You want to be good in Vegas. But if you are too good, you might be required to perform a miracle.
And so, I did. I was hired to perform at a client’s booth at COMDEX, the humongous computer Expo in Las Vegas. Each year this expo attracted around 300.000 attendees over 4 days ( you have been to Vegas, you can imagine what an extra 300,000 people would do to the overall traffic and congestion.) It was my client’s very first trade show. A relatively new computer chip manufacturer company, they couldn’t afford their own booth at Comdex, but they talked one of their distributors into giving them a 6ft. by 6ft. space in their large, expensive booth. The spot was around a corner and out of the main traffic aisle. Their challenge to me was this: come up with something that would fit in a 6 X 6 space and would stop customers long enough so they could hand out their brochure. Looking at their spot’s position and traffic flow I knew that an interactive magic show of any length would be futile. I had to surprise them, even shock them; but in a fun way.
So, here’s what I did. I came up with a character that had a 12-inch-high rod-puppet body, but with my head on top of its shoulders. It was a very surprising and ultimately delightful way to interact with the passing attendees. I had a special puppet stage built that was strong but could be easily shipped and set up. The puppet set was a forced perspective room with surprise doors hidden in it. Gretchen sewed the fire-retardant velour drapery and I built the puppet body and rods that would work the arms and legs from below the set. Since I had never performed with this character before I brought along a lot of small props and sound effects that I could use to enhance my spiel.
After I surprised passersby I would give a short pitch and then the stage hand (my real hand coming out of the curtain below the set) would hand them a brochure. Well, Puppet Guy was such big hit that my client ran out of brochures after only the second of four days. They rush ordered some more, but they weren’t going to arrive until the morning of the final day. So, on the third day I had to come up with a fun way to hand out the company logo emblazoned plastic bags and pencils. My puppet character hawked the bags as “Economy Air Bags” for the passenger side of the car. (Of course the passenger would have to blow it up themselves just before the accident) The pencils became “Portable Printers” that could write in any font and had a delete function on the other end. We ran out of all the bags and pencils within 5 hours!
My favorite thing about the experience was that I was free to improvise and incorporate whatever happened inmy exchanges with the attendees; constantly improving the humor and content in the pitch. At one point I brought out a “Vanilla Ice” action figure as a special guest spokesman. (At that time the song “Ice Ice Baby” was ubiquitous and quickly becoming despised) Attendees started lining up to hit “Vanilla Ice” on the head with a hammer that made a breaking glass sound when it hit something. It was crazy! It was ridiculous! But the brochures were flying and the client was ecstatic!!