Apollo Robbins, The World’s Most Famous Pickpocket — Pickpocketing the Secret Service, Manipulating Attention, Famous Con Artists, The Psychology of Deception, Self-Defense Techniques, The Secret Language of Thieves, and More (#699)


Illustration via 99designs

“When we lose, we’re more curious. And when we win, we’re less curious about why we’re winning.”

Apollo Robbins

Apollo Robbins (@ApolloRobbins) is often referred to as “The Gentleman Thief.” He first made national news when he pick-pocketed the Secret Service while entertaining a former U.S. President. Forbes has called Robbins “an artful manipulator of awareness,” and Wired has written that “he could steal the wallet of a man who knew he was going to have his pocket picked.” 

Robbins’ entertainment credentials include the Warner Bros. film Focus, with Will Smith and Margot Robbie, along with appearances in Brooklyn 99, and the TNT series Leverage. He was a producer and co-host for National Geographic’s Brain Games, which was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Informational Series. Robbins applies his expertise in magic and misdirection beyond entertainment, pulling back the curtain to show how the principles behind these illusions can enhance strategic thinking and decision-making. 

His contributions to attention and perception research have been published in Scientific American Mind and Nature Reviews Neuroscience. He has delivered lectures at Harvard Kennedy School, MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Society of Neuroscience. He has been profiled by The New Yorker and featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and The Wall Street Journal. Robbins’ TED Talk, “The Art of Misdirection,” is ranked in the 20 most-watched TED Talks of all time and has been hailed by the TED editors as a revelation in the flaws of human perception. 

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple PodcastsSpotifyOvercastPodcast AddictPocket CastsCastboxGoogle PodcastsAmazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform. Watch the interview on YouTube here.

Brought to you by Momentous high-quality supplements, Sundays for Dogs ultra-high-quality dog food, and AG1 all-in-one nutritional supplement.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#699: Apollo Robbins, The World’s Most Famous Pickpocket – Pickpocketing the Secret Service, Manipulating Attention, Famous Con Artists, The Psychology of Deception, Self-Defense Techniques, The Secret Language of Thieves, and More

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Want to hear another episode featuring someone who sees the world through a magic lens? Listen to my conversation with World Champion of Magic Simon Coronel in which we discussed radical earliness, the Magic Castle, gauging audience perception and finding balance before a show, ugly crying through victory, hotbeds of magical innovation, why learning magic can be so daunting for a beginner, and much more.

#679: Simon Coronel, World Champion of Magic — Quitting the Day Job, The Delights of the Magic Castle, Finding Glitches in Reality, Learning How to Use Your Own Brain, and Worshiping at the Altar of Wonder

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Connect with Apollo Robbins:

Website | Twitter


  • [07:51] Was Apollo a naturally dextrous wunderkind?
  • [10:26] The influence of Apollo’s blind minister father.
  • [14:10] Apollo’s slide toward agnosticism.
  • [17:24] Ben Stone enters the picture.
  • [21:08] Taking in orphaned animals as a youngster.
  • [23:31] An early lesson on the value of money.
  • [25:20] Bear in a box.
  • [28:19] Seeing magic as a ticket to the larger world.
  • [30:55] Shoplifting for fun, profit, and education.
  • [32:19] Equivoque magic and Jazz-based mentalism.
  • [38:09] A magic book club and a year-round Santa.
  • [44:10] Apollo’s first fateful trip to Vegas.
  • [52:14] A false accusation leads to a real job and a vampire code.
  • [55:27] Jimmy Carter and the Secret Service.
  • [1:03:44] The pros and cons of becoming legendary.
  • [1:05:39] Academic accolades.
  • [1:08:01] A sauce less secret isn’t necessarily less rich.
  • [1:09:28] Recovering when the reps get rough.
  • [1:11:12] Sheet music versus jazz.
  • [1:14:10] The introduction to — and enduring influence of — Apollo’s wife, Ava Do.
  • [1:22:27] Perception science perceived but not yet entered into the lexicon.
  • [1:26:16] The significance of Apollo’s silver ring.
  • [1:27:01] Meeting (and stealing from) Penn Jillette.
  • [1:29:10] Demonstrating the confidence of a con man.
  • [1:33:03] Hallmarks that differentiate Apollo’s style.
  • [1:40:14] Who has the advantage with arguments in the Robbins household?
  • [1:41:18] 40 Elephants in the modern world.
  • [1:42:52] Teaching kids about the cons — and pros — of deception.
  • [1:45:50] Paltering and puffery.
  • [1:49:14] Perceptual shaping and change raising.
  • [1:51:14] Slick re-thievery.
  • [1:54:01] Influential reading.
  • [1:56:38] Whiz Mob.
  • [1:59:22] How is a team of pickpockets organized?
  • [2:04:54] The pandemic of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
  • [2:08:37] Best practices to avoid becoming a target for theft.
  • [2:11:14] The Illusion of Knowledge Project.
  • [2:15:28] The Unsinkable Titanic Thompson and other noteworthy charlatans.
  • [2:19:06] Rod the Hop, Kevin Mitnick, and Whizmob Inc.
  • [2:23:11] How one word can make a difference to an impressionable child.
  • [2:26:38] Parting thoughts.


“When you can’t walk the same as everyone else, you end up watching everyone else. You become a people watcher, and there’s a lot of commonality between animals and people. You start to do a lot of what I call perspective shifting, of jumping into their head to think, ‘Why would they make that decision?’”
— Apollo Robbins

“‘Boring’ means that your imagination is broken. So you’ve got to find a way to do it, you’ve got to find something to do, and you’ve got to use your imagination better.”
— Apollo Robbins

“I found that lore can take you so fast so far, but also it can encapsulate what people think you are versus what you are. And it can be hard to underpromise and overdeliver when people have this expectation of what you can do.”
— Apollo Robbins

“When we lose, we’re more curious. And when we win, we’re less curious about why we’re winning.”
— Apollo Robbins

“Deception is a social lubricant. It happens all the time around us, from the moment we put on makeup to something else. So, whether it be a defeat for cancer by using decoy cells, there’s all these things that have a reason. But it’s about your intent, and that’s the big thing.”
— Apollo Robbins


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