Todd Robbins was profiled in the interesting documentary American
Carny: True Tales from the Circus Sideshow. He's
a performer and promoter who was trying
to keep the tradition of sideshow acts alive on Coney
Island. Todd was
entertaining and compelling in that film, so when I heard that there
was a set
of instructional videos he created on simple cons and tricks, I jumped
chance to watch it. Modern Con Man is a hit and
miss collection but the set as a whole lands firmily in the 'hit'
Made in 2007, Robbins bills himself as "America's #1
Con Man" which was probably not a bad idea at the time.
After all who wasn't intrigued by the anti-hero
con man Sawyer from Lost? Since Bernie
Maddof though, people probably find con men a little less romantic and
likely to think of them a cruel predators, but don't let the name put
off. This is actually a set of fun and
clever bar bets, rigged games, and harmless pranks that will have
laughing more than anything else.
The set contains three discs that each run between 45 and 75
minutes with the tricks and cons separated by theme.
Todd makes a point of stating some very good
rules at that beginning and end of each disc:
1) People should
practice on friends first (a very good idea)
2) If done
incorrectly for significant sums of money the novice con man runs the
getting the crap knocked out of him
3) That grifters
never die rich
So this is clearly just for fun. After
all, how many real conmen would
advertise that they are "America's
#1 Con Man" and expect to make a living after that.
The three discs are:
How to Scam Your Way to Free Beer and
Other Bar Bets:
This disc is filled with simple cons that you can do in a
bar room setting using glasses, drinks, and napkins. Between each gag
also some amusing pick up lines. Lines
like "Did you invite all these people? I
thought it was going to be just the two of us." probably wouldn't work
the girl was really drunk or desperate) but they are funny none the
Some of the tricks are quite ingenious, like the one where
you bet someone that they can't remove a $10 bill that is under an
bottle. When they try to removed it by
pulling either slowly or quickly, the top-heave bottle invariably falls. You then bet the mark that you can do it. The trick is to roll the bill slowly
one end and when you get to the bottle it slowly pushes it off the bill.
A lot of these involve plays on words or vague instructions,
and at first they are amusing but after a while viewers will start to
scam coming. One that was particularly
lame was where you bet someone that you can "tell where you got your
shoes." When they agree you look
carefully at their footwear and announce "you got your shoes on your
feet." Still, the funny and clever
tricks certainly outweigh the ones that seem a bit dumb.
Poker-Night Games and Other Card
This disc, the longest in the series, contains a wealth of
bets that you can't loose, if done properly.
A lot of them rely on mathematic principles that aren't obvious
first, while other involve a bit of trickery.
In addition to some card tricks Todd also give some tips on how
cheats. While he doesn't teach people
how to double deal or deal from the bottom of the deck, those
actually take a lot of practice, he illustrates how they work and what
Many of these bets involve games other than poker.
So you have to convince the other player to
switch games, which may be difficult. My
favorite variation that he demonstrates is a seemingly easy game for
to win, a hand of 5 card draw where each player just pulls the cards
from the deck. You'll even go first so
that they know what hand they need to beat.
What could be easier than that?? For
your hand, take out four tens and a king.
The mark will then select the best hand that they can, four aces
king kicker. But this is draw poker, so
you then discard two of the tens, and make a straight flush 9-K with
in your hand. The mark can't make a
higher flush since you've discarded the 10 that they need and it's not
play. A simple and elegant trick.
I also enjoyed the game of 'pencils' and played it with my
wife and kids. By the end they were
rolling on the floor laughing. This
incredibly simple game has one player holding a pair of pencils in one
the bet in the other. You then ask them
a series of questions and if they answer anything
but 'pencils' you can take the bet.
Explain the rules and then say "well start playing now. Are you ready?" When
they answer "yes" take the cash. Admit you
caught them off guard and bet again,
and proceed to ask them a series of easy questions to which they'll
'pencils'. Then, acting impressed, say
"you're really good, have you played this before?"
When they answer "no" take their money
again. If neither of those works, Todd
has a final sure-fire way to get the cash too.
Workplace Pranks and Other Ways to Con
This was the only disc that didn't really work. It's
the weakest disc by far. You can tell by
the gags that Todd hasn't
spent a lot of time in an office environment as a lot of the gags
really work, and most of them aren't really funny, but rather juvenile. Most of these would just get your comrades
pissed at you, and if think that you'll never be discovered, think
Some to the things that Todd suggests on this disc include
that ancient gag of super-gluing a quarter to the floor near the
machines, add appointments to a
coworkers planner, and putting Styrofoam peanuts in a bag and pass it
"Japanese candy" to see who will eat them. Does
anyone think any of that would be
Interspersed are office dares that are pretty cute
though. Dare a coworker to page himself
over the intercom without disguising his voice or to end each sentence
"mon" pronounced in a bad Jamaican accent.
Those are the funniest things on this disc.
There's also some rather dumb "office speak" definitions
that are fairly pedestrian. For
example: A 'careful thinker' is 'someone
who won't make up his mind', and 'expresses himself well' means 'speaks
English' These are jokes that Fozie Bear would pass on.
I was very surprised after the other two entertaining discs,
but this one just falls flat. Oh yeah,
to add insult to injury there's also a web address to download a
for a gag, but the page does not exist.
The stereo soundtrack wasn't anything special but since this
is an instructional video it didn't need impressive sound.
Since these were recorded in a bar,
warehouse, and other places in which the audio isn't optimized the
sound was a
bit thin and tinny in places but it wasn't too bad.
Overall it was about average for this type of
This series looks like it was recorded on a digital video
camera and so the picture wasn't a bit harsh, not warm like film. The full frame image had a fair amount of
aliasing present, but aside from that it looked fine for what it was. Like the audio, it's an average presentation.
Each disc has a text biography of Todd Robbins (but since
he's an admitted con man I wonder if it is all true) and some extra
gags and cons,
some of which appear on the other discs.
Two out of three ain't bad.
While the third segment doesn't work, the first two were very
entertaining and cleaver, and well worth the price of the whole package. People interested in cons and, bets you can't
lose, and amusing tricks should definitely seek this set out. Recommended.