Brian Allen Brushwood is an American magician, podcaster, author, lecturer and comedian. Brushwood is known for the series Scam School, a show where he teaches the audience entertaining tricks at bars so they can "scam" a free drink from their friends.
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I've performed at 1,000+ colleges and universities, eating fire and breaking bricks over my head. Nearly 10 years ago I started hosting "Scam School" for Revision3 (now Discovery Digital Networks). I've co-hosted two Billboard #1 comedy albums, and hosted 2 TV specials and a full season of "Hacking the System" for National Geographic (now on Netflix).
Today, we're launching a channel for "The Modern Rogue," where Jason Murphy and I finally get to try everything they told us was too dangerous or impractical for TV. (If Han Solo, James Bond, and Houdini had a two-headed baby, it'd be The Modern Rogue):
If there was something that your mother would want to make sure that we all knew, what would it be?
Hang on. Let me call her.
Okay. I clearly just woke her up: http://shwood.com/Reddit/mom.wav
Apparently she wants you guys to know that I'm "deep."
When will the hair spikes make their return?
Heh. In some realities, they never left: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gE7ibBvgQhY&index=25&list=PLjqQ16mcrfswivBaqcRHzk58vvcje7B6x
Absolutely loved the show when it was on Rev3. What was your favorite episode to shoot?
We just did a big shoot with Mac King, Michael Goudeau, and Brent Braun. It was a bit off-brand for scam school, in that we're just 4 magicians hanging out in Mac King's kitchen and swapping random gags, but was just about the most fun I've had in years.
Here's the first of those four episodes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaDc6VUgMMw
How do you respond to allegations that you are indeed WPR?
By hiding behind this guy: https://youtu.be/0IEJxr8qF3g?t=1h1m51s
Hey Brian, here's a stupid question... Your AMA proof photo is IMG_2071. What was IMG_2070 a photo of?
The exact same thing, but with me wearing a derp face.
Is Hacking The System ever coming back?
It is back. Only it's called "The Modern Rogue" and it's on YouTube :-)
Will you actually try and fool Penn and Teller? I mean the one you did way back when with the psychic surgery was a pretty famous trick and we know and you know you wouldn't fool them at all with that one. So what I'm asking is, will you develop a trick that you KNOW has a good chance of fooling them?
Over the years, Teller's helped me write or fix almost every routine in the show, so if I wanted to fool them, I'd have to come up with a completely new routine.
That's not impossible for me to do, but I'd much, much rather performed polished work that's a good showcase: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJEYtEo7c-c
(Remember, the biggest success story in PTFU history didn't fool them: http://www.wimp.com/perhaps-the-funniest-magic-trick-ever-penn-and-teller/ )
Hey Brian why do you randomly follow people on twitter? :D
I'm very friendly.
Hey man. Long time follower. I'm actually listening to After Things right now while I'm working. I'm the dude who sent in the robot goblin stripper video you dudes talked about on a recent Weird Things.
A couple questions.
How has your growing family influenced your career choices? I remember when you always seemed to be touring, but now you seem to be doing way more stuff from home. Was this a conscious decision, or just kind of a happy coincidence?
How well do you balance work/family/fun/health? Do you feel any part of your life needs a higher percentage of attention right now? Bonnie seems like a super rad lady and a great partner in crime when it comes to your understandably less conventional career choice.
You mentioned being interested in No Man's Sky. Have you played it yet? If so, what did you think?
Any good entrepreneur book suggestions, recently read or otherwise?
Any upcoming video games you're pumped for?
Thanks dude. I'm really looking forward to adding The Modern Rogue to my YouTube queue.
Yeah, it's been a conscious decision to do more stuff from home. I pretty much only get one decade with all three girls as kids, and I don't want to miss it. It's even why we launched scamstuff.com: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvPeBn_BtCQ
If happiness was a video game, you'd have three health bars: Money, Health, and Relationships. Each of them is constantly fluctuating, so when I catch one that needs attention I switch things up. But there's definitely times my schedule puts a strain on everybody. (Not just family, but the production team and co-hosts, too)
Man, I was interested in No Man's Sky, but the release sounds like it's been a fat bag of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vupCgB8H9Og
Recently, Bold by Peter Diamandis was good. Gave me a bunch of new tools to work with. For fundamentals, read "The Richest Man in Babylon."
I'm ashamed to admit I've relapsed, and I'm back on the H... Hearthstone, man. She's a bitch.
What is your favourite video on Scam School?
This trick we made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QQGBwm5ubE
Freaking Richard Garriott (Lord British) performed it on the ISS! That means I get to tell people "Hello. I designed mind control experiments that were carried out on the International Space Station."
Put that on my tombstone, man.
What inspired you to choose doing your kind of "punk rock" magic?
Also, thanks for the follow on Twitter!
Teller wrote decades ago that when creating art, you should let hate, not love, be your driving creative force. When you create art out of love, the best you create is a pale imitation of the thing you love. Instead, make something that's the opposite of everything you hate, and you've created something totally original and wonderful.
When I was getting started in magic, I hated the sequined purple outfits. The dated music. The standard hack lines. The slow-motion process that insulted the audience. I hated that you were only supposed to feel bemusement when watching it, never pants-pissing terror.
So I made a magic show that was the opposite of all that. A magic show for people who think they hate magic shows.
I was going to post some ridiculously insider <> joke but instead I'll ask a real question. I first saw you on TWiT, so how did you and Justin (your comedy album co-conspirator) start creating comedy content?
That's the great thing about our friendship: the whole thing has played out in front of the cameras. You can see the first time we did a face-to-face interview (I think... can someone find that "talking head TV" thing we did in 2008?) and you can see the first time Justin appeared on BBLiveShow.
honestly: Justin just kept showing up and being funnier than all of us put together. At some point, it became clear I was hitching myself to his comedy star and not the other way around.
Yo Shwood, love the Scam School series on YouTube, real fun stuff. Got a few quick ones for you:
Has anyone ever "retaliated" to any of the more sinister pranks? I'd love to hear a story.
How many Arcana Token/etc. free beers have you had to buy so far?
Who would win in a fight, Cyclops versus a Green Lantern?
It's shocking to me how nice people are. Like, all of them. Even when I've been in a prank war (like with my friend CJ Johnson), there's this total BDSM cooperative play happening, where neither of us wants to cross the line with the other.
Equally shocking: how few people have claimed the free drink I owe them. They flash a coin with a smile, but then insist on buying ME a drink. Man, people are really, really good.
Most shocking of ALL: The cyclops wins. (I know. Nobody saw it coming.)
...side note: I didn't realize I had made a clever literary reference at the end. Well played, me.
What is Leo Laporte really like? You guys still beefing?
Man, I still don't know what that whole thing was about.
What is the best flourish you know?
The hurricane change. It's so touchy (even the humidity matters), but when you do it right it fools yourself: https://vine.co/v/O2pQzUlU0FI
How did it feel when Penn said you performed the trick better than Teller?
That was amazing. Penn and I aren't close, so to hear such kind things from him had me floating for weeks.
I remember hearing you on TWiT a long time ago talking about books you were reading at the time. I don't remember the books, but I remember thinking that I had similar taste. Do you have a short list of your absolute favorite books?
Patreon supporter here, btw :D
The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
Abundance by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler
Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker
Stephen King's Dark Tower Series
Patrick Rothfuss's Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles)
Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards series
(and thanks so much for the patronage, boss! <>)
SHIT! I forgot to mention "how to fly a horse" by Kevin Ashton. The best book I've ever read on the creative process: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M60RKUK/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1#nav-subnav
What's your take on the TWiT network these days and podcasting in general as a medium?
Is real hacking like it is in the movies?
Yes. Only we use more USB thumbdrives and type EVEN FASTER.
What is your view on the position that magic tricks shouldn't be revealed in public spaces (like Newspapers, TV shows, and YouTube)?
I've put a fair bit of thought into this, actually: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwQJXgQaHiM
That's how long I've been watching, been watching for a long time, shown you're videos to friends and family. Learned some good stuff over the years. Top 5 channel on Youtube since it's creation imo. Have a good one man!
thanks so much. This just made my day!
What's your long con?
If things keep progressing, I figure by the time I'm 80 I'll be owed at least one beer from most of the free world. I plan to collect all of them at once, completely destabilizing the economy. During the ensuing panic, I'll push through legislation finally putting all global currencies an ethanol-backed standard.
What inspired you to do Scam School and now Modern Rouge?
I figured I'm not very interesting, but everyone loves to know some clever tricks/hacks. I've been collecting this stuff for literal decades (Jason Murphy, too!), and love sharing it.
Hey Brian, my question is, is there any chance you will be coming over to Australia any time soon? :)
Hot damn, I want to make it to Australia. You guys are like the Texas of Planet Earth. It almost happened this year, so I'm hopeful it'll be soon.
Maybe I'm just dumb and can't find it, but is there a good way to see if/when you might be doing some sort of appearance near me? The only schedule I managed to find on your site was from 2009.
Very related: coming to Ohio anytime soon?
when I was touring 100+ days a year, I was really good about keeping that public calendar updated. Now that we're doing more on-screen production and I'm traveling less, it's tough to put time into.
Your best bet is to keep an eye on my twitter feed: @shwood
Hey Brian! Big fan of Scam School. What is your favourite trick to do if someone just says "Okay, show me some magic"?
Keep up the great work, and great domain.com ads <3
I used to keep the Hundy 500 on me. That visual transformation, making $500 of real money appear in front of their eyes was not only a visual treat, but was socially a great pattern interruption.
Unfortunately, I lost 3 full sets ($600 each): one to the desert, one to a con man, and one to a blackjack table.
As the host of shows with titles such as Scam School, Hacking the System, Modern Rogue, Cordkillers, Night Attack, and Weird Things who also sells people lock picks and bump keys, wrist-mounted flame throwers, devices to break out of police cuffs, and ways to brew beer and drink in public on ScamStuff.com is it sometimes hard to convice other parents that you're just a rightious dude?
I think I need to re-evaluate some life decisions I've made.
I hear you lived in Iceland. What was it like to live in iceland?
Norway! Stavanger, in fact.
The first half-year was torture: No shopping malls, no TV, no greasy fried chicken.
The rest was bliss: No shopping malls, no TV, and no greasy fried chicken!
heh. fine: http://shwood.com/Reddit/IMG_2068.JPG
Not right before, but close enough.
Brian, it's Ben Parr.
When are we doing another show together?! - https://twit.tv/shows/this-week-in-tech/episodes/318
oh, man! we totally should! Also: Captivology looks fascinating. Is there an audiobook of it?
What's your meaning of life?
To serve others.
Did you ever consider naming any of your kids and/or pets "Guythreep"?
Man, I've always marveled at how similar those names are.
How do you feel about how much your channel has improved?
Do you ever feel like going back to the spiky 12yo hair?
Oh, wow. I knew we were striving for improvement, but hadn't really paused to consider we'd actually done it. Can I pretty-please turn this around? What do YOU see that's changed/improved over the years?
How do you fly a horse?
oh SHIT! How did I forget this book in the above question!?? That is far and away the best book I've read on the creative process: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00M60RKUK/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1#nav-subnav
HI brian! I've been watching scam school for years, and was wondering, how do you go about choosing who to include in the video, as in, the extra spectator from the bar?
Also, when will you come back to St. Louis?
Rule 1: Whenever possible, find a girl.
Rule 2: If they maintain eye contact and interest while you describe the show, they're probably going to be good on camera.
...and that's pretty much it. We get a wide variety of people on the show, and most work out pretty well.
Also: We're talking about doing Night Attack Live in STL, and it'd be amazing to perform at this same venue where I made my New Media debut in 2008: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mStMdWLyYI4
But... anyone can make beer. You've made beer. With that legislation people would be able to make their own money!?!
Then we'll have stolen away the fed's true power and my mission will be complete!
How did you lose it to a con-man? It sounds like a great story.
It's really not. His move was simply "spend 3 years acting like a friend. Turn out to be garbage."
What's your all time favorite trick?
Big fan btw :)
EVP. Not only was it a technical marvel, but it genuinely caused actual terror. Pants-pissing, I-want-to-punch-that-guy-in-the-face, terror.
It was awesome: https://youtu.be/q4rVA9TStdY?t=6m52s
That performance was at a rowdy bar, but when we performed it at the magic castle, it was this amazing, intimate haunting thing.
Brian, Here is a Bigillion dollars... What reality TV show do you want to make?
"Pretty Princess Party," in which I delicately discuss the comings and goings of high society socialites while drinking pretend tea with my 3-year-old.
Brian, you've spent a lot of effort on branding yourself and your work. Any tips for the rest of us lazy schlubs, looking to make ourselves stand out in our industries, at interviews, etc.? :) Any books, podcasts, or basic activities would be appreciated.
There's no room for the lazy up here.
Just figure out what everyone else is too lazy to do (something like, oh, I don't know... answer every single question in an AMA all day long), and then do it.
And for Cthulhu's sake, get yourself some written goals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWsXI-XJRuA
(did you know) I got in trouble for doing the hammer/nail in the nose stunt(?)
(all comments must be question)
I did not know that, but I'd love to hear the story.
(Is how I'm answering your question. Because it's definitely a question)
I saw you on Penn and Teller's Fool Us. I felt like your trick was awesome but had sentiments of older tricks, thus not fooling them. I've seen you do some pretty awesome things. Do you think you if had a second chance, you'd be able to fool them with something?
I had and continue to have zero interest in fooling Penn and Teller. I love it as a store conceit, but I've seen good performers mess up their performances by trying to "win" the game nobody (including P&T) really cares about.
The real winners are the ones who walk away with showcases that entertain and delight :-)
Holy crap, I remember the original Scam School episode with this trick, and the website you set up to help people do the trick. Keep up the awesome work Brian, been a huge fan forever
Thanks, man! Means a lot.
I watched Scam School from the beginning and learned a lot of cool tricks (but only put a couple to use) What is your favorite trick?
I'm a big fan of yours and you seem like a cool guy to have a few beers with. If you're ever in Des Moines, IA can we grab a beer? 😬
You follow me on Twitter, so I guess you can say things are getting serious between us 😄
I'll check out your new YouTube channel!
My fave go-to is still the first we ever taught: the human chimney. I usually follow it up with a medley like this:
Started listening to Night Attack a couple of months ago. Through you I have discovered Turquoise Jeep, Ali Spagnola, and Scott Sigler. I really appreciate your content and am always looking to expand my interests so who are some of your other favorite content creators across any form of media?
Greg Grunberg might be the single best human being on the planet.
I saw you most on TWiT, and its great you've found broader success on traditional media too. How different do you find doing the shows for Nat. Geo., and how much do you think Rev3 has been changed by Discovery?
Also, when is the last time you ran a string/spaghetti through your nose?
I still do the Human Crazy Straw during stage shows! https://youtu.be/hmoMiY0zAXA?t=13s
How did your batch of the Rogue's Brew turn out?
Love your shows and my kids think Scam School is great. I'm going to have to start performing some of these tricks for them soon.
SHOCKINGLY good! I was convinced I'd never be able to brew anything, but it's really a testament to the kit and to Michael Lipton's instructions: http://www.scamstuff.com/products/the-rogues-brew-kit
so when you weren't white people rich have you ever used your powers to scam people?
oh, jeez. I'm sure I've done a million things I shouldn't feel good about, but one sticks out (and makes me feel like an old man).
When I was a senior in college and the internet was young, I blew what felt like insane money to get Hughes's satellite dish internet service. The promise was 1 megabit downstream over the satellite, and 56k on the upstream (over the modem). The latency sucked, so you'd never game on it, but that downstream was incredible.
(If you are under 30, you simply cannot understand how revolutionary these numbers were at the time.)
Anyway, this was the early days of MP3 swapping (pre-napster times), so most sharing was done in IRC channels that would trade access to FTP's.
So I made a script that kept announcing that people should "come to the MOTHERLODE! Hundreds of FULL ALBUMS! Upload a full album and get FULL LEECH ACCESS!"
With astonishment, I saw Prodigy's "Fat of the Land" download to my computer faster than any file I'd ever seen before. (had no idea what a good album I was getting, too!) Keep in mind, this is the time you'd start a download before going to bed, and hope beyond hope that the connection stayed up all night and you'd have the full album when you woke up.
This thing got THE WHOLE ALBUM in like 30 minutes! We were Prometheus. We had stolen fire.
And, of course, I gave the guy full leech access at our best upstream speed: 56k.
After typing all this out, I just realized I'm not much of a dastardly scam artist.
What's the craziest thing that you've ever done?
Talked my way out of going to jail for frolicking naked in a fountain in downtown Austin? Either that or cheated in Vegas. (though my lawyer insists that technically I wasn't the one cheating).
How many beers did you get from one scam, as in what is your record? Mine is three with the metal bending one
Man, oh, man... once and only once I went to the bar with something to prove. I told myself I'd buy one beer, and every single other one had to be bought by a stranger via one of the tricks in my book.
Bit of advice: when you're drinking with a purpose, it rarely ends well.
We told the story on the latest comedy album: https://www.amazon.com/Real-Brian-Brushwood-Born-Explicit/dp/B00QTJQEUQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1474039932&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Day+The+Real+Brian+Brushwood+Was+Born
2 questions, how scripted/set up are the Scam School episodes,
and when are we getting more drink videos on the Modern Rougue?
Scam School is as authentic as we can make it. You can tell, because sometimes the tricks don't work and the riddles don't stump people.
We also grab real people who just happen to be at the bar (though it's always awkward to walk up to people and say "hey... lemme make you famous on the internet!").
We've had a few duds that led to cut footage, but in general I find normal people do great at learning magic.
As for the mixology videos, I want to keep doing them forever. Trever is amazing, and the shoots are a blast. Our job literally becomes to laugh and drink.
I'm actually catching an AMA in its infancy? And it's by one of the coolest people on YouTube? Score.
3 questions Brian.
1) What has been your favorite episode of Modern Rogue you've filmed so far?
2) What bar has been your favorite to film at since you've been in Texas?
3) What has been your favorite product you've released in the Scam Stuff shop?
1 - I really loved testing the gas masks. It was terrifying and thrilling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffvw6EJPmEg&list=PLMviV1kG2V2g29X7Dl4SopoJnjh0UrDFu&index=28
2) Red Headed Stepchild. You'd never know it's there: https://www.google.com/search?q=floppy+disk+repair+co+austin&espv=2&biw=1378&bih=794&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi2noLhm5TPAhXHFT4KHRWkCI8Q_AUIBigB#imgrc=Vy-9KTCrGT3CkM%3A
3) The Arcana Artifact: https://www.scamstuff.com/products/the-arcana-artifact
What was it like with the Spill.com crew? I used to listen to their podcasts (and now their new stuff on DoubleToasted), and you were on some of them, but I just wanted to hear some first hand experiences hahaha...
oh, man-- we go WAAAAAAYYYYYYAYYAYAYAYYYYY back. like back to when it was "The Reel Deal" and they were shooting at Austin Cable Access. (shit. Is that really nearly 20 years ago?)
They're some of the funniest, most thoughtful and caring people I've ever known. I'm thrilled for their success, and sad it means it's harder to meet up.
Do you read all 7 Dark Tower books(some people call it quits on 3 or 4), and more importantly do you stop when Steve says to stop at the end of book 7 or do you read to the end? Also thoughts on the film?
oh, you gotta keep reading, right? Also: there are some fantastic prescriptions of which books to read in what order people have done. My number one advice is to listen to as many of the books as you can narrated by Frank Muller (RIP). They're amazing, and the defined voices of those characters for me forever.
You have provided links in almost all the answers for us lazy yet interested folks. Me like it bruh
Huge fan. Love scam school. Have you even felt bored or frustrated for a period of time with magic?
Oh, very much so. My early days in magic were fueled by this simmering frustration with magic, magicians, and our reputations in the bigger world.
It's why I wrote and received this life-changing letter to Teller: https://www.scamstuff.com/pages/the-best-letter-i-ever-received
That exchange is the best thing to happen in my career. You can pretty much trace every major decision I've made to that advice.
Hey Brian, I'm a huge fan of all your work. I'd like to know, did you learn anything by doing Hacking the System for TV, as opposed to other web-based projects?
yeah, there was a great writing team on that show. Half the material we presented was stuff Jason and I had found, and half was totally new to me.
Because production was so hectic, there were moments I'd show up on set, read the gist of the hack and say "Shut. UP. This really works?"
Charging an iPhone with a 9-volt battery was like that, and this one, too: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/hacking-the-system/videos/portable-fire/
Was just looking for the new Modern Rogue episode on the Scam School channel, congrats on it getting its own channel. Do you ever tour outside of North America? Would love to see you perform in the UK.
The UK and Australia are at the top of my list. Maybe in 2017?
I thought it was cool that you followed me since I'd been watching hacking the System. I guess it was just coincidence though?
Nope! Far from coincidence. From who you're following, the odds looked good that you would know my work, so I followed you first. (Think of it as if twitter is a party, and I'm the guy shaking hands and trying to start conversations)
Brian! I learned how to do the "Ancient Wizard Magic" card trick from your Scam School YouTube channel! It's pretty nifty :D (both the channel and the trick)
What is the weirdest experience you've had performing magic in front of a live audience?
PS - Thanks for snapping Korey Coleman out of it when Spill went under. If it weren't for your encouragement, then perhaps Double Toasted wouldn't have taken off the way it did. :)
Thanks so much for that! I'm so glad Double Toasted is killing it.
As for wacky shows, oh jeez. I had fruit thrown at my stage in West Virginia... that count? It was an audience of 900 people, and man-oh-man did they not like my show.
Did you ever get that Mister Happy Pants pony that was promised to you at that pony convention?
NO! AND I STILL WANT ONE!
First off Brian, huge fan. Scam School, behind the scam, modern rouge, it's all amazing.
Are you guys looking for help?
Any chance of you being back on Penn and Teller?