Oz knows how to thrill. Oz knows how to bring a crowd to its feet. Oz Pearlman knows that it’s going to be an unforgettable night when the renowned mentalist and host of NBC’s Oz Knows performs this Friday, August 10, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center’s annual Be Our Guest gala, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
This exclusive cocktail reception fundraiser will feature an exhilarating and mind-blowing performance by Pearlman at one of the Hamptons most secluded and beautiful estates, graciously hosted by Donna and Marvin Schwartz with event co-chairs Mary Skillern and Peg McNally-Zinberg.
Pearlman has gained international fame in recent years, following his third-place finish on America’s Got Talent in 2015 and appearances on such shows as Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The TODAY Show. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan—he scored 800 on the math section of the SAT and began college at 16—he took a position at Merrill Lynch on Wall Street, but eventually left his office job to test the waters as a full-time entertainer. Having developed a love of magic when he was 13, Pearlman has honed his craft as a mentalist and mind-reader who taps into not only the conscious mind but also the subconscious to garner shockingly accurate readings, mystifying audiences wherever he goes.
Was there a definitive moment when your career began to take off?
There were a few definitive moments that added up, so it was kind of one thing leads to another, where you get your first moment of “wow.” One of the big ones was a show that I did for the CFO of Merrill Lynch while I was still working there—I turned dollar bills into hundred dollar bills, which was more of a magic trick, and he said, ‘“We have to get you working here.” I said ‘I do work here!’ so of course he said, ‘What are you doing working here?’ and I thought to myself, what am I doing working here?
Tell us about your time on America’s Got Talent.
I was a fan of the show for a couple years before I was on it; one of my good friend’s brothers was a huge Howard Stern fan and was always telling me that I need to try out. So I tried out once and I didn’t get on, which is pretty funny because the next time I tried out I went on to the finals and took third place. The timing had to be right, and a lot of things play into that show—luck and timing, like, do they need a magician? Do they need a mentalist? I think it came down to how you establish yourself as a personality, so in a way it’s almost like a popularity contest, because it’s about people liking you but also feeling a connection with you. On America’s Got Talent they feel your story, and they get behind you in an emotional way, almost like they’re cheering on a sports team.
You’ve said that Wall Street is all about anticipating what people will do or think, and that is a lot of what your profession as a mentalist entails. Do you think you can indirectly credit your education and time with Merrill Lynch for your success as a mentalist?
There is actually nothing indirect about it. If I ever meet someone and they want to pursuit a profession in entertainment or show business, I tell them that all their skills before that work their way into entertainment. For example, there’s things I learned in school—like breaking down a goal that directly applies to the engineering things I do now—and that’s straight out of University of Michigan. I also did a ton of corporate events, and knowing the lingo and how to connect with those people, knowing their day-to-day having lived that cubicle experience, all helped me have success as a corporate entertainer—there’s no way to fake that. If I had gone straight from college to entertainment, I think there is no chance that I’d be as successful as I am now.
You now have your own show on NBC. What has that transition been like?
We filmed a pilot, and it has aired nationally now a bunch of times after Saturday Night Live, and it’s a travel show mixed with a food show mixed with The Mentalist. It will defy your expectations when you see it—it’s nothing like a magic show like a David Blaine or Chris Angel. It’s more along the lines of Guy Fieri or Anthony Bourdain; it’s much more relatable to people, and the mentalism is just the prism through which you watch it. Normally chefs will go from restaurant to restaurant and get into the food—I get into the food and the people, but I learn how they operate. It’s a mentalist point of view with a travel show.
You are a marathon and ultra-marathon runner [Editor’s Note: He’s ranked in the top 30 fastest Americans for 50-mile races], but with a new TV show, performing at corporate events and getting ready to dazzle everyone at the Be Our Guest gala, how do you have time to train?
The training was definitely easy before I had my two kids, which makes it a little more difficult to be as competitive. I still run quite a bit, but it really is a factor of time. To train at that level is a 20-plus-hour-a-week commitment, so you have to find the kind of time to run 20 miles four to five times a week. I’ve actually won the Long Island Marathon twice and came in second the third time, and I think I broke a 20-year course record one of the times. And then the Hamptons Marathon I know for a fact I’ve won three times. Long Island is a gorgeous place, and if I can go run 26 miles there, I’ll do it any time I can.
You were born in Israel in 1982 and moved to the U.S. when you were three.
I moved around to a bunch of different places, but I really grew up in Michigan. That’s where I had my formative years of middle school, high school and college. I spoke both languages, and a funny thing my parents will tell you is they taught me how to say “I love you” when I was three, so I would just tell everybody “I love you,” and it worked very well. The performer in me was in there from a very young age.
For tickets and more information on Be Our Guest: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, visit whbpac.org/event/be-our-guest.
Additional contributions by Katherine Fucigna.