Magician Murray building brand, including new residency at Tropicana

It was William Hung who convinced him.

"I had performed all my life at this point," says the magician billed singularly as Murray. "I'm sitting there watching this guy who can't sing," he recalls of Hung, whose 15 minutes of fame came in 2004, after an atrocious rendition of "She Bangs" on "American Idol."

"He's got 40 million people who know him now, and he's getting $30,000 for a corporate show. Here's a guy who came out of nowhere, with no talent, and he's more famous than I'll ever be at this moment."

And so was the start of Murray's realization that he needed to be a brand as well as a magician. And he needed reality TV to help him.

It has been an odd 10 years for Murray (SawChuck), the peroxide-headed magician who on Monday launches an early evening residency at the new satellite location of The Laugh Factory inside the Tropicana.

Other Laugh Factory headliners may also be able to talk about spending entire days waiting on the sidewalk in front of the famed Hollywood club, staking out one of 15 slots available for an open-mic night.

But how many of those aspiring stand-ups were magicians, leaving their cards on the table to polish their comedic skills?

And how many of them already had their own show on the Las Vegas Strip? Even if it was a beyond-modest, entry-level afternoon show in a downtrodden venue?

Since his brief afternoon run as "Magic's New Master" at the New Frontier in 2002, the new show is Murray's first attempt to sell a ticket on the Strip.

"You can't screw it up. You only get a couple of shots in Vegas," he says. "That's why I went away for 10 years."

He was busy though. Murray has called Las Vegas home since the Frontier days, but he mostly worked the cruise ships or overseas. "You're always more appreciated outside your country," says the native Canadian, who became a U.S. citizen in 2009.

And he burned up Interstate 15, "driving to Los Angeles three times a week, auditioning for anything that would accept me. Just so people could see my face, my hair and my glasses, my brand. I didn't care if they loved or hated me, I just wanted them to go 'Wow, he's interesting.' "

Murray began to turn up on the likes of "Celebrity Blind Date" and "Celebracadabra," a dozen reality shows in all, most of them forgotten. But people did remember the bleached hair and thick black glasses.

"Everyone has their thing, you know," comparing his look to Carrot Top or, more specifically, Rod Stewart.

"He's never in or out. He's just Rod Stewart. The minute he walks onstage, you know who he is. I realized that in magic, there was no one with this look."

And The Laugh Factory? Those sidewalk days came because he decided, "Most magicians think they're funny, but they're not even close to it. I wanted to be funny on my own two feet (without) the magic to fall back on."

The delayed payoff to all this work came in 2010, when he competed on NBC's summer hit "America's Got Talent." That exposure led to hosting live road shows of "Pawn Stars," then air time on the actual TV show when the pawnshop needed to consult a magic expert.

And now comes the opportunity Murray has waited for: star billing with a financial guarantee. When people would ask him why he didn't have his own show in Vegas, the answer would be more easily understood by those familiar with a pay-to-play marketplace: "I didn't want to lose my two houses."

He is also trying to sell two reality shows of his own. "Designing Illusion" would create a major new illusion every half-hour, while "Dirt to Dreams" would offer backyard makeovers that tap into his offstage passion for landscaping.

You could see flat hair and a baseball cap if you caught him in his own backyard, but rarely out in public. "As much as I hate getting up in the morning to comb my hair sometimes, or put on the glasses (he has seven pair)," he wouldn't trade the recognition factor.

"In this town, you almost have to be a vacuum cleaner salesman."

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ or 702-383-0288.