The pickpocket in last night's Brooklyn Nine-Nine is actually a master pickpocket in real life. His name is Apollo Robbins. His TED talk is really cool.

The pickpocket in last night's Brooklyn Nine-Nine is actually a master pickpocket in real life. His name is Apollo Robbins. His TED talk is really cool.

"A few years ago, at a Las Vegas convention for magicians, Penn Jillette, of the act Penn and Teller, was introduced to a soft-spoken young man named Apollo Robbins, who has a reputation as a pickpocket of almost supernatural ability. Jillette, who ranks pickpockets, he says, “a few notches below hypnotists on the show-biz totem pole,” was holding court at a table of colleagues, and he asked Robbins for a demonstration, ready to be unimpressed. Robbins demurred, claiming that he felt uncomfortable working in front of other magicians. He pointed out that, since Jillette was wearing only shorts and a sports shirt, he wouldn’t have much to work with.

“Come on,” Jillette said. “Steal something from me.”

Again, Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.

“Fuck. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.

Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen."

From the New Yorker article about him.

Pretty frustrating watching his movements closely, knowing he is going to do what he does, and still not noticing when it happens.

"He is probably best known for an encounter with Jimmy Carter’s Secret Service detail in 2001. While Carter was at dinner, Robbins struck up a conversation with several of his Secret Service men. Within a few minutes, he had emptied the agents’ pockets of pretty much everything but their guns. Robbins brandished a copy of Carter’s itinerary, and when an agent snatched it back he said, “You don’t have the authorization to see that!” When the agent felt for his badge, Robbins produced it and handed it back. Then he turned to the head of the detail and handed him his watch, his badge, and the keys to the Carter motorcade."


Thank you dude for posting this video. I didn't know he appeared on Ted. I've been watching Brain Games the last couple of months and have been absolutely impressed by him. Absolutely amazing guy.

so the whole time he was declining, he was bleeding them dry?

Touching is one of the most important parts. First of you want to make him used to the touches, so that he stops noticing them. Secondly you want to touch him as a distraction (e.g. a hard touch on the shoulder to cover a soft one on the watch). Lastly you want to constantly be moving your hands and his attention so that he never knows quite where to focus, touching is a great way of doing that.

Yeah but when I do it, people tell me I'm creepy.

It's like he touches him 10 times for every 1 thing he does...

He misdirected Jillette's attention from his belongings by suggesting a trick instead, thus leading his mind away from the notion of a pick pocketing feat. He know exactly how to rob people of their periphery.

That was a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing!

That's pretty ballsy. Might have been safer to take the guns first... :)

Here's a cool article about him too, from the New Yorker.

I get a real kick out of seeing this guy work, so it was cool spotting him in the show last night. I thought others might too.

He stole a pen from Penn.

It was part of the act. The audience member just had a quick comeback.

This sounds even more awesome...

"He is probably best known for an encounter with Jimmy Carter’s Secret Service detail in 2001. While Carter was at dinner, Robbins struck up a conversation with several of his Secret Service men. Within a few minutes, he had emptied the agents’ pockets of pretty much everything but their guns. Robbins brandished a copy of Carter’s itinerary, and when an agent snatched it back he said, “You don’t have the authorization to see that!” When the agent felt for his badge, Robbins produced it and handed it back. Then he turned to the head of the detail and handed him his watch, his badge, and the keys to the Carter motorcade."

Awesome story - sounds like Penn, and for the record if you listen to Penn's podcast - this sounds like him but loses the tone and meaning.

This is a story about Penn acknowledging Robbins' talent in the strongest possible fashion for Penn's style.

He has a soul patch, you know he's good.

You probably shouldn't be doing it to strangers with your pants down and a full-blown erection, but what do I know?

I don't know about that.

Seems like if you stole a gun while near the President you'd be more likely to be killed than taking everything else


He managed to switch all of that stuff right , when he handed the clicker away.

He was joking mate. The shrimp was supplied by Apollo Robbins.

I've been watching Brain Games

That's where I recognized him from. Thanks!

here he is having fun on the Today Show --

Jillette always comes of as kind of a douche.

dude keeps a shrimp in his pocket haha

I was the sad sap who got picked out of the audience for a magic show where almost all of these were done to me. It doesn't help that you're standing in the spotlight in a room full of people staring and laughing at/with you. Hard to keep track of a slippery guy like him.

I'm pretty sure he just took all of my money too. Yeah that's where it went

He's got the front of a shirt clipped on. He just takes it off and what he is really wearing is underneath.

He went from having a vest/purple shirt/tie to no vest, no tie and a different shirt.

... Hmmm

So he stole a pen from Penn, took the cartridge out of the pen and gave Penn back his pen before Penn even knew he would have to use his pen.

It's not a magic trick. He's demonstrating how our complete focus on one thing denies any attention to anything else, Joe should have realized that a poker chip was on his shoulder and another in Apollos hand, but he didn't.

it is when he is going back on stage and says "i dont need this clicker anymore". you can see his hands move to his chest to pull off the vest and tie which are clipped on. he is still fixing his collar as he walks back on stage

Well, everyone can see everything he's doing but not everyone can notice what he's doing.

Everybody was so misdirected that did not notice word "Anus" in the link

That's a great article. I didn't even realize that was him. Also in the article they discuss how he will tell you how he's going to swipe your wallet, in clear detail, then proceed to do it successfully. Unbelievable. Pickpocket lingo is also interesting (for example, "moll buzzer" is a purse snatcher, IIRC).

I wish all of my erections were fully blown.

this video

Reminds me of [4:36] by a Danish magician. He's teaching employees at the UN about safety and con crimes. The head of security at UN is participating. It's both fun and worth watching.

He's misdirecting your attention as he just robbed Fort Knox.

Yes, was being facetious. It is very illegal to take a gun away from a federal agent.

If you watch it without the sound (without misdirection) you can see everything he's doing.

Can I have your tots?

This mofo changed his shirt and no body saw him do it!

yea this guy seems to be working from the moment he starts talking

I have watched this video a couple times. I just now realized the reason he asked the people in the crowd those initial questions, was to pick someone who he could misdirect.

I dunno. The ones like this guy seem to be trying to make something more of it rather than just being a petty thief. I'd wager you'd make more doing sold out shows in vegas (if you can make it there) than walking around in a mall stealing stuff.

Well, he probably had to steal the pen to remove the cartridge, before placing it back

I am honestly looking through the video ten times now and I can't figure out how he changed his clothes. I know when he does it, when walking down from picking the guy out of the crowd, but I just can't figure out how. One moment I see him fiddling with his tie, the other he's wearing a different shirt completely. It goes from purple plus tie to a button up grey checkered-ish shirt and no tie.

Man that whole last couple of minutes was so confusing. I felt bamboozled.

What about the sleeves?

The shirt bit while funny did not seem realistic because shirts don't come off like that.

Before I collect the downvotes let me get some stuff clear: This is how i think he did it however i know when he did it for sure upon playback of the video.

It was when he returned to the stage. His top button was unbuttoned (and presumably most other buttons) and you can see as he walked up he was fidling with his shirt and was turned away from the cameras and audience. What he probably did was wear his shirt he was seen in at the end underneath everything. He had his waistcoat on over his tie and mostly unbuttoned shirt, the tie and waistcoat hiding evidence of 2 shirts. he opened up his waistcoat, one button at a time as he walked through the dimly lit audience to speed things along as he walked up towards the stage where he will openup the waistcoat, securing it to his jacket with velcro or magnets (or even a button) as well as his tie which could be a clip on and attached to one side of the shirt. He unbuttoned his remaining buttons of the shirt and hid it inside his jacket, something we never got to see inside of) exposing his final shirt.

He also was on several episodes of Brain Games (season two, I believe) and he was amazing. I loved watching him.

Damn he must have spent a lot of time pickpocketing people around Cyrodil to become a master pickpocket, I've only gotten to expert

How he takes the watch amazes each time.

Part of being a master pickpocket is knowing how to choose your targets, I'd think.

he unbuttoned every time he went in for the pen.

From what I remember, his father was a preacher, instilling him with a deep value of right and wrong, but he his cousins half-brothers were involved with crime.

There was a video of him talking about it on youtube, but here's what he says on his website.

My half brothers were involved with crime. But I was too young to participate. I also had certain disabilities that prevented me [from joining in]: like braces on my legs. When I became a teen, I ran into a friend at a magic shop who took me under his wing. I started reading up on magical theory and immediately blended that with what my brothers had shown me.

There's an interesting thing about pickpockets. They're a lot like spies, the really good ones go unknown.

He was also the pickpocket consultant for Parker on Leverage, and played her counterpart in an episode as well.

none of my erections get blown :(

I bet you he did want to do it and used his begging off as a form of misdirection. I'm sure he was very happy that Penn continued to hound him about it.

He's talking about human behaviour, which I'd think of as a "higher subject" but doing it in a way you might remember.

The point was more that people wouldn't notice he changed it until he mentions it.

I love how after he takes it he holds it over his head and kind of hints that he took it lol.

most likely, just something that could easily be torn off without anyone seeing. Thats why he hands the lady behind the desk his clicker(conveniently in a dark place) just basic misdirection that you wouldn't suspect.

I guess that's the point. He invites you to watch his movements closely and that's where the deception is. It's utter genius. The stand out moment is when he asks again what he's wearing and you realise he lost the tie and waistcoat but you have no clue when it actually happened. I had to skim back through the video to see where that happened.

technically it was the cartridge of a pen from Penn, but that doesn't sound as nice

Yeah. It was easy to see that. But you can't take off someone's shirt by pulling it out the back of their jacket even if it's unbuttoned. The arms need to come out first.

How does one pick up this craft? This sorta thing would be so cool to pull out at a party.

He felt for the watches to find one that was easily removable.

Very interesting. You can clearly see him demonstrate his theory of turning sensory inputs inwards for a slight second, or in his words, getting Frank to turn away from the security controls and rewind the tape, when he steals the watch.

Even though he directly mentions the watch before hand, he asks the participant "Yet you had something inside your front pocket. Do you remember what it was?". You can see the participant turn his attention inwards, and right as he does so, is when Robbins uses a single finger to slide the band of the watch to unhook it.

After that, Robbins misdirects his attention by tapping his pocket while telling him to check, giving him the opportunity to lift the watch right off the wrist.

The talent to be able to pull that off in such a short time frame is amazing.

Being a world-famous magician is much better job security than petty thefy, and probably a great deal more lucrative (unless you want to try you hand at identity theft). Why would he bother actually pickpocketing?

I haven't tried but I don't think the point is to convince you that his misdirection is flawless. He just wants to demonstrate that the power to control a person's attention is a very real and powerful skill. If you met someone with that kind of talent, it's not like you could mute them in real life and observe silently how they would swindle you.

Hell, they wouldn't warn you they were pickpocketing you either, like he does throughout this video.

Are you kidding me?. You think if a black guy came up there, same outfit, same comedic routine, same personality, that he'd get shot? (Obviously not literally shot). Every stigma or sterotype there is about black people as gangster or lower class stems from behavior, clothes, and personality.. Not skin color. The same way a white guy that's wearing a xxl shirt, a fifty cap, and huge baggy jeans, would be looked down on socially and seen as low class.

ITT: everyone is too good to be bamboozled because this is all so obvious.

This is not meant to be a magic show people. It's just a display of how to people can be misdirected. Obviously, if we were given a warning that you're dealing with a pickpocket like Robbins has done here, our guard would be much higher and we'd be more careful. (And even so, with that warning, he has been really convincing in his demonstration. I know I was fooled.)

In any case, the point of this video is to literally point out how someone's attention can be captured and used against a person. I don't imagine that people who possess his skill set go up to be people and give them a warning before they swindle them. And yes, some of you are good enough to notice that things are off in certain cases, which is good for you, but even he mentions that there are people who are more detail oriented than others, but I doubt that you'd be quick to point out such deceptions if this happened to you without warning.

Don't know why I ranted on this, it's a late post and it doesn't change anything, but I hate replies that have a tone of obnoxious superiority.

I actually don't think he comes off as a douche at all, he's basically a professional talking shop. It's not clear to me that the "Fuck. You." at the end wasn't playful, or at least begrudgingly impressed. The article certainly frames it in a negative light, but that seems to me to be a literary device to pin Apollo is an underdog, fighting the famous old-boys club of magic (which is a thing, possibly).

I saw Penn and Teller live in vegas, it was awesome. He doesn't pretend to be a magician at all, he stands back and lets Teller do his shit.

That doesn't matter. It's the fact that you don't notice until he wants you to that matters.

That still doesn't make it work. You can't pull the sleeves off via the armpits, they'd have to go off the arms first.

Yes. What blows my mind is that he actually mentioned that he couldn't get his watch off, misdirects, and takes the watch off. Maybe it's actually part of the trick to confuse the guy?

Yeah, he talked to people until he found a person that he saw "think" for the answer to one of his questions instead of just watching him like a hawk.

First of all, this guy is a master at deception and a wonder to watch.

Ryan was given a dummy pen. The pen Matt took out of the wallet was pre-prepared with the $100 bill and didn't need to be touched. All Apollo needed to do was take and pocket Ryan's pen and then take and pocket the $100 bill. The piece of $100 bill in Willie's top pocket was NOT the same piece he ripped off the bill during the bit.

When Apollo finally turns to Matt to check the wallet, Apollo had the following in his pockets: The pen from Ryan's pocket, the cartridge pre-removed from the pen in Matt's wallet, the $100 bill he ripped and took from Willie, AND the ripped off piece of that same $100 bill. The one he pulls out of Willie's pocket is the one matching the bill in the wallet.

At no point did he have the time remove the pen cartridge, roll the bill into the pen, and place it in Matt's wallet.

Although, I am certain that if he had the time, he would have done this easily.

It's just not a compliment from Penn without some profanity, and I mean that in an entirely positive sense.

Also, he was the pickpocketing coordinator, if you will, on Leverage, and he appeared in an episode of the show basically as himself as an evil counterpart to Parker.

I don't know about anyone else but that was pretty clear in the context of the story...

He stole that which allows his pen to speak, Penn's ink.