The Confetti Master of Times Square on New Year’s Eve

"I’ve never had a gig that I’ve done this many years in a row," says Treb Heining (far right, in red). Here, he celebrates the beginning of 2011 with the crowd.

“I’ve never had a gig that I’ve done this many years in a row,” says Treb Heining (far right, in red), who has also orchestrated the balloons at the Academy Awards and many Super Bowls and political conventions.

After the champagne has been chugged and the 6-ton ball has been cleared, millions of tiny flecks of colored paper coat the pavement of Times Square in New York City.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For the past 22 years, precisely 20 seconds before the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1, Treb Heining stands perched over the railing outside the Minskoff Theater, ready for go time. He holds a radio close to his lips. “Go confetti,” he declares coolly, just loud enough for the 70 someodd people at eight different buildings towering over the center of Times Square to hear him over the din of the whooping crowds below. Then, for almost 60 seconds straight, Heining and the rest of his confetti dispersal battalion heave 3,000 pounds of confetti out of large brown boxes and into the air. It’s officially New Year’s in Times Square.

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The American Idol Coach

Orland is

When Michael Orland’s mother took him to see a piano teacher at age 4, the teacher said “too young.” But then Michael played for her — and she agreed to take him on.

When Michael Orland sits down on the piano bench with American Idol contestants – those who made it through the initial cut, that is – he gives them a reassuring nod. “This is the only place you’re not being judged,” he tells them.

Orland has worked as a piano coach and vocal arranger on American Idol since season one in 2002. Hundreds upon hundreds of faces have passed through his door and grown into lifelong friends.

Orland sat with Adam Lambert at the piano, transforming “If I Can’t Have You” into a heart-wrenching ballad (which even Simon loved). He moved in with Clay Aiken and Kimberley Locke for a few months. He comforted Lauren Alaina when he found her crying in a hallway before a performance.

Perhaps because of his role on the show – as more of a cheerleader than a tough critic – Orland forms close bonds with the contestants that remain long after the end of a season. “Each new season of Idol is like watching your favorite season of Friends,” Orland says. “But you get a whole new set of characters.”

Age: 51
Graduated from: University of Massachusetts; majored in accounting
Based in: Los Angeles, Calif.
Previous jobs: After dropping out of school, I moved to New York, where I worked in every piano bar. Then I moved to Los Angeles, where I played [piano] for a bunch of people.

Your “big break”: In L.A., I played piano for Barry Manilow. Then, one of his background singers ended up being on the music team of the first season of Idol, and brought me in. So indirectly, Barry Manilow changed my life.

Do you experience firsthand the hilarity that ensues at American Idol auditions? Starting with season 4, I started going on the road for auditions. I’m one of the preliminary weed-er out-ers, before the judges sift through.

After auditions, what do your everyday responsibilities entail? Once the show starts, I’m one of the piano coaches and vocal arrangers – I deal with the kids on a daily basis. We don’t have time to give them voice lessons, but we coach them in performance techniques and build their confidence. About 90% of these contestants have had no experience beyond singing in a church or a karaoke bar.

Orland with Phillip Phillips,

Orland (L) with Phillip Phillips, the winner of season 11. “Starting a new season is like starting school all over again,” Orland says.

And you’re with them through the bitter end – which, more often than not, includes getting voted off. Yes. After people get voted off, they often go on The Ellen Show and Access Hollywood, and I go with them to play piano. So I’ve been on The Ellen Show, like, 70 times.

Was a career in music always in the cards for you? You went to school for accounting. I started playing the music from Mary Poppins by ear when I was 4. My parents talked me into [majoring in accounting], but my heart wasn’t in it. I dropped out after two years, because I only wanted to do music. I was playing music in this theater group in college, and I was like, “Why am I school? I can make $40 a night.”

Best part of your job: Just to be a tiny little piece of the contestants’ transitions. The relationship between a pianist and a singer is as intimate as you can get. It’s so rewarding to watch them grow into overnight sensations.

They grow insanely devoted fan bases incredibly quickly. The first time you go into a big set with all the contestants, it’s so crazy to watch the crowd’s reactions – people screaming their names, holding posters with their names.

Most challenging part of your job: To watch a contestant fold under pressure after he or she has been great all week. Another thing that can be hard: we’re not allowed to tell contestants which songs to sing. We can show them several reasons why they might want to choose one [song] over another, but we can’t say, pick this or don’t pick that. We help them create great arrangements or change up songs.

You deal with such a wide range of personalities. What approaches to coaching have you found work particularly well? I’m the class clown; I joke around with everyone, especially because they’re under such stress. I say “what the frick” a lot, since I have to be careful about swearing around young contestants.

Your advice to contestants: Walk out on stage with all the confidence in the world. Sometimes, the judges already have their minds set – so you can walk out doomed.

Pro- or anti-Simon? I love Simon, and I think he’s a very talented man. As mean and biting as Simon was on camera, he’d tell people off-camera, “This is what I meant. You have to careful on this song.”

Above, with Harry Connick, Jr.

Some of Orland’s fondest memories include those spent with the mentors who appear on Idol, like Gwen Stefani and Dolly Parton. Above: Orland (L) with Harry Connick, Jr.

Who do you think really deserved to make it, but didn’t? I’ll never forget when Chris Daughtry or Jennifer Hudson got voted off; I was so devastated. But it’s only a TV show. You can be on the show for two weeks and get enough exposure to make your career and do Broadway shows.

A quality you see in all the winners: It’s the ones you see in the hallway after rehearsal, listening on their iPhones to the tracks we just made them – as opposed to the ones on their iPhones chatting away.

Your dream judge: Cher. That way, I could have dinner with her.

If you could choose two contestants to be your roommates: After season 3, I bought this house out in L.A, and it fell through – it’s a long story involving mold – but I had already sold my old house. I was freaking out. Clay Aiken and Kimberley Locke had a house together at the time, and they invited me to come live in their huge 5-bedroom house. So my dog and I lived with them for, like, 4 months. It was like camp.

When has a contestant really surprised you? In season 8, I did an arrangement for Adam Lambert. It was Disco Week, and everyone assumed he was going to do “I Will Survive” or something. Instead, he told us he wanted to turn “If I Can’t Have You” into a heart-wrenching ballad. Even Simon loved it. Adam gave me credit on national TV, which was the first time anyone had publicly acknowledged me like that.

Preferred way of listening to music: Spotify and YouTube.

To you, the future of the show looks like: I like to believe it can go on for a long time. As long as Idol can keep producing people like Phillip Phillips – I mean, “Home” went triple platinum! – I think it can have a long shelf life.

And, in that future, are you coaching contestants? I’m also an aspiring songwriter. I wrote the song played on the finale of Idol last year. It was this joke that Randy Jackson always told contestants: “You’re so good, you could sing the phone book.” So we wrote a song for the finale called “Singing the Phone Book.” They were actually holding up yellow pages.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
1. Talent can keep you somewhere, but it doesn’t get you in the door. Networking and meeting the right people at the right time – that’s it. Take every job you can to meet people and learn more songs.

2. It helps to have a working knowledge of all different types of music.

3. Then, just wait for me to turn in my retirement papers. But that won’t be for a while.

You can follow Michael Orland on twitter at @MichaelOrland. Photos, from top: Ray Garcia; courtesy of Michael Orland.

NEXT: The Video Game Voice Actor

The Hand Model Who Doubled For David Beckham

Furino describes his work as vacillating between "excruciatingly simple" and "brutally high-pressure."

Furino describes his work as vacillating between “excruciatingly simple” and “brutally high-pressure.”

The dirty little secret of hand modeling is that it’s not as glamorous as it looks.

30 or 40 stressed-out food stylists, crew, and advertising and client executives crowd around a table, waiting for James Furino to release a muffin from his grasp for a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial. If he’s off by one second, or the muffin lands at the wrong angle, it could mean another few hours for everyone in the room.

Furino entered the hand modeling business when a friend from his songwriting class, also a hand model, commented on his “beautiful hands.” His background in music serves him well, as rhythm and dexterity come in handy.

If you watch television or read magazines, you’ve seen Furino’s handiwork. On his iPhone, he pulls up a list of various celebrities he’s played hand doubles for: David Beckham, for a Sharpie commercial; Daniel Craig, for a Smirnoff ad; Jackie Chan, for a V8 ad; and Tom Ford, for a cologne promotion (photo editors later added hair to his knuckles in Photoshop).

Age: Let’s just say that my hands look a lot younger than I am.
Graduated from: New York University, degrees in music and business
Based in: New York, N.Y.
Years in the business: I’ve been in the thick of it for 15 years.

Previous jobs: I was a child prodigy drummer. After college, I became a bartender and played drums at cabaret shows. I ran a club called Paulson’s on the Upper West Side; I wrote pop songs and jingles, including one for Snickers; I taught drums at NYU and performed standup at Carolines. Then I was trying to make it as a solo singer/ songwriter/ pianist.

So, nothing handsy. I met a woman in my songwriting class who was a hand model. I ended up at her apartment one day, and she told me I had beautiful hands. She said I had to get pictures done and see an agent. So I did.

Furino's first foray into parts modeling.

Furino’s first foray into parts modeling.

Tell me about your first casting call. My pictures were nothing special; I was holding a calculator (see right.) Every big hand guy in the city was there, but they booked me for $250 an hour. It was a job for a medical magazine, cutting something with scissors.

How would you describe your hands? Not too big, not too small. Not too feminine – they’re manly enough. But, look. Nobody is really selling hands. You need a certain personality. As Mel Brooks would say, you either got it or you ain’t.

Gigs per year: Between 60 and 100. Lately, it’s been closer to 60.

Your greatest achievement: There are two sides to parts modeling. There’s the print world – from billboards to magazine ads to pharmacy pamphlets – and then there’s live action on television. I do a lot of both. I’ve done everything from the Staples “Easy” button to the iPod nano to Pizza Hut to DeBeer’s diamonds. There are really only three or four people who do this really well, and I’m one of them.

Weirdest job you took to make money: Well, before hand modeling, I cleaned bathrooms in college. That’s honorable work.

Weirdest modeling job you took to make money: Once, for a jewelry ad, I got paid $400 per hour to hold my hand on a naked woman’s shoulder. Another time, I was hired to model for a secret product – I didn’t even know what it was for. Turns out, it was for a Michael Jackson video, but I think they just ended up using Michael’s hands.

Your skincare regimen: Stay out of toaster ovens. [Laughs.] I use a regular moisturizer at night, and I’ve learned not bite my nails. I use chapstick on my cuticles to make them clean. I do a few things with gloves, like working out at the gym, waterskiing, and scuba diving. My kids are 5 years old, and they’re very rambunctious, so I’ve started putting gloves on when I roughhouse with them in the pool.

Must female hand models be more careful? It’s more important for a woman to have pristine hands. They can’t come in with callouses or cuts the way that I can. When it comes to print, like cosmetics and magazines, women dominate. TV is another world, and that’s generally men.

Best part of your job: Executing a shot that everyone imagines to be very difficult, and satisfying everybody in the room.

Just look at those cuticles. Photo: James Furino

Just look at those cuticles.

Most challenging part of your job: People think this is a get-rich-quick scheme, but it’s really hard to make a living from it. Everybody wants everyone else’s job. It’s a very small, niche market, and it vacillates between being the easiest job on the planet and crazy-high pressure.

A high-pressure job can still be glamorous. Ugh. Everyone who does this is like, I’m so fabulous. You’re not that fabulous, and you’re not making that much money. You’re just an average person doing something kind of fun, and you’re really lucky.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? You never see the hands in about 80% or 90% of the stuff I do for television. I’ll be dropping a burger onto a plate for a commercial for Burger King, but if my hand is in the shot, they can’t use it.

So why the elaborate auditions process? They need someone with certain dexterity. For me, I think it comes from my music background. And of course [aesthetics] matter for print ads.

Do you model other body parts? My feet, sometimes. But the most money is made from hands, since they’re used most often. Jobs for modeling an ear or calf or nose are more infrequent, like once a year. Leg models and models who aren’t afraid to model nude can command up to $10,000 or $20,000 for the day.

How do you feel about the depictions of hand modeling in that episode of Seinfeld, or in ZoolanderIt’s silly, but some take it too far. Everyone wants to meet the hand model and ask if they have nice enough hands to be a model. “Can I see your hands? Did you see the Seinfeld episode when George is a hand model?” Not that anyone means harm, but because of the novelty of the work, I become kind of a circus act.

Your hands won’t look young forever. Does your job have an expiration date? It’s a young person’s business, but if you take care of your hands, they can defy your age. Right now, modeling is just a vehicle to get me to the next place. I want to write and direct movies.

Average salary: For TV work, it’s in the range of $1,000 per day, which is regulated by the Screen Actors Guild. For print, it really varies by job.

Are your hands insured? No.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
1. Visit a website or look in a magazine, find other hand models, and duplicate their stuff. If they’re holding a paintbrush, for example, hold some magic markers.
2. Get an agent and have some nice photos taken.
3. Don’t quit your day job.

And now, for something completely different: the artificial limb maker.

Unless credited otherwise, all photos courtesy of James Furino.

The Mall Santa Who Wears Birkenstocks and Kneepads

"I can put a smile on anyone’s face – young, old," says

“A lot of people think I’m a therapist or a teacher. I’m not,” says Santa Sid. “I’m also not a stuffy old man with a beard. I’m a kid.” (Above: during one of two pet nights at the mall.)

The hardest part about being Santa Claus is making two-year-olds smile for photographs. But after 42 years in the business, one of the most experienced Santas in the United States has it down to a science. No coat or hat – the fur makes kids cry. He doesn’t scream at kids to sit still – he crawls onto the padded floor surrounding his chair to make eye contact.

And it works. He’s only had a handful of criers. “I thrive on winning kids,” says Santa “Sid,” which stands for “Santa in disguise.”

Santa Sid headlines The Santa Experience at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. It’s not your average shopping mall: Seven Yankee Stadiums could fit into the complex’s 4.2 million square feet. But then again, Santa Sid isn’t your average Santa. The license plate on his red Hyundai reads Santa S; his spare bedroom is filled with Christmas knickknacks, including a tree that stays up year-round; and kids frequent the pool in his backyard (duh, it’s Santa’s summer home).

Age: Santa is 1,500 years old. But I’m 58.
Graduated from: Santa Claus University, with a Master’s degree in Santa Claus.
Based in: I admit to having a summer home in Eden Prairie, Minn. Otherwise, Santa lives in the North Pole. I’ll retire somewhere warmer, but I wouldn’t know how to act in a place that never snows.
Years as Santa: 42. I’ve been in the Mall of America for 16 years now.

How do you spend time on your off months, from January through October? I work at a company that makes aircraft parts called Hitchcock Industries in Bloomington, Minn. I just tell people that I make “big people toys.”

Previous jobs: I’ve always been in the kid business. I lost my 3-and-a-half-year-old brother to leukemia, so I started visiting cancer patients at hospitals dressed up as Santa. I spent two years as the Santa at a mall in Kalamazoo, Mich., before getting this job [at the Mall of America].

TK

Although his hair and beard are 100% natural, Santa admits to bleaching his facial hair for “the workshop look.”

Was it a tough job interview? You needed a background check – local and federal. I showed them photos from my past, like one of me taking a nap with a baby on my chest. [See right for a similar photo from this year.]

I read that visits are by appointment only. My line used to be three or four hours long every day. Then someone came up with the idea to put me in a private room and book appointments. This year, before even opening for the season, I had 400 appointments. By December 1, I had 5,800 appointments.

Number of kids on your lap per day: I see 15,000 to 17,000 kids each season, which consists of 45 days.

Walk me through a typical workday. I work from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., take a one-hour break, work from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., take a one-hour break, and work from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. I sit on the floor 99.9% of the day to get on eye level with the kids; I give them high-fives to get communication going. Then I go home, eat dinner, and go to sleep.

Do you use any props? I have a really cool kid rocking chair that’s all cushioned up, and I have a stool behind it. That way, kids don’t know I’m there, and we get lots of great pictures. I also have a floor built with kid padding for playing on the floor, and a stethoscope for taking photos with pregnant moms.

Where do you suit up? At home, before driving to the mall at 7:30 a.m. I own 80 different shirts, so I never wear the same one twice. I wear pants, suspenders, slip-on Birkenstocks, and knitted green, white, and red socks. I don’t wear a jacket; the fur makes kids scream. But I do wear kneepads, since I’m constantly on my knees with the kids.

A hat? Nope. I get my hair done at the hair salon at the mall, so I have hot rollers in my hair every day. Then I go to Starbucks [at the mall] to get my coffee.

Funniest “kids say the darndest things” moment: Maybe, “I want bacon.” Kids are simple – they usually want electronics and remote-controlled toys, or dolls. Sometimes they come with lists that are three to four pages long, though. I take the lists and say, “I’ll see what I can do.” I never promise anything.

Photo: activerain.com

Photo: activerain.com

Kids ask for different toys each year. What larger shifts have you seen in gift requests throughout your years as Santa? Things have gone very digital. I hear hundreds of requests for cell phones, iPads, tablets, Nooks. Once, a 3-year-old asked me for an iPhone 5. I tell kids that I have a toy factory – I want to talk about toys. Parents give me a thumbs-up for that one.

Best part of your job: I truly see the magic. I sit on the floor and look into children’s eyes – I see the sparkle, the smiles on their faces. I’m helping to be a part of that. 

Most challenging part of your job: Too many 2-year-olds.

What would people be surprised to learn about you? I organized a Santa Club in Minnesota with 115 Santas. I help out a lot of guys.

I envision you guys swapping stories about bratty kids. We have three get-togethers a year: A pool party at my house in July, for Santas and Mrs. Clauses; a Christmas kickoff in early November; and a Blues Party when it’s all over, in February, at a hotel. All the Mrs. Clauses are great at making food – your Santas are plump for a reason.

At what age do you think children stop believing in Santa Claus? The magical age for believing starts around 3 – the 2-year-olds are more fearsome – and can go to around 10 or 11. When kids ask whether I am the real Santa, I tell them to pull on my beard and my hair. That way, I’m not really answering, but they walk away saying, he’s the one.

Do you hate Christmas music yet? No. I have it on all the time in my car, and in my back room during breaks. I especially love Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”

Have kids ever recognized you as Santa during the off-season? All the time. My wife and I go out to dinner, and kids pass me notes, telling me they’ve been good or what they want for Christmas. On vacation in Mexico, kids wanted pictures. When you look like this, you live it.

Any children of your own? One, and he’s 30. He’s my No. 1 elf, out of my 860 elves. I also have three dogs, named Dasher, Blitzen, and Allof. That stands for “all of” the other reindeer.

Retirement plans: I’ll be doing this ‘til I’m dead. Right now, I’m working on a five-year contract.

Salary for the season: Many Santas start out at around $10,000 for the season. Salaries can reach $45,000 for the season, but that’s very rare.

Umpteen years ago, a psychic told me that I was going to do something wonderful with kids," Santa Sid recalls. "[This job] might be draining...but I can put a smile on anyone's face."

Umpteen years ago, a psychic told me that I was going to do something wonderful with kids,” Santa Sid recalls. “[This job] might be draining…but I can put a smile on anyone’s face.”

If you could put one celebrity on your naughty list, who would it be? I don’t look at the bad in people.

Even Kim Kardashian? I don’t know [the Kardashians] or watch their show. That’s their lifestyle.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
1. Become a child and learn to play. People sometimes tell me, You’re silly, Santa. That’s the biggest compliment in the world.

2. Learn to answer things as quickly as you can. Once, a little girl asked me Mrs. Claus’ first name. I told her I’d have to get out the marriage certificate to check.

3. An important part of the job is clean living. It’s an honor to be Santa. I don’t drink, smoke, or eat garlic. There’s never onion on my breath.

Unless otherwise specified, all photos are courtesy of Professor Bellows.

The Magician Who Lives in the Waldorf Astoria

Steve Cohen, also known as the Millionaire's Magician, has performed his show at the Waldorf 3,000 times — for 250,000 people.

Steve Cohen, also known as the Millionaires’ Magician, has performed his show at the Waldorf Towers 3,000 times — for 250,000 people.

A cluster of of well-to-do couples huddle in the lobby of the Waldorf Towers in New York City, buzzing with anticipation. At the stroke of 8:45 p.m. on Saturday evening, a tall man in a tailored suit ushers everyone into a gold-plated elevator – the same one that the President of the United States rides when he stays in New York. Primping and fidgeting, the group lines up at a suite at the end of a hallway on the 35th floor. 58 people file in for tonight’s magic show in Steve Cohen’s living room, run solely by word-of-mouth.

Cohen’s “Chamber Magic” shows inspire an intimate, old-timey parlor feel. Attendees, many of whom have purchased tickets months in advance, are expected to dress well. He doesn’t bother with hats, rabbits, or sleight-of-hand tricks; instead, he uses one gleaming tea kettle to produce five different drinks at the audience’s request.

At age 10, Cohen worked the elementary school circuit, appearing at kids’ birthday parties and Cub Scout meetings. Now, he brings in about 300 viewers each weekend – including high-profile guests like Martha Stewart, Barry Diller, and David Rockefeller  – and a seven-figure annual income. “I put people in an environment where anything can happen,” Cohen says, pausing to sip Kombucha tea (the ginger helps his throat). “People start thinking, Maybe there’s another force in the world, and this guy has control over it.

Age: 41
Graduated from: Cornell University, psychology major; Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan
Based in: New York, N.Y.
Years as a full-time magician:
17
Previous jobs: After graduating from Cornell, I stayed in Tokyo for five years as an English translator. It involved sitting at a desk with lots of legal work and patents.

That seems like a pretty far stretch from your current line of work. The translation work was terribly boring, but lucrative. I was eager to do magic, so I got some part-time jobs performing in hotels, and those got more and more lucrative. I came back to New York and started from scratch as a consultant for other magicians. Then, I started doing my own shows.

Who – or what – brought you into the world of magic? My uncle. He was very talented with cards, and taught me the fundamentals of card magic that you need to become a good magician. I spent all my times at family parties with him. He gave me a book called Magic With Cards, a book from the 1890s that is very hard to find.

How did you turn a childhood hobby into a multimillion-dollar business? For two years, after moving back to America from Japan, I lied to my wife and told her we were breaking even. But we were losing money every show; I lost about $200,000 of my own money. I was about to throw in the towel when an editor from DailyCandy.com came to review the show. Overnight, the show sold out for a year in advance. Then CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on me, and by the end of the week, I had sold $1 million worth of tickets. I had to add more shows.

Is the Waldorf your permanent home? I stay here on weekends. I have another apartment on the Upper West Side with my family – my wife and two kids, ages 12 and 8 – during the week.

Do your kids love magic? They each practice one trick each year, and on Father’s Day, they perform it at my show. But my daughter is more into it than my son. She’s a ham. But there’s not that many women in magic, if you think about it.

Why do you think more men than women are into magic? I’m not sure. But I don’t really recommend becoming a magician to anyone. People are constantly making gags about it. Imagine going into your child’s school for a parent-teacher conference, and the teacher says, “Your child seems to think you’re a magician of some sort.” You always have to explain what you do.

In your grand finale, two audience members shuffle two separate decks of cards. Then, you reveal that each card in the first deck falls in the exact same order as each card in the second deck. The audience really goes wild for that one. People seriously go bananas – they have heart palpitations. They can’t sleep that night. And I’m jumping up and down like Willy Wonka.

It’s funny you mention Willy Wonka. You remind me of him — Gene Wilder’s version, at least. The character of Willy Wonka has been a role model for me. I like his transition from mysterious man to crazed maniac – peeling away layers and seeing more and more about this nutty guy.

Did he inspire your three-piece suit, too? In London, I saw Prince William wearing this exact outfit – a morning coat, a vest with a little lapel, and striped trousers. So I went to the store where the princes shop, and bought that exact outfit. I think it’s so appropriate in this environment.

Think a Drink description

Cohen uses as few props as possible in his shows; he believes they create barriers and cheapen the experience. The kettle is an exception.

It plays into the magician archetype. People want the character of a wizard or a magician to come into their lives and give them hope and possibility. Why do you think Harry Potter is so popular? I’m not doing wizardry here, but I feel like Harry Potter or Dumbledore. People squeal in delight. During my “Think a Drink” trick, a woman in the front row actually cried. [For this trick, five audience members wrote down their favorite drinks, from vodka to banana smoothie. Cohen then produced these drinks from a small kettle.]

Best part of your job: Immediate feedback. I can tell by looking at audience members’ eyes whether I have them under my thumb. When people’s eyes are glowing, I know I’ve done my job. I’ve learned what captures people’s imaginations.

Most challenging part of your job: Nobody else in the world is doing this type of performance, so I don’t have a support team. I’ve lost the camaraderie of fellow magicians; a lot of them are jealous.

Resources for new material: The Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York has a database with every secret that has ever been published in magic, from the 1500s to present-day. You have to be a member or have special access.

Any pre-show traditions? David Copperfield once told me that he brushes his teeth with a certain toothbrush before every show. I joke around and say that I floss before every show. But the fact is, no. I’m very relaxed. Everything in my show is meticulously planned. Without fail, I know the precise minute that I’ll be saying a certain line.

The last time you got nervous: When Woody Allen came in and sat in the front row. I had cotton balls in my mouth, but he was the greatest audience. He laughed at all the right times.

On the Late Show with David Letterman, Steve Cohen performed his favorite trick, involving a lemon, an egg, a walnut, and a ring.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? You can buy and sell secrets. I once licensed a trick from another magician for my show, but after the terms of the legal contract expired, he wanted the trick back. So I had to create my own version of the trick.

Your most expensive trick: I spent $10,000 for a trick that only lasts two or three minutes, but it’s a really good trick. I fill a flower vase with all different flowers and cover them with a handkerchief. Then, I ask an audience member to name her favorite flower. Say she responds with yellow tulip. I take the handkerchief away, and all the flowers have transformed into yellow tulips.

How do you deal with uncooperative audience members? People have predispositions toward magic shows. Those who give me problems – maybe they got embarrassed at a magic show when they were little. I handle them the same way I would handle kids, and try to diffuse the challenge by making my show lively and interactive.

In addition to performing for Warren Buffet (pictured above), Cohen's star audience members include the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the Queen of Morocco.

One weekend, Warren Buffet paid Cohen to cancel all his shows and fly to Omaha (pictured above).

Your website boasts some of your more famous clients, like Warren Buffet. I still get people coming in here all the time, like, Warren sent me. I always carry with me a card that he signed.

Physical parameters of your show: I need to be inside of a room with no other distractions. People must be completely riveted on just me. I can’t have people thinking about what they’re going to make for dinner. 

Your required reading: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. It’s about how and why to persuade people to see things your way.

You never leave home without: My deck of cards. I rarely do magic outside of a venue, but it makes me feel good that I could, if I needed to.

Have you ever pulled a rabbit out of a hat? Yes, and it’s wonderful. I don’t do it regularly, though, because then you have to keep a rabbit as a pet.

LAUNCHING YOUR CAREER>>
Find a venue that is appropriate to your vision of magic, and become the person best suited for that venue. If you’re really good at performing at Bar Mitzvah parties, for example, become the very best Bar Mitzvah magician out there, and work tons of them.

 

Tickets for Chamber Magic range from $75 to $100; priced separately for private company events. Follow Steve on Twitter and on his Facebook page. All photos courtesy of Steve Cohen. 

The Man Behind the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Hello Kitty balloon is one of three new character balloons and six new floats this year. Photo: CBS 2

As Kermit, Hello Kitty, and Carly Rae Jepsen meander down 6th Avenue in New York City, thousands of onlookers ooh and aah. The annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade — celebrating its 86th anniversary this year — is as much a Turkey Day tradition as the turkey itself. For most Americans, the spectacle is all over in a few hours.

But for scores of designers and volunteers behind the scenes, the parade has meant months of plans and preparation. Yahoo! News recently interviewed John Piper, the creative director of Macy’s Studio, a “nondescript New Jersey warehouse about 30 minutes outside of New York City” where the float magic happens. He lives 364 days for one.

In the interview, the 30-year parade veteran discusses the worldwide helium shortage, challenges brought on by Superstorm Sandy, and fitting ballons through the Lincoln Tunnel (certain balloons must be disassembled). Watch it on Yahoo! News here.

See also: The Woman Behind the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, h/t @shelleytibbetts

The Naked Cowboy Reads Nietzsche

“Everyone in the world knows me, and if they don’t, they will. It’ll be Buddha, Jesus, Naked Cowboy,” Burck says matter-of-factly. Photo: facebook.com/nkdcowboy

In a dimly-lit Times Square parking lot, Robert Burck, a fair-haired man with bulging biceps and tired eyes, lounges in the driver’s seat of his pristine Cadillac Escalade. There, he remains incognito, clad in cargo shorts and a black t-shirt. Most don’t recognize him without his signature underwear and guitar strapped across his chest.

Burck — more commonly known as the Naked Cowboy — has always been one for showy displays of attention. Each morning, he drives the 20 minute commute from his motel in Secaucus, NJ, to the Icon parking lot in Times Square. By noon, he’s working the crowds, serenading tourists and posing in photos for thousands of passers-by wearing nothing but a hat, cowboy boots, briefs, and a strategically placed guitar.

Particularly prone to exaggeration and contradiction, Burck expresses an impatience for people and their faulty cameras; minutes later, he proclaims himself a “social genius.” After reading Tony Robbins’ Unlimited Power, he says, he grew obsessed with writing self-affirmations and personal goals. He reveals a stack of college-ruled papers, perhaps several hundred sheets thick, held together by a large binder clip. The papers are clearly worn: the edges fray and the dark circles and underlines on each page bleed together.

This summer, Burck’s manager sent a cease-and-desist letter to the Naked Indian, who recently started showing up in Times Square. Burck believes he is stealing his act.

The 41-year-old climbs out of his Escalade, takes off his t-shirt and shorts, and slithers into a pair of tighty-whities. They’re a boys’ size 12. “No undies when I’m not working,” he explains. A few swipes of deodorant and a quick guitar tune-up later, he swaggers out of the parking lot into more familiar territory, strumming a tune: I have tons of fun, just shaking my buns, all day long, out here in the sun. Within minutes, a crowd surges around him. Two girls giggle and point: “Oh my God, it’s that guy.” Another couple, struggling with a subway map: “This is so New York.”

Age: 41
Based in:
New York, NY; Secaucus, NJ
Grew up in: Cincinnati, Ohio
Graduated from: University of Cincinnati, Bachelor’s degree; Xavier University, incomplete Master’s degree
Previous jobs: Stripper; waiter at T.G.I. Friday’s; male model
Years in the business: About 13

Where did your identity as the Naked Cowboy originate? In 1998, I was in Venice Beach, California, shooting for Playgirl magazine. I took out my guitar, and the photographer suggested playing in my underwear. I made over $100 that day from tips. I did the same thing a few days later in Cincinnati, got arrested, and made the news. The next morning, I left town in my beat-up BMW and did the same thing driving across the country, getting arrested along the way. I finally landed in New York, and I’ve gotten better at not getting arrested.

How does one get better at not getting arrested? Don’t push the envelope, don’t be a jerk. For two years, before landing in Times Square, I would call the media and the police on myself.

Weather conditions that keep you inside: I don’t go out if it’s pouring rain, because people won’t interact with me. I stand outside during 90% of the winter and wear a full-length mink coat to warm up in between rounds. I don’t get sick; being sick is a state of mind.

A small opening in the top of the guitar collects cash. Burck also glued on a small mirror.

Source of income: I charge $1 for up to 100 photos with me, but most people stop at two. I probably make about $100 an hour, especially in the evenings. Then there’s the money from my three music albums [including an X-rated country album], my endorsement deal with Blue Island oysters, my merchandise, and the Naked Cowboy Bar and Grill that’s opening soon.

Ratio of adults to kids who approach you: Yesterday, I picked up at least 80 people off the ground, 60% of which were old people and grandmas. They’re not scared, because I’m strong as sh*t.

Your driving force: Reading and studying. I read six to seven hours a day, and have for 24 years. I read psychology, philosophy, Spanish. I want to be the smartest motherf*cker on the face of this Earth.

Currently reading: The Art of Seduction, for probably the third or fourth time. I’ve read Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power at least six or seven times. And Emerson’s essays, which are sitting at my hotel – I’ve read those about 100 times.

Your hotel? For the last 13 years, I’ve lived in the Royal Motel in Secaucus, New Jersey, right outside the city. It’s only $50 per night. My mailing address is still my mother’s in Cincinnati.

Burck keeps two pairs of boots in the trunk of his car at all times. He wears each pair for two or three weeks before selling them on his website.

Where do you keep your belongings? I have a suitcase in the backseat with all my underwear, my guitar, my boots, my hat, and a few other things. My hotel room has a spare guitar, my mink coat, and a suit and tie from my high school graduation. That’s all I need.

Brand of underwear: Fruit of the Loom, which is what my mother bought me when I first started. They come in packs of six, but I always keep a seventh just in case. I wear two pairs at a time: one painted with Naked Cowboy, and one unpainted. When they get old or stained, I sell them for $50 on NakedCowboy.com.

They look really tiny. They’re a size 12, which is meant for boys who are about 114 pounds. I weigh 200-something. I haven’t missed a day at the gym since I was 17 years old.

Do you stay this tan year-round? In the winter, I supplement a little bit. Right now, even with all the sun, I have a lighter spot on my leg where my guitar sits.

How do you unwind after a long day? I go to my hotel, have a glass of wine, and write in my journal for a few hours about how great I am, how my expectations are always fulfilled, how I’m a child prodigy.

Can you read me something you wrote recently? I am the most incredibly polished, spontaneous, talented, hilarious performer of all times. [I am] the most fabulously built, ripped, and determined body and mind ever created. […] [I am] an American icon, true badass, no-fear cowboy. The only Naked Cowboy.

That seems a bit arrogant. People don’t understand humility. It’s not about downplaying yourself.

Are you religious? I’m God Almighty. The God you worship is the God you are capable of becoming, in the words of Joseph Campbell. Do you know him? J.C., Jesus Christ.

Guitar go-tos: Mostly just sh*ts and giggles, except when I play full songs and pretend I don’t see people. My guitar is just an unlikely vehicle to get people’s attention. People even tell me I can’t sing very well.

Burck meticulously documents his meals, reading logs, and schedule into black marble notebooks. To date, he estimates he has filled about 400 journals over the past 13 years.

What would people be surprised to learn about your job? Standing in Times Square is hard work. If people come up to me with the wrong attitude, I double their wrong attitude, and they scurry off in fear. I don’t waste time with people who are wasting my time.

Best part of your job: Freedom.

Most challenging part of your job: Nobody’s camera is ready. Nobody knows how to shoot a picture. After a few hours, I’m kind of like, I’m never coming here again. When it’s raining, it feels like it’s never going to shine again.

Are you dating anyone? I have a girlfriend who I see once every few days. She works at the Cranberry Café, where I’ve eaten lunch every single day for the past 10 years. When my last relationship ended, I ended up with her, because she was the only girl I knew.

Do you walk naked into the café? I’ve been in many places naked, but I don’t do that anymore. I have a key to the executive bathroom here in the Icon parking lot, where I’ve parked for free for 10 years. These guys are the best.

You mention that you’re the only Naked Cowboy, but now it’s a franchise. That happened about two years ago. There are four Naked Cowboys, myself included, and four Naked Cowgirls, all part of Naked Cowboy Enterprises at different spots throughout Times Square. They just came out of the woodwork and approached me about it. The black Naked Cowboy was selling comedy tickets in Times Square.

You ran for mayor in 2009 and announced a run for the 2012 presidency as a Tea Party candidate. Those both fizzled. Any future plans to run for office? When they knock on my door and beg me to run because I’m the best man for the job.

Dream job as a kid: I wanted to be the most celebrated entertainer of all time. I did whatever I could to have all eyes on me. Everyone was always telling me what I couldn’t do.

The tattoo on Burck’s right arm depicts a devil, and the one his left depicts Jesus. “It shows I can be as evil or as good as I want,” he says.

Like getting that tattoo on your arm? When I was 16, I was on house arrest, so I got this tattoo of the devil’s head. It was the coolest picture I could get for $60. Later, I got Jesus on my other arm to balance it out.

How do you spend your time when you’re not reading or in Times Square? That’s really it. I can be the life of any party, but why spend all that enthusiasm on a few people in a room when I can spend it on thousands of people walking through Times Square?

Does your family visit you here? I send them envelopes filled with money every week. I stamp each dollar with my Naked Cowboy stamper and sign each dollar coin.

Do you want kids? Nope, not for as long as I live. And I don’t plan on dying. Ever.

Visit the No Joe Schmo Facebook page for more behind the scenes with the Naked Cowboy (and to find out how he signs his text messages).

Follow the Naked Cowboy on Twitter at @TheNakedCowboy and on his Facebook page. All photos courtesy of Megan Hess unless otherwise specified.