In 1978 I filed a DBA for the name "Just
For Laughs". It was my intention to someday open a novelty shop in NW Houston
similar to Archie's Fun Shop located in downtown Houston, where I was going to buy magic
My friend Dick Schrum (see Real Equip) passed away in 1982 and left his wife and three kids
with a small nest egg from a life insurance policy. Barbara Schrum, Dick's wife, had
been working at a costume rental shop and wanted to use the inheritance to open her own
shop. We agreed to combine the novelty gift and magic product lines with costume
rentals under the name Just For Laughs. We negotiated a lease on space in the Torrey
Chase Shopping Center on Stuebner-Airline Drive (later changed to Veteran's Memorial
Drive). I built-out the space creating counters and wall displays and the children
helped with the decorative painting.
We held a Grand Opening Festival on October 1,
1983, which included food, games and live entertainment:
A fellow magician, Ace Star, agreed to perform
a straight jacket escape hanging from a burning piece of rope suspended 100' in the air
from a crane. He had done straight jacket escapes as a regular part of his street
magic performances, but never suspended from a crane, something Houdini had done. To
top the Houdini feat, we added the burning rope. I built the apparatus for the
suspension and Ace went on to do this stunt at several other events.
Inside the yellow and white tent we put on a
variety of childrens shows. For the occassion, I invented my comic magician
character, "Presto". The girls in the shop created the Presto costume for
me and I would go on to entertain audiences as Presto - The World's Greatest Magician for
the next decade.
One of the advertising gimmicks I employed in
promoting Just for Laughs was this fake $20 bill. When folded in half it looks like
a genuine $20 bill folded in quarters. On the inside was simply our advertising
message, promoting the Just for Laughs store. These were littered around in parking
lots at shopping centers all over northwest Houston. I didn't feel bad about
littering because when I would drive by a half hour later, they were all gone . . .
picked-up by people.
Another first, which came out of the Just For
Laughs venture was my implementation of my TRS-80 Model I computer as a cash register and
inventory control system for the store. I wrote the software to enable us to manage
the store with the use of this computer. I helped operate the business for the first
year and turned it over to Mrs. Schrum and her children while I went on to my next
venture, which was the Houston Challenge Game development.