the magical equivalent of curing the common cold.

You never know how an audience is going to react to any given effect (trick) or show.  I did a torn and restored newspaper trick one morning at church to help illustrate how sin can rip you apart, but the grace of God can restore you. 

It was an effect that I’d been doing for years.  It’s pretty straight forward.  You show an newspaper page by page, visibly rip it into several strips, clearly showing separate pieces.  In an instant, and I mean less than one second, the newspaper is dropped and back into just one piece.  It’s very startling and would probably send those ladies from the restaurant screaming from the sanctuary. 

I’m not sure what exactly happened the morning I performed this in church.  When I unfurled the restored newspaper, the entire congregation let out a collective gasp.  I had made a mistake that I’ve never been able to duplicate, but the newspaper restored faster than ever before.  Even I gasped when I saw it and I was doing it! 

When I got back home, I tried for weeks, even months to figure out what I had done wrong that made the trick work so right.  To this day, more than 20 years later, I still don’t know.

Another show that I did quite a few years ago took place down by Quincy and it was also for a church group.  They’d had a banquet in the basement of the church prior to my show and they had planned on me performing close to the head banquet table.  Unfortunately, not everyone was going to be able to see because of the way the room was constructed.  The resolution to the problem was to move the show upstairs to the sanctuary.

My show is filled with comedy and there are parts where, at least in the past, I would have people rolling with laughter.  This show was completely different.  The audience sat there through 45 minutes of magic, completely stone faced.  They seldom even cracked a smile.  This made me mad.

I was determined to do something to make them laugh.  Nothing worked.  The harder I worked at making them laugh, the more I failed.  They never clapped once.  Even when I hinted that I wanted them to clap (“That usually gets applause….”), they sat on their hands.

I finally gave up and ended the show.  The pastor took my place at the front of the sanctuary, thanked everyone for coming, blessed them, then dismissed them.  I started tearing down my show and shaking my head.  What had I done wrong?

As I was loading my equipment into my van, an elderly gentleman approached me and slapped me on the back.  “That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!” he said with a  smile that took up most of his face.  “You’re really good!”

I stopped packing the van as others came up and said the same thing.  I was wondering if we had all attended the same show.

When the accolades died down a bit, I asked the first gentleman what had happened.  “Nobody laughed.  Nobody clapped.  I didn’t think anyone enjoyed the show at all!”

He took a step back, a shocked expression on his face.  “Oh no.  It was excellent.  And hilarious.  But you were performing in the sanctuary.  We’re not allowed to do that in God’s Sanctuary.”

As it turns out, laughing and clapping in the sanctuary was not banned, but frowned upon heavily by the Church itself.

Then the guy showed me his leg.  The right pants leg had lots of little itty bitty holes in it about thigh level.  “That’s where I kept poking myself with a safety pin,” he said, displaying the weapon at his fingertips.  “I had to do that to keep from laughing outloud.”

They invited me back a couple years later, but this time, we didn’t perform in the sanctuary. 

This time, they laughed and clapped and had a good old time. 

And I don’t think I was responsible for anyone mutilating themselves with a safety pin this time.