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!
Season 9, Episode 2 of Penn & Teller: Fool Us is named "Sleight of Foot". Given that the name always has a meaning from the night's show, I was pretty curious as to what this one entailed. But, we'll get to that. First, just wow. This episode was filled with different types of magic from cards to mentalism and a good deal of manipulation. It's acts like these where I feel bad that Penn and Teller have to take notes and not fully enjoy the presentation.
The fooler of the night's episode was Benjamin Barnes. His "fair card trick" routine saw a clear and direct guess from the magic duo, to which Barnes replied with a blunt "you're not even close." Ouch! Read more about it, and the other routines, below =]
A prosecutor by day and a magician by night, Theron Christensen is a hobby magician who found a way to link his profession to his passion! I haven't found a ton about him online, but you can check him out on Facebook, on YouTube, and from his book Plotting Astonishment: The Performing Magician's Guide to Creating Original Magic.
Theron brought his day-job as a prosecutor to the magic world and did a whole skit around the trustworthiness of an eye witness. I really enjoyed this routine, I don't think I've seen one quite like it before. Not because of the whole "prosecutor" theme, but the magic act itself.
He started off by having Penn examine a white cloth, which then magically changed to have a red handprint on it. Then it further changed to have several slashes in it. Finally, it was back to being a plain white cloth that covered a butcher's knife! Beautifully handled and from where I saw it (on my TV), it looked perfect.
During the analysis phase with Penn & Teller, Penn hinted that he used sleight of hand and swapped things out. I haven't gone back to re-watch yet, but I can't believe it! I thought I was watching so closely the first time around, how did something like that slip by?! I can understand with the knife bit how we were slightly distracted and that could've been slipped out, but the cloths themselves?! You see, it's routines like this that make me want to branch out beyond just card magic!
Jaana was, or still is?, a dancer. Bringing her love and passion for the artistic world of dance to magic has led to some very creative, and very beautiful, routines. This is her second time on Fool Us and a completely different performance piece. You can follow her here on Facebook to keep up with any news.
Jaana's routine was very, very artistic. And wet... and cold! Water to ice, ice to ice, so much ice! She produced icicles out of water, left and right, and even from her hair! And the cool part, no pun intended, she made them each disappear with a splash.
Obviously sleight of hand was involved, there's no doubt about that. In this case, however, it's all about the performance itself. The performance was beautiful and really clever. The part that really fooled me though was disappearing the icicles. I know how to "make a pen disappear" in that way, except, I can't show my hands as empty afterwards. Especially not repeatedly. And the water?!
At one point while watching I thought that maybe they were like balloons that could pop to provide a splash -- and disappear -- but they were clearly hard objects. This one was really fun for that reason; I could follow the magic handling up to a point, and then it was beyond me =]
Benjamin is the Entertainment Director of the Chicago Magic Lounge and based on his Instagram (@barnesmagic), he does a whole lot more when it comes to magic. If I'm ever in Chicago, I know the place I want to check out!
Benjamin kicked off his routine by stating that he would perform the world's fairest card trick, then he opened a new pack of cards and had Alyson shuffle. He fanned the deck and ran a Joker along the fan, prompting Alyson to say "stop." When she did, he inserted the Joker and showed the card at that spot -- the 4 of Hearts. Having Alyson shuffle the deck again and then place it back in the box, then sealing the box with a sticker, he placed the deck in his jacket pocket (which Alyson also "examined" to be empty). With an empty hand he reached into the pocket, removed a single card, and then showed the box to still be sealed. The removed card was in fact the 4 of Hearts!
My very first thought for this, because I recently read about some pocket shenanigans, was that he used his other hand, which was holding his jacket, to slip the single card in through a hidden slit in the pocket. However, I quickly thought that that was too big of a jump for something that could be done much simpler. Ah, but therein lies the conundrum...
Unfortunately, Penn & Teller's guess was that same idea -- that the pocket was rigged. "Not even close," was Benjamin's reply. And by saying it, he fooled them!
My second thought for this one might actually be closer to the truth, and it's also something I've been working on recently. Not to give too much away, but a fun fact about decks of cards -- especially Bicycle decks -- is that the back of the tuck box is usually the exact same design as the back of the cards themselves. In this specific case, however, we only ever see the back of the tuck so maybe that small fact doesn't matter too much. Thanks to books like False Anchors though, it's amazing what you can do if you only remove the top part of the cellophane from a deck when opening it! The way the camera edits away as soon as Benjamin goes to move the box and Joker(s) on the table after the selection was made though means that we can only guess. Was it a force and there was a duplicate? Did he actually use sleight of hand to pull out a fair selection? We'll never know!
This guy, let me tell you! His intro video had me hooked. You want to talk about sleight of mind, anyone willing to hold up a toilet seat to make it look like they're in an airplane is a person I want to talk to. Even his Instagram name, @briancurrylies, is on-point =P
Fake Mentalism and Comedy, what a hoot! Brian's routine was just that, an attempt to fake mind read Penn's thoughts. He did so by having Penn write a single word on a card. This word is one word to describe Teller. Then, he had that card placed in a tiny envelope which was then placed in a large envelope. After some comedic divination, Brian wrote a single word in a cartoon thought bubble suspended above Penn's head: "sneaky" -- which was in fact the word Penn wrote!
He didn't fool Penn & Teller on this one, but they did really like the presentation. That's an important note though because we all know how much they hate normal mentalism's attempt to deceive people in an immoral way. I, personally, thought he used a clever way to peek at the card either through a hidden card or envelope flap. I don't have any of these things myself, I only know of them through friends and random ads. However, Penn's guess at genuine sleight of hand was a good smack to the back of my head. Here I was trying to think "like a mentalist" when the thing could've just as easily been done with a good steal or switch!
Either way, I don't know how it was done, but I did enjoy it. It was a quick routine and Brian's intro video was amazing. He's up in D.C., only about 2 hours from me, maybe I'll get a chance to check out his other work sometime!
Penn & Teller ended the show with the headliner act, Sleight of Foot! Just a quick overview here but they hopped up on a table and proceeded to do a card trick... with their feet! It was pretty long-winded, even for them. Funny, yes. But I did think that it went on a little too long -- which, in retrospect, is actually how I feel about most "card to mouth" style routines. You always have the audience staring down at the deck or pile of cards, trying in earnest to find their card and then you're kind of stuck... how do you get them to look up?!
I really enjoyed this episode. I didn't feel like anything was being done explicitly to try to fool Penn & Teller like we've seen before. I thought that these were genuine acts, real performances by real magicians who just love what they do. Given that I have no clear and direct answer to say how any of these acts were done tonight, honestly, they all fooled me! Jeez I love magic =]
Either way, I'm excited for the next round of magic!