My Most Memorable Convention
Magic conventions give us the opportunity to meet up with old friends and to make new friends. They also let us “rub shoulders” with big names in the magic world and watch dealers pitching their latest miracles.
The organizers of conventions try to pack the schedule with memorable shows and lectures. But for me, the things I remember most are the events that weren’t scheduled. Here’s one of them, a performance by Bob Read at the I.B.M. convention in Quebec City, Quebec, in 1993. (This story was originally included in That Reminds Me.)
This convention was an organizational disaster. The staff of the convention hotel had gone on strike just before the convention started. The dealer’s room (usually an area that serves as a social focal point of a convention) was hidden away deep in the bowels of the hotel. The stage shows were subpar, culminating in the flaming train wreck that was a performer named Mundaka. Mundaka had an avant-garde act that was almost immediately hated by the conservative, magic-hobbyist audience. He was frequently and loudly booed by the surly French-Canadian magicians. There was a moment, about two-thirds of the way through his act, where Mundaka could have bailed out, saving himself and the audience further embarrassment. But he blithely ignored this moment, and proceeded to crash and burn in a glorious fashion.
Bob Read was hired to do close-up shows at the convention. This was back in the day when a close-up performance was actually a close-up performance, not a television show. There were six close-up magicians, and each magician did six performances on three consecutive days. The audience was situated in six different rooms, and the performers rotated from room to room. Each performer was to do a maximum of twelve minutes in each room. This time limit was important, because if one performer ran long, it screwed up the whole schedule.
Bob Read, Michael Weber, and Michael Close in Las Vegas - Early 90's
Bob, of course, hated having to perform under a time constraint. He did the best he could, but he was extremely dissatisfied with his performances. To those of us who knew Bob well, it became obvious there was an enormous amount of pent-up creative energy waiting to burst free. On the last day of the convention, a crowd of people began to form outside the rooms where the close-up shows were held. I was part of that crowd; we were waiting to see where Bob was going to do his final show, because in that room there would be no time constraints. Once we determined his schedule, everyone piled into that final room. (And everyone included Jay Marshall and Jon Racherbaumer.) The room was packed to overflowing; had a fire marshal walked in – well, he couldn’t have walked in; there wasn’t any place left to stand.
We had all assumed Bob would be in rare form in that final room; we had no idea just how great he would be. When he walked into the room and saw it was packed to overflowing, a huge smile spread over his face. This is how he liked to work, with the crowd right on top of him.
He invited a man to sit at a table in the front of the room. And then, he let loose.
He did five minutes with a squeaky door. He showed us how the Invisible Man does karate. He riffed on a woman who couldn’t stop giggling. He worked for an hour and five minutes, and he hadn’t done a single trick.
He did five more minutes as he brought out a deck of cards. He took the cards from the case, handed them to the man sitting at the table, and asked him to shuffle them. The man, who was still shaking with laughter, panicked, and as he tried to shuffle the cards he shot them all over the floor.
Bob looked at him, horrified. “Jesus Christ!” he yelled. “What the fuck are you doing? I’ve only got twelve minutes!” Pandemonium.
I’ve never forgotten it.