I am Vitaly Beckman, an illusionist who fooled Penn & Teller twice on the CW's show Fool Us, with a recent episode being shot during the pandemic. I also traveled the world and had my own off Broadway run in NYC. I combine magic with art, creating and designing all of my own illusions.
My recent Fool Us appearance was just aired on the CW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojLBGSnej_U
My first Fool Us appearance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1I0UTKsRYLg
If you want to learn more about me, check out the recent MSN story: https://www.msn.com/en-ca/entertainment/news/vancouver-based-magician-vitaly-beckman-fools-penn-andamp-teller-for-second-time/ar-BB1eUIgB
Watch my promo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9L5Qu_8kYM
Or learn more about me on my website: http://www.eveningofwonders.com
I love to talk about art, magic, movies, stage performance, creativity & invention. Ask me anything! (almost)
Thank you so much for the great questions everyone! I really enjoyed this AMA and would love to do it again sometime in the future! Till then, stay safe and healthy, and have a wonderful day / night!
Are there unspoken rules about "borrowing" from others in the industry? Do you have the freedom to iterate on illusions that others are doing, or is the expectation that you only present things that are uniquely yours?
Some magicians publish their creations, or write books about them, and allow others to use them. Thus anyone buying the book can perform their effect. There are also many illusions that became public domain over the years that are in the grey area. It wouldn't be ok otherwise and best to create your own.
Can you walk us through what a day of filming on 'Fool Us' is like?
It's more like 3-4 days (at least when you are there in person), the first 2 days I spent filming the introduction, interview, etc. and rehearsing in front of the producers, talking to the judges. The 3rd or 4th day there was a rehearsal live on stage in early afternoon, without Penn & Teller, and later that evening I was performing on their show in front of a live audience and P&T. In the meantime they keep you in the basement greenroom, so you don't see how the other contestants did! And when I was done performing, I wasn't allowed to go back and was sent to my hotel room, again, so I don't see how anyone else did on the show. Of course, that was in 2016, when I filmed virtually recently, it was completely different.
Who inspired you to become an illusionist? :)
When I was a kid, I was inspired by David Copperfield, Siegfried and Roy, Penn & Teller to name a few :)
What kind of knowledge is most useful when creating new illusions? like physics and optics or maybe psychology ?
Magic is a mixture of art and science. Theater and deception. So one needs to understand how to deceive, and how to tell a story. In deception, you have to understand psychology, control of attention, body language, sleight of hand and magic devices / technique. In theater, you have to understand storytelling, acting, entertainment. Science and physics can be helpful but is the lesser priority.
How is Alyson? Big fan, she seems like she’d be lovely.
She is the nicest person on and off screen.
Ive always loved magic, clowns and side shows. I've tried for a long time to learn various skills in those veins, but the only one I've ever gotten any good with is diabolo. But now I am 30 and have two young boys, I've been working hard on learning slight of hand, mainly with cards, to make them delighted and giggly. Do you have any advice on specific skill sets to practice or invest in? Right now I feel so overwhelmed by all of the options, I do not know where to begin.
A two and a four year old certainly won't enjoy a counting trick, I sure don't.
There are some great books to choose from. I would recommend getting The Mark Wilson Complete Course in Magic or Harry Lorayne The Magic Book. Another option is Henry Hay's The Amateur Magicians Handbook. Any one of these should give you a great basis I believe. Though to really enjoy magic, wait till your kids are 7 or 8 at least!
What's the most recent illusion you've seen where you were clueless as to how it was done?
Most recently I saw Jandro on Penn & Teller Fool Us with huge domino cubes! I thought it was amazing!
Favourite illusionist movie? The Prestige or The Illusionist? Or something else?
The Illusionist! It's more romantic and enchanting!
Are there any non-illusionists that you'd like to collaborate with but haven't yet?
I would love to collaborate with Philip Glass! I love his music!
What’s a question an illusionist likes to be asked?
I love thoughtful questions!
Why don't more magicians incorporate chocolate sauce into their act?
That's a good question, I just incorporated a muffin in my act, so next time I will add chocolate sauce to it :p
I know of Jim Steinmeier, and I know the late Ricky Jay used to develop effects for Hollywood in addition to his own routines. Who are the heavy hitters making new effects for stage or screen now days? Is it a pretty small pool? Or are there more people at it than I'd imagine?
That's a good question. I believe Jim is still developing illusions today and is still regarded as one of the most prolific magic inventors. There are other well known inventors in magic, such as Kevin James, but overall, it is indeed a "small pool" :)
Alright for real spill the beans. Tell us how you do it. Is it demons?
Yes, it is.
How often do people make jokes to you about Gob Bluth in Arrested Development?
Not very often actually. The jokes I get are more like: "has anyone told you you look like Jerry Seinfeld?" :)
Magicians used to be a big draw because there was no/little TV, etc back in the day. Do you find there is still good consistent demand for in person magic shows (aside from the pandemic)?
Yes, I find that people crave to experience magic live today. It's one thing to see special effects on tv, it's another to experience magic right n front of you, it seems it's a timeless art form.
I have heard a lot of people saying that magic is just illusion. How would you define magic and illusion and how did you even get inspired to be an Illusionist?
I think any art form is actually an illusion, because it plays with our senses. Like when we look at a painting of a tree, it's just paint but looks like a tree. Magic takes it a step further and blurs the lines between reality and illusion, so you do not see the frame on the painting. The audience paint that illusion themselves, in their own mind, and are next to that tree... inside the painting.
I got inspired when I realized a could create brand new illusions, my own "paintings" so to speak. And because I had lots of ideas that I wanted to realize!
What are your thoughts on YouTube magicians, especially those who reveal effects to their audience? Do you believe this cheapens the medium, or is it a net benefit that it's drawing a new type of audience to magic?
I think most audiences do not want to know how magic is done, and with a few exceptions are disheartened if they find out. It's a similar feeling to learning that Santa Clause doesn't exist. So personally, I think it's best to do good magic, that makes people feel good, and then keep the "how" as a mystery... just like not revealing the end of the book while someone is in the middle of it :)
Have you ever made a study of professional wrestling? The intersection of story telling, deception, crowd work, slight of hand, and the like and how they overlap with illusionism?
I agree, there are a lot of parallels there! I think in wrestling people want to suspend their disbelief though, while in magic it's not always the case.
Do you feel like you're able to quickly grasp how others' tricks are done?
Is there any particular trick by anyone that's got you stumped?
If the performance is good, then I am usually too distracted to analyze how it is done! But otherwise, if I analyze it I can often know how it may have been achieved. The thing is, if you do that and analyze as it's being performed, then you may not enjoy it as much.
Most recently, I was stumped by Jandro on Fool Us!
How do you come up with new effects?
I think of what I would love to see or experience on stage. Often times I have visions of something I want to do or an inspiration comes from something I see. Once I have an idea that I decide is worthy of pursuit, then begins the journey of finding a way to make it work. Sometimes it takes years!
1: Are there effects you've seen over and over that you still can't figure out? Which ones?
2: I know magicians won't tell me their secrets, but under what circumstances do you show each other how things work? My understanding is you tell Fool Us how your effect works, for example. How forthcoming are you with magician friends and colleagues?
Yes, I am actually not very hard to fool with magic. Most recently, I was amazed by Jandro on Fool Us!
I have a few close friends that I trust, and share some of the new creations, to get their feedback. It's a small group of people. As to Fool Us, yes, anyone going on the show has to reveal the workings to the judges and the producers of the show. This way, they can decide if Penn & Teller guessed the method correctly or not.
Have you always liked performing, or was it something you had to get more comfortable with as you progressed? I've wanted to try something like stand-up, but I dont think I could ever feel comfortable in front of a crowd.
I always felt comfortable in front of an audience, but even more so when performing magic. You can get comfortable in front of a crowd with the right state of mind. Stage fright is an illusion and is all in your head! But a little bit of stage fright is also good as it keeps you sharp!
What is the most under appreciated but easy sleigh of hand with cards, that you enjoy doing still today?
I don't perform a lot of card magic, but love to perform the card to pocket!
You've been very successful; were you always confident magic would work out as a career? Or, did you start out as an actor?
I felt that magic was my calling. I had a gut feeling I would be successful if I pursued it, but I knew it's going to be a challenging journey!
Have you considered disguising yourself to try to fool P&T a third time?
Ha! No, but I have a friend who wanted to!
What inspired you to get into magic?
At first I was just curious to see if I can figure out how magic works. But in the process of doing that, I realized I am good at inventing new magic effects, both ideas and how to make them work. I felt it could utilize my potential as a human being.
something like the pad in your video, how long does a routine like this take to master? how many hours gets put into a 2 minute routine like this to be executed flawlessly?
It can take a few years sometimes! The leaf drawing on the pad, is something I created when I was a teenager and been practicing ever since. The rest of the routine where I drew coffee and mug, took about 3-4 months to create and master.
Are there any books about the history of magic devices? How does one gain access to that info? The brotherhood protects our secrets so well...
Actually, these books are all available to the general public and can be purchased! For instance, Jim Steinmeyer wrote a few such books, such as Hiding the Elephant. The real secrets are in the performance of magic not in the devices ;)
I'm thinking of a very specific card from a traditional deck of cards.
What is it?
I'm sending you the answer telepathically ;)
We had a salesman at our workplace who eventually took off to be a professional magician-and I always wondered about when a person takes a leap on something like that and gives up a secure conventional job.
How was your transition from magic as an interest to magic as a career?
It's usually something very hard to do. Since I was a teenager, I knew magic is something I wanted to do professionally, but my parents advised to first get an education a some work experience, to have a "real job" to lean back on. After I did all that, and saved up a bit of money, I quit my job!
Out of all of your illusions which one are you most proud of, besides the ones you fooled Penn & Teller with?
It's so hard to choose one, because they are all like my children :) The one where I make people's faces disappear from their own driver's licenses has been a fan favourite though, and I am very proud as it is such a complex illusion to achieve!
On your "fooled us" video with the coffee cup, is that a continuous video?
It's hard to tell in this media if this is something you did in the room, or if it's just carefully spliced together scenes in a video.
Yes, it was all filmed in a continues shot. It is edited to give you the best view, however the video Penn & Teller saw of me perform was a single unedited shot. There are no camera tricks, its a real stage effect!
Have you seen any magician lie to Penn & Teller about their method in order to win? I have at least one in mind. We don’t have to name them if you don’t want to, but I think it ‘rings’ true.
No, personally, I have never seen anyone lie, such as P&T were saying the correct method and the magician said it wasn't. It would also be impossible to do on Fool Us, because the judge and even the producers are familiar with how it works.
What is the one magic trick that you have always wanted to pull off, but just haven't figured out the logistics to do? your dream trick i guess you could say!
Thank you! its so cool to talk to a magician!
I have a list of such illusions, some I accomplished, and some I couldn't... yet. I cannot reveal these ideas yet, because I don't want to admit failure yet!
Do you think you or magicians in general will ever run out of new ideas for tricks?
I don't think so. It is certainly becomes more and more challenging to come up with something really new every time, but the same is true for other art forms like music, considering the limited number of chords, it is hard to come up with a brand new tune!
How cool were Penn & Teller really about being fooled, and twice even, by you?
Have you ever cut someone in half and then not be able to put them back together?
Only my half sister.
Have you ever been tricked or startled by an Illusion.. Like you had no clue how that happened ??
Yes, many times. I am actually not very hard to fool, because when I watch magic, if it's entertaining then I don't try to analyze it, as I want to be entertained and be amazed!
What is your weirdest experience on revealing a magic trick to someone?
When I had to tell the Fool Us judges how it's done, it was fun seeing their facial expression.
It's a bit of a cliché that beginning magicians typically perform at kids' birthday parties (and at other small, intimate events). Accomplished magicians, of course, perform on stage in front of hundreds of people. If you were to go back and perform at kids' birthday parties again, what skills or knowledge you've gained along the way do you think would help most to make a wonderful experience for that sort of audience? Are there any skills you've developed along the way that wouldn't transfer, due to how different the environment would be?
It's hard to say, because I have only done 2 kids parties in my life. I think this one needs more thought and understanding of kids parties to give you a good answer.
What’s an easy party trick illusion I can do to impress people?
I'd recommend getting a magic book, such as mark Wilsons Complete Course in Magic!
Have you ever experienced "writer's block" when creating new acts? If so, what helps you get those magically creative juices flowing again?
Yea, I experience them quite a lot. I keep a notebook, where I sketch ideas for effects. So one thing that helps is going through it and bring up various ideas from the past. It's good to warm up your brain too. For instance you could improvise the scene you are working on, and by being playful and spontaneous, your subconscious mind can come up with ideas. Ask yourself some questions about what you want to create, write them down. Once you have a clear vision of what you want and ask the write questions, you can find the answer as well. But sometimes if you have a block, it's good to take a break and come back to it later!
Have you ever done any death defying stunts? The style similar to Houdini is what comes to mind.
I would love to in the future! I have always been trying to do things that are new and have never been done before, such as bringing art to life. So thus far, I haven't done anything dangerous or death defying. I do have some ideas for the future though, some new twists on escapes that will still keep them fresh and within my performing style.
Do you ever do simple tricks in public just to screw with people or to see if they notice? Like paying for lunch with a ten but switching it with a twenty as you hand it over to see if they catch it. Obviously underpaying that way would be dishonest but overpaying that way could be amusing.
Not really, I love magic as a performing art on stage, I love the atmosphere in the theatre, the mesmerized audiences. I may do something for a friend during dinner, but otherwise I do much magic outside my show :)
What is the secret to life?
It's probably different for different people. But for me, I would say it's about taking the circumstances we have and living the life in the best way we can with them, rising beyond those initial circumstances. It's possibly about becoming the best human being we can, fulfilling our own potential while being kind to others and sharing the fruits of our success along the way.
Where can I learn some basic tricks that will blow my niece and nephews mind? I also like magic and don’t want to dive too deep and have the joy of watching magic spoilt!
I would recommend getting The Mark Wilson Complete Course in Magic or Harry Lorayne The Magic Book or Henry Hay's The Amateur Magicians Handbook!
Can you show me a quick cool card trick I can use to impress my wife, and have her think I am magical?
I don't think I can show you over Reddit... but I would suggest to get a good book, like Henry Hay's guide to magic, it has a lot of great stuff you could do!
How many fingers am I holding up?
I don't know, I'm an illusionist, not a mind reader :)
Hey Vitaly! I wanted to add some easy, fun, and cool tricks to my start of the school year stuff! I teach technical theater and love to get kids attention through magic, as magic, in a way, is part of technical theater. Do you have any cool and easy tricks that would dazzle the students that I could learn over the summer?
Yes! I think a good book can be a good resource for you! I would recommend to get either of these: The Mark Wilson Complete Course in Magic, Harry Lorayne The Magic Book or Henry Hay's The Amateur Magicians Handbook. Good luck!
I've always thought of performing the trick and inventing the trick as somewhat different skills. Who are the folks in your mind who did both equally well?
It is definitely different skills, and one has to change hats. I think the late Tommy Wonder was both a brilliant inventor and a performer.
How is the floating dollar trick done?
Ha! There are actually many methods to accomplish a magic effect. Even a floating dollar bill which may seem like the same effect to an audience, can be achieved with 5-6 different ways!
whats your favorite deck of cards?
I normally use a Bicycle deck, but I don't have a favourite one!
What’s your favourite reaction to one of your illusions? What’s the strangest reaction you have ever received?
Do you find any differences in reactions from audiences in different countries or from different backgrounds or cultures?
Once I had a couple on stage, and the moment I did magic they ran away like I was a demon. It took them no more then 3 seconds to get off the stage and make their way back into their seats, passing though a row full of people!
Yes, in some places audiences can be more reserved, such as the UK or Singapore. In the US or Australia audiences tend to be louder, but there are always exceptions and you never truly know what to expect! At the end, every audience is unique and it makes every show interesting and memorable.
What can you share about hypnosis in the industry? I know that hypnosis and magic are similar, however is there anything you can share about your knowledge of hypnosis?
I have never learned hypnosis, however magic is often based on suggestions and causing people to make assumptions. So one has to know how to "seduce" an audience to want to imagine certain storyline, and painting the illusion in your mind. So yes, there are some similarities.
How much time do you get to spend with P$T backstage? Do you discuss magic or technique with them? Do foolers ever reveal the ´trick´ to them?
We spent a few hours backstage, in their "Monkey Room", and he was as nice in person as he was on stage! We didn't talk much about the specifics of the 'trick'. Yes, I heard some foolers reveal how it was done, and sometimes they learn on their own.
ok, questions about your second appearance:
Is the wall behind you a real wall or is there a fake place you're hiding the coffee cup and muffin?
You never walk from one side of the table to the other, between the table and the wall, are you able to or does some aspect of the trick not allow you to?
Everything is real, the wall included :) I can also walk behind the table :)
Do you have to tell penn and teller or the producers how your trick is done to verify they were fooled?
Yes, you do have to reveal how it works to the Fool Us judge and to the producers.
How do you make it so that it is an illusion? I can to the Arielle Triangle and the impossible stairs, but not much else. How do you create illusions?
I start with a vision of what I want to see or experience. Once I have a clear vision, and I know not only what I want to create but also why and that it's pursuit is worthy of my time, then I begin to think on how I can do it and working my way up on making it work. It's usually a very long process with a lot of trial and error and sometimes can take years! But at the end, if the results feel like the vision you initially envisioned, it is also very rewarding.
Hi, Vitaly! Love your stuff. What are some of the maybe less known magicians you would recommend watching? Would your answer be different for a magician than for a non-magician? Thanks!
I think the answer might be different, simply because the magicians that are well known in the magic community are not that well known to the general public. Such as Juan Tamariz or Richard Turner.
That's is one amazing illusion, how many hours did it take you to be able to pull it off that smoothly?
Thank you! It took several month to create and several more months to rehearse. It looks simple but it is very difficult to execute.
Is performing magic a cry for attention?
I think it can be or it can also be a form of expression. Like with singing or most other art forms, people can do it for various motives.
What are your favorite cards to do magic with, and be as specific as you can?
I usually just use Bicycle cards, nothing too special!
Can you make my sadness disappear?
Sending you positive vibes and wishes of good fortune.
what/who was your biggest inspiration?
When I was a kid it was Bruce Lee.
Hi! Saw you in NYC a couple of summers ago and my boyfriend was actually chosen to participate in one of your tricks (he had the notebook where people had written the names of celebrities and had to read it).
Just wanted to thank you for an entertaining show and ask what was the most memorable thing an audience member ever did at one of your shows?
Thanks for the kind words! When audience members come up on stage, the most unexpected things can happen! For instance one time a little kid spontaneously ran on stage and started running after me. All while not realizing he has a shoe missing... It was pretty hilarious.
You talk about how it can take years to create and perfect a new illusion. How many different new tricks are you usually working on at one time?
I usually have 10-20 in the back of my head, and then actively work on anywhere from 1 to 5 at the same time. But when one of them starts to shape better, I pause on all the others and only focus on that one until it's finished.
Apart from the illusions/tricks that fooled Penn & Teller, which is the one you’re proudest of coming up with?
It's so hard to choose one, because they are all like my children :) The one where I make people's faces disappear from their own driver's licenses has been a fan favourite though, and I am very proud as it is such a complex illusion to achieve!
A lot of the standard magic props like cards and coins seem to be designed to be familiar household items that have become less common over time.
(Similarly the magic tophat was once a common item to wear to a theater)
Do you think magic will change to incorporate more "modern" items?
Yes, and I think it's already happening.
Have computers ruined the magic of Magic in any ways, the way they ruined the 'magic' of special effects in movies?
That's a good question I have to think of. I think audiences trust less magic on tv these days, but that's why it is also important to perform live, and I think that is the best venue to enjoy magic.
Do you have any pet peeves about people's assumptions of your work?
As long as people are interested, I think it's all positive and appreciate anything people think about it. I am trying to bring greater awareness that magic is more than trickery and can be comparable with other arts though.
In you were given a choice between Paul Daniels and Tommy Cooper, who would you prefer an ama with?
I feel like I would get better answers from Paul Daniels, as Tommy Cooper would keep talking about his dentist. But both would be fantastic.
Did shin Lim get lucky? Or is he just “that good”?
I think he is very good!
Do you feel as if slight of hand is more of an inherent quality you are born with or something that can be practiced up to the same level as the ones born with it?
Like some people will just never be contortionists, you might get pretty limber but the average person can't* fold flat backwards without serious injury.
Edit* fixed typo
Yes, I think you can learn sleight of hand, but it will be a lot more challenging for some people and a little easier for others. That said, it's all about your will power and how strong of a desire you have to master it. I think the later trumps talent or inherent quality.
Seems like performing for a very experienced audience is either do something they’ve seen in a new way and really well OR show them something they haven’t seen. What was your process for selecting your bits?
I try to think of what I want to experience or share with an audience. My process is basically looking around and asking "what if that or this happened?", or what would I like to accomplish that would also be enjoyable for an audience to be part of?
Have you ever seen a trick or even something in your day to day life that you still can't explain?
All the time... Actually, I can't explain anything, from "why are we here?" to life itself! As to magic specifically, there are certainly illusions I saw that I had no explanation to, most recently I was stumped by Jandro on Fool Us!
What would you say is part of your 'Magic Every-day Carry'; what items would you not leave the house with if you were expecting to perform in any form of capacity?
To be honest, I rarely carry anything with me. I could improvise and do magic with items around me, but most of the time I reserve it for for an official theater show.
Really enjoyed those performances! I’m curious as a magician, what were your thoughts on Derek DelGaudio’s In and of Itself? And did you get a chance to see it live?
Thanks and keep up the good work!
Thank you! Yes, I did see it live and I loved it. It was really in and off itself!
How long does it take you to learn a new trick?
It usually takes a few years, from conception, to finding a way to make it work. With a few tough ones, it took me a decade as well!
Has another magician ever outed you during a performance? Outed as in pointed out the "trick" part of the act.
What do you mean, everything I do is real magic :)
so i think the cup and muffin were hidden behind the top piece of the table, due to the angle of it creating an image that is slightly taller than the objects. i believe the spoon may have just been traditional sleight of hand, but i think you used some kind of robot arm to move the main objects from their hiding place to the table, activated by a button controlled by your feet (hence the full body shot for fairness). i believe this is what causes the table to rock slightly, which you hid by bumping into the table a bit.
so my question is, what flavour was the muffin?
Hahaha! Now, why didn't I think of that?
The muffin was blueberry :)
Did you change anything in your performance on Fool Us to specifically try and make it more difficult for Penn and Teller? Like plant false flags or something like that.
I did think it through with making it difficult to figure out and hide the method well. For example, the method has multiple layers, and even by figuring out 1 or 2 of those layers one would still be pretty far away from knowing how it all works.
Are the mug and muffin stored on the underside of the table until they appear?