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Nothing Up His Sleeve but a Pitch

TIMES STAFF WRITER

How are you, sir? C’mon over here, we’re going to be giving away some $100 bills. You don’t want to miss this.

You’ll never see this again in your life.

There was lots of magical stuff on display at the big SIGGRAPH exhibition of interactive computer products this month at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Giant computer screens showed off the latest in computer animation, CD-ROM games and Internet graphics as the walls pulsed with digital sound. Tens of thousands of attendees--each bearing the requisite plastic bag and the glassy-eyed gaze of someone who had spent the last several hours looking at too many computer monitors--wandered through the exhibits on the last day of the show.

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Even the presenters sounded weary.

“Look at that dinosaur,” said one company rep in lifeless tones as he demonstrated an animation program.

“He’s doing the cha-cha.”

But in front of a small podium outside the Mitsubishi Electronics booth, the energy level was far higher. Instead of the small, docile crowds at most booths, here there were almost 40 people jockeying for position.

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They were listening spellbound to Joel Bauer, who can cram more words into 10 minutes than you did into the entire month of July.

Squeeze in here, ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to have a good time. Don’t touch the props, sir, or I’ll have to hurt you. Just kidding, and I do sincerely mean that. I love you from the heart of my bottom.

Bauer, who lives in North Hills, is a magician specializing in trade shows, hired by companies to attract crowds to their booths. Working with lightning speed, he manipulated cards, rings, ropes and, for his big finish, a $100 bill, all the while delivering a nonstop gush of patter.

Around him, the marvels of digital magic were on display, but they were no match for Bauer.

It was the old magic that drew the crowds.

Raise your hand if you would like to take a brand-new $100 bill home with you. I see one, two, five, seven, 12, 19, 23 hands up. Perfect. [He puts out a $100 bill.] I have just enough for one person.

Bauer was the only magician working the exhibition. At each show, his ability to identify a card or the passage in a book chosen by someone in the audience never failed to produce jaw-dropping amazement and enthusiastic applause.

“At this show, there are a lot of interactive demos featuring the products,” Bauer said during a break between the 10-minute shows he was performing on the hour. “They feel that if they offer live entertainment, it will take away from the products.

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“But that’s not correct. The first thing you want to do is to bring them into a booth, win their confidence. You do that by getting them interested and then making them laugh. Once you have laughter, you have trust.”

There are five keys, ladies and gentlemen, five keys in full view. Only one of these keys will open the padlock that is holding the $100 bill. Everyone move in a little closer.

This is the last show I’ll be doing here and I would just love to give this $100 away.

Bauer, 34, who has been working trade shows for 15 years, has developed his act with the precision of a scientist.

“The size of my table, the height of my stand, every single thing I do here is designed to move an audience in and control them for a limited amount of time so that they get a message.

“It’s control, but it’s being used in a very positive way. We don’t hurt them, we give them a free gift at the end of the show.”

That free “gift” is a packet of information about the Mitsubishi color printers he was hired to help sell. Bauer slips in none-too-subtle plugs for his sponsor throughout the show.

You can examine every prop I use here today, because the real magic is behind me, the magic of Mitsubishi, the leader in dye sublimation printing.

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Bauer knows that only a tiny number of the people he plays to during the exhibition are potential customers for a specialized, high-cost printer.

“Maybe there will be only two, three people at a show that do that kind of high-resolution printing,” said Bauer, who studies his sponsors’ products to the point that he can answer many technical questions about them. “But they will remember having a good time and will associate that good time with Mitsubishi.”

To compete with all the distractions on a trade-show floor, he keeps the energy high. “That’s why I keep telling them to move in closer. It creates body heat. It makes it harder to escape.”

The patter keeps things moving along at a breathless clip, even between tricks.

Sir, how are you, what is your first name? Where are you from and what do you do for a living? It doesn’t matter, only your mother cares.

You know that, ladies and gentlemen, your mother cares about you more than anyone. Call her at the end of the show. Now, move in for the last trick.

From SIGGRAPH, Bauer will move on to a shoe show in Las Vegas, then one for women’s apparel, followed by a restaurant-supply show back in L.A. At each show, it is the last trick that sends his audience off on a high note.

He uses a padlock to secure the $100 between two pieces of clear plastic. Then he takes five identical-looking keys and places them on the table in front of him. He won’t touch the keys or the lock again until the end of the trick.

I am going to pick four of you, and you can win at this game, you really can.

Each of the four in the audience chooses a key, leaving one on the table.

Now, I’m going to ask you to each try your key. And you can change your mind any time prior to inserting it in the lock. If you want to switch to the key on the table instead, you have the total freedom to do so.

Each tries in turn. Some stick with the key they got, others switch. Makes no difference.

In the end, Bauer has an audience member try the last key, and the lock opens.

I have no idea how I did that! But it was amusing nonetheless.

Few in the crowd hear him over the applause.


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