(Yes, the quote automatically changes daily: No, I don't check it for quality.)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Your Boring Holiday Party on Steroids (or how to hire your friendly, foreign, possibly local magician)

Hi Peoples!

Excited about my first blog! I wanted to title it, "Hiring Foreign-Born Guys with Mustaches," but the boss thought that was only confusing, and terrible marketing.

So here we go! Many of you meet me, and wonder how to hire a magician for your event, especially in December, or January (for those who wanted to defer their joy a month).

Here's rubber AND road:

  1. Make sure you've seen some video of the magician, or have seen them perform. There are lots of guys and gals who have a nice photograph or resume, but they might not be to your taste.
  2. Websites are kind of like business cards thirty years ago: if the magician doesn't have one, it's a little odd (though it's certainly no guarantee that they're good). But do peruse their website, and make sure you have reviewed their Frequently Asked Questions, and feel like you understand what you're booking. In my case, I offer shows full of "quirky magic with old-world flair."
  3. Contact their manager or them directly via the website. Typically, they'll provide a booking form there. If possible, be prepared with these items (but if you don't know, tell the manager what you DO know):
    • Of course, your contact info (name, email, and your direct line: if you are comfortable, give them your cell phone number, so they can reach you quickly)
    • Audience size (if you go to the movies with a group of 200, it's a different price than 30 tickets)
    • Venue (if not booked yet, let us know)
    • Date and time (if you don't know, ballpark is helpful)
    • Your per-person budget. If you budget more on the napkins per guest than your entertainment, the show you can afford might fall a little flat!
    • If you are not booking a specific show or package, is there anything in particular you want in our proposal? If it's a sales meeting, do you want us to introduce a product? Is there a special person you want us to have help us aid in the performance of a specific trick you know we do?
    • If you just want a great magic show, try to tell us as much as you can, and we'll make sure you're taken care of.
That's really it! A good manager will have a checklist for our logistics needs (parking, set-up space, and so on), but don't worry if it's your first time booking entertainment - we've done hundreds of shows, and you benefit from our experience.

We are here to please and entertain you, and will make you look great for having picked us from your many entertainment options.

For my corporate events and fancy adult soirées: WhoAteTheRabbit.com

For family entertainment: Ash4Kids.com

You can find out about my manager Kevin the Cap by Googling him, but this entry is about ME.

Happy Holidays! And oh yeah, it's better if you book me: I guarantee that I'll entertain EVERY guest at your event.

😊   < ---- my first emoji on the web ever! AND my first blog under my name instead of using someone else's logon!

Blame Canada, Or at Least Phillip And Henry (philipandhenry.com)

So imagine that there is an Unscrupulous Talent Agency from Canada who cleverly buys AdWords from Google and other search engines, so that if you're looking to hire a magician, their ad comes up, often at the top of the page. That's smart of them.

Now imagine that you are the magician (or his manager) getting that call from said unscrupulous talent agency (let's just call Philip and Henry the UTA for short), and the UTA wants to either a) book you for very little money, or b) you find out that having done a gig, they took 40 or maybe even 50 percent. That's wrong of them.

Welcome to the perhaps most unpleasant thing of being a professional magician, or his manager: turns out Ebenezer Scrooge is alive and well, and based out of Canada.

In California, talent agents must be licensed, and by law, there are limits on what they can take for their trouble. With the above incidents in mind, I reported "Philip and Henry" to the proper authorities in California some four years ago. (Philip is a real person, who did a ventriloquist act with his dummy, Henry. Philip apparently figured out that gouging magicians is far more lucrative than a vent act).

The official, Genie, didn't do anything about it (other than make vague comments about over-burdened {actually nonexistent} investigators), and has since moved on to another position in California government. Lucky us, California!

After being low-balled out of another couple of gigs by UTA a few years later, I inquired years what had become of the "investigation," which is when I found out Genie had moved on. Another twenty emails, thirty phone calls this spring and summer (seriously), and one meeting with my representative to the California Assembly later, I discovered that gouging magicians (or any entertainer) is indeed against the law ... but there's a catch. Keep reading.

In all fairness, Regina (Genie's supervisor) wrote Philip and Henry a stern letter this year (that was after phone call and email ten or so). Thanks Regina! That'll show 'em!

Regina Pagalilauan is a supervisor in the California Department of Labor. She didn't know magicians/entertainers have laws about them (California Talent Laws), despite being rather well paid (you can look up the salaries of all California public employees). Christine Baker, the Director of the California Department of Industrial Relations also could give a flying rat's ass (which you'll admit is quite an image), and after a tepid initial response indicating poor reading comprehension, and pretending lately that I am a wax koala bear who will eventually go away. (OK. Maybe the second image wasn't so great.)

Good overview here, including how 20% is the max talent agents are to take from the person doing the actual work of a show: LexisNexis Overview on CA Talent Law Practice from 2015

Met with my assembly person David Chiu, who was charming and smart and didn't do anything: his intern found out the law had no teeth. It's unenforceable, consequentless law.

It was a tad disappointing: a sea of uninformed civil servants and elected officials who not only did nothing to protect me and my brethren and sistren, but who also didn't know the laws they are paid to write and enforce.

But wait. It gets better.


Some unknown magician (perhaps as a sick joke – a not uncommon tendency in entertainment circles) referred PhillipandHenry to me in October of this year. On a whim after these months/years of futility with getting the law enforced, I called them. Spoke for about 30 minutes: pitched the simple notion that going after the lucrative convention market in San Francisco would make both of us more money, and then wrote it up in an email to that senior manager with whom I'd spoken, David Mills.

No response. Wrote David Mills of Philip and Henry again. No response. 

Called Mr. Mills a few days later. He wasn't sure who I was. When he remember, he said, "Oh yeah. We'll definitely call you if we get a gig in your price range in San Francisco." I explained that wasn't what I'd been interested in: that again I would be interested in getting lots of gigs this holiday season, helping him learn the convention market here, and making sure he got his 20% for a lot of money. Not a birthday party now and then.

"Are you saying I'd get just 20%?" Mr. Mills asked.

"Why?" I asked, "What do you normally get?"

"As much as I can," he answered.

I wished him good luck and hung up the phone. I didn't of course mean the good luck part, and now wish I'd told him to go suck an egg. (In my young childhood in South Lake Tahoe, this was perhaps the penultimate insult).

So these are agents exploiting the hundreds of us Californians trying to make a living as live entertainers (jugglers, musicians, magicians, et. al.).

Ash K. is a marvelous magician: watch the longer video at WhoAteTheRabbit.com/watch – I think he deserves, as any working person, fair and equitable treatment.

Why is 20% of what he makes not enough for about 45 minutes of work (filling out the contract, collecting the money, and paying us our cut) and your advertising costs?


The Takeaway?

Our Beloved and Appreciated Clients and Customers:

  1. If you hire an entertainer via an agent, please inquire as to the percentage the agent is taking. If they're not comfortable telling you, please take your business elsewhere.
  2. When you see our sticker price, remember, that price is not just for the show you're seeing: it's for our negotiation time, doing the paperwork, applying makeup, costume, packing up, loading the vehicle, making the drive, setting up, the show, then the reverse to get home or to the hotel, then our taxes and bookkeeping, and putting some away for retirement. And equipment repair. And endless practicing, scripting, rehearsal, and study. And having professional images and video taken/made. And maintaining websites. And writing marketing materials. And rude cheapskates wasting our time when we could have been enjoying our dealings with you and making a living. So relax, write a check for a living wage for our unusual skills and gifts, and enjoy the show.

Variety Entertainers (especially California "workers")

Whether you're a juggler or a ventriloquist, balloon tier, or bubble blower, please don't tolerate being exploited by "agents" who own homes but don't pay you enough to own one. Write Regina, Christine, and your legislator, and harangue them on the phone until we get this law some teeth, and these hucksters a new profession far away from us. Hi Joel Nelson! (To be clear, Joel doesn't work for the Canadian UTA - he's an unscrupulous, San Francisco Bay Area Agent who is fine with gouging entertainers {he used to call me for piano gigs} in California, a state that has zero laws to regulate him effectively.)


  1. Friends and colleagues of mine will entirely disagree with the entire premise of this post, and I know that. My simple counter to this line of reasoning is that the word "exploitation" is in the dictionary for a reason. If you think someone setting up a gig has earned 50% of the money, that's fine, but please go far away from me before you drop dead and decompose quietly.
  2. For the rest of you reasonable folks, please per the above get on these government officials to give the law some teeth, and ...
  3. Start sharing some stories about this agency, and other parties who make their living off your work, but take advantage of you. Don't know who your rep is? Most Californians don't. Look them up here: Look Up Your California Assembly Representative

Legislators (Not just in California)

  1. There are lots of fairy princesses, clowns, fire eaters, and comics getting screwed by Mr. Mills and his ilk. Stick up for them. Forget what you think about my tactic with this rant. Do the right thing.
  2. Pretending to do something is the same as doing nothing. Hi Regina, Christine, and David!


None of this is new: here's a thread on a website for magicians with people chiming in, including me, and a former business partner: Magicians Arguing about PhilipAndHenry Biz Practices

Thanks for reading!