Brian Lord: Hi, I'm Brian Lord, your host of the Beyond Speaking podcast, and today we have with us Bill Herz, who's a magician, kind of like, one of those godfather-type guys who not only is he great on stage, but he knows everybody. He's in the shadows. He's in front. He's one of those people that seems to be everywhere all at once. So, Bill, thank you for coming on.
Bill Herz: Thanks for having me. Thrilled to be here.
Brian Lord: So what is kind of your- I love origin stories. How did you get into magic?
Bill Herz: I got a magic set for Christmas and my parents thought, you know, he likes to be around people. And I opened it up and that was it. I was like, this is the greatest thing in the world. And I got so into it, went to the library, start taking out books on magic- which is still the best way to learn. There's a magic shop in New York where I grew up, was there every Sunday and Saturday. In fact, David Copperfield and I are exactly the same age. And we used to hang out every Saturday growing up in a magic shop called Tannen's in New York.
Brian Lord: Did you do shows together? How how does that work out being magic friends?
Bill Herz: It's a real community. So everybody would go and you'd go to the magic shop- at the old brick and mortar magic shops and all the old-timers would teach the new guys their tricks if you were serious and we'd all hang there and then we'd all go to a place called The Cafeteria. And in almost every city has something like this in the cafeteria. And we'd sit there from three to, you know, eight o'clock every Saturday night and that was my passion. Then I started doing the kids' shows and then the churches and the temples and did it all throughout high school and college and it was a great way to meet girls in college. And all I cared about was sports girls and magic at that time. And still pretty much. But and then I just kept doing it and doing it. And then I went and got an MBA actually and had a real job for about six months. And I said, "I miss doing the magic full time." So I started doing magic and knocking on corporate doors and they were all like, "Well, who have you worked for?" And at that point, I, you know, I'd done all the community shows and hadn't worked for much. And finally, after being turned down and I finally said, "Oh, well, I've worked for, you know, Nestles and IBM." "Oh, well, then come on in." And it took off from there. And all I've ever done is corporate events. And that's my passion. And I mean, I do a few social events a year, but it's all corporate. But I've never done the cruises or colleges. So I really enjoy it.
Brian Lord: So when because I know you always say it's you know, the community is this big. It's a small community. What when did you realize you were accepted by the older guys you were talking about when you're a young guy being accepted by the older ones?
Bill Herz: You know, I mean, I think there's a passion that you feel. I can tell you, I was just interviewed for a magazine, and I can tell you every good 15-year-old magician in the country right now, because it doesn't just... You don't just pop up. You have to- it's like learning the piano. You have to learn the scales. There's no other way around it. And you have to pay your dues. There isn't a great performer I know who hasn't done shows in the most horrible places, but that's where you learn. I remember years ago there was a place called Mamma Leone's in New York City, and they brought in bus tours. And I was doing table magic. And you had three minutes at each table and don't go a second over. And that's how you'll learn. And people are eating while you're doing tricks so you have to learn. I remember being on tour with Pat Benatar. I was the opening act and they- the audience was timing their drugs, so they were peaking when Pat came out. So for me to grab their attention, that was a real learning experience. I've had Dive's, you know, years ago. I mean, now it's all great, but you have to pay your dues. There isn't a performer I know who hasn't paid their dues. And, you know, I see a lot of sort of the young YouTube guys and some of them are really good, but some of them, they're great on YouTube. But get them in front of a live audience and it's a completely different ballgame. And so it's just doing it and doing it and doing it and doing it and running into every situation. And I'm still as passionate about it today as I ever was.
Brian Lord: Now, you've done a lot of amazing things you're talking about. So you, you actually run your own company Magicorp and-
Bill Herz: -We are the largest agency that all we do is magic. That's it. Nothing else. Magic, mind-reading, illusion. You can ask me who the hot new singer is- I love music, but I couldn't tell you. You know, you know every speaker out there. I couldn't tell you. I can only know my world.
Brian Lord: Yeah. And so you've done a lot of amazing things. So like Turkish Airways, you made a plane disappear-
Bill Herz: -Appear.
Brian Lord: Appear.
Bill Herz: -Appear, to introduce one of their new jets.
Brian Lord: OK, nice and they have great planes. I've been flown in before. And a lot of amazing things. But one of the most amazing things that you were talking about is that you've performed for the Supreme Court. So can you tell us what that is like? Because that's Pat Benatar opening act versus Supreme Court-
Bill Herz: -Completely different. Yeah. The interesting thing about magic, which is the brighter the group, the smarter the group, the easier they are to fool me because they overthink things. You know, I get a call once and I'll go back to it literally once a week going I just had this. In fact, I just got an email. These are quantum physics physicists. They're going to be really tough. And I'm thinking to myself, this is going to be a walk in the park. And I did it and they were great. They were like, how could that be? You know, because they are trained to think in a very logical way. They think A goes to B, B goes to C, C goes to D, and I go to D, I don't really go A to D, I just hide in steps B to C. And so they don't get it. But the Supreme Court- really bright group. What's really interesting is I've done them for years and years and years every year and they're really fun. People don't think of them as just... Not at all. They're really fun. Antonin Scalia had one of the great sense of humor of all time. William Rehnquist, great sense of humor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, great sense of humor. I mean, it's just it's amazing. In fact, I did a trick with Scalia on stage where I had him write on a dollar bill and to identify it. And I said, "Oh, is this your first felony?" And of course, the audience laughed. Well, he stopped the show, literally stopped the show to explain to the audience that what he's doing is not a felony and that everybody has this misconception about writing on money or doing... He said, "It's your money. You can do whatever you want with it. The only thing that's illegal is if you're out to defraud the government or counterfeit. But if you want to, he said if you want to eat your money, that's your business. So you can write on it, you can burn it, you can do whatever you want." But what was funny was he literally took 12 minutes to explain. And finally, at the end of it, I said, "So now I see why you guys only do three cases a year." I got a humongous laugh, but he's got he had a wonderful sense of humor.
Brian Lord: Oh, that's right. Now, you've also performed for all of or several presidents. So who have you performed for and who maybe had the best sense of humor?
Bill Herz: Well, I've worked for all of them that are- Well, I shouldn't say all of them I'm not that [old]. Reagan was the last... I did Reagan. I did the Bushes. I did Clinton. Obama. I think Trump, the one that had the best sense of humor, I think was Reagan. Reagan had a great sense of humor.
Brian Lord: And what set him apart?
Bill Herz: A belly laugh. He had a belly laugh and I think he just loved having a good time. I mean, he was an actor. I mean, he loved having a good time. Clinton's got a great sense of humor. Obama looked at things really curiously in a really interesting way. And the Bushes both had you know, they both had really good sense of humors.
Brian Lord: Mm-hmm. And what... Tell me- you were telling me a little bit before we got started with the interview about Bush '41, about his love of magic.
Bill Herz: He loved magic and he loved practical jokes. And he used to have a thing actually that's called a reel. And it's an invisible thread or what looks like an invisible thread with a piece of wax on it at the end of it. It's actually like the same type of thing on key chains. And he would put a dollar bill on it and he'd put it on the floor. And when somebody bent down to pick it up, he'd snap it and would jump into his hand. And I actually remember now, you know, I hadn't thought about this, but I gave Barbara Bush a trick, a trick called the coloring book. I still have the letter at home from her saying thank you and how much fun she had because she used to talk to kids a lot and she loved to do that trick. So she was really, really nice, you know.
Brian Lord: And you said that he used to or Bush '41 used to actually go to Magic Shop.
Bill Herz: Yeah, he used to stop every now and then- Not a lot.
Brian Lord: Yeah.
Bill Herz: Every now and then there was an old magic shop called Al's Magic Shop in Washington, D.C. and he'd say to the driver, "Stop." And he'd go in unannounced and he, you know, watch some tricks and buy a little new little thing. And of course, he never had money on them. And, you know, the proprietor, Al, would say, "Don't worry, just, you know, on us we can handle it," So, yeah, he loved magic. A lot of you know, and there are senators now who are very into magic. There's the ex CIA director. Interesting... General Schwarzkopf credits his way of thinking to magic.
Brian Lord: Really?
Bill Herz: Yeah.
Brian Lord: And how is that?
Bill Herz: Just the way he plans things, the way you try and deceive, the way you try and hide things. There's a great movie coming out- or it's been planned- called The War Magician, that in World War II, a magician was called on to create fake battlefields by using illusions that the Germans would bomb them instead of the real battlefield. So magic tactics have been used and I'm fascinated by that, you know, the great ways- Almost every Broadway show has got some, whether you see it or not, some type of tricks or magic involved.
Brian Lord: Now, one of the things that you do is teaching others. So you were just mentioning Barbara Bush and giving her something so she could use magic herself. And that played a role in how you got started in the corporate world too, right?
Bill Herz: When I was it was... Yeah. When I was young, I was 24 at the time. I was doing a show in England and the CEO of this company said, "Hey, can you teach me a trick that I can do?" And I was like, "Yeah, sure, but let's do it about what you're talking about." And he did it and went over great. And I remember I came back and I was doing a trade show for Fuji and they said, "Hey, can you teach us?" Because I said, "You should see this guy in England, he wanted to do it" and they were like, "Teach us." And so I did and it went over great. And at that time, you know, and then two weeks later, I was doing a trade show for Chevrolet and I said, "You should've seen these guys at Fuji. They wanted to do-" "Teach us." And I and my wife, who is CFO of HBO at the time, said, "You know there's a business here."
Brian Lord: Yeah.
Bill Herz: So we started this company called Magicorp where I teach. And my first real student was Bill Gates.
Brian Lord: Really?
Bill Herz: Yeah. And where I made a bowl of money magically- He made a bowl of money magically appear. I teach them so, you know, they get the credit. And so it just took off. We were written up on the front page of The Wall Street Journal and it just took off from there. And it's I still teach CEOs and executives as a way to communicate. It's not magic tricks for the sake of magic tricks. It's all about ways to communicate.
Brian Lord: Now, what was Bill Gates like as a student?
Bill Herz: Great. Listened... what I found is... Because I've taught people all over the world- Is the ones who listen are the best students as opposed to the ones who come in and say, "I want you to do this and I want you to do that." I get what you're trying to do. And, you know, it's interesting and I'm sure you run into this. I had a big party a few years ago and I called the tent guy to put up a tent on our yard. And he got there and I said, "Where are you going to put it?" And he said, "What?" And I said, "Where are you going to put the tent?" He goes, "Oh, I thought you'd tell me." And I go, "I thought that was your job." And he said, "I've been doing the job for 30 years. Nobody's ever asked me. Everybody tells me." I said, "But that doesn't make sense. You know, the best flows in the ins and the outs and the way the wind... And the-." And he said "Everybody comes with their own way because the parties are always excess, are the ones who when I make a suggestion..." I find the same thing with teaching magic. I understand the points they're trying to get across and I can see their personality. We did a thing last week where we had one of the best CEOs I've ever had doing stuff. And he sat down, he said, "Teach me the whole thing." And then he put his personality behind it and the audience went nuts.
Brian Lord: Oh, wow.
Bill Herz: And it's really, really fun.
Brian Lord: Now, this ability to teach one time led you to be on Letterman. Can you tell that story?
Bill Herz: Well, actually, I wasn't.
Brian Lord: Oh, okay.
Bill Herz: But my student was.
Brian Lord: Oh, okay. Yes, go ahead. Go ahead.
Bill Herz: So in the Wall Street Journal article on me, off the record, the reporter said to me, "Can you really teach any executive or CEO?" And I thought it was off the record and I said, "I could teach a monkey."
Brian Lord: Mm-hmm.
Bill Herz: Well, it showed up in the article, and three weeks later, I got a call from the David Letterman show saying, "We have Zippy the Chimp coming on. Can you teach Zippy a trick? And I did teach Zippy a trick. I taught his trainer, too. I wasn't on the show, but Zippy did a card trick to David Letterman. Yeah. So the answer is yeah, I can teach anyone. But I... I also am very concerned that it's not a magic show. And in those cases it's the idea is that it should be to make a point. And it just, you know, the last thing... It's the best thing because it humanizes the executives. You know, there's so many people where... They don't have an opportunity to go up to the CEO and say, that was great. This gives everybody in the audience a chance to go, "How did you cut that guy in half?" or whatever it might be.
Brian Lord: So how do you feel like magic- Kind of building on that... How does magic sort of build those relationships out for people?
Bill Herz: Oh, it gives them all sorts of credibility right away. It shows that they're human beings. I mean, so many times you get these companies where the employees think that the CEO lives in this glass tower doesn't this is, you know, a great icebreaker. It's a great way to show. I like to have fun. I'm a human being while communicating points. And that's why it's so successful.
Brian Lord: Thinking back to what you were mentioning earlier, I was just... We have an interviewee for the podcast coming up, Jonna Mendez, who her husband, Tony Mendez, is most famous for the movie Argo.
Bill Herz: Right!
Brian Lord: And I want to say that she... You know, David Copperfield, your friend since childhood- I want to say that the CIA consulted with him quite a bit on how to do different things. So she's talked about getting agents [officers] out of Moscow and that sort of thing. How- what are some of the things that you teach from a concept, you know, like you're talking with Schwarzkopf? How do you teach magic as a concept from that standpoint?
Bill Herz: I don't think in that case, we don't spend time with teaching the concept. It's more of the way I look- I kind of describe it is we do the dirty work. It's like me giving you a baton and say, could you go conduct that symphony? Well, the answer is the symphony is going to do pretty darn well without you there or not.
Brian Lord: Right.
Bill Herz: But the conductor gets the credit. Now, in our case, there's no symphony, but we're going to make you look great, there's no chance of messing up. If there's any dirty work, the person that's carrying the prop is going to do it. We just did a thing where a company wanted to produce a new packaging and they want to do it in a fun way. So it was a pretty big package. And what we did is we had the CEO call for a briefcase and the guy walks out with a briefcase and then he opens it up and pulls this tremendous thing out of it. And it looks great because that thing couldn't possibly fit in there. What the audience didn't know is the guy that was carrying the briefcase was a magician who looked just like an assistant, you know, I mean, so... But he did the you know, the CEO did the magic that had to be done. But we did the dirty work, and that's part of it. We want them to get the credit. And that's what we do. Sometimes, you know, it all depends on, you know, I mean, we make executives magically appear all the time and all the time. They say, "Oh, you'll have 40 minutes with that person, which we don't need.
Brian Lord: Right.
Bill Herz: And we also know we're not getting 40 minutes. You know, something's going to come up. And so we- I remember this is going back years ago with Sony, with Akio Morita, who was the chairman, and they said we were making him appear out of a giant Sony product that we had made. And they said you'll be able to work with him for a half an hour to do what he has to do, which wasn't hard. And I just knew we weren't going to get a half an hour. So the assistants, even though they were American, spoke fluent Japanese and we designed it with so that... If he didn't even have rehearsal time, it was going to work perfectly. We don't take chances. It's their reputation on stage. We don't take chances.
Brian Lord: What's kind of the biggest thing you've done for an event?
Bill Herz: Well, making a jet appear is pretty big! We've done cars, we've done snowmobiles, we've done trucks. So, I mean, we do interactive tricks for humungous, you know, we did 3,800 people the other day with an interactive card trick with the whole audience. I mean, we've done really big audiences of, you know, 7,500 people live. And so it's fun. It's really fun. The more you can get people engaged and like- I push great close-up magic, too, because that, you know, I mean, in this day and age where you can push a button on a computer and you can get any information, but then all of a sudden the guy changes for our hearts to the six of clubs in your hand and you're an inch away. You're a kid again. It's the only thing that lets you be a kid again. So I get so excited by it and it's so much fun.
Brian Lord: Well, in addition to you, I know you were saying that you could pick out the most talented 15-year-old magicians in the country. And obviously part of it is that, you know, what they call the Ten Thousand Hour Rule or something else that so much goes into it.
Bill Herz: Exactly.
Brian Lord: But what do you think? It's like almost every magician I know, and I guess I know maybe a few more than others would just for the job I do.
Bill Herz: Sure.
Brian Lord: Everybody started that early it seems like. What makes a magician different that that ties them into that?
Bill Herz: You mean what gets people interested in magic?
Brian Lord: Yeah, or I mean what gives somebody that particular makeup?
Bill Herz: That's a good question. I don't know. I mean, everybody I know, I mean, I know people in every profession who do it as hobbies. I know professional magicians. I mean, everybody is different. We all have a passion for that, figuring out how to make it look great. And we work on it night and day. You know, I... The joke I tell- I'm so passionate about with my friend, my magic buddies- My wife only worries about me when I'm with my magic friends because I'm not going to get... You know, there's a joke that I tell, which is one night I came home at four o'clock in the morning and my wife said, "Where were you?" And I said, "You're not going to believe what happened. I'm driving home. Car breaks down. A woman pulls up right next to me. Beautiful woman. We stop, we have a drink. One thing led to another. And that's why I'm so late." My wife said, "Don't give me that. You were out doing card tricks."
Brian Lord: [Laughing]
Bill Herz: And that's true. I mean, we sit there and we talk about the wording of tricks. We talk about the visual, the... I mean, we spend hours on just minute little things. We work... and that's fun to us. I mean, that's pure fun. I'm about to go over to England to be with a whole bunch of magicians, and I'm going to come back, I know, exhausted. Because we sit there and we do this over- It's our passion.
Bill Herz: All right. So we are... One last question. We are recording this a couple of days before the Super Bowl. Chiefs, 49ers. So who, being a mass magician and mind-reader and everything else you can do-.
Bill Herz: Chiefs by seven.
Brian Lord: Chiefs by seven.
Bill Herz: Right.
Brian Lord: Any other prop bet type of things that go into it? Anything like that?
Bill Herz: You know, I mean, the only problem about that is I've said that before kiddingly to people because I have no, no- don't take me seriously on that. But I've had people put money down. I'm like, "No, don't do that!" You know, I've got, you know, the one thing my college roommate was the GM of the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Red Sox.
Brian Lord: Really?
Bill Herz: Yeah. And the one thing I will say is we used to sit there and watch baseball games and I'd say, "Oh, what are they doing that for?" Because I'm a big sports fan and he I can't believe they're doing that. And we'd be armchair quarterbacks. And he would say, "Well, what you're forgetting"- and this was in college.
Brian Lord: Yeah.
Bill Herz: That, you know, "So-and-so is on the disabled list. They're playing against, you know, this team next week. And so and so's they've only got two lefty pitchers" and he's throwing out all sorts of information that I hadn't even thought about. And whenever I think about that, I think about every sports thing is there's so much information we don't have that they have and that's what makes them pro-athletes and not us.
Brian Lord: Yeah.
Bill Herz: You know, and it's just so I never gamble on- I never gamble! Because there's an old expression that if for when it comes to cards and stuff, that if you ever sit down at a poker table, there's always a sucker. And if you don't see him, you're it.
Thank you for joining us for the Beyond Speaking podcast to learn more about Bill Herz, go to BeyondSpeak.com and make sure to leave a review and subscribe wherever you listen.
Beyond Speaking is hosted by Brian Lord and produced by Eric Woodie