Blog with Paul Gertner

What’s the Trick to Fooling Penn & Teller?: Part Three


Paul Gertner fooling penn and teller backstage

It was almost time to see whether my new ending to UnShuffled would be successful in fooling Penn and Teller. On Sunday, April 10th, my wife Kathryn and I flew to Las Vegas for the taping of Penn & Teller Fool Us.  I felt good about my routine and was hopeful that the surprise ending I had planned just might do the trick.  A car from the show picked us up at the airport, and as I glanced at the driver’s schedule sheet, it quickly became evident that this was a complex operation.  The car service schedule was filled with names of magicians, many names I knew and some I did not, who were arriving for the show.

One exciting bonus of the Fool Us experience was finding out that I would get to see my friend, gambling expert, Richard Turner.  Richard and I had just spent the past July and August in China, where we bonded over many decks of Bee Playing Cards during the seven-week theater tour.   I happened to call him the week before the taping just to see how he was doing, and he mentioned that he was going to Las Vegas next week.  I said that’s funny I’m going to Vegas next week too.  I asked where he was performing, and he answered, “I’m not supposed to say but it’s for a TV show.”  I said, “Wait… I’m going for a TV show!”  And of course we discovered we were both going to appear on Fool Us.  We quickly planned to get together for a session on the night I got there… before it started to get too crazy with the filming… so we thought.

Pre-Show Preparation

The car service took my wife and I to the hotel and we checked into our room at the Rio, which is an all suites hotel so the room was large and lovely.  After getting our room we went as directed to the Penn & Teller Box Office to get our schedule for the next three days.  We arrived at the hotel about 2:00pm, and my schedule started that very same day.  At 5:00pm I had my interview for the “Introduction Package,” the opening story they use to introduce the performers on the show.  I had already emailed photos, performance videos and even copies of my Dad’s 8mm movies, but we still needed to shoot the interview with Ray Greene who would be producing my video introduction for the show.

The interview took about 75 minutes and was set up in a hotel room that was turned into a TV studio complete with a green screen.  I sat under the very hot lights for about 45 minutes with Ray sitting about six feet away asking question after question about how I began my career and where I perform, etc.  I could tell he already had a story in mind, and he was looking for the right sound bites that would play into that narrative.  In my case, the story line revolved around my father’s magical homemade 8mm films that were an influence on my early interest in magic and illusion.  The second half took place in a separate room in the makeshift studio where we shot B-Roll of me performing the Cups and Balls, Dice Routine and anything else visual that might be inserted into the final video.  We shot a lot of magic that did not make the final cut… but when you are trying to tell a story in only 45 seconds I guess a little video goes a long way.

Immediately after the interview my first off-stage rehearsal was scheduled for 6:30pm.  It was held in a large meeting room with all the producers including magic producers Mike Close and Johnny Thompson and many other AV technicians with laptops and cameras.  I had to set up and do the trick twice for this group as they analyzed angles and shots and asked if I could hold the cards this way or that for the benefit of the cameras.  It was stressful, and on the first run through I could feel nerves kicking in and my hands slightly shaking at the beginning of the Faro shuffle.   I made it through, but I told Mike Close if that happens during the show I’m going to brace my hands on the table, a helpful technique I discovered when I did the same trick on NBC’s Tonight Show with Johnny Carson almost 30 years ago.  Fortunately the producers wanted me to use a fairly high table for my performance.  It was a gimmicked table that another performer would use the following week, and they wanted to introduce it earlier so Penn & Teller got used to seeing it on the show.  It worked to my benefit, as I did not have to lean down to rest my hands on the tabletop and it gave me a bit of a security blanket if the going got rough.

After the rehearsal we took our Fool Us performer passes that got us dinner at the hotel restaurant where we ran into a number of other performers like Jeff and Tessa Evason, Greg Frewin, Christopher Tracey & Jim Leach who where also going to be on the show.  You could sense the anxious energy from everyone.  We were all excited… and a little nervous, but it was comforting to talk with others that could understand what you were going through.

After dinner I went up to Richard Turner’s room at the Rio, and he was sitting there with his traveling partner Doug Gorman and, to my surprise, gambling expert Jason England.  Our session ensued with both Richard and I testing our Fool Us routine on the small group.  Richard went first and killed us with a gambling routine that certainly fooled me many times.  I still have no clue how he was cutting to the aces and for those reading this blog who do not know his story… Richard Turner is blind.  I went next performing Unshuffled along with the new ending.  I was thrilled when both Doug and Jason who were sitting close-up right at the table said they had no clue to the method and that I had just fooled them.  The general consensus was that both Richard and I would fool Penn & Teller and it gave us both confidence in what we had put together.  Unfortunately, Richard had an accident in the hotel gym the next day, crushing his left thumb and could not do the show.  He is currently healing well and they plan to have him on the show next season in 2017.  We continued the session for another two hours and then we decided to call it a night because everyone had a very busy schedule tomorrow.

That night after I got back to my room I decided I wanted to rehearse the trick, and I set up in front of the mirror and ran the act about 15 times until my wife called out and said:  “Paul you know the trick… get some sleep.”   Voice of reason.

The next day I was up early due to the time change and spent 2 hours running through the trick another 20 times before I had to leave for the “Introduction Package” shoot at 11:30am.  The shoot was at a nightclub in Caesar’s Palace, the one with the Cleopatra Barge.  There was a lot of standing around and waiting, but we shot magic in different locations, one set up like the Tonight Show, and one like a movie theater where I was supposed to be watching my dad’s homemade movies.  I was given a point in space to stare at as I ate popcorn and a guy with a camera moved all around sometimes inches from my face.  I got a little appreciation of what an actor goes through to get the “right shot,” one that exists only in the mind of the director.  I can’t say it was fun, it was work, and it was exhausting sitting under hot lights waiting to hear them say “We got it!”  What a relief to hear them say:  “That’s a wrap” at 2:15.

But it was not really a wrap… immediately I was rushed back to the Rio just in time for my 2:45pm onstage rehearsal.  This was the one time I would get to see what it felt like to be on Penn & Tellers main stage.  It was a big stage, but I had just experienced performing on even larger stages in China, so I felt right at home.  The cameras all around were a little intimidating, and they also had two stand-ins for Penn & Teller wearing the pin stripe suits sitting front and center to give the feel of being on the show.  This rehearsal went very well… steady hands… hit the shuffles… great reactions from the director and crew.  I only had to run through the trick two times, rehearse my entrance and exit and we were done.  I felt good about it and it gave me a shot of confidence.

Pre-Show Jitters

But sometime during dinner that evening, that confidence began to disappear.  I started to worry, and doubt started creeping in:  “What if I miss the Faro shuffle on National TV?  I should have never agreed to do this trick on TV again.”  From my Tonight Show appearance I knew this was a difficult one to do with cameras focusing so tight on your hands.  The slightest movement will make hitting a perfect Faro shuffle almost impossible, and I had to hit four in a row. One card off on any shuffle the trick fails in a very visible manner.  My biggest fear was if I missed and had to reweave the cards under pressure, it could go down hill fast.  I told myself that what I needed was more rehearsal… but what I was really doing was psyching myself out and adding to the stress.  My wife and I had planned to go out and relax and perhaps see a show that evening but instead I obsessively began rehearsing the trick over and over another 30 times.  I was closing in on that 300 number I mentioned in Part Two of this blog post but it was doing me no good.  Each time the trick went quite well… but I was in a loop… instead of helping… each successive rehearsal was doing just the opposite… creating more doubt.

After three hours of this, Kathryn who was patiently reading a book said:  “Paul, You know this trick… Put it away… You got this.”   And I knew she was right.  She made me pack up all the props so I would not have to touch them in the morning.   She pulled up a movie on my laptop, stuck some headphones on me and said… “Breathe.”  And that is what I did… I concentrated on breathing slow deep breaths and the moment any doubt enter my mind I repeated my mantra…”You got this.”  The next morning I resisted the urge to begin to rehearse the trick again, having it already packed up was a brilliant touch.  I stayed in a Zen like slow breathing state that morning while deciding final costume issues like tie or no tie… I did not wear one.  I stayed calm when the host Alyson Hannigan came into the green room to meet me and ask a few questions for her interview after the trick was over.  I stayed calm while standing in the waiting area with the other performers, who probably thought I was a little aloof or stand offish.  But I had to do that.

Fooling Penn and Teller

Once they introduced me, my five-minute performance on stage was a bit of a blur.  Alyson came over and joined me, and Penn & Teller were sitting center stage.  I managed to keep a calm tone to my voice; I was happy that I did not begin to speed up, instead my performance stayed conversational throughout.  Was I nervous?  Yes!  I was sweating bullets, but I just tried to breath through it.  When it came to the first shuffle I could feel nerves creeping in and I could sense my hands slightly shaking, but I told myself “You can do this with your eyes closed.”  I braced my hands on the table, which kept any movement to a minimum and hit all three shuffles.  On the video you can literally see my entire body relax after I nailed the third one.  I love this routine because it is a series of designed climaxes… one stronger than the next and the audience’s response to each shuffle gives a performer something to hold onto and at that moment I needed it. I remember thinking that the applause of the audience after each effect felt like a wave and it carried me along.  After the King of Spades appeared on the side of the deck I could sense a knowing look from both Penn & Teller, but the moment I began the extra 4th shuffle I could see their expressions change to a puzzled look.  As I squared up the deck one last time for the kicker, changing the words to read PENN & TELLER, I could not help but smile as I watched their jaws drop.

Alyson and I walked around the table and stood center stage while Penn & Teller analyzed the trick.  She pointed out to the audience that I just performed a trick that the guys already know the secret to.  I explained that’s true, but I added a little something extra.  Penn was very complimentary saying “I am a huge fan of Paul Gertner.”  I immediately thought “That quote is going on the website.”  He went on to discuss my Cups and Balls with Steel Balls and how he bought my book to learn Unshuffled but he never got good enough to perform it…  “But I’m not dead yet!”  Of course not all of that video made the final cut.

I was pretty sure the moment they asked if they could examine the cards that I had fooled them.  It is rare that I get that request from a spectator but having done the trick for over 40+ years it does happen on occasion, and I’m always prepared when it does.  Based on their examination of the deck on the show it appeared they had assumed some type of beveling of the deck played into the appearance of the words PENN & TELLER… but they quickly discovered that was not the case.   The method that I actually used will intrigue magicians who do the trick and even those who do not perform a Faro shuffle.  I hope to release the new ending to the trick in the next six months or so. I’m very proud of the thinking behind it.

When Penn & Teller did not even bother to take a guess at the method and instead started walking toward center stage, and Penn said:  “Actually we did learn something from this deck.”  I thought for a moment “I’m Busted.”  But then he continued:  “If I do a shuffle like this, watch the edge, I think you’ll see it come into focus it says… Paul Gertner You Fooled Us!”  The audience cheered… the trophy came down and I shook hands with the trio and exited stage right clutching the FU trophy.  As I set down the trophy to remove my microphone the audio stagehand said:  “Raise your Rates!” and I was quickly rushed to a car and back to the hotel so I did not come in contact with any of the other performers waiting to go on.

Paul Gertner holding the FU Trophy with Penn and Teller

The great photos in this post were taken by my good friend Denny Gorman. He and his fiancee Beth joined me on my trip back to Las Vegas in October to appear on the Penn & Teller show at the Rio.  Thanks Denny!

Fooling Penn and Teller was fun, but without question the best part of the whole experience was sharing the method with them and explaining what I actually did. The prize for fooling them was the FU trophy, and the opportunity to appear onstage at their show in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel.  My performance happened early October and afterwards I got the chance to hang out with Penn & Teller backstage in The Monkey Room.  I showed them the method behind the kicker ending that fooled them on the show… five seconds of magic I created just for them.  Teller’s response was:  “Now that I know what you did I’m even more impressed.  The construction of the method and effect is brilliant.  You played it perfectly.  We love to be fooled by something like this.”  And to me therein lies the real secret:  That it really doesn’t matter if our audience consists of two of the most experienced and creative magicians in the business or if it is a group of five year olds at a birthday party seeing magic for the very first time… most audiences like to be fooled.  And it sure is fun to be the Fooler.  After all isn’t that what attracted us to magic in the first place?

Read Part 1 and 2 of “What’s the Trick to Fooling Penn and Teller?”
Part 1
Part 2

Paul Gertner is nationally recognized speaker and corporate magician, whose honors include multiple Tonight Show appearances, performing at a presidential inauguration, and winning three international competitions. He can be hired as a trade show magician or keynote presenter. For more information, visit


Posted in Magical Thinking, Magicians Only on October 18, 2016 by Paul Gertner.

27 Responses to What’s the Trick to Fooling Penn & Teller?: Part Three

  1. joe ferranti: October 18, 2016 at 6:29 am

    Thanks for sharing all the little details…I never mentioned on Facebook that I was nervous as I noticed the little shaking in your hands. As a person who has never performed on TV, I assumed nothing could get to you after your many appearances on TV…and I would not have the nerve to perform Unshuffled, even though I “never” miss a perfect Faro. Congrats again, I was totally fooled and enjoyed it immensely. Kind of funny how so many magicians equate being fooled with being made to feel foolish. Well Done Mr. Gertner…btw, I heard from an attendee at Diamonds Magic, that you performed a Cutting Aces routine that fooled them badly…Richard Turner’s?

  2. Paul Gertner: October 18, 2016 at 7:42 am

    Glad you enjoyed the post Joe. Yes that show for me was stressful… I think it has to do with the fact that you are only doing ONE trick… and if that one trick messes up you are done. There is no quickly moving onto the next trick. Yes at Diamonds I did do a Cutting to the Aces routine that is quite new. Not Richards… I have not shown him this one yet but I’m getting better at it with practice and it will fool you. Something for a lecture perhaps in the future.

  3. John Hillman: October 18, 2016 at 9:32 am

    The fact that you practice each effect 300 times brought a smile to my face. 30 years ago I learned the Professor’s “Twisting the Aces”. I STILL practice it. In fact I was practicing it at the Magic Castle Bar when Martin Nash gave me some pointers and showed me his “Rocking the Cards” routine (which I STILL practice). It saddens me in this day of YouTube “teachers” (teens and pre-teens) who believe they are entertaining. “Old School” is that you did not teach until you could do everything cold. Some of the videos are rife with mistakes.

  4. Paul Gertner: October 18, 2016 at 3:09 pm

    I can name a few of my friends like Richard Turner or Darwin Ortiz who would probably say… Only 300 times is that all? I always loved Darwin’s answering machine message when you called him, it said “I can’t come to the phone right now because I’m practicing.” If you have every tried to do some of his more advanced routines you will quickly see that the phone message was not a joke… he was practicing. Yes I’ve seen some YouTube videos teaching advanced techniques like a bottom deal and you wonder if they are serious or if the video is just a spoof.

  5. Glenn West: October 18, 2016 at 10:18 am

    That was a GREAT read. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us, Mr. Gertner.
    The “ONE trick” thing is something that isn’t always adhered to by many performers, either by taking a shotgun approach, or simply by wishing to present a routined “set,” but when someone not only comes on with a single, KILLER, effect, but also FOOLS them, it’s so wonderful!

  6. Paul Gertner: October 18, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    Glenn, I’ve read Penn & Teller in articles mention your point about the shotgun approach where they have to figure out “everything” in a routine with multiple effects. That would be really hard for anyone to do.

  7. Bob: October 18, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Hey Paul, I perform Unshuffled from time to time (Iove Steel & Silver, bought it in the late 90s). Looking forward to reading the new and improved “Fooled P&T” method when you release it.

    Out of curiosity, what do you usually say when a spectator asks if they can examine the cards?

    This was a great writeup of your experience performing on Fool Us! I enjoyed reading it. Congrats!

  8. Paul Gertner: October 18, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks Bob, glad you enjoyed the Blog Posts. It’s always good to hear that someone has put the work in and is actually using the trick at times.
    You asked what I do when a spectator asks to examine the cards at the end of Unshuffled. First I will say that it does not happen often… about 4 times a year is my estimate. I’m not sure why… but I think it has something to do with the fact that most audiences are so blown away at the ending when the name of the card appears on the side of the deck that the the idea of asking to examine the deck is not something that even enters their mind… and by the time they might think of asking, the deck is safely tucked away inside my pocket. So on those very rare occasions (Fool Us was one of them) when the spectator asks to examine the deck I do EXACTLY what you saw me do on Fool Us… I hand them the deck (acting a little reluctant) and let them examine it. And what they discover is a deck of cards that are in perfect sequential order with the words EIGHT OF HEARTS (or whatever the selected card was) written in bold black letters on one long side of the deck, and that is all… no other marks on the deck. So essentially I’m always prepared for the situation… even though I know that situation will only happen once in a great while. (I know that sounds obsessive but it’s my favorite trick so I protect the secret.) Now obviously because I added an extra phase to the routine with the surprise ending, and because Penn & Teller already knew the original method I had to make some adjustments, which I did just in the event they made that request. But the video of me on Fool Us shows you how I handle that request, if and when it happens.

  9. Jim Krenz: October 18, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    Paul, put me down for the purchase, as soon as you release the new ending.

  10. Paul Gertner: October 18, 2016 at 2:49 pm

    Will do Jim. As expected it is taking a little longer, but I’m trying to also give magicians who do not do a Faro a version of the effect which would open up to more sales. Nice to hear from you.

  11. Nick Singh: October 19, 2016 at 2:35 am

    Hi Paul, I’m definitely getting this when you release it. My goodness, the ending completely blew my mind. Unshuffled was just pure genius and I can’t imagine how you’ve managed to improve it. Brilliant!

  12. Paul Gertner: October 19, 2016 at 4:27 am

    Nick, Glad you enjoyed it. We will send out a notice when the new ending is on the market.

  13. Jep Hostetler: October 19, 2016 at 4:41 am

    Put me down as well. I will purchase immediately.

    I have now done “Unshuffled” for 6 years (learned when I was 70….took me nearly a half year and many decks to learn). I cannot wait to attempt to learn, practice, practice, and practice a new ending. I will forever be indebted to you for this effect. By the way…to any readers out there: Paul Gertner is one of the most genuine, caring, sharing magical performers in the business. He truly does our profession proud.

    It was so much fun hearing about the details of F.U. What a trip. That is what years of sincere practice, creativity, and understanding beauty, does for you.

  14. Paul Gertner: October 20, 2016 at 6:49 am

    Hey Jep. So you learned Unshuffled at age 70… proof without question that you can teach an old dog new tricks. I’m with you… I have to say that learning new magic and techniques is what has really kept me excited about magic especially over the past 10 years. The economic downturn that hit toward the end of 2007 resulted in a creative surge for me since I had more time because of a lighter travel schedule. Now that the schedule has picked back up a bit more I have a great deal of new material to use in the shows. I guess that was the silver lining to the downturn. Thanks for the very kind post. Glad you enjoyed the P&T Fool Us posts.

  15. paulspo: October 19, 2016 at 5:22 am

    Paul, Can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading your “backstage” journey to your appearance on “Fool Us”. It was delightful, insightful and thoroughly entertaining. I can’t imagine the stress of one trick, one time for P&T will all that goes on leading up to the actual appearance. Great Stuff! Thanks for letting us join you on the journey!

    Paul Sponaugle

  16. Paul Gertner: October 20, 2016 at 6:54 am

    Paul, glad you enjoyed the “backstage” info on the show. I always enjoy hearing those kind of behind the scene stories as there are always twists and turns that are not evident to anyone but the performer. It’s so nice to hear that the show has been renewed… I think it’s one of the best venues for showing magic in a very positive light and P&T both seem to be enjoying it.

  17. Charlie Sander: October 20, 2016 at 7:06 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading the last of this blog. I love watching the magic and enjoy being fooled especially since I know the effect but what I enjoyed most was reading about your journey. It made me want to be there with you and encourage you on. Great success !

  18. Paul Gertner: October 20, 2016 at 7:30 am

    Charlie, Thanks for the very kind comment. One of my favorite parts of the experience was thinking that magicians who already knew the trick might find themselves fooled one more time. Always fun to fool those in the know.

  19. David F: October 20, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Hi Paul, Great read. I’ve been a hobbyist magician/collector for a few years now and I really enjoyed this effect. Is there anywhere to get the previous version of this effect before the new one comes out? I’d really like to add both to my collection. Good luck on the next release!

  20. Paul Gertner: October 20, 2016 at 10:25 am

    David, Glad you enjoyed the story. The full trick (except the Penn & Teller Part) is available to magicians who really want to learn it, but it is very advanced and as Penn mentioned on the show it will take a LOT of practice to master. The product is called “Unshuffling the Faro Shuffle… featuring UNSHUFFLED. You can purchase it from my magic website at
    But if you do learn it… it might become your favorite trick to do.

  21. Roy W Eidem: October 20, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful journey with such a genuine human touch. You fooled me twice. Once with your curve ball variation & second that you were in any way nervous. You are such a gentleman & always so charming to watch. I am old enough to remember your Johnny Carson performances. Thank you teacher…I am bumping my rehearsal number to 300 now.

  22. Paul Gertner: October 20, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Roy, Thanks for the nice comments. I’m glad the new ending to Unshuffled surprised you. I think we all miss Johnny Carson.. I know I do.

  23. Roy W Eidem: October 21, 2016 at 3:11 am

    When I was going to night school I would come home just in time to sit down with my dinner in front of Johnny every night. He was absolutely the best and always will be. What a gift you had to be such good friends with him! ” God gave us memories that we might have roses December.”

  24. Jim Swain: December 22, 2016 at 5:49 am

    Hi Paul, If I were you, I’d take the secret to my grave. It’s that good.

  25. Paul Gertner: December 22, 2016 at 6:05 am

    Wow!!! Coming from Jim Swain that is one hell of a compliment. Thanks! You know Jim I was really seriously considering going that route… but with the way the internet is eventually someone would have published something on it and probably only cover a few of the details that went into the actual 5 second Kicker that fooled everyone. There was a lot happening there in a short amount of time. Also the best part was seeing the reaction of Penn & Teller the moment they saw exactly what I did. I felt like a kid learning my first magic trick. I’m looking forward to sharing it on a lecture tour and showing magicians the details that went into it… because I think there are some important lessons that are not obvious at first glance. Jim I really love your work but in the past many of your routines were beyond some of my skill sets… however last year I spent 7 weeks with our Friend Richard Turner on tour in China and in 2017 I’m really looking forward to revisiting many of your creations with more confidence and the chops necessary to do them justice. I’m very excited about that.

  26. Ari Shirman: July 6, 2017 at 1:35 am

    Hi Paul, very interesting read about bts of your Penn and teller fool us performance.
    I’m 18 years old and after seeing unshuffled for the first time on p&t I kinda just figured it out by myself. I know the faro shuffle pretty well right now – been practicing for 5 months now. Did it to quite a few people and blew their brains out. But that kicker at the end has me up at night. I’ve seen a gimmicked version of this effect but I’m not a big fan of gimmicks. I’d really appreciate it if you can release this asap!
    Awesome idea, thank you.

  27. Paul Gertner: August 1, 2017 at 1:51 am

    Ari, Thanks for the nice comments about Unshuffled. I’m glad it caught your attention… wow if you can do a Faro shuffle at 18 that’s great. I was much older before I mastered a perfect Faro. The new ending will be released hopefully by the end of Sept. It’s called Paul Gertner’s Unshuffled Kicker and will come out by Vanishing Inc.

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