It’s funny, when I was asked prior to 3rd grade what I wanted to be when I grew up, my pat answer was, “A Doctor, TV Star or Ice Cream Man.” Cute, huh? But things changed. You see, in 2nd grade I was friends with everyone in my class. As a matter of fact, I was voted “Student of the Month” the first week of class: it was kind of a popularity thing. So, you can imagine my dismay when my parents announced we were moving. “What!?! NO!!!” They assured me it was just one town over and being an outgoing and “funny” kid I would make new friends easily. I thought, “Yeah, they’re right,” and enjoyed the rest of my summer before the move.
So, I walk into my first day of class to a new school, new teacher and all new kids. Filled with the confidence my parents had instilled I saunter in like I own the place, and everyone wants me as their friend. Not…the …case. And NOT funny! These were kids that had all been together and friends since kindergarten, just as I had been with my pals. They didn’t welcome “the new kid” wide eyed with open arms. More like sideways glances and backs turned.
About a month later, while eating my breakfast, I see on the back of a box of Wheat Chex a “Professional Magicians Magic Kit.” For those of you too young to remember, this was the time when you could send away for something cool. X-Ray glasses, Live Sea-Monkeys, a Frontier Cabin with room enough for 2-3 kids!!!! OK, you were always disappointed that what was delivered didn’t exactly live up to the reality of the ad, but how much did I have to lose for 50-cents and 3 box tops? Nothing funny here, I had work to do. So, I ate Wheat Chex for every meal until I had the requisite amount of paper flaps. Still more work to do as I had to fill out the required paperwork, addressed an envelope, do some chores to make 50-cents, tape said quarters to the paperwork and mail my dreams to battle Creek, Michigan. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. I waited so long (it was probably only about two weeks) I’d forgotten all about the package. Until one day my Mom hands me a small box (same one pictured) addressed to “Master Richard Laible.” Master. Damn.
I ran to my room, removed the contents of the box and laid them out on my bed. Seven “professional” magic tricks, and they didn’t even look like crap. A water jug that never stops pouring water. A couple cool card tricks. I box with a die covered on all sides with assorted colors that a spectator could put in a small box, cover with a lid and you could guess which was on top! And more! I spent every waking hour of free time practicing these tricks, showing them to my parents and trying to fool my sisters. I and even tried them out on our cat Mow (“The only cat in the world who could she its own name”). She wasn’t impressed.
I read the instructions several times and practiced, practiced, practiced in front of my dresser mirror until I could fool myself and NOT see how even I was doing the tricks. Then came the big day, Friday. That was the one morning every week you could get in front of our 3rd grade class for Show and Tell. I asked to go first because about 10 minutes was allotted for S&T and I didn’t want to run out of time. Always thinking. So, with my tricks set up on a small table I began my routine, but I can’t tell you exactly how it went because I don’t remember my time up there. It’s not really a blackout, but I’ve found when a show goes incredibly well, even today, I have very little recollection of my time performing. Maybe I’m so “in the moment” it clicks off your memory to fully use the parts of the brain needed to “be.” Anyways, the class all rushed up to the front asking: “How did you do that?” “Where did you learn that?” “You’re so funny!” and most importantly, “Will you sit with us at lunch?” The later being the Holy Grail for the new kid in 3rd grade.
Sufficed to say, magic became my obsession and that’s what I ate, drank and dreamt of for the next 7 years. I began getting paid for performing my 45-minute magic act three years later (putting all I earned back into buying more tricks) adding jokes to my routine as the years progressed. By the time I reached college my act was 90% funny, 10% magic. I won the talent show for 4 straight years in college and thought this was my path going forward, stand-up comedy with some tricks on the side.
Fast forwarding over the next 10 years: graduating college teaching theater, taking an Improv workshop with Del Close (SNL, Second City and ImprovOlympic), moving to Chicago, improvising and performing at iO, The Annoyance Theater and finally, the coup de gras, The Second City. At the later I performed on all their stages eventually becoming a Creative Director of their Corporate Theater arm. Finally incorporating Laible Productions, Inc., emceeing corporate meetings & events and presenting at trade shows, always adding humor and a little magic into the mix. And the icing on the cake? I married the woman of my dreams and raised the 2 best kids anyone could hope for.
I didn’t become a Doctor, TV Star or Ice Cream Man, but I’m doing what I love, making a nice living, and followed where life pointed me. Do I ever look back and think, “Should I have given big time show business a shot?” Sure, but not often. Our paths show up and we take the right road at the right time, and hopefully we don’t look back with regret, but forward with hope and a smile. Funny how things turn out.
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