When have you learnt it’s time to stop on an concept? (Giving up the Ghosts)


By Joshua Jay – Saturday, November 26, 2022

joshua jay magician

“Yearly the aspiring photographer introduced a stack of his greatest prints to an previous, honored photographer, searching for his judgment. Yearly the previous man studied the prints and painstakingly ordered them into two piles, unhealthy and good. Yearly the previous man moved a sure panorama print into the unhealthy stack. At size he turned to the younger man: ‘You submit this identical panorama yearly, and yearly I put it on the unhealthy stack. Why do you prefer it a lot?’ The younger photographer stated, ‘As a result of I needed to climb a mountain to get it.'”

-Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

The loft in my New York Metropolis residence is a graveyard of pipe dream methods. Prototypes for concepts that didn’t fairly work, however I can’t convey myself to throw away. Writer Viktor Frankl calls concepts like these “psychological kids,” and factors out that we’re connected to our concepts like they’re our kids, overlooking their faults and heaping them with reward they most likely don’t deserve. Not each concept is faculty sure.


There’s a Hungarian Navy boot in my loft. Only one, with a prediction on the underside of the only real that reads, “I knew you’d select the Meatball.” It could take too lengthy to elucidate.

There’s a brick of cheese made out of legos that has a secret compartment on the within that may maintain a stay hamster for as much as two hours. And there are big cue playing cards someplace up there, with all of the lyrics—one phrase per poster—to Journey’s “Don’t Cease Believing”.

There are additionally forty bedsheets in my loft, with sloppy eye holes reduce out, every one bearing the stale odor of human sweat. Many even have make-up stains; precise pressed faces of middle-aged girls, like a New Jersey shorud of Turin. These sheets are musty reminiscences from the unique opening routine for my NYC residency present Six Not possible Issues.

This piece, often called “Ghosts,” is probably the most tragic form of magic trick: stuffed with potential, however rife with issues. And that’s exactly why you will not see it carried out within the Six Not possible Issues present we ultimately recorded and launched as a particular stream and deluxe set this week.


A magician’s entrance to a present is necessary. I wished it to be dramatic, interactive, and misleading—however not by the use of some cumbersome equipment or a clichéd stunt. “Ghosts” appeared nearly too good to be true.

I got here up with the concept: upon arrival, every visitor could be given a sheet with eye holes reduce out to go over their heads, disguising them from one another and turning everybody within the room into “ghosts.”

Once they file into a big, white room, a video of me would begin enjoying and supply directions that whittles the group down slowly to only one individual…me. “I’m Joshua Jay,” I exclaimed as I ripped off my very own “ghost” sheet. “Welcome to the present.” Gasps. Cheers. Rumblings of the best phantasm for the reason that DeKolta Chair. Not less than that’s the way it went in my head.

We ran “Ghosts” for 50 reveals, and when every part labored completely, it was wonderful. Actually no one anticipated me to be below the ghost sheet, and the elimination recreation appeared completely truthful, with every spectator making a collection of free choices on the place to face and tips on how to be eradicated. There was a pleasant synergy with the video, too, in order that when individuals heard and noticed me, they merely didn’t suspect that the true me was below the sheets.

From the beginning, there have been issues. The start of “Ghosts” was at all times an exhilarating shock for me, standing within the crowd undetected, with solely a skinny sheet separating me from my viewers. I did it, I believed. That is going to work.

However once I scanned the room, I had inadvertently staged a Ku Klux Klan assembly: twenty expressionless types hooded in white sheets. And I wasn’t the one one who seen. The group had been preventing over one another to make Klan jokes. The individuals who weren’t making Klan jokes had been speaking to one another with unhealthy Arabic accents, fashioning the sheets into burkas. My opener had grow to be a hate crime.

I instantly modified to grey sheets to place an finish to the Klan vibe, however apparently this made no distinction. A New York Occasions journalist remarked in her assessment: “At present time, bedsheets the grey of a laundry accident had been distributed and kind of willingly slipped on, ghost-style. On this nationwide second, is dressing up in sheets look?”

people dressed as ghosts for magic show


I started to chase the concept, seduced by how I felt—and the way the viewers reacted—when it went properly. However because the present went on, the problems compounded. Economists check with this because the Sunken Price Fallacy, our pure tendency to stay with issues we’ve invested time or cash in, our judgment impaired by our attachment. I wasn’t about to throw away all that we had labored for.

Some individuals commented that they couldn’t breathe within the sheets, so we reduce mouth holes. Then, one evening, a person determined to tear via each eye holes to create one giant, human-head-sized gap. He then donned his sheet like a commencement robe and proudly marched into the subsequent room, oblivious to the individuals whose faces had been nonetheless below the sheets.

Each few days we might see the Turban routine, completely from males. Once they couldn’t work out tips on how to align two eye holes with their eyes, they usual the sheets into turbans, generally capes. These males had been at all times very amused by their very own bit.

Or my private favourite, the girl who draped the sheet over her head, eye-holes be damned. I’m undecided if she was unfamiliar with the ghost sheet trope or if she by no means bothered to see what everyone else was as much as, however this girl went for it. As soon as blinded by her sheet, she walked with spectacular drive via the group, like a bumper automobile, bouncing between the individuals and partitions. She knocked over almost each prop within the room, and I’m fairly positive she nonetheless has no concept she did. I glanced again on the girl’s household, however they didn’t appear involved. They simply sat and watched the way in which exhausted mother and father let their toddler discover a park.

All of these items had been endlessly amusing to my crew. Nevertheless it spoiled the temper of the piece, creating laughter the place there ought to have been thriller.

Earlier than giving up on the piece fully, I attempted two different getups: “Enjoyable Eco-Pleasant Ghost Costumes.” These had been manufactured ghost costumes that regarded spectacular on the web site I ordered them via–like big Casper-the-Ghost getups. However in actual life, I used to be despatched twenty skin-tight spandex robes with a curved protrusion for a head. As a substitute of twenty Klansmen that evening, we had a room stuffed with twenty big penises. Everybody seen the similarity. A few tipsy youngsters lifted the lightest individual of their group to a horizontal place, chasing down their pals with a human-sized phallus. What a bunch of dicks.


I’m portray “Ghosts” prefer it was a nightmare trick that any wise individual would have reduce after one present. Nevertheless it’s extra sophisticated than that. It’s a good suggestion, however not trick. That’s the issue with good concepts: they’re good. However good isn’t spectacular, and spectacular must be the aim.

There was an audible gasp each evening once I would uncover myself, and I hated dropping that second. I hated it. I believe loads about entrances to reveals, and this was, for higher and for worse, probably the most distinctive and interactive method I had ever encountered for starting a magic present. I beloved the concept of everybody coming into the venue and suiting up in ghost costumes.

Teller writes elegantly about this, reflecting on the years it took Johnny Thompson to hone the gag the place a dove drops a wonderfully fashioned glob of white poop on his black tuxedo lapel, and the way even the system for stain-free, faux excrement took huge experimentation. “There is only one precept,” he writes. “Preserve working after everybody else would stop.”

That’s so true, and you may get that recommendation from any variety of locations in any variety of fields. However what these consultants don’t speak about is the flip facet: to know when to stop an concept. “There comes a time,” writes creator Josh Jameson, “when it’s important to select between turning the web page and shutting the ebook.”

So, I ask: when? Each concept is an funding in time and vitality and cash. And with any funding, there comes a time to search for the return. What do I get for 100 and fifty hours I spent chasing “Ghosts?” Nothing, because it seems, besides a loft of sweaty sheets. And perhaps this: generally we’ve to chop the great things, in order that the really unbelievable bits shine. “Ghosts” by no means made it previous the primary six weeks of the present, and whereas it pained me to do it, the present was higher once we changed it. Our reveals are solely pretty much as good as our weakest trick.


My mother came visiting lately, and in the way in which moms do, she began poking round my residence minutes after arriving. I heard her clamber up the steep ladder-style staircase to my loft and flick the sunshine on. “What are these?” she requested.

I climbed up subsequent to her, our two heads simply above the loft ground. “What’s what?”

“These!” she stated, pointing to the bins overfilled with sheets. White sheets, grey sheets, spandex costumes; collectively in a wrinkled lump.

“Ghosts,” I stated. “My loft is haunted.”

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