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Vinny Grosso Gets Naked and Fools Penn and Teller


Vinny Grosso fooled Penn and Teller. He did it on national television and he did it naked. Vinny isn’t just another magician, he is a former president of the Society of American Magicians. If you didn’t see the episode you can watch it here.

First Vinny stripped down completely naked and taped his eyes shut. He then had Las Vegas comedian Carrot Top choose a single card from a deck of cards and share it with the audience. Then Vinny tasted the card three time and declared, I can tell that your card is not only red, not only a diamond, but the King of Diamonds.”

Penn and Teller thought Vinny might be receiving cues of what the card was through the small privacy screen that covered his groin. Penn asked, “Can we look at the screen?” Of course he agreed to allowed it to be inspected and even joked, “I just want you to know that objects behind this screen appear smaller than they really are.” Penn and Teller admitted that they had no idea how Vinny guessed the right card and the naked magician was given a trophy.

There is a wonderful backstory that is both hilarious and poignant.

Exposed and FearlessVinny has written about his experience on the show and has included it in the second edition of his book, exposes and FEARLESS! The book is a collection of personal short stories about some amazing people, how they are able to do the seemingly impossible and conquer fear. To purchase the book, CLICK HERE.

Vinny was kind enough to allow The Magic Compass to publish this condensed excerpt from the book.

First let me pull back the curtain and give you some inside information about the show.  The truth is that while the premise of the show is for magicians to try to fool Penn and Teller, the real benefit to professional magicians is that the show is a superb opportunity to showcase their talents.

If you are not familiar with the show, each episode features four performers.  Each performer is introduced by a host, Alyson Hanigan, a brief bio video is played and then the performer comes on stage. The performer does his or her routine for Penn and Teller and the live audience.  When the routine is over, the performer is interviewed by Alyson while Penn and Teller privately discuss how they think the magic was done.  Penn and Teller then discuss the routine with the performer, and either make it known that they know how the magical effect was done, using references another magician will understand but that will not reveal the secret to the audience, or occasionally acknowledge that they have been fooled. If the performer succeeds in fooling them, he or she receives a trophy and an invitation to perform in one of Penn and Teller’s Las Vegas shows at a later date.  Each episode concludes with a performance by Penn and Teller.

Penn and Teller Fool UsEven though Penn and Teller might know one or more of the contestant magicians, they actually have no idea who will be on any given episode until the performers step on stage. The format is brilliant, connects with the audience, and offers just the right touch of suspense.

Penn and Teller are two of the greatest minds in magic, and they have been working together for over 40 years. They have seen it all and done it all. Fooling them on their TV show is quite difficult and perhaps one magician per episode will accomplish that feat.  Even then, being a seasoned magician myself, I have wondered how often they are really fooled. You see, the challenge for Penn and Teller is that they essentially get one guess to say how they think an effect is done.  If they’re incorrect, that performer is considered a “fooler” and wins the prize.  Many magic routines can be accomplished by more than one method. Penn and Teller are experienced enough that they can eliminate most methods, and usually hit the correct one. But I suspect that in some cases where they are “fooled,” it was by a method that would have been their second or third choice.

Vinny 1We shot the introductory footage in David Copperfield’s secret warehouse and museum.  The producers wanted to highlight the fact that I was a Past National President of The Society of American Magicians, a position once held by Harry Houdini, and David has arguably the world’s largest Houdini collection.

The morning of the show came and I talked with the producers.  They had concerns about my using Alyson as a volunteer and asked if I could use the well-known comedian Carrot Top instead.  I had known this might be a possibility, so I had worked a bit on how I should introduce Carrot Top.  I have never cared for people who act like they’re doing something impromptu when they clearly aren’t.  I think audiences see right through that, and I didn’t want to go into the audience and just “happen” to see Carrot Top and call him up.  So I came up with a quick, humorous way to introduce him from the wings and still convey that he was not “in” on the routine.

Vinny Grosso on Penn and Teller Fool UsTo say I was nervous would be an extreme understatement!  I was about to take a huge risk and be naked on TV, and if I didn’t fool Penn and Teller, I was going to be devastated.  While I was incredibly nervous, Penn and Teller had to be incredibly tired.  They had been taping two shows a day for two weeks.  They are also known for despising the stereotypical cheese ball magician, the exact type of magician I appear to be when I step on stage in a tuxedo.  I would need to be on stage for a short time before being announced by Alyson.  Then, after what would seem an eternity, but which would be about three minutes, she would announce me and I would take just a couple of steps into place.  As best as I can recall, the time I spent in the wings before being announced was the most terrifying three minutes of my life!
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That all changed in a split second because of one of the kindest favors I’ve ever received.  Teller did not know me, or anything about me.  He just saw a cheese ball in a tuxedo, and I could only imagine the frightful premonitions going through his head.  But he saw my nervousness, really my absolute terror masked as nervousness, and instead of expressing dismay, or trepidation about the corny magic act that might follow, he made eye contact with me, smiled, and gave me a thumbs up.  I couldn’t believe it!  In that moment I suddenly recalled all the stories about past performers who talked about how Penn and Teller had been on their side, kind, and incredibly supportive, and I knew they were true.  Suddenly the edge was gone. I could breathe. I could focus on giving the audience my best. I could overcome my fear!  That is quite possibly the most gratifying moment of my entire performing career. It is certainly my most favorite.

Once I got into the routine everything was a blur.  I can only remember hearing the audience laugh at times and hoping they’d laugh and applaud at the end. It was then time to see if Penn and Teller had figured out how I had found the selected card.  I had convinced myself that they would think the blindfold was fake. If so, and they would think I had seen the card, and I would have indeed fooled them, for the blindfold was real.  But if they did think the blindfold was real, I was convinced that they would immediately figure out how I had discovered the value of the card, and I would have failed to fool them.

As I recall, Penn’s first comment to me before he went into their theory of how I had accomplished the effect, was something like, “Boy! I really hope you fooled us, because this is a routine we’d like to see again in our regular Vegas show.” Remember, part of the award for fooling them was to appear in that show. I say “something like” because I honestly do not remember what he said; that’s what a friend of mine who was there told me.  That portion of my life is still a blur. I do remember Penn saying that he thought my blindfold was legitimate.  I remember my hopes were instantly dashed, because I had convinced myself that fooling them was dependent on their thinking I could see through the blindfold. I prepared myself to listen to Penn’s clever way of explaining the method without actually exposing it to the audience.  He began talking about Houdini getting naked behind a screen, but I don’t remember anything else. I just “knew” that I had failed.  After a little bit I threw up my hands and said, “I can’t believe I got naked for this!” I took up the screen and started to shuffle off the stage.

Pictured (L-R): Vinny Grosso and Alyson Hannigan -- Photo: Jacob Kepler/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Pictured (L-R): Vinny Grosso and Alyson Hannigan — Photo: Jacob Kepler/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Alyson, the host, stopped me and asked if I thought Penn and Teller knew how the effect was done. I turned back to her and said, “Yes.”  I can still see her face. She was dismayed, but I didn’t connect the dots as to what that meant at the time.  I was just upset that I hadn’t fooled them, and that I had wasted time and money, and more importantly my one, great opportunity!  My self-esteem dropped through the floor!  Surely, it couldn’t get any worse…. Wrong! Remember, I had not actually rehearsed my final exit on stage under broadcast conditions.  There I was, holding the privacy screen to preserve my modesty, shuffling for the wings.  My path took me in front of some very powerful lights which lit up my privacy screen like a silhouette on a the blind of a bedroom window, making my privacy screen much less private!  Penn leaped up from his chair, pointed at me and yelled, “You’re back lit! I can see your [#!@$], I can see your [#!@$].” I was now mortified!

Just off stage, I was quickly ushered back to do a couple of pick-ups with Carrot Top. A pick-up is a reshoot of some actions to get better camera angles that would be seamlessly edited into the final cut of my segment of the show. These are not used to fake the magic trick in any way.  I quickly checked the location of the perilous lights, and shuffled back, still naked, and still holding my privacy screen. They re-shot Carrot Top selecting a playing card and me revealing the card to him.  Once that was over they excused Carrot Top, but not me.  I was left standing out on stage, naked, behind the privacy screen while Penn and Teller were deliberating. This took so long that Penn added to the enjoyment of the audience, and to my discomfort, by saying, “We’re just trying to see how long we can keep you out here.”  Finally the stage manager said they had one more pick-up they’d like to do, of Penn giving me his explanation.

My heart sank below floor level.  I was already depressed and mortified, and now I had to go through it all again.  Penn started by telling the audience about Houdini getting naked behind a screen. Then, he surprised me by asking if he could inspect the screen. I said yes, of course, and both Penn and Teller leapt from their chairs and came charging towards me.  I had nowhere to go! I couldn’t very well follow instincts to run screaming from the stage. Then it hit me. They thought the screen was gimmicked!  It wasn’t. My rehearsal time paid off, because I had a joke all ready for this possibility. As they stepped towards me I said, “Objects behind the screen appear smaller than what they actually are.”  This got a great laugh. My confidence began to return and I was starting to wonder if perhaps I might have actually fooled them. Could it be?

They manhandled the screen, cameras rolling, and finally Penn slammed it and said, “There’s nothing wrong with the screen!”  And then the most beautiful words in the world: “You fooled us!”

Pictured (L-R): Teller. Vinny Grosso and Penn Jillette -- Photo: Jacob Kepler/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Pictured (L-R): Teller. Vinny Grosso and Penn Jillette — Photo: Jacob Kepler/The CW — © 2016 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

I lost it! I shouted, screamed, actually, and cheered with pure joy, the kind of pure joy reserved for Christmas mornings in my youth when Santa Claus nailed it and left me the gift I had been longing for.  I began jumping up and down, pushing the envelope of coverage provided by the privacy screen.  Penn and Teller, comic geniuses that they are, went with my reaction. Each grabbed a side of the screen and raised and lowered it in unison with my jumps. The audience went hysterical!

Then the “Fool Us” trophy was lowered from where it had been hidden in the overhead grid, and Penn handed it to me.  When I took it with both hands, Penn pushed it down and pulled the screen away, leaving just the trophy between the audience and me. Then it was my turn to take Penn and Teller’s lead and run with it.  I enjoyed every second of it!

Afterwards, I saw my friend Mike Close, who is one of the magic consultants for the show.  He told me that he and Johnny Thompson, the other magic consultant, were listening in on Penn and Teller’s deliberation, as they do for every routine.  They knew that Penn and Teller had not figured out how I had done the routine and had given the host, Alyson, a heads up that I was going to be a “fooler.”  I knew that was the procedure, so when I saw Alyson looking shocked and dismayed when I told her I thought Penn and Teller knew how my trick was done, I should have realized they actually did not know. Mike asked me why I had given up so easily, and headed off stage so quickly.  I told him it was a blur, but I figured that if they knew my blindfold was real, they knew how I did it.

Mike told me that he and Johnny had told the producers that I had misinterpreted Penn’s explanation and had left the stage, but that I had, in fact, fooled them! The producers relayed this information to both Penn and Teller, and told them the footage they had of me walking off stage was footage as a non-fooler. They could wrap it there, or they could reshoot it in preparation for winning the trophy.  Penn and Teller didn’t hesitate. I had fooled them and they would reshoot the finish. You can imagine how I felt when Mike told me that. They clearly liked my performance and the fact that I had fooled them. Just when I didn’t think I could be any happier, I received that additional boost of confidence which simply reinforced my respect and appreciation for the character of both Penn and Teller.

  1. Bob Carroll says:

    Excellent routine and added a new meaning to “nothing up my sleeve”
    Thanks a lot for sharing. Next time, maybe a G string.

  2. Bill Gleason says:

    Outstanding! Hides nothing, bares it all, great magic!

  3. Thank for the back story. As viewers we don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes.

  4. You weren’t using a thumb tip, were you?

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