Penn & Teller: Fool Us is a TV talent show that is filmed in front of a live audience (or, virtual audience during the pandemic). Oh, and we can't forget to mention that Penn and Teller are there too -- they're the judges!
During each episode, four magicians perform a magic act for Penn & Teller which, at the end of each act the magician-comedian duo try to deduce how the trick was done. In very articulate speech, Penn -- as Teller remains characteristically silent -- commends the magician on a job well done. If the magic act fooled Penn & Teller, they win a sweet Fool Us trophy and a trip to Vegas to be the opening act for Penn & Teller's show!
I want my opinions below to reflect those of a spectator who just saw a performance live. To achieve this, I've only watched this episode once. In real time - no pausing. No slow motion. Once through, with commercials and with my kids enjoying it with me too. Did I remember everything I saw? Did I see everything that happened? Do I remember the exact words that were said? Maybe, but likely not -- which means if I over-portray an effect below then it was just that great of a trick. If I under-portray it, well, yeah. So let's see what this episode's got in store for us!
The episode Stabba Dabba Deck first aired on January 21, 2022 as Season 8's episode 11 (episode #116 overall!). The show received it's title from the first act of Zak Mirz who, in fact, stabbed a deck! Okay, so that's a lie - he stabbed the table. Alyson stabbed the deck ;)
All four performances were good, but to be blunt -- they were all classics in magic. Said another way, they weren't anything unique and chances are, we've all seen similar routines many times before. A card stab, cups and balls, a "think of a number" mentalism routine, and the cone and ball. My intuition tells me that these segments were all chosen for this specific episode because of their relationship to the history of magic, but maybe I'm overthinking it.
The fooler of the night's episode was Zak Mirz, the first performance of the show. I really enjoyed John-Henry's performance though; he's a bit eccentric and fun and looks like he can cover a lot of material. Wouldn't mind seeing a performance of his in person!
One of the downsides of becoming a magician is that, inherently, we learn how certain routines are performed and, ideally, how to perform them ourselves. I know for a fact how to do three of the routines, and I know of several ways to do the one that fooled Penn & Teller -- as they likely do too (they made a good guess for this one). Unfortunately, the magical wonder of "how is this possible?!" wasn't there for me during this episode but I did enjoy seeing these wildly different personalities and performances.
Here are the four magical performances from this episode. Each presented a different type of magic and each had a very different personality. What a good group overall!
Zak Mirz, the guy with the knives! You can find him on Instagram at @zakmirz.
His introduction video was deep and very personal. A death that turned out to be one of the biggest inspirations of his for his magic. It started the show off on more of a somber note than I would have preferred, but then Zak came out on the stage and his personality was anything but!
If you want to check out the performance before reading my recap, see Zak Mirz's deck stabbing routine here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9txc8CEzvgE
After his initial toying with a knife, which actually led me to think this was going to be a danger-magic routine, the kid in him shone and he pulled out a deck of cards. Thank goodness!
With the deck perfectly squared and sitting on the table, he motioned for Alyson to cut to any card and show Penn & Teller, but neither he or she were allowed to see the card. The card cut to was the 3 of Spades.
I'd like to branch briefly to mention that he was using what looked like standard Bicycle playing cards. He actually has printed two decks of his own that were available on Kickstarter: Mirz Deck : First Edition and Mirz Deck 2nd Edition (Feat. Hope for Justice). The first deck comes with a duplicate card. Any guess as to what the card is?
After showing the card to Penn & Teller, Alyson put the packet back onto the rest of the deck. Zak gave the deck a cut or two and spread it across the table before pulling out two Jokers to "practice" with.
He opened his jacket to reveal a lot of knives of different sizes, all hanging perfectly. I have to say, this was actually pretty neat and I think the subtlety of the knives just hanging was perfect. Yes, yes, we know it's magnets. However, these little appearances matter a lot in the overall image of the performance. But yeah, Alyson grabbed one and then they both stabbed a Joker. You know, for practice.
Fast-forwarding to the end, when Alyson stabbed into the deck the card that was on the end of the knife was in fact the originally selected 3 of spades.
Penn & Teller were pretty confident on knowing how this one was done given that they also have performed a card stab routine in the past. Unfortunately, the method they guessed was not the method Zak used and, well, he fooled them! My personal guess for this one doesn't actually use a metal plate like they thought; however, now that I've written the above about the magnets and the knives in his jacket I remember questioning it during the act: "why didn't she just use the knife that was already on the table?". Hmm... maybe Penn & Teller weren't that far off.
He's performed a similar routine publicly before too (check it out on YouTube here) and I actually kind of like the performance of that routine a little better. It's very similar overall, but there feels like there's more to it. The one on Fool Us was strong, very strong actually, given that Alyson cut to any card which couldn't possibly be forced (*cough cough*), but at the end of the day they're pretty much the same. I know he's "the knife guy" but I have a feeling he can do a lot of other routines too!
I... haven't been able to really find much info about John-Henry online. Perhaps I'm not searching properly, or maybe his typical audience is from a different country and in another language. I believe he was Swedish, but that doesn't help my queries any.
If you want to check out the performance before reading my recap, see John-Henry's cups & balls performance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OL7DwJ559_g
His introduction on Penn & Teller was amazing. It shows him to be a very well rounded magician and performer. Stilts, juggling, animatronics, and more! Definitely an act I'd be interested in seeing. Oh, and he seems friggin crazy!
Starting off with a tube of three tennis balls, a juggling act ensued. I can juggle, but I'm around the level of a beginner in middle school. Fun fact: I helped start a juggling club in middle school! John-Henry's performance with three tennis balls and a tube was effortless and speaks to years of practice and you could see the awe on Penn's face.
And then out came the buckets. Three metal buckets, placed on a table. Three tennis balls, one each placed on a bucket. I think we know where this is going. The imagination and presentation of this routine was spectacular. Definitely a magician who's performed for an audience or two.
During his performance, my older son who's been learning a little bit here and there asked "how many tennis balls does he have?!". The thing that was in my head around that same time was "wait, but how can he do this with real tennis balls?!". Ah, but therein lies the secret. Even for being an original performance, I really don't see many (if any) cups and balls routines making it past Penn & Teller.
A complete pantomime act, he let the magic speak for itself. Well done John-Henry, well done.
Andy Deemer, found on Instagram at @andydeemermagic and Twitter at @andydeemer, is an award winning Magic Castle magician. Holy crap I must have been living under a rock. I mean, I get it that I don't know ever magician out there, but I've confirmed he actually did win I.B.M.'s Close-up Magician of the Year for 2021. Did I just read his name and move on because I never heard of him? Most likely =[
If you want to check out the performance before reading my recap, see Andy Deemer's "the government's out to get you" routine here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDB1bnMqKPo
His intro for this episode really set the stage for his act, in more ways than one. Conspiracy theories and his kids reading books, now you know he's going to be a fun one.
As the camera panned to Andy, we the audience were presented with Pee-Wee's Playhouse and everything a kids magician would do. A fun "make a deck box and deck appear" skit was performed, and then when the coast was clear the whole scene was flipped on its head and the conspiracy was laid out in front of us.
Another little skip ensued with a simple force of Lie cards and a single Fool Us card, and then we moved on to the actual routine.
He displayed a board with several logos on it and then wrote a prediction on a notepad. Alyson had a free choice of any number between 3 and 80-something. She chose 3 because why not. He turned around the prediction and it read 24. Ouch. Missed it by that much.
But wait, there's more. He then flipped the board of logos around and it read "miss by 21" -- he was right all along!
This routine is, for all intents and purposes, fairly basic and kind of a classic. While he did make it "larger" by the inclusion of the board with all of the fun logos, the actual trick behind it isn't too deep. In fact, in his introduction video, one of his kids was holding a book: 13 Steps to Mentalism… the first chapter's pretty much the explanation behind this one.
I'm sure that he's a great magician. After all, he won close-up magician of the year! But the few routines he performed on Fool Us were, well, not anything that would have won. I'm definitely going to keep my eye out for more material by Andy though, I have a hunch there's a lot below the surface!
Thomas Solomon, "the world's greatest escape artist"! You can find him on Instagram at @escapeartist1969 though he hasn't posted in a while so his site at thomassolomon.com is probably a better place.
His intro on this episode called out his more than a thousand-pair handcuff collection and how he can escape from anything. It very, very much set the stage for an escape act.
Oddly enough, his act had nothing to do with any of that though. He started speaking to us, the audience, about dimensions and shapes. For a square, he showed a checkered handkerchief. For a circle, a white ball (he said white, but I swear it looked yellow to me... maybe my TV needs adjusting =P). And for a triangle, he used a cone.
A cone, for a triangle? I know, I know. It's not a triangle any more than a ball is a circle but by tracing it with his finger it works. He was, after all, setting the stage for the movement between dimensions. Perhaps that was moving from the 2nd to the 3rd so we could later better picture moving between the 3rd and 4th?
I do want to call out that I have a background with physics so for me, the patter between dimensions was a bit goofy. However, the routine was non-stop and I kind of lost track of what he was saying and just watched the performance.
A ball placed under the cone disappeared and appeared in his pocket. Placed back under the cone, it was again in his pocket. Placed in his pocket, it was under the cone. On top of the cone, it was now under the cone. Back and forth and round and round. Penetrating the top of the handkerchief and back under the cone it went, and then back to the pocket. So fluid each movement, so in tune with the story.
If you have studied any type of magic other than card magic, say with coins or balls, one of the first things you learn is The French Drop. Now, Thomas did a lot more than this simple sleight but the theory behind that move speaks wonders to how well he presented this routine. He was so calm and so natural. The body movement, the location emphasis, the positioning of everything. Just wonderful!
He didn't fool Penn & Teller, and I do kind of doubt that he would have fooled many magicians but it was a beautiful presentation overall. Very, very refined. I did expect to see some kind of escape though. Perhaps this was his way of showing the world he does more than just handcuffs and straight-jackets?
One thing that kind of stood out to me was Penn's explanation of how he wasn't fooled. He directly attributed the routine to Dai Vernon. I, personally, didn't know that Vernon did a routine like this. I know him for cards, coins, and rings but beyond that, his magic is a bit of a mystery to me. I looked up the Vernon Cone & Ball routine just a little while ago and jeez, the guy was just a pure master. But, Penn didn't really skirt around the details on this one like he usually does. He didn't say keywords like "squeeze" or "palm" of course, but directly giving the audience the key to finding out how the trick is done is not like him.
Penn & Teller's Routine
What an interesting performance by Penn & Teller... and Carrot Top. I have the feeling that they're friends with the Carrot since this isn't his first appearance on the show. He was physically there, but I have to say he really didn't look all too mentally present.
Penn & Teller have this one type of magic, among their several, where they like to reveal how a trick is done before doing it and somehow end up still working a miracle in front of an audience that now knows what to look for. On this episode, they performed a memdeck routine.
What's "memdeck"? Put simply, it's "Memorized Deck" -- where you quite literally memorize the exact position of every card in a deck. If you want to know more, I've written about memorized decks already. I'll be doing a lot more with them later on too, but that'll get you more than up-to-speed.
Out of what looked to be 100 decks or more, Penn claimed that each was shuffled by Teller and then memorized in-order by Penn. Mr. Carrot first named a card of his own choice and Penn gave a "this is what memorizing a deck looks like" demonstration and stated exactly where it would be. Spoiler -- it was there! Then, Penn accurately matched which deck would contain Mr. Carrot's card at the new location requested (4th, I believe it was). Guess what -- the card was in the 4th spot from that named deck!
The finale of the trick was that any deck from the entire collection could be selected and any position could be named and Penn would state the card at that position. Unfortunately for Penn & Teller, from my perspective, the exact position that was selected actually spoiled the trick (i.e. gave away the secret). Or, rather, the over-convincing once the card was arrived at did.
It's a great trick overall, and I have been getting more and more into memdeck work myself. I don't think I would pull a "hey, I memorized this deck -- wanna see?" type of routine anytime soon, but this multiple deck idea could work pretty well. Not bad at all =]
I can't wait to see the next episode!