francis menotti

I am Francis Menotti, a magician who stumped Penn and Teller on last night’s episode of Penn & Teller: Fool Us, Ask Me Anything!

My short bio:

I’ve been performing magic for 30 years, including the World Famous Hollywood Magic Castle and President Obama’s most recent inaugural ball.

I view magic as a way of exploring the uncertainties of life, using illusions as metaphors to inspire others to overcome the seemingly impossible.

Last night, I was featured on the CW show, Penn and Teller: Fool Us, where magicians from around the world try to perform a trick that magic/comedy legends Penn & Teller can’t figure out.

My trick fooled them.

Ask me anything!

EDIT: You can watch the episode here:

My Proof:

Anything huh? Okay fine, How did you do it?

Oh, ok… I had this idea years ago as a spinoff to my aforementioned Shuffled Words trick. One day, I sat down with my dear friend and Neighbor, Mat (who happens to be a Latin Teacher). Over breakfast, I discussed the wording that I wanted to use and enlisted his help in making it cohesive and linguistically correct such that the audience could follow it despite its rapid-fire barrage of absurdly complex language. Once we wrote it out together, I spent a few weeks (months?) memorizing and rehearsing it. The result? Well, you’ve seen it.

Oh… did you mean how’d I do the trick?

Loved your trick last night. I’m glad you fooled Penn and Teller, but at the same time, I really wanted that note card they pulled out to read “lobster.” That would have blown everyone’s minds (if you could work something like that into the trick, it’d be even more amazing than it already is.) How hard was it to memorize your speech for that trick? Seems like you had a great time writing it!

Thank you! Yes, I think it might have blown my mind, too, if the card read “lobster.”

Memorizing this script was a little challenging, but the trick is to really treat it like any other script. Took a couple of months to really nail it well. But once its there, its stuck there.

What is the proudest moment of your magic career?

I’m not much one for “pride,” but the most touching was this. I was working the Salute to Heroes Ball for President Obama’s first inauguration. During it, I had a wonderful interaction performing for a completely blind veteran (don’t recall which branch) and recipient of the Medal of Honor. I wrote a little narrative of it here and will repost it to my blog on my website soon.

What’s your best advice for an aspiring magician?

Don’t listen to naysayers; do follow your passion. (And, a piece of advice Teller once gave me: Take every gig when you’re first starting out!)

What tricks would you perform for a blind person?

I did a mostly classic version of coins-across.

What kind of rapport do magicians have with each other? Do you share secrets?

By and large, the magic community is small. Most of us are friends with one another drawn together by our passion for the art of theatrical deception. We do share secrets, when appropriate. But the secret is only one (though important) element of the larger equation that makes up a good piece of magic.

Are you friends with Neil Patrick Harris?

Not friends, but we’ve met when he was the president of the Academy of Magical Arts (of the Hollywood Magic Castle). He’s a truly delightful gentleman and was a fantastic, hard working president for the club.

What’s one of your most enjoyable trick to perform to others (regardless of difficulty)?

A piece I wrote back in college involves me shuffling a deck of cards and my words getting mixed up at the same time. It’s fun and more importantly is my way of saying “what you’re about to see is different than what you’re expecting.” If you’re interested, here’s a clip of it from a few years ago.

What card am I thinking of?

The five of spades. (At least… now you are.)

Did you have an opportunity to chat with Penn & (I guess not) Teller at all? If so, what were they like?

I’ve been privileged to know Teller somewhat well for the past 15 years. The magic community is small to begin with, but Teller has always been supportive and giving to many up-and-comers of magic. He’s also been a big influence on me and my thinking of magic throughout my career thus far. Penn: I’ve had a few interactions with, though not as many, and they’ve always been enjoyable.

Are there any magic tricks that you’ve seen that you cannot figure out?

Absolutely! And I LOVE it when I experience something that I am left with no idea of its workings. It’s usually by one of my closest and cleverest magician friends. When I’m fooled badly, I’ll of course automatically be thinking of how it might be done, but NEVER really want to know fully. It’s a wonderful feeling to be reminded that we simply don’t know everything.

What all do you get for winning? err…fooling them?

The true prize is having the opportunity to share the screen and stage with tremendous magical talent of such a wide variety. Fooling Penn and Teller is nice, and certainly a part of what drives everyone on the show, but really it’s a wonderful opportunity to show the world (hopefully) good magic.

Foolers have an opportunity to then perform in Vegas as a part of Penn and Teller’s wonderful show at the Rio. Also pretty cool.

Have you picked your Fool Us opening Date yet?

I will be performing at the Penn and Teller Theatre at the Rio in Vegas on November 16, 2015.

How do P&T actually know when someone has fooled them? While i’d love to think no-one would lie to them, I’d imagine the show has some sort of way of knowing? Do you need to explain the trick to a employee beforehand (Who would obviously be sworn to secrecy) or something similar? Basically, what’s stopping P&T from correctly guessing, but the performer saying “Nope, that’s not how I did it”?

There are two marvelous consultants “backstage”- Johnny Thompson and Michael Close. When we first arrived for rehearsal, we explain all of the trick and their nuances (in the unlikely event that they can’t deduce what they are). This becomes the control aspect of the experiment, as during the show, P&T will make their guesses. If the performer makes a questionable challenge, Johnny will make the referee call. It all works very honestly and well.

What was your inspiration to get into magic? How old were you when you first started magic?

My parents bought me a magic set when I was five. At first, as with most magicians, I enjoyed the attention. As I grew as a student of magic I began to love the fact that we can use our brains and imagination to create beautiful illusions of the impossible. Now my goal is to challenge peoples’ assumptions of everyday life, albeit with illusion, in the hopes of inspiring people to overcome the impossible.

Who are some of your favourite magicians? Past/current performers, etc.

Without the slightest intention of cheesiness or irony, Teller is my favorite living performer of magic. Others include names that non-magicians might not recognize, but would truly enjoy seeking out: Gaetan Bloom from France, Rob Zabrecky from LA are two that come to mind.

Of the past, I wish I could have seen Karl Germain. Wish I could have spent more time seeing Tommy Wonder, as well.

After 30 years of magic, are you able to suspend your disbelief and enjoy magic shows of others or do you find yourself unraveling their tricks and unable to detach from it as a professional?

Suspension of disbelief is such an interesting turn of phrase. To my mind, a good magician does not need the audience to willingly suspend disbelief, but rather creates that feeling organically for the audience the way a good film distracts one from the fact that the actions and scenery on screen are “fake.”

That said, I’ll offer two metaphors. Magic can be a good hamburger. To have a hamburger, one must have a patty of beef, preferably good quality and cooked just right. But that’s not what makes it GOOD, any more than the necessary secret to a trick makes it good magic. You need the dressing: the lettuce, tomato, sauces (the performance and presentation) to make a truly delicious eat. (Dang it. Now I’m hungry.)

Second analogy: magic is a language. The more of a language one knows, the easier it is for one to pick up new words just by context. The more “tricks” one knows, the easier it is to learn (and appreciate!) new bits of subtle deception that help make good magic work.

I’ve seen your one man show and it’s definitely something that a younger crowd (less than say 12 years) would more than likely not follow or completely enjoy. Was your show always like that and if so did you run into problems starting your career with a show like that?

When I first started performing full time (in 2000) I did a TON of kids’ shows. They taught me a tremendous amount about audiences, communication, effect, and presentation. I also grew rather unfond of them. Mostly because I couldn’t express the ideas that I thought were interesting and that I thought needed expressing to adults. I talk a little about my reasons for why I think magic is better for adults than it is for kids in a TEDx talk I gave for UPenn earlier this year. (Here’s the link, if you like: )

However, you are correct in the realization that doing “heady” stuff is a tough sell. So I have different material for different audiences. Another mentor of mine (Rick Maue, a mentalist out of Pittsburgh) got me thinking hard about having different shows depending on what was “needed.” I perform vastly different material and styles for a corporate conference than I would for a wedding reception or for a theatre show. They’re all ME. But they’re all the right me for the right crowd.

If expert you could tell beginner you one thing, what would it be?

Learn the classics, learn the basics from the ground up. Don’t spend all of your time on youtube videos (which, to be fair, didn’t exist when I was young) but learn as best you can from books. Also don’t worry about what “the other magicians” say: listen to your audience. Try to imagine things from their perspective, not your own. (This applies to pretty much everything in life.)

What simple magic trick do you love to share with kids?

If you mean one to perform for kids, a simple coin vanish and reappearance is one of my favorite things to do (followed by the coin through shirt trick in the bio/intro to my segment).

As for “teaching,” I’ve always loved the “jumping rubber band” trick, where it hops from fingers to fingers of your hand. It’s easy enough for them to learn, and good enough to get them hooked.

Did you get to interact with J Ross more? He seems like an awesome dude!

You saw almost the entirety of my time with Mr. Ross. He is tremendous. Fun, funny, quick, and wonderful host. Delightful and super easy to work with.

What was the first trick you learnt? And why?

Started with a Fisher Price magic set. Still have it in my office. 🙂 First trick was probably the “jumping rubber band.”

I find it hard to motivate myself to keep practising magic. How did you keep yourself motivated to keep trying when you fail again and again?

I think it’s a personal drive that each person needs to find in him or herself. For me, I often glibly say: If I’ve achieved my goals, I didn’t set them high enough. i.e. what keeps me going is the perpetual hope and intention of improving whatever it is I’m working on. As soon as it’s “good enough” by my standards, it’s not worth doing anymore.

Favourite trick performed by another magician?

Again, at the risk of sounding like I’m pandering to the show or P&T fans, my truly favorite piece of live magic is Teller’s “Shadows,” performed on a recent episode of PTFU. Without exaggeration, it brings a tear to my eye every time I see it.

I just finished the royal road to card magic. What book/Dvd do you recommend next?

Well, as I’m partial to coin magic, I often suggest Modern Coin Magic (JB Bobo). Or the entire set of Tarbell.

How great did it feel when they said that you had them fooled? Was it as amazing as it looked on the show?

While it’s not the end-all (despite it being the title of the show), it was a genuine surprise and delight. Not so much a “haha, gotcha!” as a “wow. I’m honored and flattered to have been able to do so.”

Can you juggle?

Not well.

Any chance of joining us back at MagiFest any time soon?

Love to! Schedule permitting. It’s a wonderful convention to work and to attend.

Is there someone you look up to?

Penn, but that’s predominantly because I’m only 5’9″.

Truly there are many I look up to, but I do try to have a healthy respect for everyone working towards the same goals as I: that is to produce and perform good magic.

Did you prepare a trick specifically for them, or was this one of your main tricks?

I created this trick several years ago as a spin off of my shuffled words trick (in that the overuse of language is almost overwhelming to the audience in a fun way). A couple years ago, I decided to get it ready to release to the magician market. That took longer to prep than we anticipated, and by the time it was done (fully shot with instructional DVD and making appropriate props), I received the invitation to PTFU. The trick was days away from being released when I called my two friends at Vanishing Inc. and asked them to hold it: I wanted to use it for the show. So we did. But now that it’s aired, we’ll be releasing it very soon as a trick called WordsMyth.

You think they were really stumped or playing up the show.? I’ve seen them pretend to be baffled on tricks that I wasn’t impressed by.

Penn and Teller are both very smart and very experienced magicians who have been surrounded by great magic for a long time. I’ve watched the most brilliant thinkers of magic get “cut” by the Occam’s Razor-est of methods, because of good presentation or simply over-analysis. Also keep in mind that watching something through this digital box is a lot different from experiencing magic live, and only a few feet away. So while it is definitively impossible to prove a negative, I’d say it’s more likely than not that most often when they say they’re fooled, they are.

You mentioned that your trick on the show was inspired by a Scrabble board in London, where else do you draw your inspiration from?

IMO, inspiration can and should come from everywhere. For me, a lot comes from literature and wordplay, but also many of the other passions I have in life.

What do you think is your most dangerous trick?

I’m not a big fan of actual danger, either by me or other performers. I prefer to create the occasional illusion of danger, if appropriate.

What did you start off doing to gain a better knowledge and understanding of the illusions you pull off?

By reading as much good magic literature as I could get my hands on, and by consistently surrounding myself by magicians (and people) much better than I.