In 2000, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum opened a new location at The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Best Models & Talent, a local modelling agency were hiring ‘Greeters’ to help drive foot traffic into the attraction. I was still living in Las Vegas at the time, approaching the end of my three year tenure as a magician performing in Japanese at Caesar’s Magical Empire, a dining attraction at Caesar’s Palace. I needed some extra cash, and this ‘greeter’ gig paid $20/hour. Sounded easy enough, and it beat waiting tables.
Dressed as ushers in goofy purple blazers and black slacks, our job as ‘Greeters’ was to stand at the entrance of the Museum, next to the moving walkway at the Venetian and hand out ‘Welcome To Madame Tussaud’s’ flyers to tourists who were on their way into or out of the casino. We were salespeople, and the museum management needed sales badly, because Cirque Du Soleil was just starting to take hold back then, and competition was fierce.
Trying to gain the attention of tourists was no fun.
Not only did people not care about Madame Tussaud’s, the method was all wrong. It was like someone from Greenpeace approaching you on the sidewalk. Will people stop? Sure – but only because they get ambushed. Hiring actors who are already afraid of rejection to face rejection in the form of grumpy tourists who have already been groped by the seedy guys handing out naked titty flyers up and down the strip? What was I thinking?
There were three of us on the six hour shift. We weren’t paid on commission and it didn’t take long for us to figure out that this was a dead end gig. The Madame Tussauds management would show their faces every now and then, only to show us charts that reminded us how little traffic we were converting. Management was very strict about how we were to sell this experience to the tourists. After all, there was countless hours of research behind these techniques. I decided to follow their advice, and kindly talk to people as they came up the walkway. There were several selling points that we were instructed to bark at the tourists, like ‘two for ones’ or ‘be the first to see the new Tribute to Princess Diana Exhibit’. Not only did people ignore me, they snickered, laughed in my face and some even shoved me aside.
I didn’t blame them. I knew it was lame and something deep inside of me told me that I needed to take more risk, but my head won over my heart every time. The tape kept playing over and over in my head: ‘Follow the rules Kahlil.’ Each day on that job I died a little inside. I took the job because I needed a ‘plan B’ in case I lost the Caesars thing, but the Caesars thing was the only light at the end of the tunnel. (we were under constant threat that Caesars would close the show down) One day a month into the Greeter job, I got fed up, and I knew I had to quit the job or make it fun – I didn’t want to turn into a bitter bitchy actor blaming the world for my shortcomings. I needed to try something different, but I didn’t know what.
As I clocked in for my shift that day I noticed that the management had put a Whoopi Goldberg and Nicolas Cage statue at the entrance, and people would walk up and take pictures with them, and then go on their merry way.
Then, the idea hit me like a ton of bricks.
I stole a pair of sunglasses off the Blues Brothers exhibit and a fedora from the gift shop. I stuffed a bunch of brochures in the pocket of my purple blazer and I grabbed a broomstick from the janitors closet.
In plain sight of tourists passing by, I stuffed the broom stick in the small of my back, put on the sunglasses and the hat and struck a pose right in the middle of the entrance to Madame Tussauds, with Nic and Whoopi flanking me.
I stood there for hours. Frozen. Didn’t move a muscle.
At first, adults would stare and point. And then children started walking up to me, poking me and prodding me – and the parents didn’t care.
This was scary.
I prayed that they didn’t poke me in the nuts. Anywhere but the nuts. I had heard horror stories from friends of mine who were Disney characters that got kicked in the nuts all the time. ’Please Lord don’t let me end up in jail because because of these kids.’
Little by little, people started walking up to me. They would wave their hand in front of my face. They would remove my sunglasses. But I didn’t flinch. My fellow Greeters thought it was the coolest thing, and they actually tried to copy me. Didn’t work. They didn’t have the discipline. So they became my cheerleaders, bellowing about how realistic and lifelike the wax figures at Madame Tussauds were. ’Step right up folks! Poke him in the nuts! He’s wax!’
Each day I stood there for four hours at a time, brochures in my pocket.
A week later, Management heard about it and they loved it. It had become a production. The Greeters would carry me out like I was a mannequin, and it worked like a charm. People got their pics with me, and then poured into the attraction by the dozens.
Tourists couldn’t get enough of it. They were getting their pictures taken with me. People put babies on my shoulders, large sweaty men wearing wife-beaters put their arms around me. This one group of Brazilian volleyball chicks crowded around me, and took turns getting their picture taken while they grabbed my ass. (hard to stand still for that one but I definitely smiled. All day.)
There I stood between Nicolas Cage and Whoopi Goldberg, selling dozens of tickets without saying a word.
And where did I learn to stand still like that? My stepdad used to force me to stand at attention in the living room overnight while he slept on the couch. A belt was laid across my feet, if I moved he would wake and the punishment was severe. Apparently, I was a ‘worthless big lipped nigger with no common sense, so I needed to stand there until I could explain why.’
From that childhood experience, I learned how to sell tickets to Madam Tussauds, and for the first time, I realized that my stepdad was wrong. What a great epiphany.
And I had Nicolas Cage and Whoopi Goldberg to share it with.