The Million Dollar Idea – Dan Menendez (Piano Juggler)April 1, 2016 1 By admin
My name is Dan Menendez (Piano Juggler).I started street performing in Northern California as a comedy juggler in the summer of 1980.My dad had always done card magic for family gatherings and got great reactions. One day I was watching some street performers juggling and making money at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I had no money at the time and I was a shy guy with no experience as a performer. But for some reason I thought “I need to do this”. (More on that later)
I put together a little act and went out to a street fair and made $60 passing the hat. Eventually I was able to hustle up $500 over a weekend of street shows. In the winter I started doing open mic nights at comedy clubs. I got booked as an opening act and then as a middle act. I had heard about performing on cruise ships and made a promotional tape of my act. I rented a theater and invited everyone I knew to be my audience for the professional taping. That tape got me hired on cruise ships as an entertainer. By this time I had been performing for about six years and was still barely making enough money to survive.
I knew I needed to have something special in my act. A hook, a trick that no one had ever done before. Something people would go to their friends and say “you have to see this guy!”.
There were two famous juggling tricks which I thought of when trying to find my big idea. One was juggling two balls and an the apple, and then eating the apple while juggling.
The other trick was juggling three running chainsaws. I made a list of all the juggling props and the tricks I did with those props. I then made a list of other types of performing skills and unusual objects. My thinking was to put two old ideas together and thus create a brand new idea.
I found two good ideas that seemed to match two unrelated items:
1. “bounce juggling balls” while “playing the drums”.
2. “bouncing on a pogo stick” while “playing a cello”.
I went to a music store and looked at drums and saw the new electronic drums. I decided I wanted to mount some drum pads in a platform and bounce juggle balls on them like a drum solo. Maybe play electronic notes and play a song while juggling. The technology in 1986 was very raw and drum machines were a new thing. I asked around and found a guy who would make it for $20,000!
This is when I learned a great tip for making a project happen. There are going to be lots of problems and road blocks that stand in the way of your dream. People will tell you “it can’t be done” or “That’s not how things are done” and “this is how much it costs”. Don’t listen to other peoples “rules” You have to jump in and make things happen. You must become a doer and you make your own rules.
You must be relentless.
I kept telling people about my idea and this is when I learned another big lesson about making your idea happen.
You need to find someone who is creative and an expert in the necessary skills you lack. But that person must also be excited and passionate about your idea. If he/she is only there to make some money, then forget it. You need their enthusiastic creative input. My brothers ex-wife’s cousin worked as an engineer for Casio and said he wanted to help me make this happen..BINGO!. We made a simple low budget prototype from scratch that ended up looking like a big square pad with large piano keys on its surface. Using a store bought sound module with a piano sound I was able to bounce out simple piano tunes with three balls. We then added five ball bouncing to a midi clock for the big finish. I performed it at a show (March 10, 1987) for about one minute and it got a great reaction.
I decided to invest $10,000 (I had saved from working cruise ships) into the new improved “Bounce Piano”. The new Piano had lots of problems and bugs in it. It failed mechanically many times. Everytime we would update it to make it better, It would create new problems.Once again I was relentless. Get back up when your down. Get things done that need to be done…
Not tomorrow! Now!
The new routine was a SMASH HIT! The reactions were scary. I stopped working cruise ships and tried to be seen in comedy clubs. The people went wild seeing six minutes of Piano Juggling at the end of my act. My first year performing the bounce piano I made the same amount of money as the year before without the piano. I almost quit show business at this point.
When I was just a kid, I started watching The Tonight show with Johnny Carson. One night while watching I realized I was going to be on that show! I didn’t want to be on the show, but I was going to be on that show. So I better have something good to do for Johnny.
Years later, Comedians kept telling me to get the Bounce Piano on The Tonight Show and it will advance your career. That is when I realized why I had become a piano juggler all those years earlier while watching the jugglers at Fisherman’s Wharf, subconsciously to show Johnny what I could do. A woman managing a comedy club in Seattle said she could get me into the clubs in Los Angeles and get the routine seen by the right people. I appeared on the Tonight Show Dec. 29 1989. I was on four more times (once doing a Pogo Cello!)
Over the next 27 years I performed on 200 television shows in forty countries, did shows in all fifty states, performed over 250 NBA halftime shows and I have seven million views on Youtube…