Accidentally Famous on the Street

Last August, I performed street magic for two weeks on Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.  I had a good time and polished my Linking Rings routine.  When summer ended, I left.  Last week, I returned.  Within the first ten minutes, a homeless guy called over to me.

“Hey, I know you!  Welcome back!”


He was big and smiley and had wild hair and a booming voice that filled the waterfront.

Then another homeless guy called over a big hello, too, even repeating some of my joke lines back to me, saying that he had appropriated them for his own show.

“Reach into your pockets and take out a 5-dollar bill.  Keep that for yourself and give the rest to me!”

I didn’t begrudge him stealing the line from me; I had stolen it myself.

Playing the street is an on and off thing for me.  I started busking in 1994, when I was trying to get good at stage magic.  In 1998, I published a book called Be a Street Magician!: A How-To Guide (Aha! Press,, which made me semifamous in a niche audience, magicians.

These days, the vast majority of my business consists of big-paying inside gigs.  But when business is slow, I like to road-test my new material by performing on the street for an endless stream of new audiences.  Last week, I happened to get hired to perform for a couple of fancy parties at the classic-car show in Carmel, so while I was up here, I decided to play the wharf.

My first day back on the wharf, I did well.  I was even approached by a couple who saw my show and wanted me to come to their 6-year-old daughter Jasmine’s birthday party the next evening.  We negotiated on the spot.  They wanted me to go down $50 on the price.  I said I would do that if they bought my newly published enovel, What Happens to Us,, and got five of their friends to do so, as well.  I didn’t tell them that I hadn’t brought all my best kids’ show props–the die box, for example (see video).

The next day, a Sunday, I went back out to the wharf to get in a couple hours of busking before the party.  A man walked up to me with his kid.

“I’m glad you’re here!” he said.  “I saw you yesterday, and I liked it so much that I brought my boy to see you!”

It was strange to make such an imprint on this community without even trying much.  I felt like I was becoming accidentally famous.

In one of my audiences was an 18-year-old guy with the wild hair of an intellectual.  He said his name was Forrest.

“Man, you must get all the damn Gump jokes,” I said.

“Stupid is as stupid does,” he said, grinning.

During the show, I ended up casting aspersions on Forrest’s wealth because he lived in Seaside.  Everybody laughed.  Later, when I held out my hat for tips, Forrest came up and dropped in a $20 bill.

“Not all people in Seaside are poor,” he said.

I couldn’t believe I had benefited financially by making Forrest feel insecure.  It seemed to be against my philosophy of life, which is that being relentlessly positive is the way to happiness and wealth.  Still, I didn’t give him the twenty back.

Come evening, I did the kids’ show at the park and kicked ass.  Afterwards, two separate guys came up and asked me if they could have my card.

“I live in Los Angeles,” I said, handing it over, but then warned him.  “I’d have to charge a lot more for the show.”

“How much?”

“Like $1,200 at least.”

“That’s okay.”

IMG_3849It was a good weekend at the wharf.  Tomorrow, I’m going to try to play the local Farmer’s Market (see photograph above), which is so packed and busy that it looks promising.


30 thoughts on “Accidentally Famous on the Street

  1. Thats an excellent routine……….. good crowd control……. you need to know just how far you can wind kids up before it all explodes into mayhem……….. the yes man bit was priceless…… loved it

    • I busked in Australia once. I was touring the magic clubs of Australia, lecturing in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane. In Melbourne, I lectured at the German Club, third floor. There’s a river where the buskers do their thing, but I didn’t do it there. It wasn’t till Adelaide that the club bought me a license and I busked on Rundle Street. I’m glad you asked. 🙂

      • My memory must be going……… did I ask…….. do I live in Australia? Is there a river in Melbourne where I supposedly live? Is it that hard to get a license that you are in another city before it kicks it? Ho Ho

  2. What a great post! A little peek inside the mind of a magician. How wonderful that the homeless people remembered you and welcomed you back openly…a little warm fuzzy there. Woof! Love, Maggie the Pitbull

  3. Thanks for the follow. I really like your style of writing, it is so inclusive and welcoming. Talent like yours acts like a magnet so no wonder you are doing so well. Doing children’s shpws must be a hoot. 🙂

  4. I’m glad you’re following my blog for two reasons. First, it’s always nice to know (or be under the illusion) that people like my writing. Second, it brought me to your blog, which really is well-written. I hope not to disappoint (at least not too often), and I look forward to reading more of your work.

  5. In the 80s I lived in SF and went out with a street artist who drew caricatures down on the Wharf. thanks for bringing back lovely memories. Street artists are cultural treasures. —Jadi

  6. Love your video! Thanks for visiting my blog and I appreciate the following and I look forward to following you. Thanks again

  7. Thank you for looking in on my blog and for the follow. I won’t deny I feel flattered. Here in France I’m about to go to bed, but I’ll have a longer look around your blog in the morning.


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