No crapping birds, please
450-pound Cher impersonator/magician Tiny Bubbles is passing his experience on to the next generation
Thu, Feb 12, 2009 (midnight)
Tiny Bubbles isn’t your average 450-pound Cher impersonator; he’s also a magician, a comedian and most of all, a mentor. He works with many of the young magicians who move to Las Vegas, right after they get here. He gives them access to his thousand-volume magic-book library, full use of his thousand-piece illusion collection and all the professional advice and personal guidance they could ever want.
I met Tiny, whose real name is Steve Daly, at Gary Darwin’s magic club. He was teaching an intricate “torn and restored card” routine to two newbies: Alex, 24, and Michael, 19. Alex and Michael recently moved to Las Vegas with hopes of working the Strip. Given how they picked up the intricacies of Tiny’s trick, I’d say they’ve got a fighting chance.
Tiny, the two mentees, Scott “Doodad” Dorfman (a magician who makes balloon animals and manages a black-light mini-golf course) and I left the club meeting around midnight and drove to Arizona Charlie’s for breakfast and mentoring. It didn’t take long before Tiny told the group the best showbiz story I’ve heard in a long while:
“A couple of years ago I got a call from some woman’s secretary who asked me come to the VIP section of Tao and do Cher, as a birthday gift for his boss’ husband. She said her boss would give me a thousand bucks for four minutes. I asked if she wanted me to bring a midget who does Sonny. She asked, ‘How much?’ and I said, ‘Half price. Fifteen hundred total.’ Fast forward an hour or two. Me and Sonny go onstage, and we see who the secretary’s boss was: Britney Spears. It was K-Fed’s birthday.”
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“How’d the show go?” I asked.
“Britney loved us. She called me over for a hug, and then she wanted pictures, and then she wanted me to sit next to her—which I did. She was pregnant at the time, so I made sure she drank only water.”
Tiny had dozens of stories like that, but he cut himself off after a few. After all, the night wasn’t about Tiny, it was about Alex and Michael, the up-and-comers. It was about helping them develop a game plan for success.
“I know a hundred guys your age going for the same slot,” Tiny told them. “They all do the same act. Birds, fire, boxes. … You’ve got to be different. You’ve got to think of something original. Something without fire, without birds that shit everywhere and without confetti. You don’t want showgirls slipping on your mess, and you don’t want to any fire-code violations. Find something clean and different, and the work will come to you.”
“I sing and play the guitar, too,” Michael offered. “I always wanted to combine my music with my magic.”
“Now that,” said Tiny, “just might work.”
We discussed advertising fees, booking procedures and business models for over an hour. I eventually asked Tiny point blank why he was so generous with his time.
“How many old fat guys do you know?” he responded.
“Exactly. I’m 56. If you look at the statistics, I’ve got about a year or two left to live. I could spend that time performing, but if I spend it with you, with the next generation, my work will go on a lot longer. So I live vicariously through other magicians. Besides, if I were to put on a tux and do a suave, macho dove routine like Lance Burton—and believe me, I’d love to—people would laugh and go, ‘Does he know he’s fat?’ So I do what works.”
Tiny told us his plans for starting up a four-year Magic College. The first two years would cover the basics: misdirection, staging, costuming; the second two would be spent developing each student’s individual act.
“That’s the legacy I’d like to leave. But like I said, time is running out.”
Tiny handed Michael and me keno crayons and told us to flip our paper place mats over.
“How long do you think you’re going to live?” Tiny asked us. “Write that number down. And how old are you right now? Write that number next to it and then subtract the two. Now show me what you got.”
Michael wrote “90-19 = 71.”
“Seventy-one,” Tiny said. “You’ve got 71 more Christmases. You’ve got 71 more springs to watch the flowers bloom. Time moves faster than you think. If you really do want to take the Strip by storm, you’ve got to start right away—we’re talking tomorrow.”
Michael nodded solemnly. He’d gotten the message.
“How about you, Rick?”
I showed Tiny my place mat: “150-26 = 124.” He rolled his eyes.
“I factored in advances in medical technology,” I explained.
The 450-pound man who impersonates Cher for a living said this to me:
Rick Lax is the author of Lawyer Boy: A Case Study on Growing Up.