Audience interaction gone wrong: my magic night w. Joe Labero

Joe Labero

You might be surprised to find the man who agreed to be in this poster is a dick.

If you’ve visited my blog before, then you must know there are plenty of things I don’t like (see my post on Alien Covenant 2) or am not impressed by (my post on peak TV). One of those is magic, or more specifically the manic crowd-pleasing attitude of magicians. Swedish magician Joe Labero found out the hard way when our styles clashed in an unfortunate case of audience interaction.

Let me backtrack. It’s Wednesday, and I wake up at 5.30 AM. Ideally I wouldn’t wake up until two hours later, but unfortunately I’ve been struggling with insomnia in the last few weeks. It’s not a great day to be tired during, as it’s the day of my company’s Christmas event. You could speculate that perhaps I slept badly due to excitement, but you would be wrong. These type of events aren’t really my thing, nor is being excited. (Again, as Swedish magician Joe Labero would find out later that night.)

At 4PM the festivities at work kick off with sparkling wine in the lobby of my company. I opt to play Mario Kart instead because nothing makes me happier than hearing Toad get fucked up by a banana peel or shell. Seriously. When everyone starts vacating the office to get on a bus that will take us to our next destination, I grab some beers, dally some more and end up in the third bus. It’s empty, except for me and 2 of my co-workers. I have a good laugh about this, unaware that I’m about to face off with Swedish Magician Joe Labero, less than an hour from now.

Our destination turns out to be a boat, where we will be treated to food, drinks, and entertainment. I am guided into the lower deck, which contains a small stage and several rows of seats. The bus I had been in was the last to leave the office, which means the only seats left are in the front. I sit down, and minutes later the show starts.

If you’re on the edge of your seat reading this, it’s because you know Swedish magician Joe Labero is about to enter the story and fuck shit up.

A video starts playing, projected onto a screen in front of me. Through footage from the ’90s I am told I’m about to experience an unforgettable night. That turned out to – technically – be correct. In walks what appears to be magician Burt Wonderstone from the forgotten 2013 film The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. The crowd goes wild, and the magician gladly soaks up the attention. I have no idea who this man is, and only later will I find out it’s Swedish magician Joe Labero. (And no joke, I keep having to scroll up to see what his last name is.)

He starts talking in his native tongue, and it’s apparent he will do the whole show in Swedish. (If you’re surprised about this, I should backtrack once again and explain that this whole thing took place in Stockholm, which is where the company I work at is based.) ((If you don’t know Stockholm: it’s the capital of Sweden. Fun fact! )) It’s not great for me, since my Swedish is limited, as I’m in fact from Belgium and spend my free time watching movies such as Mechanic: Resurrection instead of studying harder. I am feeling quite tired in my seat at this point – remember the insomnia – and the three beers I had before are not helping. Since I imagine Swedish magician Joe Labero to be a visual person I decide to just ride the Swedish language wave and let it all wash over me. Which goes well, until Joe addresses me.

I freeze. I hope he will move onto the next person because I’m not saying anything. Unfortunately Joe repeats himself. In front of a crowd of 100+ co-workers I have to explain to Joe I don’t understand him. He switches to English, and asks me where I’m from. I say Belgium. He says sorry. I repeat “Belgium”. He says “no, I’m sorry you’re from Belgium”. The crowd laughs hysterically. I realize that in a split second I’ve become Joe’s whipping boy, and the only way to get out of it is to match his enthusiasm.

Since I work as a consultant, which means I have to act engaged from time to time, you would expect this to go smoothly But no. I realize I don’t really care about Joe. I believe at this point Joe starts grilling me about my low enthusiasm, and I just mumble. I’m hoping my short replies will establish me as a dull sparring partner, and I can go back to nodding off in my chair. Unfortunately my sluggish nature only seems to make Joe stronger, and he decides to ask me to help out with one of his acts. Begrudgingly, I walk up to the stage.

Joe Labero as he enters the stage for my company’s Christmas event

At this point I’m mentally gone. Joe is not happy with my lack of enthusiasm and as a result I stop listening. (Because really Joe, the last time someone expressed disappointment in my choices I moved from Belgium to Sweden. What did you expect?). I need to pull some rope he cut. Someone else – who stares at me in a very excited manner – comes to help out and instead of me pulling the cord from my end I mishear Joe’s instructions and just move towards this new participant. It almost feels like I’m intentionally sabotaging this stint of audience participation. Swedish Magician Joe (yes, I forgot his last name and can’t be bothered to scroll up) is officially done with me. I’m now being targeted.

The show goes on. New audience members interact with Joe. Some get a rose. All I get is a bitter reminder that Joe does not care for me. “How do you say twelve in Belgian?” asks Joe. I say “twaalf”, which he hears as “twelve”. He is not amused. I then correct him in that Belgian is not a language. He is not amused. Neither am I. In my mind I go over all the things I could’ve done instead of being at Joe’s show. Watching one of mentalist Derren Brown’s specials on Netflix for example. He’s a cool dude.

Joe repeats the phrase “Steven, close your mouth”, as if I’m in awe of his tricks. At this point I my mind has completely drifted off. Joe asks me what 4 plus 1 is. I tell him I wasn’t listening, and that I spaced out after the second bout of being heckled. Joe isn’t happy about this.

Some other stuff happens. Joe asks if anyone has seen his show before. I consider saying “no, but I feel like I have” given how familiar some of the material is. I don’t since – unlike Joe – I don’t have a microphone and I would be yelling a joke that is doomed to bomb and turn the audience against me.

The show ends. Joe runs off the stage, accompanied by a rousing applause. Before returning to the circle of hell he came from, I somewhat except him to come up to me and say “you were a good sport”. Or “it was all in good fun”. But he doesn’t. I like to believe it means I had gotten under Joe’s skin, the same way he got under mine. I am content.

Some other notes:

  • I am happy I don’t have to perform live shows on boats
  • Everyone in the office now seems to know I am a) Belgian and b) don’t understand what they’re saying. So thanks Joe.
  • If you work with me and ended up here. How weird is it that you were googling this, and how freaked out are you about this post existing?
  • After the show Swedish co-workers told me Joe was a) world famous, b) well, in the ’90s, and c) washed up now. None of my non-Swedish co-workers had ever heard from him.
  • Since this whole thing was recorded I get to a) relive this joyous evening and b) potentially use the footage as a pilot to launch my own Curb Your Enthusiasm style show.
  • I’m grouping this post under “slumming actors”, since I don’t have a tag for “slumming magicians”.

In the end, I am grateful my paths crossed with Joe’s. I have never been into magic, but I am a fan of tales filled with cringe-worthy moments, starring me. I just hope I never have to deliver this one to my antithesis, the same way Joe had to.

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