Bill Perron is a born entertainer. He made his living as a carpet cleaner for many years, and hated it. He hated swinging that big, heavy machine around. It took its toll on his poor, aching back. Not only that, but he didn’t find any glory or satisfaction in his job. But one day, Bill was hired to clean the carpets at the Icehouse Comedy Club in Pasadena. In that club, Bill experienced a life-changing moment.
Bill stepped up onto the stage, just to see how it felt. In the semidark theatre, he faced all the empty seats. He took a deep breath. He imagined what it would be like to entertain a roomful of people. He imagined all the people applauding at the entertaining things he said, laughing and enjoying themselves because of every word that proceedeth from his lips.
What a wonderful thing it would be to be a performer! he thought.
Suddenly, an orange light suffused the stage. Bill swears it wasn’t one of the stage lights, but instead, an otherworldly orange light that shone down upon him. And suddenly, in that moment, he realized that performing was his destiny. As soon as he could, he went out and learned some magic tricks, and soon, he was working full-time as a magician.
I met Bill in 1990, when I was first getting into magic. At that time, Bill had been a performer for five years already. In fact, Bill taught me some of my first tricks. He threw some shows my way. He introduced me to some booking agents. But the most extraordinary thing about Bill was that funny things were always happening to him. And to tell the truth, I know exactly why. It’s because he makes unusual decisions. He’s a wacky, offbeat guy in so many ways.
Case in point: A few years ago, Bill was taking an improvisational comedy class. His teacher assigned him the homework of creating a unique comedic character, and Bill went to town coming up with new ones. The best of the bunch was Carlos Caliente, who was a spoof of a sexy, indeed, arrogantly sexy Spanish guy who is, in Carlos’ own words, “hot hot hot!”
Bill developed some comedy routines for Carlos, and through the years has gone out on many gigs performing as Carlos. He even created some modest advertising to promote Carlos. He placed Carlos’ face onto a magazine cover and put that onto the Internet. Over the years, Carlos has become one of his favorite characters, as you can see in this clip with his lovely assistant, Joycelyn.
A couple weeks ago, Bill’s commercial agent sent him a casting notice. A production company wanted lookalikes of latino celebrities for a commercial aimed at the latino television market. At first, it seemed like he had nothing to offer them. Bill doesn’t look like Enrique Iglesias or Lou Diamond Phillips, and certainly not Sofia Vergara. But then an idea popped into his mind. As a kind of spoof, why not propose that he’s a lookalike for…Carlos Caliente?
Bill immediately started to laugh. In fact, he thought idea was so hilarious that in the end, that’s exactly what he did.
I look very much like Carlos Caliente, a famous latino celebrity.
He didn’t expect to hear anything more about it.
A week later, though, Bill received a callback. Bill was driving, so Joycelyn took the call. Yes, they had seen a photograph of Carlos Caliente on the Internet, and yes, Bill did look remarkably like Carlos. And so they had a request: Would Bill come in and shoot a commercial posing as a lookalike to Carlos Caliente?
Yes, he’ll be there, she said.
At this point, I would have laughed for about 90 minutes and then figured that I’d had my fun. I would have called off the joke and told the production company the truth. But that’s what makes Bill different from me. Bill felt obligated. Joycelyn had said yes, so he had to go along with it. Bill showed up at the commercial ready to make some money.
In the studio, the director had a photograph of Carlos pinned to a bulletin board. In fact, it was the same magazine cover that Bill had mocked up several years ago and placed on the Internet.
“You look very much like Carlos Caliente,” the director said.
“Yes, I do,” Bill said.
“I mean, very much like him.”
“Yes, I’m fortunate in that.”
“We’re going to dress you up in a 3-piece suit.”
“If you want, I have a suit that looks exactly like Carlos’ suit in that photo.”
“No, we just want to do a lookalike thing. We don’t want you to look too much like him. In fact, you already look too much like him.”
It was for a latino department store, so they shot him doing things around the store–shopping, buying things, helping people. In all, Bill spent seven hours shooting that commercial.
Bill assumes that the commercial is now playing on latino television, although he can’t be sure because he doesn’t watch Univision. But he wonders what it looks like. And I wonder what latinos think when they see this guy in a 3-piece suit noodling around a latino department store like he’s Somebody.
Who’s that guy supposed to be, anyway?
He’s just being himself, people, in more ways than one.