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, http://www.amazon.com/Be-Street-Magician-David-Groves/dp/0966814703/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1214804689&sr=1-1), 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, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU, 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.”
“Like $1,200 at least.”