The Gee Whiz Kid
The Reinvention of an American Pitchman
A documentary by Janice Durand
Length: 86 minutes
Price: $25 Includes Shipping
The Gee Whiz Kid follows Jack Nyberg, one of the great surviving American pitchmen, over a period of one year in his thirty-nine-year-old-life. It is the story of a summer season in Jack’s life as he trucks from one county fair to another with his two-hour pitch/entertainment.
It is the story of Jack’s exotic adolescence traveling with the carnival as a prodigy “talker” of side shows, and of his initiation at age eighteen into the world of the con in Las Vegas, where he became a star pitchman in the 1970’s. When the consumer safety movement shut the business down in the 1980’s, Jack took the pitch onto the fair circuit and fashioned it into a new legitimate show. The film ends in Jackson, Wyoming, where Jack is trying to build a new professional and personal life.
I first saw Jack Nyberg at my hometown fair in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin in 1991. It had been ten years since I’d been to the fair and the changes were dispiriting. It had been cleaned up to a fault. But as I stood watching Jack keep a standing audience hooked for the better part of two hours, I thought: “Wait a minute, this guy is trying to con me, and I’m standing here loving it. How come the Better Business Bureau hasn’t shut him down?”
Three years later I walked up to Jack at the same fair and suggested that his show was an excellent basis for a documentary. I had only hoped to make a connection, since carnival people are notoriously hostile to outsiders. But Jack is not a usual man. Within two months I had my camera set up in front of his show at the Nebraska State Fair. The project was shot over a period of three years and finished in 1998.
The documentary screened at the Independent Film Market in New York, at the first Wisconsin Film Festival, and at the Central Florida Film Festival.