Larry first learned magic from his youth pastor in high school. “He would incorporate magic tricks into his lessons, and I loved it. So, he called my parents up and asked if it was okay to take me to Magic Magic in Atlanta,” Larry remembers. “We spent about half a day there. I bought several magic items and would goof off with them as much as I possibly could.” The effects went up in the attic, however, when Larry entered college. He eventually followed his father in the insurance business, and magic remained forgotten until about ten years ago.
The Talbert's were on a family trip with their five children to Universal Studios in Orlando the summer of 2007, and caught a magic show in Harry Potter World. Among the effects the magician performed was a fire wallet that so captivated Larry, he could not stop talking about it for the rest of the day. “Finally, my wife told me ‘Go get it because I know you’re going to think of something to do with it,’” says Larry, “’and if you don’t, I will because I don’t want to hear about it anymore.’” So, he took his wife’s advice.
Her advice proved useful again after he’d brought the wallet home and couldn’t think what to do with it. “Use it for your business.” This was the beginning of a complete re-branding of Talbert Insurance. “I tell people I help stop money burning a hole in their wallet on insurance,” Larry explains. “I open my wallet, the flames burst out of it, and I say if they want to keep a little more cash in their wallet to give me a call. Then I hand them one of my cards.” Larry’s card is printed with a fire extinguisher and his signature slogan.
The effect was so memorable, the business blew up. Larry has performed the effect, along with others as part of his presentation, at insurance conferences, on local TV, on the Megatron for the Atlanta Braves, as well as his local football and hockey teams. The business has been voted best in Gwinnett County for the past ten years. “I really have to give credit to the fact that I’ve had this wallet,” says Larry. “People remembered me –– well, I also look more like a wrestler than a normal insurance agent anyway, with a goatee and shaved head, and now I look more like Santa.”
Larry more than looks Santa, he is Santa for the holiday season, a second career that was rather thrust upon him. Again, the idea originated with his wife. They were at the mall around Christmas. Larry’s wife observed their Santa taking pictures, looked at Larry, and said, “When you retire, that’s what you’re going to do.”
“She knew how much money he got paid,” says Larry, who agreed it would be a fun job, but didn’t think much more about it at the time. The idea didn’t die there, though. With five children, the Talberts regularly hired Santas to do home visits around the holidays, and each one, after meeting Larry, invariably tried to recruit him. “They’d offer to mentor me, and I kept saying, ‘No, I’m just too young for that yet.’” The mania spread to his work four years later. Larry met yet another professional Santa named Rick Rosenthall at the Chamber of Commerce professional gathering. “That was something in itself,” Larry remembers, “because he was Orthodox Jewish.” This living juxtaposition said what everyone else had been saying: “You should be Santa!” “I tried to shut him down quick because I was there to sell insurance,” says Larry. “I told him, ‘Listen, I really appreciate it. I know who he is and what he’s about, but I just don’t know how to be him.’”
“That’s the reason you go to Santa School,” Rick said.
Again, Larry had a comeback. He didn’t travel much anymore, nothing beyond twenty miles of his house. If the Santa school was farther than that, he couldn’t go. “As a matter of fact,” said Rick. “It’s in Alpharetta.” On the GPS, the town was eighteen point four miles away. Larry was out of excuses. “I called up my wife and asked ‘What do you think about going to Santa school with me?’ She laughed and though I was joking.” When he did convince her he was serious, she agreed, and the Alpharetta Santa School welcomed two new students that year. Larry has never looked back.
As with everything he does, though, Larry couldn’t simply become Santa and be done. He had to improve on it. At that first Santa School meeting of over one hundred Santas, the number one complaint was how to handle dead time. Often, a Santa would be doing a home visit or an event, and find thirty or forty minutes still left after talking with the kids, getting pictures done, and telling a story. If the venue or parent had hired them through an agency, they couldn’t leave before their designated time. What could they do to fill those minutes for kids who were fast losing attention?
Larry thought about it and wondered if Santa could do magic. “I talked to my agent, and he said Santa wasn’t a magician. I said, no, but he could be magical.” After more thought, he
came up with a new take on the Magic Coloring Book: T’was the Night Before Christmas, A Magical Presentation. As with the magical coloring book, the book appears blank when thumbed through at a certain spot. The words of the story appear when thumbed in another, and full-color illustrations to accompany them show up when the book is thumbed in a third place. Larry hired an artist to create original pictures, copyrighted them, and began shopping the idea around the publishers and printers.
The only company who said they could do it was a local printer who apparently had had one too many drinks that night. After four months of stalling, he finally sat down and figured out how to print the book so it would work properly as an effect. To be economical, they produced a thousand copies. After he presented the item at his next Santa School meeting, they sold one hundred in one night. A few months later, Larry’s printer called him up and said, “I entered your book in the national and state competitions for printers and it won several awards. I need you to be Santa at the Fox Theater in August to receive them.” The book won a total of five state and three international awards, including best new children’s book, best new concept, and “They said it couldn’t be done.” This created another burst of sales: about eight hundred more copies, so the book is almost ready for a second printing.
“After that, I thought I was good. I’d made my contribution to the community,” says Larry. “But the Santas turned around and asked, ‘What’s next?’” This was the beginning of Santa Magic.pro, a one-stop shop for easy-to-perform Christmas magic. Some items are originals, and some Larry sells through wholesalers. Their goal is to provide effects any Santa can do with minimal practice.
Becoming Santa ended up becoming very good for Talbert Insurance as well. “People started looking me up to see what I did the rest of the year,” Larry remembers. “Then I’d get calls about insurance.” Now, Larry has clients who come specifically during the season so Santa can do their insurance. “It’s been great cross promotion. I even set up my throne in our front room for people who want to take pictures.”
With this new rise in business, and the need to purchase liability for himself as Santa, Larry discovered yet another gap in the community’s resources. Many liability programs for magicians and Santas are limited in the kinds of things they cover, things an entertainer might naturally encounter. “Most entertainers keep their costumes and supplies in their homes,” Larry explains. “Every magician I know has more than two thousand dollars’ worth of business personal property. Every clown I know has at least two thousand dollars’ worth, and
I can guarantee you a Santa have ten to twenty thousand dollars’ worth of equipment, minimum.”
What if the entertainer’s house burned down? What if even some of the supplies were damaged because of fire, mold, or water, supplies essential for the next performance? Entertainers also encounter the possibility of car accidents damaging supplies, or their props being stolen. “One magician I know had his whole trailer stolen,” says Larry “Many of those items can’t be sold because they’re originals, but they’re still gone.”
“There’s also a thing called professional liability,” he ads. Because entertainers are fallible, they may double book themselves and need to cancel a gig at the last minute because of it. Especially if both venues have advertised the entertainer’s coming, the canceled venue may sue for the advertising costs. No offered insurance package Larry encountered had coverage for such a liability built in.
Fortunately, the answer came in a package his company was already selling to actors, puppeteers, and storytellers, but hadn’t marketed to the Santa, magician, or clown community yet. Now that Larry had connections to all three, he began work in earnest this past year to spread the word, and the word has spread like wildfire. “Kidabara was in Atlanta this past August and I went up to see what it was about.” Larry got the opportunity to talk with Mark Daniel, the director about his revamped entertainers’ insurance, and Mark was so excited he asked if Larry could do a presentation for them. “I said, sure! When would you like me to come up to North Carolina?”
“No,” said Mark “Can you come at ten tomorrow? We’ll clear a slot for you in the program.”
So, Larry put something together quickly and presented it. Everywhere, the idea is a hit; he’s had to scramble to get licensed in all fifty states so he can keep up with quotes. “I get a telephone call about every day,” says Larry. That’s made the season even busier than usual for him as December looms on the horizon.
Despite this, and despite also running a second magic business with his twelve-going-on thirty son, Michael, Larry still has time to do home visits, teach his effects to fellow Santas, interview with documentarians about his work, and spend time with the rest of his five kids and their families.
His advice to aspiring Santas? Figure out what kind of Santa you are. Are you a photographer Santa? Will you be doing restaurants? Home visits? Corporate events? Build your presentation around that. A restaurant Santa could produce candy canes at the table with a cake pan. Something like T’was the Night Before Christmas would be perfect for a home Santa, always keeping in mind that you aren’t there to perform a magic show; the magic is part of Santa’s mythos.