Arts & Culture News

Dallas Magician Zak Mirz Has Just 6 Minutes to Fool Penn and Teller on Their CW Show

Dallas magician Zak Mirz performs a card trick with a cautious Allison Hannigan in Las Vegas on the set of The CW show Penn & Teller: Fool Us that airs on Friday.
Dallas magician Zak Mirz performs a card trick with a cautious Allison Hannigan in Las Vegas on the set of The CW show Penn & Teller: Fool Us that airs on Friday. Jacob Kepler/The CW
For Dallas magician Zak Mirz, the old adage that says "a good magician never reveals their secrets" is more than just an occupational mantra. It's a rule that shapes his career and life.

"Magic was the perfect artform to run to because it was all about keeping secrets," Mirz says.

Now those secrets that helped him cope in life will face the ultimate test of modern magic. Mirz will perform an original magic trick this Friday on the CW show Penn & Teller: Fool Us, in which magicians and illusionists perform tricks for the legendary punk magic duo Penn Jillette and Teller (yes, that's his legal name).

If Mirz can prevent Jillette and Teller from unraveling the secrets behind his trick, he'll win a spot in the duo's show at The Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and an elaborate trophy where the "F" and "U" in the show's title are emphasized. Even if the Las Vegas magicians can guess how Mirz trick works, he'll still get an introduction to a national television audience.

click to enlarge Local magician Zak Mirz will perform an original trick to attempt to fool legendary magicians Penn Jillette and Teller into figuring how the trick is done on Friday's episode of Penn & Teller: Fool Us on The CW. - MATT BLUM
Local magician Zak Mirz will perform an original trick to attempt to fool legendary magicians Penn Jillette and Teller into figuring how the trick is done on Friday's episode of Penn & Teller: Fool Us on The CW.
Matt Blum
"When you have a six-minute set, every second counts on television," Mirz says. "Every joke matters. Every beat matters."

Mirz's love and fascination with magic started at a young age from a dark moment in his life. His father, Yousef, an Iranian native who came to America during the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s, was murdered when Zak was just a year old, shot outside the Fort Worth restaurant he owned, where he also married Zak's mother, Marzia. She came to America from Afghanistan, fleeing from the Soviet-Afghan War in the early '80s.

"Growing up, I was suffering and trying to find something to cope with it," Zak says. "I found magic because I was always embarrassed about the story of my dad, and I could keep it a secret."

Magic was also a way to connect with his mother and the rest of his family by watching the greats such as David Blaine perform on television specials throughout the late '90s and 2000s.

"We all thought it was real magic, and while all magic isn't real, the experience someone can have because of magic is very real," Mirz says. "It was very real to me and my family."

Mirz says he decided on his magic career while attending Grapevine High School and found a touring show that served as a makeshift magic college.

"I would always think about what I would do outside of magic and I never came up with a really good answer," Mirz says. "When I graduated [in 2010], I found this touring magic show Maze that I got to have an opportunity to tour with for the next four years outside of high school. The deal with my mom is I would do all of my college online."

The tour taught him everything he needed to know about staging illusions in a live space and helped him launch his own show. The mentorships he developed with seasoned magicians Jim Monroe and Rob Domenech taught him more than just how to find someone's card or make something levitate.

"It's one of the few art forms unfortunately where if you want to be really successful in this industry, you have to find someone to study under as a mentor in this period of time," Mirz says. "Finding that mentor and having that mentor believe in you enough and tell you not just the secrets but the real secret's in this industry — it's not just this is how the trick works but this is why the trick works."

Mirz has also been doing corporate, college and church shows as a professional musician, and he's putting together his first tour of ticketed shows at small town theaters across the state.
"There's a lot of ways to do what I do," Mirz says. "A lot of people on that show [Penn & Teller: Fool Us] aren't even magicians. They're mathematicians, physics majors, all sorts of backgrounds. They take another passion and put into their magic. What's in me, what my passions are and how can we make that into a routine where my audience cares for it, there's such a delicate balance."

Mirz doesn't want to reveal too much about the trick he has planned for Penn and Teller on Friday but an image provided by the CW shows him with a deck of cards, a knife and a nervous looking Alyson Hannigan, who hosts the show.

The basic skeleton of Penn & Teller's TV competition show may be to fool them with new, innovative magic techniques, but Mirz says it's just as important to perform for (and impress) the audience watching in the crowd and at home.

"I know that's the show's name but that's not the spirit of the show," Mirz says. "If two scientists came to talk to scientists, that would fool me. So I think for the viewer at home, all magic should be deceptive for the viewer at home. It's really a showcase for these amazing performers to go out and showcase."

Mirz's appearance also includes a brief introduction leading into his set that tells the viewers his story about how he became a magician. He says it's also important to him to mesmerize the audience with his story as much as he does with his illusions.

"My biggest goal was to share my dad's story and mom's story and help everyone come to the realization that everyone has a gift and purpose and when you put it into the world, you become someone else's here," Mirz says. "For me, that's magic." 
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.