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!
That (Bleeping) Teller! was a fun episode, full of energy, comedy, and engaging storytelling. It featured magic with a knife, cups & balls, ventriloquism, technology, and who can go wrong with a little card magic too? Overall, fooling or not, the episode was full of entertaining magic performances that just make you feel happy while watching.
The fooler of the night's episode was Kevin Micoud. His techno-driven mentalism routine had some pretty awesome visuals that make you feel like you're in the future, hopefully by the time the iPhone 20 is out it'll be reality though. Read down below for a more in-depth recap of his routine and the others too.
Luka is a professional magician based in Croatia, and looking at his Instagram account (@lukavidovic_magician), he's a guy that knows how to have some fun! His performance echoed that idea very well too.
To start, Luka called upon Teller to be an assistant, as well as Alyson. Using some really well-done ventriloquism, he gave voices and personalities to each. It was quite entertaining hearing Teller speak in such a fun way. The voices were part of the act, but the overall trick can be summarized as simply a "knife through jacket" presentation where he stabs a knife through Teller's jacket and magically, the jacket is fine.
Penn & Teller perform a very similar routine, or rather the same routine with a different presentation? I'm still not sure how to classify whether a magic trick is "different" if the presentation is different. But yeah, it wasn't a fooler because they are very familiar with the routine itself.
This act was where the title of the episode, That (Bleeping) Teller!, came from as Teller, through Luka's vent work, had quite the profane mouth =P
Connor McDonald & Kenshin Amagi
Connor (connorpaulmcdonald.com) and Kenshin (@kenshin_amagi) are two friends from school who also happen to be magicians! While the intro for the act, which only highlights Connor's name, does feature both of them, it only shows Connor as a magician. The routine itself -- described below -- also has Connor as the magician and Kenshin as the hidden assistant; however, Kenshin does appear to also be very much a magician himself. The show's "info" (i.e. in the TV listings) has his name, but again, the introduction in the show itself only lists the performance as "Connor McDonald" so I want to point out that it was in fact a duo act.
All of that said, this act was pretty fun. We, the audience, were in on the trick but Penn was the person we were trying to fool. Even the stage background changed from "Fool Penn & Teller" to just "Fool Penn". It was a cups and balls routine being performed by Connor -- Kenshin "wasn't there" and wasn't actually introduced by name. Penn & Teller, specifically Penn, didn't know that Kenshin was even part of the act.
Connor started a standard cups and balls routine, three cups and three little red balls. Then to mix things up, he asked Teller to pick any kind of object and -- thanks to Kenshin, hiding under the table, not visible to Penn, writing a sign that said "pick Fruit", Teller picked Fruit.
Asking Penn to name a fruit, at least one that could fit under the cups, Penn chose oranges. Ah, and herein lies the "trick". Kenshin, under the table, would slip fruits under the cups through mini trap-doors. They did this for a bit and Penn was really mystified!
After Penn returned to his seat, Connor knocked down the table revealing that Kenshin wasn't actually there! This one last kicker surprise was for the rest of the audience and it was a great way to end the routine.
Overall, it didn't fool Penn (or Teller). Penn did admit that the cups and balls routine did mystify him while he was there, but he realized that there had to have been help. To end things, and I'm actually upset that they did this, but Kenshin came out from under a blanket object on the stage. While yes, I expected him to be there or hidden somehow in the boxes, it was still part of the mystery of "whoa, how did he disappear?!" My kids also were both a bit let down, my eldest saying "well, I guess that kind of killed the surprise."
Another big question I had about the whole thing, which I think is explained only by the reasoning of needing the extra space, is: why did the table have 5 spots for the cups to go on, but they only used the 3 that were furthest away from Penn?
Marc DeSouza is a magician who's been around for quite a while -- he was even called out as being a friend of Teller's since school! He has several things published in his name, tricks and videos, and you can find him on Facebook too (@marc.desouza.737).
Marc's performance was a card trick, or rather a story told with cards. Set to the theme of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, a card was selected that then went through a series of changes from small to big to completely gone, only to reappear in the looking glass (mirror) itself!
I know my summary here is short and without much detail, but the performance itself was just fantastic. It was one to enjoy and become enthralled by and words on a page just wouldn't do it justice.
I really liked Marc's handling and performance style, and the routine itself. While this routine won't fit into my own performance -- at least, not the cards turning into mirrors piece -- I might adapt parts of it.
Penn's "coded message" did show admiration for the performance, however, the magic due was not fooled by the handling.
Kevin's introduction on Fool Us was a great overview of how he performs -- with technology! He's a mentalist who likes, or needs, to use technology for his acts. Not in the "he needs an ear-piece and wireless communicator to steal glimpses at a spectator's written down number" kind of way, but more of in the he uses everyday objects like cellphones. Something everyone has to make things that much more realistic. After looking at his Instagram page (@kevinmicoud_mentaliste), I'm kind of surprised I haven't heard of him before this episode because he's been performing quite a bit, all over the place!
Kevin's whole vibe, or performance style, focuses and relies on technology -- so there was no surprise when he brought out his cellphone and asked Alyson to use hers too. He set his on a stand and started asking Alyson to enter in numbers into her phone's calculator.
Pick a number between 1 and 12. Then, pick any number between 1 and 31 and add them. Then multiply that by a 4 digit number, like a year. So far, completely open choices. Then, however, things get a little structured by requiring a number of 8910X to be subtracted by the current value, X being a free choice -- the whole number being one of the zip codes of that area. Then, divide the current total by 3700, the number of the address of the building they're in.
So far, no magic. However, this is where things got interesting. Kevin grabbed his phone and a super futuristic, and highly desired, hologram full of apps started flying around the phone. A digital assistant appeared, also in hologram form and ended with "finding a mind reading app" that could read Alyson's mind. A sheet of paper came out of the hologram which, when displayed had Alyson's generated number!
I've, personally, never seen the hologram display before. That thing was pretty awesome and in-person, I'm sure it would have been even cooler. I work in tech so I know do know how it was made, or rather the device that's used for the display -- not sure how to actually use it. As a magician and person with a math background, I also know exactly how the number trick worked.
Penn called it true that the tech would have been the "fooler" even ten years ago, but nowadays folks know more and more about things like that. So everything boiled down to the number trick itself. Penn and Teller know number tricks, I've seen them perform them myself. Penn also called out that he knows a lot of them... and yet, this one slipped by them. They couldn't figure it out, even though Penn's words (if you paid attention to them) said exactly how it worked. Ultimately, Kevin was a fooler -- but part of me feels like it wasn't a true victory.
All in all though, it was a really good presentation and I'd love to see more work from him!
Penn & Teller ended the show with a co-op routine featuring Dance Company Pilobolus. It was quite an interesting routine, not so much a mystery of how things were performed given that they kind of showed us how everything was done (without telling us), but it was really neat to watch. They were very, very fast and seamless in their transitions that very much reveals how coordinated and practiced they all are. The fun part is, Pilobolus isn't a magic group, they're actually dancers -- which made it that much more interesting!
It might be strange to hear, but I actually feel really good -- as a magician -- to know that I knew how each of the routines were done. Not in a "they weren't good routines" way, but a "I'm becoming more experienced and understand more principles" kind of way. I really, really liked the different performances and think that they were all great pieces of magic. While I likely won't be stabbing jackets anytime soon, it might be an idea that could be adapted to cards...
Either way, I'm excited for the next round of magic!