Being able to fool two of the world’s most renowned illusionists is a task few magicians have been able to accomplish — it’s a feat that requires both wit and dexterity.
At just 21 years old, Kevin Li has walked away from CW’s hit reality television series “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” as the youngest Asian American to successfully hoodwink the duo with an original trick. The now-22-year-old magician will, therefore, perform in Las Vegas as a closing act in Penn and Teller’s show at the Rio Hotel & Casino in September.
“It sure is a surreal feeling to think I’m the youngest Asian American to fool these masters,” Kevin tells NextShark. “Penn & Teller are one of the hardest working magicians in the field and to even share something they haven’t seen means the world.”
This, however, was not the first time the young magician was given a chance to perform in front of the two legends. In 2017 he stepped onto the same exact stage with a mind-bending card trick, and while it wasn’t quite enough to fool Penn and Teller, it was certainly enough to leave a lasting impression.
“I had the rare opportunity to come back on the show Penn and Teller: Fool Us. They usually only have foolers return (people who have fooled them prior) in which I wasn’t one, so I was very shocked when they asked me to come back,” Kevin shared.
“The first time around I made Teller tear up which meant more than the trophy to be honest. That made me rethink how powerful magic and story-telling can be.”
While the thought of illusionists and magicians may conjure up images of top hats, simple card tricks, and perhaps some doves for the uninitiated, the word “magic” has taken on a whole new meaning in today’s day and age. Kevin has found a new approach to the craft, one that allows him to put his own spin on things while taking inspiration from modern cultures and trends.
“I want the magic I share to feel very real, thus connecting deeper with my audiences,” he continued. “We all have different goals in life but a similar one tends to be learning a new language. I thought, wouldn’t it be crazy to learn a new language instantly? So I fine-tuned this original creation that I knew Penn & Teller have never seen any kind of magic like it.”
And as we now know, he was certainly correct. Although his first appearance on the CW television series didn’t produce the result he was initially hoping for, it was his determination that eventually led him to succeed.
“The biggest take away from my first appearance is that we are all able to improve in time. I was still trying to find myself as a performer and creator, but finally understood slowly that this is, in fact, a life long process.”
Before all of this public exposure and recognition, it was actually Kevin’s grandfather in Hang Zhou, China who introduced him to the world of magic for the very first time.
“He wasn’t a magician but learned a couple of tricks when I visited him. The feeling I got after watching became the reason why I wanted to continue this art form,” he recalled. “To share true astonishment with people everywhere and bring them out of their current state of mind.”
The seemingly small act from his grandfather has transformed Kevin’s life in ways that were previously unimaginable. And since his performance, he has gone on to graduate from business school and aims to take on his magic career full time.
“This is usually the time people feel the need to figure their lives out. However, I strongly believe that this is the main time frame we can experiment with different objectives and pursue what makes us happy without major drawbacks,” he says.
However, This journey is about much more than just success or recognition for the young performer, it’s about representation and identity.
“There was no Asian American magician I was able to look up to as a kid, so I hope my journey one day will give others more confidence to pursue this field.”
Kevin’s take on the art form has brought out a side to magic that hasn’t been seen before, incorporating elements of relatable storytelling that evoke emotion as well as awe. After everything he has already achieved in his life, he has absolutely no plans to slow down.
He tells us, “I want to change the outlook of magic on social media and live shows through more personal story-telling that others can relate to. I want people to care about the magic they see and not just find it impressive how playing cards can vanish and change color.”