Local mentalist fools Penn & Teller for a magical win on their hit TV show
A magic trick developed and performed by Altamonte mentalist Keith Kong is so good that even famed celebrity magicians Penn & Teller couldn’t figure out how it was done.
Now that’s a good trick.
Keith, who specializes in the mind-twisting form of magic known as mentalism, appeared on an episode of Penn & Teller: Fool Us that aired in July on the CW Television Network. The iconic trophy from the Las Vegas competition program – on which magicians must fool the legendary duo in a way they can’t figure out – is now in Keith’s possession, right here in Altamonte.
But just because the trick did the trick, as it were, doesn’t mean Keith is revealing any of his show-stealing secrets.
In Keith’s episode, viewable on YouTube, he comes onstage and places a flat, wrapped gift on an easel. No one can see what’s inside. Show host Alyson Hannigan (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) was essentially Keith’s assistant on stage. He handed Alyson a sheet of paper with the titles of more than a dozen classic songs. Alyson was asked to pick a song at random, and she chose “Old MacDonald.”
Keith then informs Penn that he’s already sung “Old MacDonald” on the show – news that appears to surprise him. Keith then shows a spliced-together video/audio collage of Penn singing the song, made up of tiny clips of him speaking from past episodes. Then, the gift is unwrapped: It’s a platinum-record plaque with Penn’s name on it, engraved with the song title “Old MacDonald.”
How could Keith have prepared all this before knowing which song Alyson would choose?
Penn & Teller ask to look over the list of songs. They discuss the matter briefly, before uttering the phrase all winners on the show want to hear: “You fooled us.”
How Did He Do It?
Upholding the laws of the world of magic, Keith won’t say how he did the trick. But the 26-year-old did answer questions about the magic of mentalism and his love of the craft.
Keith was always fascinated with magicians and illusions. Born in the Bronx, New York, he moved to Florida as a child. He remembers finding a magic kit meant for him right before his 11th birthday, hidden in his mother’s closet. He admitted the snooping to his mom and asked if he could open it and binge-watched the kit’s instructional DVD before his birthday.
“A lot of kids have an entertainer at their birthday party – but I was the entertainer at mine,” says Keith. He remembers feeling elated that grownups were impressed by his talents at the party. “The best thing about magic is how it makes other people feel. I still love the joy I get from others’ reactions.”
Psychology, Keith says, is a big part of mentalism, or mind reading.
Keith has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida. He works as a professional speaker and entertainer, specializing in corporate and after-dinner entertainment events. A world traveler, Keith’s website lists Coca-Cola, IKEA, and Sony among his corporate clients.
But the road from his 11th birthday party to hanging with Penn & Teller, Keith points out, did include an earlier disappointment.
Not Settling For “No”
Keith had previously performed a trick for Penn & Teller, and he thought it was going to air on TV in the summer of 2019. But after he told some family a nd friends he was appearing, he got word from the network that the segment wouldn’t air – no explanation given.
“The rug got pulled out from under me,” says Keith.
Making another pitch to the show was the only solution, except he had to come up with a whole new trick, which he did, and this new pitch was accepted.
To maintain the show’s integrity, Penn & Teller don’t know who will be on each show, nor do they see guests beforehand. But producers need to know the method used in each trick to be sure it doesn’t violate the rules.
“When I told them my method, at the time, it was just a theory, as it had never been done,” Keith says.
For fooling Penn & Teller on TV, Keith also earns a five-star trip to Las Vegas to perform as the opening act in Penn & Teller’s live stage show at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in 2021.
“Other performers on the TV show have told me their experience was all a blur,” says Keith, “but I remember everything pretty clearly.”
Including, of course, the moment Keith found out he had, in fact, fooled ‘em.
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