The Creationists

Creating a Performance with Eric Samuels

June 22, 2021 Steve Waxman Episode 31
The Creationists
Creating a Performance with Eric Samuels
Chapters
The Creationists
Creating a Performance with Eric Samuels
Jun 22, 2021 Episode 31
Steve Waxman

Though I’ve known Eric Samuels for several years, I never really knew the many roads he’s travelled to get to where he is today. When I first met Eric he was one of Canada’s leading radio programmers.  I thought he was a little buttoned up the way he was always quoting market research as the reason not to play a record I was promoting at the time. As a result, finding out that he had tried his hand at being a stand up comedian shocked me.  Of course, I knew he loved music but I had no idea that he was also a musician.  And years after he had suddenly left the music business, I was startled to find out that he had not only pursued a career as a mentalist but had become among the finest in his field. Even magicians Penn and Teller loved his act when he performed on their popular TV show, Fool Us. I had so many questions for Eric, but I first wanted to see if he could explain the difference between a magician, an illusionist and a mentalist.

If you'd like to find out more about Eric Samuels or see some examples of his work or maybe even book him for an event, please visit this website, Ericsamuels.com.

Read the full transcript of this interview at imstevewaxman.com

For more material on Eric and other guests on The Creationists, please follow The Creationists podcast on facebook and Instagram.

If you like what we're doing, please rate and review us on your favourite podcast platform and share episodes on your own socials, it helps us reach a wider audience.

The Creationists is mastered in post production by Paul Farrant.

Show Notes Transcript

Though I’ve known Eric Samuels for several years, I never really knew the many roads he’s travelled to get to where he is today. When I first met Eric he was one of Canada’s leading radio programmers.  I thought he was a little buttoned up the way he was always quoting market research as the reason not to play a record I was promoting at the time. As a result, finding out that he had tried his hand at being a stand up comedian shocked me.  Of course, I knew he loved music but I had no idea that he was also a musician.  And years after he had suddenly left the music business, I was startled to find out that he had not only pursued a career as a mentalist but had become among the finest in his field. Even magicians Penn and Teller loved his act when he performed on their popular TV show, Fool Us. I had so many questions for Eric, but I first wanted to see if he could explain the difference between a magician, an illusionist and a mentalist.

If you'd like to find out more about Eric Samuels or see some examples of his work or maybe even book him for an event, please visit this website, Ericsamuels.com.

Read the full transcript of this interview at imstevewaxman.com

For more material on Eric and other guests on The Creationists, please follow The Creationists podcast on facebook and Instagram.

If you like what we're doing, please rate and review us on your favourite podcast platform and share episodes on your own socials, it helps us reach a wider audience.

The Creationists is mastered in post production by Paul Farrant.

Though I’ve known Eric Samuels for several years, I never really knew the many roads he’s travelled to get to where he is today. When I first met Eric he was one of Canada’s leading radio programmers.  I thought he was a little buttoned up the way he was always quoting market research as the reason not to play a record I was promoting at the time. As a result, finding out that he had tried his hand at being a stand up comedian shocked me.  Of course, I knew he loved music but I had no idea that he was also a musician.  And years after he had suddenly left the music business, I was startled to find out that he had not only pursued a career as a mentalist but had become among the finest in his field. Even magicians Penn and Teller loved his act when he performed on their popular TV show, Fool Us. I had so many questions for Eric, but I first wanted to see if he could explain the difference between a magician, an illusionist and a mentalist.

* * *

Steve Waxman:  So, let's go back to the beginning here again. Can you define the difference between a mentalist, an illusionist and a magician for me.

Eric Samuels:  Well, what I do as a mentalist has more to do with the psychology side of magic. So, I find what I do is using psychology, suggestion and stagecraft to anticipate and influence behavior. So, I'm more focused on how we behave and how that can be, like I say, influenced or anticipated. For example, a lot of what I do is based upon the notion of body language, of tells, of how we communicate without words and our mannerisms, facial expressions, how we stand, for example. There's an old joke, "Ask the opinions of three lawyers, you'll get five opinions." I think with magic, there's no one definition but the notion that I have thought magic is really about creating a sense of the impossible wonderment. I don't think there are any laws or barriers. You can do anything. It could be funny. It could be dramatic. The idea is to fool the eye and to entertain. And I think what I do is more about fooling the mind and entertaining. And I actually put entertaining first, even when I'm doing keynote presentations. To me the single most important thing as a performer, as a communicator is to make that connection and maintain that connection. In a world where, let's face it, we are so easily distracted, our attention spans are the shortest they've ever been. And the illusion is, that's sort of somewhere in the middle. An illusionist is someone who I guess it's more of a visual notion right? An illusion we think of as optical illusions and things like that. I'm fascinated by those as well, by the way. When you see the image and is it a rabbit or a duck, these kinds of things are part of what led me into doing what I was doing because our mind is so easily led astray on the one hand and on the other hand it's remarkable at cutting through billions of pieces of data to resolve an issue.

Steve Waxman : Right, well actually, that sort of leads into the question of what inspired you to become a mentalist.

Eric Samuels : Well I've been fortunate in my life to have been able to sort of, forgive the cliche, dip my brush into a lot of different palettes and do a lot of different things while I was in broadcasting for nearly 30 years as my main vocation. I was a professional drummer, I did stand up comedy, I wrote columns for newspapers, I was a video game reviewer for 10 years. These were all sort of serious side interests. And before I even got into broadcasting, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I think I was 19 or 20 years old living in Montreal and decided that playing music as a drummer there was nothing that made me remarkable and I had one of those moments of, I guess, a little bit of introspection and honesty and determined that this could be a tough road to hoe. I'm not a composer, I'm not a singer. I have a band as a band leader but, you know, there were better drummers etc etc. So I started looking, what can I do and I was always fascinated by psychology. And as I often tell the story, I went and took a series of tests which would determine your strengths and weaknesses, your tendencies and what kind of vocation would be best for you. I think they call them vocational aptitude tests administered by a psychologist. And this psychologist, in a classic moment of transference, determined that I too should be a psychologist. But it was a fascinating process that I said okay well psychology, well that's interesting. It has always interested me. And I went back to college and started taking courses in psychology and realized how messed up I was because that's what happens when you take psychology you start recognizing all the weird behaviors that you have because, let's face it, none of us is quote-unquote normal. So way back then I had that interest, and I even took a course in college in parapsychology and I was fascinated by that. And then I ended up getting distracted by the campus radio station. That led me, as I had indicated, into a different lane. I became a radio, quote unquote announcer or DJ. Then I moved into management as program director and then on a national level. And then, when I really saw that, that career had, you know, I accomplished everything that I had set out to do and I was like, 'Okay, what's next.' I had been doing this as a sort of a side interest for a number of years. I discovered it quite late in life, actual mentalism. I didn't even know what this thing was, although I grew up in Montreal where the Amazing Kreskin had a weekly television show that I believe was produced in Ottawa. So that was sort of always fascinating to me but I never thought this is something I could do. And one of the things, I don't remember what year it is, I'm living in Vancouver, and I'm having a great time there. Very successful with the radio stations I was in charge of and I wanted to do something to give back to the community. And I remember at the time I was dabbling a little bit and I knew like a card trick and, you know, a thing with ESP cards and whatever and I thought, 'What could I do to give back to the community.' And then, I don't know the exact lineage, but I ended up as a performer on weekends, a volunteer performer at BC Children's Hospital doing magic for kids and their families because families would often come and visit the children that were in the hospital on the weekend and that was profoundly eye opening on a bunch of levels for me. I'd always been a performer, I've been on stage, I was comfortable in front of people, but this is so different and so in some ways, especially initially, heartbreaking to see what I had to see in that set of circumstances. But at the same time, it was so rewarding to see these kids smile and laugh and that put a bug in me that kind of blossomed. I had been away from performing for a number of years on the radio. I had moved into management on a full time basis. I was no longer on the air performing. I had not really played in bands for a while. I hadn't done stand up in years so I got the performance  bug back in me and that started to develop and then I learned about mentalism and I was like a kid in a candy store. I just wanted to read everything I could, to watch every video I could, to meet with people who did this and learn about it. And I just took it on, like I said, with a sort of ferocious appetite, and started performing, I call it, as a weekend warrior, taking it quite seriously but it was my second vocation and then, as I said, when things in the radio business changed to the point where I said, 'Okay, what's next,' because I never saw it as a career for life, it was just the thing that I was doing while I was passionate, I started to think about, well it's a little late in life to go in and start just being a performer, so how can I find a niche, create an opportunity and having a background in marketing and branding I thought about, okay, well how do I create a niche so that I can perform this mentalism thing but do it in a way that provides a unique lane and an opportunity.

Steve Waxman:  Initially, what kind of material were you performing as a mentalist?

Eric Samuels:  Like most performers, there are exceptions to every rule. I was doing other people's stuff. You know, we were talking off mic earlier about playing guitar for instance. Everybody picks up a guitar, depending on the era. You start playing (mimics "Smoke on the Water") or at one point it was "25 or 6 to 4" and before that it was "Classical Gas" and you learn the basic chords. And in terms of mentalism, there were the masters and the people who did what are considered to be the sort of core presentations and ideas I mentioned earlier about ESP cards, things like that. What struck me as out of place, in much the same way that a song no longer sort of holds the same influence or power, there was sort of a, I wouldn't say a brooding, but there's a darkness. A lot of mentalists furrow their brows, touch with two fingers on their chin and wore black and that's not me. You know, a big part of what I like to do is to have fun and laugh and have people laugh. I started doing other people's stuff that I found works in that sort of niche but it still wasn't my stuff. And then one day I realized what I had told off so many different on air performers that I worked with as a program director, 'Think of me as a director in whatever film or, you know, producer in a music studio.' My job was to create an environment in which each performer could do their very best work. To give them the tools, to give them the feedback. And what I had said to many many performers was, "Look, you know, you can go into the studio for your show every day and do the basics and not make any mistakes. And unless you have just this extraordinary charisma and ability right out of the box, which is so rare I think in any field, then one day you have to go in there and say I'm going to take some risks, I'm going to reveal something about who I am. And I can crash and burn or this can open new doors for me." But until the day you do that and take those risks and risk exposing yourself, which is a tremendous fear, for most people, right, we put a facade on this is what I think a radio DJ should sound like, you know, "That was," "This is," "Here's the temperature, wear your umbrella," whatever. Until you take that risk and have something to say and opportunity to do and find out how people respond to that, you're never going to reach, I think, your maximum potential. Particularly in an industry where, you know, the most successful people, the highest rated, generating the highest salaries are drive shows, morning drive, afternoon drive where quote unquote personality is called for making a connection with the listener. And radio is a bit of an anomaly to other communication mediums in that we always would refer to the listener as a singular, because of the intimacy of listening to the radio. At least in the olden days you're in your car radio zone, it's you, the voice coming out is addressing "Have you ever been to the supermarket during the checkout lane," as opposed to, "Hey have you guys,"  which is more of a television view of the wider audience. So, taking those two elements, the one on one connection with the audience, taking risks, revealing of yourself, I really forced myself to to get rid of material that just wasn't my own original stuff but didn't speak to those two considerations. It wasn't consistent with my voice, my character, my personality, and also didn't allow me to further that connection with the audience. And it's funny because when I was on the radio I had the opportunity to interview countless performers, and I had some favorite questions that I would ask because, I mean you know what this is like you were sitting in a room with thousands of people who were going through this process of doing 19 interviews in a row and I always wanted to come across as okay this is going to be a little different, and hopefully a little challenging and I would ask questions like, "Tell me a time about you wrote a song and realized you couldn't perform it because it wasn't your voice." It was interesting to see how performers reacted to that notion. Stand up comics do that too, they come up with something and go okay but that's not my character. So they either bury it or give it or sell it to someone else. So I think that's an important aspect of developing your voice, your character, your personality. Whether you're a musician, a comic, any kind of performer. Actors can, I guess, change. They can become chameleons. For the rest of us it's difficult, particularly in what I do in that every show is different. Every show is kind of walking the razor's edge because this is not an exact science. Murphy's Law is ever present. And the moment that things are thrown off course, you're going to resort to your default behavior, your character's default behavior and if that's not consistent with who you are, there's going to be an incongruity that the audience is going to pick up on any connection cache you may have established is gone. It's like watching a movie and you know the shark jumping occurs and all of a sudden they have that moment of disconnect, right. So I was always very cognizant of that. This was a long answer to a short question.

Steve Waxman:  People want to hear you, not me. That's okay. I'm curious, do you remember how long it was until you took that brave leap of beginning to do your own material?

Eric Samuels:  It was relatively quick because I had the benefit of not having to put food on the table on the basis of what I was doing as a performer. I was still working. I still had a salary ona full time basis and I was starting to do gigs on the side. And the other thing I was doing, which again is something that I learned is, I would invariably annoy the hell out of people around me because I'm like "Hey, can I show you something." And often I was trying to sell wine before its time. I was really excited about something but I hadn't quite had it down and you get the side eyes, "Keep working on that Eric." So, when I performed, often it was for people in my industry so until I broke out and started to walk out on stage with a clean slate for an audience who had no perception whatsoever of who I was or what I did, that was another massive step in the learning curve because there's expectations based on our experience with the people in our lives. So people know me one way and, you know, back when I was a stand up comic, it was the same thing. I had a day job. The guys I was working around in clubs did not and some of them resented the fact that I had a safety net and some of these guys would test my mettle. I mean I got heckled by comics just to see how I would respond. And that's the best one of the best things that ever happened because you really learn how to be in the moment and manage that. And then some you win and more often than not with comics, sometimes you lose. But then the next big learning curve for me was getting out in front of audiences that didn't know me. And that was really important. I make a distinction between practice and rehearsal. I think practice, for what I do, is really about learning the technique, the mechanics, the staging, the blocking, whatever of a presentation or a routine that you need to do, I think, in solitude to a great extent the more you can really focus on the elements that go into a presentation. Rehearsal, to me, should be uncomfortable whereas practice should be comfortable. So rehearsal should be putting yourself in a set of circumstances where there are distractions where things can and will go wrong, where people don't know who you are and probably don't care who you are. And you're really testing in real world conditions, how your stuff's gonna hold up. And I like to do both of those things before I say that a presentation is ready for basically a paying audience or paying customer. So, that's kind of the process that I learned to go through because there's a massive safety net in being a performer and not having to rely upon that, as I said, to put food on the table. And also, performing for friends family and peers, people who know you, and it's particularly ridiculous when you're in a management position and it's like, I don't know, the annual picnic or whatever and here you come performing for everybody and you know you're expecting honest feedback, although hopefully they enjoyed the few times that I did that.

Steve Waxman:  You know, as you're talking about that it made me think of you familiar with Mike Birbiglia, the comedian? He has a podcast, I'm not sure if you listen to it but on his podcast he is working through material for his next show. And he is working on it in real time with his guests. So he plays this material out for them, and then they comment on it, and his material has progressed over the course of this podcast as he works towards his next show, which is interesting because he's, I guess, practicing and creating this material to the audience that is eventually going to hear the material in its full form.

Eric Samuels:  It's a very clever premise. I mean Jerry Seinfeld's new book is called Is This Anything and he goes through that process and talks about how comics talk to each other and go  "Is this anything? Is there a thing here?" And when you read about his process, I mean, the efficiency of stand up comics is remarkable because they've known forever,  dealing with an inebriated audience, short attention span, people who are ready, willing and able to talk back if you lose that, you know, being in the zone, whatever it may be to individual performers, that's the front line of being a live performer being on your feet. So, whatever process they have for refining material to get a tight twenty, even a tight ten minutes or twenty minutes of really solid material, takes years, because every one of those elements is worked and reworked and then edited, sometimes put away, it comes back or it just, it dies an unpleasant death, just to get that one line right for those guys who. guys, gals who are at the top of the game. So anytime you can test material in a non artificial environment, I think that goes for any performer. That's just an ideal set of circumstances. Like I said I want the practice. I want sitting down and learning the chords to be comfortable, where I just do it over and over again so that I don't have to think about it. But then, when I want to get out and perform it really puts the feel into everything else and I want to do that in an environment where I still have to accomplish other things, make that connection with the audience and win them over. I do a lot of corporate work as a speaker and as a pure entertainer there's really two facets to what I offer in terms of services. So, let's say that you know Company X has had a three day convention at the end of which there's a big dinner with everybody in a banquet hall, back in the days of everyone in a banquet hall, and there may be an award presentation there's the tastes like chicken banquet dinner, there's bottles of wine, etc. and now it's time for me to come on schedule for 8:30 and now it's 9:47. So, I have to get out there and win over this audience who have been through three days of seminars. They've eaten. They've been drinking. They're socializing with people, many of whom they haven't seen since last year's convention, and my job is to immediately get their attention, engage, have them like me, and entertain them for 30 - 40 minutes. So, If I don't have my shit together in terms of knowing the fingering on the fretboard, to use the analogy, I have no chance of making that connection with the audience so that's why going into an open mic scenario at a comedy club and doing a new piece or going to Toastmasters and doing it or I did a thing in a condo in Vancouver, they had a meeting room and everybody was just invited down, all these people I'd never met before, and I did a performance for them so I just try to create any environment where I can truly do a test run of material and then an honest assessment of what's working and what isn't and that involves not only myself reviewing recordings, but getting frank feedback from someone whose opinion  I trust.

Steve Waxman:  Well, given that this is a podcast about creativity, can we talk a little bit about how you go about creating a routine?

Eric Samuels:  I talk a lot about this because, I think, the creative process is something that a lot of people wonder about. But we don't often talk about the science and what's really involved and I think the other thing about creativity is that no two of us are built the same. We all acquire ideas, solutions in slightly different ways. I have my process that I've kind of learned over the years but one of the things that I learned from studying what it is that I do about things like intuition is that it's not this sort of magical intuitive sixth sense fairy dust thing. It's actually a psycho neurological process, whereas we have neurons in our brain. They're essentially like a massive hard drive of stored memories of content and as you well know, sometimes we just remember the most ridiculous inane stuff and then we can't forget or we can't remember things that we consider important. Like, if I said to you, what was the first landline telephone number you ever had as a kid, you probably remember because it's implanted, it's back there, it's useless to you at this point, but it's  stored there. And we also have memories of other things, some of which psychologists would say have whatever specific embedded meaning, but the point is all these neurons exist. And then, what's happening is that our subconscious going through a constant process of analysis when new data comes in, it looks at that new data and compares it against old data and if A plus B in the past has equaled C that fires a neuron which sends that message to the conscious mind in the form of a feeling. So when you get a feeling it's like, if you remember the old Coles notes right, it's like a condensed version of a large book. It's like Coles notes that you're receiving a library of subconscious information. So if you're walking down the street it's dark at night and something happens, all of a sudden you feel fear, then it doesn't necessarily mean there's something that you should fear, it means the environment in which you are, in the past has resulted in something that has caused that emotion. So I think the creative process also works at a subconscious level when I'm trying to solve a problem. I start in the creative process by not thinking about how I can fool the audience. I think about the people in the audience and what it is I'd like them to experience. So then I kind of worked backwards, okay, what's the best way to make that happen. And then I think about it at a conscious level and I analyze it six different ways. Think about methods to make that occur. And then, if something doesn't immediately come to mind I just walk away from it, forget about it and I distract myself and one of the things, and again this is proven by neural psychology, one of the things I do is just walk away, forget it, do something entirely different, physical activity, I love just walking and listening to music on headphones that has nothing to do with anything. Pat Metheny is like my jam for that. I don't know why, it just opens, it opens my mind, it just works that way. And remarkably, so many times when your subconscious has processed all this, and it could be hours, days, weeks, the idea just comes to you. And that's happened to me more often than not. That's my process and I know that works similarly for a lot of people because the problem is, if you keep pounding into the ground, you just dig a big rut and you miss all the lateral opportunities. I used to say, there's a cliche that creative people think outside of the box and really creative people don't even know the box exists, and super creative people think, why is the box talking to me. So I think it's different for everyone, but you have to be aware that the box is only the starting point. The  box is how it's been done in the past. And another really important element that I've learned and preached, is learn the rules before you break the rules. There's a reason that rules exist again in music and writing and in everything and the people who've broken the rules very rarely go directly to rule breaking. There are absolutely cases of that in the art world in particular and it's just, for whatever reason they are the anomaly but people often say in the radio business Howard Stern, he just changed the way everything you know, he was just a rule breaker groundbreaker. Yeah but Howard Stern played by the rules for years. He learned the rules and realized he wasn't made the way people who succeeded playing by those rules, got to the top. And then he said, 'I got nothing to lose, let's try it a different way.' Learn the rules then break the rules. I think the same exists in the creative process. And I think breaking the rules shouldn't be the goal all the time but you shouldn't be afraid of that, I think that's how you really achieve being unique.

Steve Waxman:  Pick a routine that walks us through the moment of inspiration through to creation. And you don't have to reveal any secrets on the final trick.

Eric Samuels:  A lot of what I do, by design, is not about me, it's really about the audience, the audience experience. I want the evening to be about them. And by design, it's about me and what do they remember when they leave. I had a good time, I was entertained, my mind was blown and it all happened at Eric Samuels' show. That's all I'm looking for. Quick aside, you know, we would often have stand up comics who were in town doing a gig and if we could get them at the radio station they would go to the morning show or the afternoon drive show because most comics aren't up for morning shows, it's way too early. And they'd be in the studio and they were funny because that's what they do, even early and sometimes the host would try to one up them. Never works. Always uncomfortable, right. And what I would say to the host is whatever happens on your show, you get credit for. It doesn't matter who made them laugh, they remember they listened to your show when they laughed and that is the only thing that matters. It's the same onstage. No matter what happens during the show, I don't care if someone comes up and they get a bigger laugh than I did all night, that's fantastic, because when people go home they remember having laughed and had a good time. They don't attribute, each individual laugh to, well it was this Steve guy who was on stage who one-upped Eric. They don't think that way. They just had a good time. They laughed. So it's about the audience in their experience. One of, I think, the all time great routines in all of mentalism is this notion where people come up and five people are given a blackboard, they draw something the performer then connects each drawing with each person and it's powerful. It's called psychometry. It's the notion that you can pick up on things that relate to specific individuals based upon handwriting, other elements to the design and all these other things. It's half psychology and half bullshit. And I could be lying when I gave you the half and half. To me it was all about the, look how clever I am, I can deduce blah blah blah. So I wanted to do this in a different way. So I started off with 'Okay, what would be more interesting.' And I just came up with this idea, again one of these things just came to me after consciously thinking about it and walking was wouldn't it be funny if I said to an audience, "The phone rings, a famous Hollywood producer says 'Listen, we've been hearing these great stories about you. In fact, we want to make a film based on the story of your life and you get to choose what famous Hollywood actor plays you in the starring role. So who would play you in the story in your life.'" I asked the audience to think about that. And then I bring five men on stage for this particular routine. And I give each of them a blackboard or whiteboard, whatever piece of card, and I have them write down the name of the famous Hollywood actor who would play them in the story of their life. And then the boards are placed face down and all mixed up and put on a table and I pick up one to show it to the audience that says Tom Hanks. And I show it to the five men on stage and say, "Okay, we need a line from a Tom Hanks movie." And the audience helps me and let's say it's "Wilson," doesn't matter what it is or "Life is like a box of chocolates." Then I have each of the five men on stage deliver that line as if they're Tom Hanks and I try to make the connection as to who I deduce out of the five who believes that Tom Hanks would best represent them in the story of their life. And it's funny because physicality is rarely connected, right? It's like the guy who thinks Brad Pitt would best play him does not look like Brad Pitt. So I connect four of those. And then it leaves the fifth and final one facedown on the table I've never looked at, etc. Four people are holding the names of four different actors in front of their chest so the audience can read the name. And then I say, "If I've correctly deduced the famous actor who would play you the story of your life, please take your seats to this well deserved round of applause." All four men leave the stage. So I'm four for four, leaving the fifth guy on stage. And I say to the audience "Well, obviously, if I just picked up that last board, looked at the name and said well this is you, that would be like a crap ending, wouldn't it so we're going to do this in a slightly different way." And I go through a questionnaire with this person to sort of A or B. Sushi or steak. Skydiver, scuba diver, asked his preferences on each and then I tried to determine without looking at the name, what famous Hollywood actor would play him in the story of his life. And I usually get it right. And he goes to his seat. So it's a really fun routine, it's a great routine but, because I also consult other performers, I was working with a performer in another country. And he said to me well we have different actor stars here, Hollywood stars are known, but not to the same extent it would be in North America. What else could we do? So, again, back to the creative process. I have to solve a problem here. The structure of the routine works beautifully. We have methods, we have audience involvement but how do we do this in a different way? And, again, I don't remember how long it was, and all of a sudden it came back to me, 'Ah, okay, now here's the introduction. Raise your hand if you believe in reincarnation.' People raise their hands. "Nice to see you again. I know that's an old joke but I understand reincarnation is making a comeback. Bad joke, okay I'm sorry. I want you to imagine you're going to be reincarnated but you're going to come back as an animal and you get to choose the specific animal you're going to be reincarnated as." I now bring five people on stage. Gender no longer matters because Brad Pitt is probably not a woman. That's why I go with five men in the first presentation but now it can be a family show, it can be men and women, it doesn't really matter who's on stage and I hand out the board's and say, write down the specific animal and cat or dog is fine but be specific so if it's a dog, you know, maybe write shih tzu or whatever. And now instead of doing lines for movies, if the first one says, cow, I have everybody moo. And I tell you the most jaded audience, lose their shit. People they know are up there, and even the guy who's too cool for school and goes "moo'' gets the biggest laugh. So, we took a routine and we just kept working, kept refining it, and I don't even do the story of your life anymore I just do the animal routine now. It kills. It's fun for me, it's fun for the audience. It runs about 10 minutes and people just eat it up and the people on stage, generally speaking, who are performing this thing, again this is pre COVID And hopefully, relatively soon in the near future, they just have a blast. You know I had a guy who was, I think, some kind of snake and he falls flat on the ground and starts slithering around on the stage. I mean, if you've seen a hypnosis show, a lot of what you see people do is inside them. They're just looking for that release point and it gives them that opportunity. It's the same with what I do. I want to give people an opportunity to express themselves, to have fun, and in turn to have everybody who's watching who's participating in the show enjoy themselves.

Steve Waxman:  You recently put out a book called Setting The Stage and I was curious as to why did you write it and what were you hoping that people that read the book, get out of it?

Eric Samuels:  Well I wanted to share my thinking. The book is a real yin yang of what I do and I believe all life is very much a balancing act of, I don't want to say the two hemispheres of the brain but in this case there's a sort of analytical side of me and the creative side and I've always felt fortunate that that I spend a lot of time on both sides. I'm like the guy who thinks, 'Well, what's the craziest thing we could do.' I used to do this in the radio business. We want to do a promotion so what's the craziest, most insane thing we could do that will get attention and people will enjoy. Let's give away a condominium to the 501st caller. No qualifying. No jumping through hoops. You call now and if you're the 501st caller you're going to win a condominium in downtown Vancouver. And, of course, everybody in the meeting says "No, seriously, what do you want to do for the Fall promotion." I'm like, I want to give away a condominium, we have this client. The address is 501, whatever Street. There's a suite 501. So let's give away suite 501 in the 501 to the 501st car. "We can't do that's never been done before." So that's the creative side of the street, why can't we. Now we get to the practical side, how can we. What if we front load the promotion for two months ahead of time we said we're going to do this without any notice. At some point in the future we're going to tell you about this new development, the 501 in Vancouver. And then one day we just do it. And now I have to put on my sales hat and go meet with the clients, their agency and pitch the idea. And we do that, and we give away suite 501 in the 501 to the 501st caller and knock out two thirds of the phone lines in the Lower Mainland in Vancouver. Back in the day when, unfortunately, there weren't as many cell phones and a lot of businesses were quite pissed off at us. But that's kind of the process of the Yin Yang. So it's the same, I think, in almost every walk of life, and certainly what I do. So I created the book in that same framework where half of the book are what I call backstage chapters, they're essays on performance, character development, mental state through what I talked to you about a rehearsal, versus practice, all of those elements that go into being a performer. And the other half are actual original routines, presentations. So that's the balancing act, the Ying and the Yang. So I felt I had a lot to share in terms of both of those things and a lot of my background is as a program director and doing a lot of the other stuff, I think, gives me a unique voice in our community which is a relatively small one, you know, magic and mentalism communities. I don't want to throw numbers out but we're talking, small thousands of people throughout the world. We're not talking about hundreds of thousands or millions of people who are serious about this, it's going to be in the tens of thousands. And the community that I'm targeting for this, mentalists, is of course a subset of that is even smaller so it's not a large community but for me this was an important thing to do. It's almost a legacy piece . I didn't do anything like this in the radio business. I think my work kind of speaks for itself and you know I was fortunate to win industry awards and things like that and now this is the thing that I want to do to leave my mark on this community.

Steve Waxman:  I mean it's interesting because you did send me some of the backstage chapters and I thought that there's so much in there that actually applied to pretty much anybody that was going to perform in any manner. It didn't have to be just somebody getting up on stage but, I mean, there were so many stories that applied to people being prepared for their best performance whatever that was going to be. 

Eric Samuels:  Yeah, well thank you for that. I think that that's a function of, again I go back to that role of being a program director very early in my radio career, I continue to consult with performers, I've done consulting with companies and a lot of what I do in my keynotes is really getting the best performance out. It's about communication, creativity, problem solving, influence techniques and it's really all about how to look at things in a slightly different manner. And, as you said, how to be really well prepared for whatever challenge is there. I still play video games, by the way, and I'm playing one currently that is so engaging and yet so tremendously challenging. It's right on that sort of precipice of my wanting to throw the controller and walk away, but I keep going back and I'm trying to find creative solutions around things. And when you accomplish something like that, when you overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge, I think getting on the other side of that and the joy you feel winning an audience over. When I go in to an event and I find out that everybody was bused in, and there was booze flowing on that bus, and they're already three quarters into the bag by the time the buffet opens and I've got to go on in an hour, I just say, 'Let's see what you can do, this is a real challenge here.' And I don't do the fight or flight thing. I just say, just be in the moment. You're so lucky to be doing what you're doing. And that's how, for me as a performer, I overcome any stress about a particular set of circumstances. The mic isn't working, the lighting is crap, the stage is too small, all those things the moment that I'm introduced and I walk out on stage, it's all about making that connection as quickly as possible and maintaining that.  And if I've done that that's what it's all about and you're right that that extends into, I think, any business, any vocation, any hobby, where we're trying to make a connection. 

Steve Waxman:  So, I'd love to know how you ended up on Penn and Teller show Fool Us and what that experience was like. 

Eric Samuels:  Yeah, talking about practice and rehearsal. So when you're shooting a television show there's a lot that occurs in a short period of time. It creates some stress, there's no question about it. We did a stage show and we used to, back in the olden days, do a few public theater shows which is probably my favorite thing to do. Your name's on the marquee, they're there to see you. That audience is there for you and you can really go places you can't in a corporate show where, let's face it, the people's attention spans a little shorter and the environment isn't always perfect. When people are in a theater and they're there to see you, you can do some amazing stuff. So I created a show called Eric Samuels Liar and the premise of the show was that I'm a professional liar, I do this for a living, but all of us, in our own way, are liars. We lie in life and it's an examination of how we lie in different ways and everything over the show was, I think it was about an hour and 40 minutes, with an intermission, was about the ways in which we lie and revealing things like lie detection and stuff like that. And there's a lot of really fun and funny stuff and I was really proud of the show. And one of the routines I created for the show was this idea of, I'm a lie curator, that I collect a lot of my favorite lies and they're here on this board and I did that presentation and as I was putting it together I thought this would be so perfect for Penn and Teller because that's such a huge part of their brand, right, which is busting liars and people that misrepresent what they do as being something other. So, I knew one of the producers of the show because we had talked in the past and I did this really quick video, literally in my living room, of the presentation that I hadn't even performed yet on stage because the opening was, I think, early January and I think this was back in late November, so I was in the practice and rehearsal stage. So this thing was raw, and they loved it but didn't like how I ended it, because it was too similar to something else that occurred in the show so they kind of said, we love it, Penn and Teller are gonna love it, because they can't know who you are or what you're doing on the show, it's legitimately treated as a secret. In fact, when they're walking you to the stage, there's someone walking ahead to make sure neither Penn or Teller are in the hallways and see you. It's pretty strict in that way because of the nature of the show, which is viewed as a competition and in America, there are specific laws because of things that have happened in the past on American game shows that you may be somewhat familiar with the movie about that. So, they said, it's kinda like something we already do, what else you got? We like the premise and can you get you something else by Friday. I'm like, that's the whole payoff. You know, the whole principle of this routine was different. So I'm like, Yeah, I could do that. And I don't know, I think it was Monday. So here we go again, back into that creative challenge situation and I kind of thought about it and I analyzed it, I spoke to a few people that know what I do and do something similar and bounced ideas off and we did a little brainstorming and stuff and then it just came to me. Hey, how about this and I pitched it, producers loved it, and bang bang bang I'm in Las Vegas, shooting the bit. 

Steve Waxman:  I'm going to lead you because I know that there was a little bit to do with the staging of it.

Eric Samuels:  Because everything was so last minute, the physical board that I have, the prop, was being made by a friend of mine who's in the UK and we didn't have enough time for him to ship it to me in Canada so he shipped it directly to Las Vegas and arrived the night before my flight. And the next morning I was scheduled to appear in the production room and perform this thing for, I didn't know, at the time, essentially a full room of, I think the gaffer was, I mean that everybody was sitting at a table. There were people seated, there are people standing. And of course everybody's giving you notes after the fact. So the thing arrives. I get in. My flight’s late. I unpack the thing, everything looks to be cool. The next morning I go down and I do the routine I get some notes, actually there's some good notes provided by the producers and then, I think it's the next day that I'm scheduled, so dress is like 2:30 in the afternoon and then I think the show is some time, they don't even tell you where you are in the run order for a variety of reasons. First of all, because television, right. You shoot and reshoot. So I knew that the actual taping started at eight o'clock so I'm going to be on some time after that. So I go on my schedule, dress rehearsal for 2:30, and I'm also wearing a brand new suit for the show that was pretty slim, tight fitting and there were two people sitting in the chairs, for those familiar with the show, Penn and Teller sit in these two chairs, you're on stage and of course they have these stand ins for the dress rehearsal. And I come up and I do the routine, and it's just a mess, I don't know, for whatever reason, I had physical issues with the stand and the tiles and my jacket was so tight when I reached across it knocked something which caused me, of course, to get flustered and throw a line. So, it was what I would describe as not a good dress rehearsal. So it's an amazing crew, and the guy on props said, you know, why don't I because again this is just crazy I had an easel come in from amazon.com that we shipped there and the thing came in from the UK they were married together but they didn't perfectly fit. They took it off and did some fine tuning for me, brought it down to, essentially, the basement where Penn and Teller keep all their old props and stuff and it's sort of the green room where you wait to go on, and I just went down there and went through it again and again. I did more practice and rehearsal, but I wanted to get the physical elements and I had a moment there I said okay what if I started back. Anyway, it's time. I go off, and I don't know what time it was in the real world, and I did the routine as flawlessly as it could have been under the circumstances. So in theater, there's an old notion that if your dress rehearsal is good, opening night sucks and vice versa, so I guess I followed through with an axiom  from the theatre world, that my dress rehearsal sucked so opening night was pretty good. 

Steve Waxman:  Do you get nervous right before you start any performance?

Eric Samuels:  Yeah, I do, and I can safely say that the one time that I remember specifically not being nervous and being a little too calm, and I think I was distracted, I think two terrible nights on stage, probably more than that mediocre nights but I once got the red light at a Yuk Yuks, which means get off our stage. And when I say once, if there were comics listening there going like "Only once?" And there was a group of us and we workshopped stuff at The Railway Club in Vancouver, and I was so casual I went on one night and I was just like, total chill. I thought I had total control and the show sucked. It was just I wasn't in the zone. And what I realized is that that stress, that moment, that anxiety that is, again, that's your body preparing itself for a bizarrely unusual set of circumstances where here I am as a human being, walking out on stage not only being the center of attention but I'm expected to entertain people in a really unusual way. And I feel a little anxious about that. Well, I mean some people are built that way. But I still do get nervous for particular shows where for whatever reason, I'm, you know, more stressed. I know if I go into a room and I know the audience, makeup, generally speaking, or a theater show whatever I have an extra boost of confidence that I've sort of been here, done that. When it's a new environment, or it might be a psychographic or an industry or something that I don't really feel a natural connection with, I have to work harder, and those are usually the best shows, if that makes sense.

Steve Waxman:  Totally, absolutely. So what's next for you?

Eric Samuels:  Wow. Well, you know, doing online shows, I've adapted but I don't love it. I'm having fun with it, but I think I speak on behalf of a lot of people in that we want to get back and see live entertainment and be in the room and feel safe about that, and everything else. So I think that's something that I'm looking forward to, doing more lecturing for mentalism groups, magic clubs, things like that. And I talk about a lot of stuff in the book and get into more detail on, you know, I break down more into the micro elements of some of the things that I discuss. That's really fun to me, teaching and lecturing and stuff has always been something I've enjoyed. Again, I think it's just naturally part of my DNA. And just to continue to create, you know, new ideas, original content because that's still one of the things that gives me an amazing amount of pleasure, in fact I have something new that has to do with music that I'm really excited about that. I'm still in the practicing moving into the rehearsal stage. And so, I get excited about something new like that because, let's face it, it's like you know you've written a new song and you want to perform it right and fine tune it.


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If you'd like to find out more about Eric Samuels or see some examples of his work or maybe even book him for an event, please visit this website, Ericsamuels.com.