8th Layer Insights 3.8.22
Ep 17 | 3.8.22

World's Greatest Con – A Conversation with Brian Brushwood


Perry Carpenter: Hi. I'm Perry Carpenter, and you're listening to "8th Layer Insights." Ever wonder why people do stupid things? It's not that they're stupid - well, most of the time, anyway. The fact is, it's often the smart ones that make the easiest marks for scams and cons or grifts or whatever. Whether it's Bernie Madoff's billion-dollar, too-good-to-be-true investment scheme or that email link that you know you shouldn't click but you just can't resist, there's a world of hurt out there just waiting for the right mark.

Perry Carpenter: So let's take a minute and talk about what makes a mark a mark. We'll start with overconfidence. This is what always does the smart guys in. They're good at one thing. Maybe they're good at a lot of things, but that doesn't mean that they're good at everything. But it sure does tend to make them think they are.

Unidentified Person #1: OK, you got this. You got the game. You got the skills. You got the math. You got the system. You've taken everybody there is to take back home. Now it's time for the big show. 

Unidentified Person #2: Yeah, baby. 

Cheryl: Good evening, sir. One thousand dollar minimum bet. Deal you in? 

Unidentified Person #1: What do we got here? Dealer's a woman. Chick across the table looks like she's on spring break. Why isn't she in Cabo with her friends from Chi Omega? And what's with this Grandpa Simpson-looking, one-foot-in-the-grave codger? I thought I was going to get some competition here. This is just too easy. 

Unidentified Person #1: Well, that's what I'm here for. Bring it. 

Cheryl: Yes, sir. 

Watts: I guess I'm in for one more hand, too. 

Cheryl: Sure thing, Mr. Watts (ph). 

Cheryl: God, sweetie, I love your act. Come in here once, maybe twice a month, and you always leave with a little more than you came in with. Never enough to draw attention to yourself. Always know when to walk away. And you always leave me a nice tip, win or lose. You must have been an absolute killer back in the day. 

Perry Carpenter: Now, let's talk about misdirection, or maybe just call it distraction, the same sleight of hand that makes an ever-so-simple three-card Monte game in Times Square impossible to beat. 

Unidentified Person #3: I'm in, too. Another drink would be nice because the cards sure aren't treating me right tonight. How's your night going? 

Unidentified Person #1: Whatever's in that glass sure isn't doing her any favors. She damn sure shouldn't be playing cards, but I don't mind taking her money. 

Cheryl: Oh, she's good. Got the red dress thing going. Making like she's sloppy drunk on what I happen to know is straight cranberry juice. 

Unidentified Person #3: (Laughter) Thank you. 

Cheryl: She's new but she knows the game. She'll either try to run play on me. Maybe she's targeting Mr. Out-Of-Town here. Better keep an eye on her. 

Perry Carpenter: And then there's attention. Whether we admit it or not, we all want it, we all need it. We crave the spotlight. Whether it's likes on an Instagram post or it's a pat on the back from the senior vice president of marketing, everybody wants validation. And a good con knows that the mark needs it. And it's that attention, that spotlight, that craving that will keep a mark in the game. 

Cheryl: You're really on a lucky streak tonight, sir. Five straight winning hands. Up for more? 

Cheryl: Got a feeling that luck isn't going to hold. You aren't leaving till you've lost whatever you came in with. Maybe more. 

Unidentified Person #1: Luck has nothing to do with it, honey. Deal me in. 

Watts: That's enough for me, Cheryl (ph). I know when I'm out of my league. But here's a little something for you. 

Cheryl: And you're walking away just enough to not draw attention from the big guys. Nice job knowing when to stop. I'm on to you, old man, and you know it. 

Cheryl: Hope to see you again soon, Mr. Watts. You get home safe now. 

Unidentified Person #1: What the hell? I started out cleaning house - five straight beautiful hands. Then it's up and down - good cards, bad cards. But I can't make it all work. I always make it work, but now this - this ditzy sorority sister and the dealer are sitting there with - what? - 22 grand of my money. 

Unidentified Person #3: (Laughter) Thank you. 

Cheryl: Another hand? 

Unidentified Person #3: Sure, why not? I'm finally getting a break. Oh, you should keep going, too, honey. I'm sure you can turn it around. You were killing it just a few hours ago. 

Unidentified Person #1: Yeah, yeah, I'm in. 

Cheryl: (Laughter) Of course you are, dear. Of course you are. Sad thing is you've probably got a wife who's going to be asking how 22 grand in change just disappeared from your home renovation account. Or was it the kid's college fund? 

Unidentified Person #1: Stick with it. The system works. It's pure math. It's just a matter of time. 

Perry Carpenter: And then there's addiction, the hook, the promise of the win, the excitement of the game, or whatever it is that brought you to the table or the day trading room or the crypto scam or the multilevel marketing meeting. It's that thing, that idea that you can't quite shake, that thing that won't let you walk away. 

Unidentified Person #1: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, deal me in. 

Unidentified Person #1: I can still turn this around. 

Unidentified Person #1: Come on. Bring it. 

Unidentified Person #1: It's going to happen for me this time. 

Unidentified Person #1: Yeah. Yeah, deal me in. 

Unidentified Person #1: I can still turn this around. 

Unidentified Person #1: Come on. Bring it. 

Cheryl: Same story every night. 

Unidentified Person #1: It's going to happen for me this time. 

Cheryl: Suits and faces change... 

Unidentified Person #1: Come on. Bring it. 

Cheryl: ...But the game is game. 

Unidentified Person #1: It's going to happen for me this time. 

Perry Carpenter: In the world of con games, there are two roles - the con artist and the mark. But this game is slippery. You might think you've got the perfect con, that you know the scam and that you've got the skill and the guts to pull it off, and you want to believe that nothing can go wrong. But you know that sinking feeling, that little twinge in your gut, that tingle of fear in the back of your mind? That may just mean that, yeah, you're the mark. And so what makes a mark a mark? And what makes a con a con? And why on Earth do we fall for it? 

Perry Carpenter: My guest today has a singular fascination with exactly these questions. His name is Brian Brushwood. He's the founder of "Scam School," the host of "Scam Nation" on Discovery Digital. He's been a guest on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," Penn and Teller's "Fool Us," and that's just a few. He's also an author and a podcaster. In fact, his latest project is a podcast called "World's Greatest Con," and I fell in love with the show within the first few minutes of Season 1, Episode 1, when he began telling the story of Operation Mincemeat. It's this World War II plot devised by the creator of James Bond with the goal of conning none other than Adolf Hitler. So on today's episode, we'll talk about human nature, the science of scams, Brian's work and much, much more. 

Perry Carpenter: Welcome to "8th Layer Insights." This podcast is a multi-disciplinary exploration into the complexities of human nature and how those complexities impact everything from why we think the things that we think to why we do the things that we do and how we can all make better decisions every day. This is "8th Layer Insights" Season 2, Episode 7. I'm Perry Carpenter. 

Perry Carpenter: Cons don't fool us because we're stupid. They fool us because we're human. In the cybersecurity world, we talk a lot about vulnerabilities and exploits. And in reality, that's exactly what con artists feed on. They target and exploit vulnerabilities. Those vulnerabilities could be in our modes of thought, the way that we process the world around us and our preconceived ideas. They could target the different processes or systems that govern a business or a social environment. As I mentioned in the intro section for this episode, my guest today is Brian Brushwood. And yeah, we're going to talk about scams and cons and magic and much more. Oh, and I've got something very special for you in the second half of the show as well. OK. Let's get to the interview. 

Brian Brushwood: Howdy. I'm Brian Brushwood. For 20 years, I toured with "The Bizarre Magic Show," went on a bunch of TV shows, got my own TV show, started "Scam School," "Scam Nation," "Hacking The System" - starting to smell a theme through all my works - and now telling the story of history's greatest deceptions in "World's Greatest Con." 

Perry Carpenter: I guess the first thing, given everything that you do and everything you're involved in, why a podcast? What made this the right time to do that? 

Brian Brushwood: Mainly because I finally have gotten old enough that I have interesting things to say. And there's that live element of spending 20 years touring colleges with "The Bizarre Magic Show," you know, eating fire and sticking nails in my eyes, doing mind reading and deception and stuff. That was all very, very valuable. But I saw where that road ends, and it ends by aging out of the market and not spending time with my kids. And so there was sort of this second epoch where we focused on video content with "Scam Nation," with the TV show "Hacking The System" on Nat Geo, with its successor, "The Modern Rogue." And that allowed me to have more flexibility, the ability to edit and so on. 

Brian Brushwood: But now we're in this phase where I love deconstructing these deep stories of our own flawed wetwear - this uncatchable mess of neurons that we exist as. And also fascinated with the parallel life I've led because I lived my life on the track of a white hat hacker of humans as a magician. And meanwhile, there's all of these stories of deception where the powerful deceive the weak, the weak take on the man, the righteous, the unrighteous. And I honestly don't think, 20 years ago, I could be taken very seriously, at the tender age of my late 20s, explaining how the world of deception works. But as I creep up on 50, I realize that this is a medium that I'm only going to get more interesting over the next 10, 20 years. And so I'm deeply, deeply excited and engaged to keep on going. 

Perry Carpenter: This lines - cons don't fool us because we're stupid; they fool us because we're human - I really want to branch off of that because one of the things that I talk about a lot is the idea of focus, you know, being able to move attention around and the way that gets used for good and for bad - and then framing. And I think, when you look at Season 1, it is all - it is that going on. It's let me focus somebody's attention over here. Let me frame a situation. Let me cause them to view the world completely differently than reality. Can you talk a little bit about when you say that line, what does that mean to you? 

Brian Brushwood: This is something that has gotten my goat in the world of magic for the longest time - is this emphasis on fooling, whether or not you got me or this superior, like, I win, you lose dynamic. It's fairly idiotic, in my opinion. For example, let's say we wanted to do a heist, and the whole point was to fool you. 

Brian Brushwood: So I spent a couple thousand dollars on prosthetics. I crash a couple cars together. I take a severed torso, lay it on the ground. I hire a bunch of actors to scream and cry. And your car comes over the hill, and then you see this terrible disaster that has just happened. When you pull over and offer to render aid, you didn't get got, you didn't do anything dumb, you didn't get fooled. You behaved as a rational actor and a humanitarian in a moment of crisis. You did, in all ways, a legitimately good thing. So that heuristic of I see cars that have crashed, I see blood, I see people screaming, activate subroutine, render aid - I refuse to engage in a paradigm where that, in any way, is a bad way for a human to act. So as a result, when somebody were to use that to manipulate someone, it's not that you're stupid, it's that you're human, and that's an important distinction. 

Perry Carpenter: Yeah, I like that you used the word heuristic there. That falls into the Daniel Kahneman-esque System 1, System 2 type of thinking. What has your study been like as far as into the research behind how we think and how we're fooled? 

Brian Brushwood: When I went to college, I went to this super exclusive - it's called the Plan II Honors Program at The University of Texas at Austin. They only take 150 or 200 students per year, and they have thousands of applicants. The first two years are highly, highly structured. They pretty much tell you what classes to take and, you know, your math class is taught by the dean of the College of Natural Sciences and so on. 

Brian Brushwood: But there's this moment where you're asked - it's one of the few undergraduate programs where in order to graduate, you have to have a senior thesis. Well, some people will write their first novel or a 200-page biography on someone. At this point, about halfway through college, I developed an interest in magic, and I thought I would maybe get away with doing a history of magic or something. 

Brian Brushwood: But when I went in to meet the dean, I got as far as saying, well, I've been studying magic - and not even realizing this was an option, the dean said, and you want to do a magic show as a creative writing thesis, what a great idea. And I was like, you got to be kidding me. So in that moment, I thought I was the one pulling a fast one on the university. But for the next two years, you take all electives, you take everything related to your thesis. So as a result, I took a history of witchcraft for an entire semester. 

Perry Carpenter: Wow. 

Brian Brushwood: I took pseudoscience and the paranormal. I took languages of science fiction, psychology, anthropology, all of these things. And it was a blast. And all the while, I was doing stage shows, and to me, it never really felt like work. So it's probably not a surprise that once I graduated, I gave the day job routine a couple years. But when I got a raise, I realized, oh, this is how you get trapped doing something you don't like for the rest of your life. So I was like, let me - give me one year, let me get this out of my system. Started touring, two years later, I was on "The Tonight Show." 

Brian Brushwood: And then - but that interest in the why magic works never went away. And there were a lot of universities that had me for the magic show and wanted to have me back, but they had already seen the magic show. So I developed a pseudoscience lecture called Scam Sasquatch and the Supernatural that covered everything from manufacturing of false memories to the importance of double-blind trials and, you know, with live experiments and debunking of frauds. And I toured with that for five or 10 years and slowly, all of that has kind of morphed into this awesome Frankenstein beast that is in "World's Greatest Con." 

Perry Carpenter: One of the things that I love about the way that you approach the storytelling aspect of the history involved in these cons is that you always find a personal anecdote, something that happened in your own life that illustrates a pain point or one of the educational points that you want to make sure to get through. In Season 1, Episode 3, you were talking about how hard it is to make a convincing corpse. And in context of the of the episode, it was to make the corpse that would end up fooling enough people to believe that the pocket litterer and all the rest of the story was convincing and then sell that up to Hitler. But in your story, you're talking specifically about a magic effect that you wanted to pull off. And I'm hoping that you can tell the story of the deer tongue. What were you trying to accomplish and what did you learn out of that whole thing? 

Brian Brushwood: Yeah, magic is a unique art in that if you're a comedian, you can get away with writing good material or being fast on your feet as an improviser. You probably don't have to think about complicated lighting and music cues or that bizarre thing that magicians have to do where we break our brains in half where the linguistic part of our brain keeps a show going linguistically, while the kinesthetic part of the brain is busy taking the hidden object but not making it look like it's hidden and on and on and on. 

Brian Brushwood: Also I knew I wanted to write my own material, so oftentimes, I would either start with a clever thing that I thought most people wouldn't know, or I would start with an effect that I wanted to create. And in this case, I wanted to follow the instructions, to the letter, of a instructional film strip and have the end beat be that I shove a skewer through my tongue and then eventually cut it off. 

Brian Brushwood: This is late '90s, so there was not very good prosthetics available at the time, and I had the show booked. I wanted to try it. So I (laughter) - there's this moment where you have the complicated mess of taking a vision that seems so clear in your mind and figuring out the nuts and bolts of how to make it work. And I think that is what separates the pioneers of an art - I don't like using that word about myself because I'm no pioneer. But people who create new routines are the people who get to get out there and try things and they see what sticks. So in my case, I was like, OK, the problem is, I don't know where to get a realistic looking tongue that's going to fool someone from 5 feet away. So then it was like, well, why don't I just get a real tongue? 

Brian Brushwood: So I went to a deer processing plant. And I said, I need deer tongues, but it's for a magic trick. And I don't even think I had gotten as far as saying word magic trick before the guy just pulled out a balisong and was just cutting out deer tongues and throwing them in a bag for me. But the problem was the shape was vaguely human, but they were all white and discolored. So now all of a sudden, I'm in uncharted waters. I have this meat that I assume is not poisonous, yet, the show in a few days. How do I get from this bag of tongue meat to a performable routine? 

Brian Brushwood: So I tried boiling one, and it turned all white and puffy, was unusable. I tried cooking one, it just looked like bad steak. Tried microwaving it, it popped and hissed. And then eventually I realized, nope, you're just going to be putting raw deer tongues in your mouth. And so I coated them in antiseptic and then, you know, and then used a little bit of red food coloring to get it to match. And I'm certain the routine looked pretty good to the folks in the back of the auditorium, but to the folks who were five feet away from me, they saw real human mutilation right in front of their eyes. And the looks of their shock and horror were absolutely candy to me. 

Unidentified Person #4: That's right, stab the skewer directly through your tongue. At this point, your audience should be very amazed and offer you an enthusiastic oooooooh. 

Perry Carpenter: At that moment, does the joy override the disgust of the thing that you're doing or do you have a sense of regret in the back of your mind as you're doing all that? 

Brian Brushwood: There was one routine that - I don't know if regret is the right word. I had confusion, because I was trying to think of an ending to this ghost routine where the effect was I played what was supposed to be a haunted videotape and when you watched it with your eyes, you saw nothing unusual. But when you watched it through your cell phone, it took advantage of a technical exploit in early camera cell phones, and it would make just this awesome, horrific, ghoulish face appear. 

Brian Brushwood: Crazy, crazy noise right now if you have a cell phone with a camera built in. 

Brian Brushwood: And that was a great magic effect, but it didn't have an ending because people were confused. They were like, do it again, I want to see it. Well, did that really just happen? Was that really as good as I thought? 

Brian Brushwood: How many people saw that face inside their cell phone? Now here's the thing, people say you cannot see that face with the naked eye. 

Brian Brushwood: The people who saw it got goosebumps; the people who didn't see it wanted to know what they missed. So finally, I realized, oh, well, here's a good ending is I say - now, here's the weird part. If you play the tape backwards, you can see it with your eyes. 

Brian Brushwood: Seen that face, you cannot unsee it. What I mean is, once you have that image burned into your mind, you will see it plain as freaking day. 

Brian Brushwood: So I start playing the tape backwards and it's creepy and the static comes in and everybody's leaning in, leaning in, leaning in. And to punch it out, I did one of those early internet style screamer videos where a scary face leaps out and yells at everyone. 

Brian Brushwood: (Screams) Did you guys see it? It's subtle. 

Brian Brushwood: And so this mosh pit of 300 people spooked, begin pushing back and kicking at each other. Within a couple of weeks, I started to get actual hate mail, which was a thing I had never gotten before. So maybe that was - where I ended up on that was, I had to begin with a very, very stern warning that what you're about to see will be the scariest magic trick you have ever seen, full stop. And then it had to end with a very long self-deprecating apology where I share stories of just what a terrible person I am and how I shouldn't have done that. 

Brian Brushwood: Last year - last year, I did six weeks at Universal Studios in Orlando, headlining a show at their Halloween Horror Nights. And we closed - we did the show five times a night and we always closed with the EVP. The first night, there's like 1,500 people in the auditorium, packed house. We get to the ghost part and this kid, this, like, 14-year-old kids come running down when I said, come down with your cell phones. He's at the front of the line, sitting right in front of me. He's got his big grin and I'm telling the ghost stories like, oh, this is awesome. And then he pulls out his phone and the ghost shows up. He's like, oh, this is the best trick ever, right? And then it gets to that part and it that goes blah and it goes pitch black. And I hear the kid right in front of me go, you suck. 


Brian Brushwood: And then once I had figured out those bookends, I was able to get away with that. 

Perry Carpenter: OK, so figuring out how to defuse this thing, that in one moment would really hack somebody off, but then another moment with the right pretalk and post-talk, you've changed the environment for them completely. 

Brian Brushwood: There's a number of times that I learned to do that in the stage show where we are creatures - if you've read Robert Cialdini's "Influence," we are creatures that love to be consistent. Once we say a thing, once we make a promise, once we sign a pledge, we're very uncomfortable not keeping it. So as a result, because my show is a blend of sideshow stunts, which includes a lot of gross-out humor, but also some cerebral stuff with the mind reading and some of the sleight of hand comedy, there's this dance where I have to keep on making it seem like it's their ideas to get weirder and weirder. 

Brian Brushwood: So I start with the fire eating routine. That's mainly presented like a lecture, a history, an illustrated history of fire eating. And then I always say, all right, guys, we've got a choice to make. We can either do some traditional magic, or we could try some freaky stuff. What's it going to be? And, of course, without fail, every single audience shouts out loud, freaky stuff. Now, at that point, they don't also get to be mad when I proceed to hammer a four-and-a-half-inch nail up my nose... 

Perry Carpenter: Nice. 

Brian Brushwood: ...Because it's like, look, dude; you literally asked for this. And then it keeps on getting weirder and weirder and weirder. 

Perry Carpenter: Yeah. So I want to talk one more thing about framing real quick, and then let's go hardcore into the "World's Greatest Con." So on the framing thing, can you talk for a little bit about how, if you take one effect and you do a pre-talk, saying, hey, I'm a sleight-of-hand magician, you're going to get one response. But then if you do another one and say, hey, you know what? I've - you know, I understand influence and tactics behind mind reading; let me try this and how the audience receives that differently or processes the things that you're doing differently. 

Brian Brushwood: Take something like psychic surgery, this purported miracle from the Philippines where somebody would reach into somebody's body, physically pull out a tumor, popular in the '70s - '60s and '70s, maybe into the '80s. The contextual presentation means everything. 


Brian Brushwood: I want you to walk around - I want you to walk around to the front of this gurney. Plant your butt right here. You're going to put your head down at this end, your feet down at the other end, which sort of happens by default. There we go. And I want you to take a deep breath and pull your shirt all the way up... 

Brian Brushwood: If you're in a theater surrounded by loved ones, laughing at a magic show - yes, you see blood. Yes, you see what looks to be a hand going inside a body. 


Brian Brushwood: Hold on. Let me get inside. There we go. 

Brian Brushwood: But we also saw that in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," right? 


Brian Brushwood: That's weird. 

Brian Brushwood: So your framework is, ooh, that's really a really wild visual, but I'm not actually in tears for this person because they're probably fine. If you are alone and scared and dying of a disease and you are surrounded with nefarious actors, all of whom are selling a narrative that, no, this is an actual supernatural miracle that you are seeing, you lack the social proofs. That social proof that reminds us that everything is OK is gone. You know, when we watch a sitcom, we love those laugh tracks because it lets us know when the jokes are. But absent that, you get this creepy, terrifying experience that you truly believe. And so nefarious actors are able to take essentially a parlor magic trick and absolutely blow people away. The - James Randi launched something called Project Alpha in the 1970s. 

Perry Carpenter: Quick note - if you want to get the full rundown on Project Alpha, check out Season 1, Episode 7 of "8th Layer Insights." That's the episode where I interview Banachek, one of the two magicians that teamed up with James Randi to put these scientists to the test to see if they could be fooled into believing that parlor tricks are actually psychic phenomena. 

Brian Brushwood: In the context of an academic study about the paranormal, it would never occur to you to ask, hey, man, is this a magic trick? And so of course they didn't. And anyone familiar with the story of Project Alpha knows how perilously close they got to publishing an actual academic paper full of falsehoods. 

Perry Carpenter: We'll be right back after the break. 

Perry Carpenter: Welcome back. So before we get to the second half of Brian's interview, I have something really special for you. I recently had the chance to team up with Mason, Jordan and Tucker from "PodCube." If you haven't heard of the "PodCube" podcast, you owe it to yourself to go check it out. It's a super highly produced sketch comedy that's amazingly funny, and it also does a lot of creative world building. The episodes are super short and bingeable and a lot of fun. I'll go ahead and put a link to the "PodCube" podcast in the show notes because I know that right after you hear this, you're immediately going to want to go and subscribe. OK, enough pre-talk. Here we go. 


Unidentified Person #5: Coming this summer to Twibi on demand, the feelgood heist movie of the year, "Large Water Number." 

Unidentified Announcer: Cons don't fool us because we're stupid. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Did you get it? Are you OK? Did you find it? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Did you find him? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) I got it. Man, the metaverse is a weird place. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Yeah. What's - why? Does it smell weird or something? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) His whole house is in there - security systems, everything. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) His whole house? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) He thinks he's untouchable in his metaverse. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) This is kind of off-topic, but did you find any barbecue sauce in there? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) What? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Did you find any Sweet Baby Ray's in the house? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) No. What are you talking about? No. Why do you look disappointed? I got the map. I know the whole place. What? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) We just thought there'd be - you were in there for a long time, and we thought you'd probably find at least one thing of Sweet Baby Ray's. 

Unidentified Announcer: They fool us because we're human. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) What are you going to do with your share? It's a lot of money. What about you, Charlie? 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Man, I'm so excited. Once they take the taxes out, I'm probably going to buy, like, a bunch of new samurai swords. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Tyler) Once they take the taxes out? 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Probably a full - yeah. Well, because, you know, income - you got to pay taxes. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Yeah. But, Charlie, you're not going to file this, right? 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) It's over $600. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Yeah. Charlie... 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) We're stealing teeth and selling them. This is illegal. You don't - you're... 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I just thought - I figured this one crime is bad enough. We might as well not - you know? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) The $600 thing isn't even true. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) It's not? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) No. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I paid taxes on my birthday cards. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Why? You did what? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Why did you pay taxes on your birthday cards? 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I could have had a whole nother set of samurai swords. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Well, Tyler, what are you going to do with yours? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) I don't know. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) You don't have to be sad about it. What are you going to do? 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I mean, you're going to have so much extra 'cause we're not paying taxes on it. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) I mean, if I'm honest, a lot of it's going to go to my mom. You know, things have been rough. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Oh, is your mom poor? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Charlie. 

Unidentified Announcer: "Large Water Number." 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) So we get the tour. We get a free T-shirt. Do we get a free hat? We saw online, and we said that you get a free hat. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) You give me 300 bucks; you get anything you want. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Oh, anything we want. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Anything we want. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Just about anything. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Three hundred bucks, hover in one spot for a little while? 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Yeah, I was over at Tom Cruise's house the other day. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) That's crazy. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) You know what? He's got a helicopter, too. We were both hovering over his house. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Well, he hasn't been working a lot recently, so I could imagine that he's been doing - yeah. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Yeah, something like that. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) I think we can do $300. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Yeah, I think we could swing 300. I mean, Zuckerberg doesn't live that far away, so we could... 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Wait - Zuckerberg. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Yeah. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) We're trying to get to the Zuckerberg house... 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) For, like, at least 20 minutes. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) That's restricted airspace. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) How's this - 200 bucks from each of us, 10 minutes and a free hat - one free hat. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) I'll get you as close as I can get you. If there's ninjas, I'm out. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I'll take care of the ninjas. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) You have a samurai vibe about you. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) You know, we've been telling him that for a very long time. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) You should see my apartment. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Teeth. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I don't know, guys. I don't know. I don't know, guys. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) You're OK. You're fine. You're fine. You're fine. You're fine. You're fine. You're fine. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Yeah. Hey. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Yeah, but, like, owns Facebook. He knows everything about me. Like, what if he finds out that it was us? And what if he knows who I am and where I live? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Listen. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) He knows where I live. He always knows... 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Listen. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Oh, my God. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) We need you in this. We can't do this without you, Charlie. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) See; I don't - I don't really know if you do need me, though. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) No, we do, Charlie. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Do you really need me? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) You spent the entire summer doing parkour, Charlie. Don't let that go to waste. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) It was a really awesome summer. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Yeah, and your no-handed cartwheels are looking really good. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Yeah. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) But am I even going to be able to do no-handed cartwheel when I get in there? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Yeah, I bet, probably. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Charlie. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) What if I can't do it? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) We don't get the baby teeth; we don't make a million bucks. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Oh, we need the baby teeth. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) We need the baby teeth. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) We need the baby teeth. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Oh, we need - Charlie, it's easy. We get in. We know exactly where to go. We pass the Baby Ray's room. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) OK. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) We grab the baby teeth, and we split. It's easy. He's not even going to be there more than likely. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Yeah. Listen, Charlie. This is about the future. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) The future. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) And you know what we're going to do when we each get our cut? 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) What? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) I'm buying us all tickets to Madame Tussauds in Orlando, Fla., and we're going to go see that adult sculpture of Mark Zuckerberg with his real baby teeth in. We're going to see it, and we're going to know that we did that. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Do you promise? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) I promise, Charlie. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Well, really quick, I bet you they'll probably comp us tickets. 

Unidentified Announcer: The world's greatest con. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Zuckerberg place straight ahead. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) All right, guys - backpacks. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Check. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Yeah. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I got the rope. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) OK. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I got the hooks. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) I got the laser pointers. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Why did you bring laser pointers? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) You said I could pack my own bag. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I said he probably has laser - oh, my gosh. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) No, you said he could pack his own bag. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Yeah. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I didn't - OK, whatever. That's fine. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Here, Charlie. Take yours. Tyler, take yours - matching jean shorts. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Thank you. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) You guys. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Yeah? 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) This could be the world's greatest con. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Hey, guys. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Huh (ph)? 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) I got about two-and-a-half minutes' worth of gas. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) What? 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Yeah, the little light came on. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) All right, guys. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Let's do this. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Now or never. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Where'd you go? Did you jump? I didn't see chutes, idiots. 

Unidentified Announcer: Mark Zuckerberg. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Come in, Charlie. Come in, Bill. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Go for Bill. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Charlie's here. Where are you guys at? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) I'm in the Sweet Baby Ray room or what looks to be a mini museum. Charlie, what's your status? Where are you, Charlie? Check in. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Well, OK, I have been stuck in this little room. There's a cat. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Are you in imminent danger? Over. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I mean, it's a big cat, so I might have to use my no-handed cartwheel. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Well, you do what you got to do. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Oh, my God. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) What's happening? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Bill, status report? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) There's a whole baby Mark Zuckerberg in here. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Is it real? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) I don't think so. It looks like wax, but it's wet, and it doesn't smell good. I'm going to have to, like, pull the teeth out one by one and replace them with the dummy teeth. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) But you said it didn't smell good, though? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) No, it doesn't smell good. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Did you smell the mouth? 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) No, I didn't smell the mouth. Why would I smell the mouth? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Well, I don't - you're pulling teeth out. I don't understand. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) I mean, I guess I can kind of smell, like, the ambient smell of the mouth. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) Like, is it... 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) It smells like barbecue sauce. Is that what you want to know? I'm working - it smells like sweet Hawaiian. OK? 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) It does smell like sweet Hawaiian. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Do you know how many baby teeth a baby has? It's a lot more than you'd - oh, no. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) What? Hey; what's happening down there - status check? 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Just so you know, the laser pointer is working on the cat. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) I think I just triggered something. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Oh, my God. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Oh, no. I'm... 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Guys, is anybody else's room filling up with - wait. 

Unidentified Person #6: (As Tyler) I think we're - this is some sort of a trap. 

Unidentified Person #7: (As Bill) Oh, my God. It's Sweet Baby Ray's. 

Unidentified Announcer: Betrayal. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Looks like you made it. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Let's get out of here. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) What about the other two? 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Neck-deep in Baby Ray's. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Excellent. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) Yeah. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) You got my sweet baby Zucker teeth? 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) I got your teeth. You got my briefcase? 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Yeah. Here's the cash. 

Unidentified Person #5: (As Charlie) All right, let's get out of here. 

Unidentified Person #8: (As character) Let me just see if these fit first. Yeah, I'm going to run my tongue across them. Perfect - pleasure doing business with you. 

Unidentified Announcer: "Large Water Number." 

Unidentified Person #1: Coming this summer to Twibi on demand, a wholly owned subsidiary of "PodCube." 

Unidentified Announcer: Zucker up, Buttercup. 

Perry Carpenter: And, again, thanks so much to Mason, Jordan and Tucker over at "PodCube" for the amazing work that you did putting that together. I really appreciate it. OK, and now for the second half of my interview with Brian Brushwood. 

Perry Carpenter: So if you could, I'd love to hear about the backstory behind "World's Greatest Con." What made you decide to kick this off? What is the inciting incident? And then really, how'd you arrive at the subject matter for Season 1 versus the subject matter that you're tackling in Season 2? 

Brian Brushwood: "World's Greatest Con" only happened because my friend Justin called me up and said, hey; if you could have a well-produced, richly told story on anything you want, what would it be? I'd be like, oh, I want to talk about the world's greatest cons. And he said, well, what is the world's greatest con? No hesitation, straight from the gut, it's like, oh, it's got to be Operation Mincemeat. He's like, great, what's that? And I explained the concept of Allied forces - how the creator of James Bond had an idea that got filed away for years in a filing cabinet until it was discovered by Montagu and Cholmondeley and used to deceive Hitler by this incredible cadre of folks and layers upon layers of secrecy to basically get Hitler to protect the wrong coast and, by all accounts, seems to be an incredible success. 

Brian Brushwood: We took that story and broke it into four chapters, each one focusing on a different aspect. Like, where do these ideas come from? The first one is about how you can't con an honest John. You need somebody to deceive themselves - all the effort into the first impression, is the way we put it. That's the tool of the con man - is the asymmetry of time. They get to prepare a lot more than the mark. 

Brian Brushwood: Second chapter, we talk about how do you build the story? How perfect is too perfect, enough to set off alarm bells? 

Brian Brushwood: Then the third chapter, we talk about that visceral reality. Now you're at the point where, well, this story looked good on paper. Now I guess we have to take this dead body and put it into actual uniform and then make this happen and physically get it to the right place. 

Brian Brushwood: And then there's that moment of surrender, where the job of the con man is over. They've done everything they can do, and all they could do is hope that they've crafted it well enough for the mark to convince themselves. 

Brian Brushwood: Now, if the con man has the advantage of an asymmetry of time, energy and effort, the mark has the advantage of that gut feeling. Gavin de Becker, in his book "The Gift of Fear," talks about how, as humans, we don't have tough scales, we don't have thick hides, we don't have claws, we're not especially fast. What we have is one thing - a supremely, finely honed sense of intuition, the ability to walk into a gully and just feel like something's not right because at an unconscious level, we notice that this bush and that bush both seem to move at the same time. And when the mark trusts their gut, they walk away. But when the narrative is so strong it overpowers that, that's when the con man wins. 

Brian Brushwood: And so story one, Season 1, ends with Hitler looking at this report on his desk, saying, man, this is in every way what I want to hear. And he thinks - you know, presumably. I wasn't there. But you have to imagine he thinks, well, I suppose they could've taken a dead body, filled it with a bunch of lies, dropped it off the coast of Spain, hope that it would float over to Huelva, that it would just happen to land in the hands of a coroner who's a Nazi sympathizer, who would take copies of this and get it to me, dot, dot, dot. But that would be stupid. So I'm going to just believe that this is all real. 

Brian Brushwood: So that's the part that blows me away when it comes to magic, is any time somebody asks me how so-and-so did a trick, I always ask, well, how would you do it if you had to do it in two hours on camera? Whatever they say next is almost always the exact right answer, followed by the words, but that'd be stupid. And so, yes, the answer is magicians do a lot of insane, stupid work for one moment that is hopefully ignored. 

Perry Carpenter: Yeah. And then when you get into the opening story for Season 2, you talk about the power that a stage hypnotist has, really, just to keep people engaged because they're so wanting to be in the spotlight. You mention highly produced before. I would say, when you get to an example of great production, it has to be that piano scoring of the Britney Spears song under your narration. And then all of a sudden, everything just makes sense. 

Brian Brushwood: That's a Justin move. A good magic trick sits there right in front of your face before you figure out what's going on. 


Brian Brushwood: The age of 18, a freshman at college, you've probably never experienced anything like this before. All you know is that it feels awesome. And when this dude tells you something to do, you do it, everybody claps and you feel great. And then 40 minutes into the performance, he says to you out loud, you are Britney Spears. And you have a choice because the hypnotist didn't lie. You do have free will. You could do anything you want at any moment. But you also know that of any two options, you want the one that's less painful. And in that moment, it would be more painful to stop the show, to say this has been a wild ride, but I'm afraid I'm outside of my comfort zone; I'm just going to head on down back to my seat. What's less painful is that you are Britney Spears. 


Britney Spears: (Singing) Hit me, baby, one more time. 

Brian Brushwood: For Season 2, I mean, what do you do when you want to follow up an act where the whole world pulls a con on Hitler? So I wanted to go the opposite direction, and I told him I would love to do a bunch of small tales that involve TV game shows. And that's a very counterintuitive move because we're going from the biggest, most epic thing to very, very small, petty things where, you know, we're talking about maybe tens of thousands of dollars of fraud. But to me, it was important because the story is the same. Whether it's on a street corner with a hustle or whether it's on the global stage with counterintelligence and deception, it's the same story. And I kind of wanted to prove it. 

Brian Brushwood: And I think we've done it because we - this anthology of five different tales of deception from within the world of game shows, if people enjoy it as much as they do Season 1, which so far, the feedback has been phenomenal, then that really frees us up to go anywhere and tell any story of the human condition. You'll notice that about 50% of the content is the story itself, 25% is contextualized through my 30-plus years of doing this for a while, and 25% of it is this learning segment - these teachable moments about fundamental flaws that get taken advantage of. 

Perry Carpenter: That's really interesting that you break it down that way. Are you that intentional, where you're saying this is the recipe for an episode of - I'm going to make sure this part's here, this part's here, and then we have to have a learning moment? 

Brian Brushwood: Well, there are some artists who prefer the blank page. They have it all in their head, and they just want to put it all down. I'm not one of those folks. I need a lump of clay or granite to start carving and to sort of see it. And what do they say? You chip away everything that's not the figure of Mercury and you're left with the statue. And our process is so iterative, where we have a general idea, we start with what we think of as the garbage script, which we force ourselves to read and produce, and then we both hate-listen to it, and we carve out all the bits that are wrong until what we're left with is something that we don't hate and it turns out is actually quite good. 

Perry Carpenter: Oh, yeah. Can you go into a little bit about the creative process a little bit more because I think that another segment of my audience specifically is people trying to teach technical concepts to large groups of folks - so people trying to take a cybersecurity related concept and then say, you know, how do I do this in a way that's interesting? And you're essentially doing the same thing just with a different frame. 

Brian Brushwood: The biggest mistake I see in creatives of all stripes, whether it's a podcast, whether it's a live presentation, whether it's a product, whether it's a book, whether it's a piece of art is people begin with thinking, what do I have to give? Nobody cares what you have to give. What you need to do is think of what does the world want and then figure out how you're going to give it. For example, nobody wants to see the Brian Brushwood stage magic show. However, a lot of colleges need somebody that will entertain this crowd for an hour, hour and a half at freshman orientation. So what do they really need? What they need is something that captures imagination, that won't be boring, that won't let people escape. They also need it to be an event that will be memorable, that people will share, like, oh, you're that guy who went on stage that time. 

Brian Brushwood: So you begin with - the more you figure out what you must supply, the more obvious it becomes to connect the dots and provide what it is. I think of it as when you make a good podcast, you recognize an unmet need in the universe. For example, all the way back to "Scam School," I realized there was plenty of tutorials for magic up on YouTube. They all involved a pair of hands. Oftentimes, people wouldn't even speak. There'd be just subtitles. They were shoddily shot on webcams. So one thing I did not find was anybody taking a high-def, television-level production, actually going to real bars and doing the hard thing of teaching real non-magicians how to do magic. And you know you found your niche when you're able to say, who is my competition for this, and the answer is nobody. And that's what you want to drill down in. 

Perry Carpenter: With the podcast then, what is your target audience then? So what need are you trying to fill? Because there is this interesting, you know, place that you find yourself in where you are telling a different story than lots of folks. But on the page, it could look or feel the same if somebody says, hey, I'm talking about cons and true crime and Brian's talking about cons and true crime. What's your differentiating value prop, I guess, if I'm going to use that marketing phrase? 

Brian Brushwood: A good story, a good brand, a good anything pretends to be one thing, but is actually something else. For the first three years of "Scam School," I never said the M-word. I never said magic anywhere near it. We framed it as the only show dedicated to social engineering at the bar and on the street. Because if I were to say, hey, who here wants to learn a magic trick? Draw a circle of how many people out of a thousand. Now I ask a different question. Who wants to be the awesome raconteur who never pays for his drink, the most interesting person in the room? Now we're drawing a much bigger circle. And yet, the technique is the same. Learn some magic tricks. "Scam School" pretends to be about, you know, being the raconteur at the bar. It actually is fundamentals of magic. Likewise, "The Modern Rogue" - our stated quest is that Jason Murphy and I are on a quest to become Houdini, James Bond and MacGyver all rolled into one. What are all the skills and trades that we would need to know? 

Brian Brushwood: Han Solo. 

Jason Murphy: MacGyver. 

Brian Brushwood: Indiana Jones. 

Jason Murphy: Evel Knievel. 

Brian Brushwood: James Bond. 

Jason Murphy: The A-Team. 

Brian Brushwood: All right, now you just ruined it. 

Jason Murphy: Yeah (laughter). 

Brian Brushwood: Dude, when we were kids growing up, we had these paragons of absolute badassness (ph), the ultimate modern rogue. 

Jason Murphy: We can be those guys, Brian. 

Brian Brushwood: I mean, not immediately. 

Jason Murphy: I want to be... 

Brian Brushwood: Now, what it really is that we will never admit in public is two doughy manchildren, middle-aged guys who are trying to figure out all the stuff their dad should have taught them years ago. And it's hilarious and fun and funny. We go out of our comfort zone. It's a little bit like "MythBusters" with two idiots who don't know what they're doing. But we would never position it that way. That would be a more accurate title - two goofy idiots keep injuring themselves would be the most accurate name, but that's not what we call it. We call it "The Modern Rogue." And likewise, if we were to call it - I don't know - ways you could be deceived as told by history. That would also be an accurate representation. But like any other good brand, we use the words world's greatest con, which turns out to be great SEO. Type it in anywhere... 

Perry Carpenter: Oh, yeah. 

Brian Brushwood: ...And we're the first thing to pop up. Second of all, I love the fact - the convenience is not lost on me that con both means a confidence game, a deception and a person who has been convicted. So we have a lot of flexibility to tell these stories. 

Perry Carpenter: Nice. Nice. OK. So two other things that I want to hit on before we're done. One is you talked about the iterative process and the fact that, you know, you're kind of hate-watching things and probably doing retakes and all that. The one thing that I really noticed and what kept me listening outside of the subject matter being super interesting, was the passion that you brought to the table in the recording. It's so different than the way that most people record podcasts, where they're just kind of dryly narrating. You can really feel your energy. How much of that is - I hate to ask it this way, but how much of that is genuine and how much of that is performance? 

Brian Brushwood: I am very, very proud to report that, at this point, even I can't tell. 


Brian Brushwood: This is really a story about fooling Hitler, right? What if I told you that the man who's going to fool Hitler is none other than... 


Daniel Craig: (As James Bond) The name's Bond... 

Brian Brushwood: Right? 


Daniel Craig: (As James Bond) ...James Bond. 

Brian Brushwood: James freaking Bond is going to defeat Hitler. That's what's going to happen in this story. I mean, technically... 

Brian Brushwood: We start with the very first rough script. And I start to read it to the best of my ability, but then I'll get annoyed or distracted. And I'll meander off into, you know what I should do? I should tell this story. And then I'll just tell this story. And Justin is just a masterful - if the Brian Brushwood is a musical instrument, he is the master of playing it because he knows when to let me chase a thread. And maybe it goes somewhere, maybe it doesn't, but it all gets recorded. And then we figure out, oh, wait. That is a good story, and that does illustrate this point. Maybe we just massage this so we can put it in to show this point. 

Brian Brushwood: For example, in the very first script, I thought that Justin put the speaker scam in there because he knew that I had fallen for it. And he did it and I started reading the script, I was like, can I just talk about this, when it happened to me? And Justin was like, sure. And so all of that just came out. And likewise, in the second episode of Season 1, there's a moment you can hear in my voice that the opening of Episode 2 is a different take from the rest of it, because what happened was, I was walking around the back acreage of our studio property, chatting with Justin about how my brother had recently passed away two or three months ago. And I was left with all of his digital artifacts. And I'm poking around, trying to get answers that are never going to be there. And the parallels between the fact that my brother worked in the video game industry, the fact that the Twenty Committee is essentially designing a video game for the Nazis to play, the fact that I'm literally sifting through the pocket litter of not the physical corpse of my brother, but the digital corpse of my brother. 

Perry Carpenter: Yeah. 

Brian Brushwood: There is some moment I was talking this through with Justin and he cut me off and said, hey, would you do me a favor? Stop talking. Go inside. Turn on Skype, hit record and just go. And that's why that take feels so honest is because it's one part that is 100% raw, both the emotions and the delivery. And we've never - I mean, you can't change it. When that kind of cutting open a vein and bleeding on the page happens, there's no backsies. 

Perry Carpenter: Yeah. I actually remember the exact moment when I heard that, because I was - I think it was around Christmas time, probably, and I was walking through Walmart trying to get something done. And it's like, all of a sudden, the tone of everything changed. Because I was listening to things, you know, in binge mode, and I was like, man, that is so, so powerful. And the fact that you left that on there is amazing, because it led, you know, into the story so well and it was extremely vulnerable. 


Brian Brushwood: But as I record this, a few months ago, my brother passed away. And it's messy. It's not like he was just hit by a car crossing the street. There were health concerns. He was battling addiction. And as somebody who loves him deeply, I want answers. I will always want answers. So I took his computer, his monitors. I put together in my office this forensic... 

Brian Brushwood: I'm really glad to hear that that landed because, you know, I don't get to be there for everybody's consumption experience. All I can do is hope that, you know, being as raw and honest as possible is engaging and lands. And likewise, there are other moments. I - you'll notice a thread that when I do talk about my personal experiences, I very rarely paint myself in a positive light. Mainly, it's about me learning lessons the hard way. And there's more of that in Season 2, for sure (laughter). 

Perry Carpenter: Oh, great. That whole self-deprecation piece of this, is that something that you taught yourself to do so that you're not competing with another alpha in the room? 

Brian Brushwood: That implies that I would be smart enough to begin with the ending in mind. Instead, it's something organically that happens over time, where it's like there have been times I've tried to kick in the door and alpha male my way around. And certainly when I'm on stage, that's part of the job is you've got to be - somebody has to be in charge of the show. 

Perry Carpenter: Yeah. 

Brian Brushwood: And you can turn and make fun of yourself. You know, Conan O'Brien is a master of this, but he's in charge the entire time. But in social situations, I found that pushing gets you very - what do they say? Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still. And if what you truly want is to engage with people, what I think is important is to offer a gift. When I was performing on the street, I knew for a fact that I had an award-winning magic show. At least half of the 20-minute routine I was going to do had won statewide magic awards, so I knew I had a good story. What I needed was an audience to get started. So I would try to gather people around saying, hey, man, we're about to have a magic show - award-winning magic show. It's going to be amazing. Gather round, gather round. Eyeballs walking up and down the street - nobody would stop. Nobody would even look me in the eye. And it was something very hard to gather even a nucleus of a crowd. 

Brian Brushwood: Meanwhile, on the other side of the country was a street magician named David Groves, who just sat there with a deck of cards and a bunny rabbit sitting inside a hat, and he would just wait. And now for all those eyeballs going up and down the street, that bunny rabbit was a self-contained gift. It was a self-contained unit of story - fluffy bunny thing. And then sooner or later, somebody would self-select and say, hey, can I pet the bunny? And he'd say, yeah, of course, of course. So now the story has changed - fluffy bunny that I am touching. 

Brian Brushwood: But now he gets to say, well, you know the rules, though. No, what's the rule? You pet the bunny, you got to pick a card. What are you going to do, say no? They've been seduced. They've already given - we - back to Cialdini, they accepted the gift. They asked to pet the bunny. It would feel too inhuman to just say no thanks and then walk off. So instead, now the picture changes. All those eyeballs going up and down the street - the new story is person is doing card trick, and maybe they slow down a little bit because they want to know what's going on, at which point they've now engaged a little bit. He's able to say, hey, you're going to want to gather in real close. She's picking a card. I haven't seen it yet. Go ahead and show them. Now they're in it. It would be very weird to say, cool, seven of spades, bye, and walk off. 

Brian Brushwood: So now the story has changed for even more eyeballs. Now it's a cluster of people. There's a performance happening. It's like a gravity well that gets heavier and heavier until, finally, you've provided so much value that the new story is, I stopped on a street corner. I saw an amazing 20 minutes of magic. Then comes the final ask, where he passes the hat. And now that's something that you are desperate to give him $5 for because he's already given you the gift. He's already provided you the value. 

Brian Brushwood: So likewise, you'll notice that a lot of YouTube videos - in the first 10 seconds, they give you something, whether it's - if there's going to be an explosion anywhere in the video, they give it to you right away upfront because that's the gift that says, just give me a few more seconds. I promise it's going to be worth it. And you'll notice in the structure of these vignettes that I tell at the beginning of each of the episodes of "World's Greatest Con." In this case, like, you've only heard the teaser to one episode of Season 2 at this point. And even if that's all you ever heard, it was a self-contained unit of knowledge and a pretty good explanation of how people feel obligated to keep going along once they get too deep. 

Perry Carpenter: OK. Last question for me, then. Is there anything I should have asked that you wish I asked that I didn't ask? 

Brian Brushwood: No, you did great, actually. And this is a case of you're inviting me to push, but I much more enjoy being pulled, and I think you did a great job. 

Perry Carpenter: Awesome. Awesome. 

Perry Carpenter: Well, that's the end of today's show. I hope that you enjoyed this conversation with Brian Brushwood as we touched on all things related to cons and magic and career and creativity and a lot more. One of the cool perks I got from interviewing Brian is that he gave me an early listen to all five episodes of "World's Greatest Con" Season 2. So if you're wondering if it's possible to top a season focusing on conning Adolf Hitler, I can tell you that Brian and Justin pulled it off. It's completely riveting. So be sure to check it out. 

Perry Carpenter: And with that, thanks so much for listening. And thanks to Brian Brushwood and his team for getting the interview set up and sharing so much great information with us. Thanks again to the folks over at the "PodCube" podcast for creating the Large Water Number skit for this episode. It was amazing working with you. Thank you. As usual, you can check the show notes for all the relevant links and references for the topics that we covered today, including the books that we mentioned and the clips that you heard being played throughout this episode. 

Perry Carpenter: You can also check the production credits for the names of all the folks who lent their voices to make today's episode possible. If you've been enjoying "8th Layer Insights" and you want to know how to help make the show successful, I've got an easy task for you. Just tell a friend to listen. That would be an amazing help for me as I continue to build the "8th Layer Insights" audience and community. So if you would, recommend the show to at least one other person this week. And, of course, if you haven't yet, please go ahead and subscribe or follow wherever you like to get your podcasts. If you want to connect with me, feel free to do so. You'll find my contact information at the very bottom of the show notes for this episode. 

Perry Carpenter: This show was written, recorded, sound designed and edited by me, Perry Carpenter. Additional writing help for this episode came from Terry Hicks. Artwork for "8th Layer Insights" is designed by Chris Machowski at ransomwear.net - that's W-E-A-R - and Mia Rune at miarune.com. The "Eighth Layer Insights" theme song was composed and performed by Marcus Moscat. Until next time, I'm Perry Carpenter signing off.