May 9, 2009


The hardest move to make is the approach.  Just take a look at guys as they get their nerves up to approach women.  The fact that they’re rarely sober when they finally do stagger over proves my point.

Since the approach scares people so much, it’s no surprise this fear keeps people from taking action.  Obviously, nothing happens until you take action.

By the way, the approach starts when you go looking for restaurants and bars to perform in.  Again, that’s the reason there are so few professional magicians working these gigs.  Most people don’t want to walk into a restaurant, ask for the job, try to explain they don’t do kids shows, get looked at like a weirdo, and then get rejected.  You’d think they’d be glad you didn’t want to be around children.

Anyway, you get my point.  A lot of magicians want restaurant or bar gigs, but they don’t want to approach these places and face the hassle.  What they’re forgetting is when they do get hired at a restaurant, the entire job is the approach.

Only now, instead of being rejected by the manager of the Stevie Nicks Fajita Roundup, you get to endure the vacant stares of European tourists that think every American approaching them is going to pull a gun and ask for their three Euros.

Don’t get me wrong, all of this isn’t as bad as it seems.  It’s probably way worse than you think.  Still, it’s a fun job and most people are super cool.  Think about it this way.

If you have an office job and don’t like somebody you work with, you have to see him every day.  When you’re a restaurant magician, you may have to put up with entertaining lawyers, republicans, and other unsavory types, but then they leave.  Well, they may leave.  In my case, I just described the regulars (and my friends) at one of my bar gigs.  See, magic brings everybody together.

Since the approach is the hardest part for most people, I wanted to share some of my thoughts on how you can make doing it better.  By better, I mean less painful and more success with people that want to see your magic as opposed to telling you to they’d prefer to watch the hockey playoffs on TV (even though its July).

Like everything, a good approach doesn’t sound canned.  There is nothing creepier than a sales guy that delivers a canned script to you in person.  They always have a far off stare that reminds me of the kids in Children of the Corn.

Just like your show, you have to learn to be yourself.  Being yourself means being honest.  As a matter of fact, a good approach will blend into the opening effect and the rest of your show seamlessly.  Something I was guilty of years ago was “stepping on stage” when I started the magic.

For example, I would walk up to a table being myself and when I started in with the tricks, I suddenly “stepped on stage” and became someone else.  It wasn’t like I was doing a character, I was just scripted.  I also insisted everybody call me Malakai.

As I found my voice, which is just another way of saying I got comfortable enough to be myself on stage, my shows and my approach became more honest.  When you achieve a high level of stage comfort and can be yourself, everything becomes way easier.  In fact, it’s so easy, you wonder why you made things so hard on yourself.

I’ve never been able to bullshit an audience.  For instance, when I work The Magic Castle, I do four shows a night for seven nights in a row.  I improvise a lot and when I first started at The Castle, I would do a show, and if something in particular got a big laugh, I’d remember it for the next show.

However, when I repeated the line, it never worked again.  I had people watch for this phenomenon and they agreed I was performing the joke exactly the same with the exact the same wording, yet it wouldn’t work the second time.  The audience could sense my lack of enthusiasm and sincerity.

That’s not to say I couldn’t use the line ever again.  What often happens is in the heat of battle weeks later, I’ll remember what I said as renewed passion and it gets a laugh.  The bottom line is that it’s not the words, it’s the honesty of my intent at the time I say the words.

You may be wondering what this has to do with approaching tables at restaurants.  If you recall, I mentioned that being honest in your approach and being honest in your show will make the two indistinguishable.  By being yourself and by being honest with how you feel presently, as opposed to canning enthusiasm you once had, you can accomplish this goal.

For example, I may be working one of my steady restaurant gigs and the place is slow.  I don’t want to just stand around doing nothing but it’s possible the few people in the restaurant don’t seem very approachable.  Now, there’s a difference between not very approachable and not approachable at all.  I’d rather do nothing than try to interrupt a couple fighting with a baby crying at the table.

Assuming the tables are approachable but not the most desirable, I may walk up and say, “Hi, my name is Zach.  I’m the house magician.  Now, I know you want me to leave, and believe me, I want to.  However, it’s slow in here and if the manager doesn’t see me working, I may be a victim of the recession.  Here’s my first trick whether you like it or not.”

That opening is actually pretty close to what I’ve used.  It’s always gotten huge laughs because I’m very charming and talented.  You probably aren’t, so I don’t suggest you take my opening.  Not only will you get in trouble, you’ll be labeled a hack and beaten with a tube sock filled with bars of soap.  The kind of tube sock with the colored bands you pulled up real high around your knee as a child of the 80’s.  I never did that even when the other kids thought it was cool.  I knew, even then, it was a lame look.

Actually, the real reason you shouldn’t take my opening is because it wouldn’t be honest for you.  I don’t use that opening all of the time.  I only use it when I really feel that way.

One of the mistakes a lot of beginning restaurant magicians make is to have memorized openings.  You don’t need to memorize what you’re going to say when you approach the table.  All you have to do is be a normal person walking up and introducing yourself and explaining what you do.  Now, I understand that being a normal person and being a magician rarely go together.  Do your best to see how human beings behave and learn impressions.

Sincerely, I believe the sooner you can get comfortable performing and being honest, the faster you will achieve happiness and success.  Your shows will be effortless because you simply express the truth as you see it in your present moment with charm and a little magic.  Remember, be yourself when you approach the table and continue to be yourself throughout your show and people will love you for it; unless of course, you’re a jerk.

About the Author

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Zach Waldman is an internationally renowned stand-up comedian and magician who specializes in providing customized entertainment for exclusive private parties and corporate events.

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  1. Lol that photo says to me that you’re a lucky guy, Zach!! cheers, John

  2. I do balloons in restaurants. I googled “how to approach tables” and read this post, and realized, yes, for every great table I ever approached it was the sincerity and honesty of action that made it that way. Thanks for the much needed reminder!

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