Inside Magic Favorite Lance Burton just put the finishing touches on his new film, Billy Topit: Master Magician and we cannot wait to see it.
It is a comedy about a magical love affair written by Mr. Burton and the incredibly funny and talented Michael Goudeau. Mr. Goudeau performed his juggling act as a part of Mr. Burton’s long-running Las Vegas magic show and can be heard each week as part of Penn Jillette’s Penn’s Sunday School.
The plot seems straightforward and full of possibilities: Master Magician Billy Topit (inside joke for us magical types) is being pursued by unsavory organized crime members while he tries to convince his dream girl to be his assistant.
To say we love logistics would be an understatement of unwieldy proportions.
If logistics were a woman, we would flirt with it and hold our eye contact for an uncomfortably long period of time. If it were a child, we would adopt it, put it in special schools to be taught by singing nuns and far from all evil. If it were a dog, we would also adopt it and send it to special obedience schools with singing nun trainers. We really love logistics.
We have seen David Copperfield on tour in cities all over America (that makes us a fan not a stalker – the clump of his hair that we bought on eBay makes us a collector, not a stalker either. We have no innocent explanation for our ownership of a salad fork he once used, however).
The Copperfield show is always great but our favorite part is watching the load-in and load-out from and into the huge semi-tractor trailer bearing Mr. Copperfield’s face. We cannot see that much because his crew is very discreet in their moving of the big crates and rigging. Still, it holds our attention for a good hour or so.
When we were very young, we got to work for a day as a roustabout for the Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus during its performance in Vero Beach, Florida. We spent the morning helping to set up the grandstands, moving chairs, lifting things, pulling things and watching the big tent appear like magic. We admired how the bosses knew exactly what to do and in what order. We imagine they learned from experience to put all the stands and chairs into the area before they erected the tent walls; or figured out in advance to get the tent poles up and positioned within the holes before hoisting the canvas up. They were pros and they knew logistics. We were in love.
When Penn Jillette describes the behind the scenes of the Las Vegas Penn & Teller show on his weekly podcast, Penn’s Sunday School, we smile involuntarily.
This week’s podcast made us smile like a goof – as our Irish grandmother would say.
We usually listen whilst walking great distances to get our cardiovascular workout and test the range of the court-ordered anklet we wear. We used to think that people were intolerant and judgmental but now realize that the strange looks we received were likely because of our glowing goofy smile – and probably the anklet (autographed by Lindsay Lohan).
In his latest episode, Penn recounted an experience from a recent show at the Rio Resort and Casino’s Penn & Teller Theater. We won’t ruin the story for you but it has to do with a specially gimmicked jacket that resulted in him being fooled twice unbeknownst to the audience. He recounted his internal dialogue as he tried to figure out what was happening whilst he was on stage performing a different effect. An incredible story and if you love logistics, you too will smile with the best of the goofs as you listen.
As we mentioned, his podcast has adult language and themes (whatever an adult theme is) so we do not recommend it for our younger readers or those who are easily offended but for those of us with very thick skin – in our case, from the incessant rubbing of the anklet – it is a wonderful chance to hear about the preparations and logistics of a big time magic show.
A while back we gave our review of Teller and Todd Robbins disturbing but very entertaining show Play Dead then showing at The Geffen Playhouse here in Los Angeles.
The writing was fantastic and matched the outstanding performance given by Mr. Robbins. The magic was, though, was truly magical.
Today we learned through Teller’s contribution to Alan Watson’s always jam-packed with goodness Magic New Zealand newsletter that Johnny Thompson’s work to make the illusions and effects so effective has been recognized with a LA Drama Critics Circle award.
Mr. Thompson has an encyclopedic knowledge of our wonderful art and its history. According to Penn Jillette, there is no one who knows more about the subject. With his wife Pam, Mr. Thompson often performs as the hysterical and technically brilliant The Great Tomsoni & Co. Though we have seen the act many times, we still embarrass ourselves with our high-pitched, almost girl-like laughing fits each time.
For as good as he is – and we agree with Mr. Jillette that he the elite of the elites – he does not engage in the type of self-promotion and chest-thumping we see from lesser-lights in our industry. He does not even make a big deal of the fact that he is modest.
We get that “business” is an integral part of the term show-biz and that self-promotion is often the only type of promotion available to a young performer. We accept that hiding one’s light under a bushel basket is an inefficient career move and only adds to one’s carbon footprint. But it is refreshing to encounter performers who are really, really good and are not afraid to be judged solely on their work.
But Mr. Thompson could be modest, talented, lack the need to proclaim his superiority and still be a jerk. In fact, he would deserve to be a jerk if he wanted.
But Mr. Thompson is decidedly not a jerk.
He is not dismissive of magicians who are just honored to meet him at a regional magic convention – say in Toledo – and seem unable to speak in complete sentences in his presence. He does not dismiss those same magicians who encounter him, say, in Dallas at a national convention. In fact, he is the kind of person who would invite that lesser-talented magician to sit and take part in a late-hour conversation in the lobby area with professionals the gawking magician had only seen on television or read about in magic magazines.
Mr. Thompson must have off-days. He must occasionally feel it is unnecessary to cross a room to introduce himself – as if that would be necessary – to a magician/fan at a magic conference set in some bucolic Michigan magic mecca setting like the Abbott’s Get-Together. There must be times when he does not feel the need to engage in conversation with lesser magicians about their shared roots in Chicago. We have never seen him on those days and, significantly, never read of others seeing him in that way.
Congratulations to Mr. Thompson for his award and recognition from a notoriously tough group of people to please, The LA Drama Critics. We, as magicians, are fortunate to have people of his ability and demeanor in our art.
Magician Penn Jillette teased listeners across several podcast episodes of his Penn’s Sunday School. He told listeners he was learning to cook for television in connection with a cooking competition show but that was about it. He would not divulge the network, the type of competition or even whether there was big money at stake.
Penn did share, however, that cooking is to cooking on television as music is to military music.
At home, you may carefully open packages, measure quantities and cook appropriate quantities for the number of intended guests. On TV, boxes are sliced open, careful measuring is for the birds and you always cook more than enough so that you can choose the best version of the dish and toss the rest.
The press embargo has apparently been lifted and Penn was able to speak with The Las Vegas Sun columnist Robin Leach.
Penn is competing on behalf of his favorite charity Opportunity Village on the third season of the celebrity competition “Rachael vs. Guy.” He is on Team Rachel Ray with Jake Pavelka, comedy actress Judy Gold and Florence Henderson.
Penn would not disclose whether he was successful.
“You have to watch to see how far I go,” Penn told Robin Leach. “I feel pretty good, but it is top secret. One of the things I did to prepare for the show is I went around to different chefs in Las Vegas and was taught a lot about how to cook on television.
“I like the Opportunity Village project because the idea is so important. I’m hoping that it will grow even more and in other areas of the country. People who saw Opportunity Village when I competed on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ have thought about doing it in other cities.
“That was really my reason for doing Donald Trump’s show and now on Rachael Ray’s team. Besides raising money for Opportunity Village, we get to show there are other ideas for how to assist people with disabilities.
Read more about Penn’s on-going projects in Robin Leach’s full article in The Las Vegas Sunhere.
Lou Reed was not a magician but his friend and Inside Magic Favorite Penn Jillette’s moving tribute to the musician and innovator deserves mention on these august, virtual pages.
We are regular listeners to the Penn’s Sunday School weekly podcast and relish the time we spend with the taller of the magic duo Penn & Teller and his sidekick, and former juggler with Master Magician Lance Burton, Michael Goudeau. The show is rarely structured and that is just fine with us.
One of the great joys of our youth was listening to the great magicians who visited our favorite magic shops. Whether we were working or just loitering, we lived on their stories (even those repeated and embellished over time) and looked forward to learning from them. We were not anxious to demonstrate our skills or try to compete with the professionals who stopped by Paul Diamond’s Magic & Fun Wagon (later just The Magic & Fun Wagon) in the newly built Palm Beach Mall, or A & B Magic owned by our mentors Ari DiArmona and Barry Gibbs. We were content to listen and ask for more information or background.
It must be difficult for younger magicians to learn from their more seasoned elders without brick-and-mortar stores in which they can linger or act as a clerk/demonstrator/gofer. Perhaps podcasts like Penn’s Sunday School can help meet this need.
Penn’s stories about the formation of Penn & Teller (we learned this week it was originally “Penn Jillette and/or Teller”) are fascinating, riveting. On those rare occasions when Teller joins the podcast, his stories keep us spellbound. Teller, for instance, shared a story of why he practices every trick thoroughly, to the point of a full dress rehearsal. His description of his production of a previously live animal was hysterical and wonderful.
Folks who have seen Penn either on stage at The Rio, on television or in one of their many shows across the country, realize he is not restrained by conventions of good taste or polite discourse. He is honest and, at times, not appropriate for children or the easily offended. It must say something about us that we have no problem with his style, message or language.
Penn is also a profoundly sentimental person. His recent books have recounted his emotional reaction to the loss of his father, mother and sister. He comes across as sincere and for all of his bravado and bluster, he is also very human.
His tribute to Lou Reed is still available as a download from PennsSundaySchool.com and worth your time. We were never really into Lou Reed but have found a new appreciation for his music and his work thanks to the heartfelt sharing of Penn Jillette.
Teller is following up on his very successful tour of Macbeth and provided his initial thoughts on how he would present The Tempest.
He told the podcast listeners the staging will reflect influence from Harry Willard and Tom Waits.
You need to listen to the full interview; we cannot do justice to Teller’s description and ability to describe a scene.
There are few people we can listen to for longer than five minutes. Teller is someone to whom we could listen for days. Perhaps it is his obvious love for magic or the great stories he has to share or his dramatic tone.
We do not know how or why but we can say we love listening to what he has to say.
Teller suggested they may enlist the assistance of the talented dance troupe Pilobolus to portray the monster Caliban. He and Penn heaped praise a plenty on Pilobolus for a good ten minutes of the podcast. We made a mental note to learn more of these dancing people. If they are good enough for Penn & Teller, they are certainly good enough for us assembled philistines.
Simon & Schuster invited us to review Penn Jillette's newest book, God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales. We were flattered and excited to get the advance copy and read it several times over the last couple of weeks but resisted writing a review.
Our resistance was not logical. After all, we promised we would write it up and we try to stick by our word – as long as it is convenient or makes us look good. Also, we always need copy for the internet's number one web site with a domain name that includes the words "magic" and "inside" and is not about Walt Disney's properties, a NBA franchise from Orlando, or images depicting things that may be "magic" but are a bit too "inside" (some images are practically "internal" or even "interstitial") for our refined taste in exploitive media web sites featuring three-day trial subscriptions for $1.00.
Our hesitancy was more at the sub-conscious level. As many readers of Inside Magic know, we obtained an advanced degree from a prestigious seminary with a focus on scripture and patristics (study of the church fathers). The experience was grueling and in many ways more difficult than our later studies at law school. Seminary and law school shared epistemological philosophies if not content. The first year of law school challenges students to think like a lawyer. We learned to assume nothing is true without proof of sufficient strength to withstand an opponent's best challenge. We gained the ability to identify significant issues and methods to either use them to our client's advantage or blunt their impact on our client's position.
Seminary dedicated the entire first year to challenging the reasons for our faith. The professors wanted to be sure our spiritual world-view was not based on superstition or self-deception. We were being taught to think like a lawyer as well as theologians.
There is a significant drop-out rate among first years students in seminary and law school. Some leave to follow a different career path, some fail to adopt the mindset needed, and some just fail out for academic reasons. At the end of our first year in seminary, we were convinced we had been stripped of our faith. The cozy intimacy we felt with the subject and persons of Christianity was gone. Within one academic year, we were left to ponder deeply and constantly questions we thought were long resolved.
Did God exist? Assuming existence, was God anything like the entity we thought we knew? Should we care whether God exists? What is the reason for suffering and pain in the world? Was Friedrich Feuerbach right when he claimed in The Essence of Christianity that God is nothing more than man's projection of his best hopes, highest ideals personified as a transcendent being? When man prays to God he is speaking to his alter-ego?
We continued our studies and pressed on with the hope (and faith) that everything would come into balance.
And so the point? How does this have anything to do with Penn Jillette's newest book, God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales?
We think it is related to our hesitancy to write this very review.
We enjoy Penn Jillette's writing and performing on any subject – even magic or atheism. His style fits neatly into our 8-bit processor size brain and is always just the right mix of irreverence, hyperbole, out-of-the-box thinking, humor and substance. Unlike the class clown who is always "on," Penn Jillette has the courage to not be funny on every page and in the description of every event.
His cadence never seemed forced or the result of sophisticated and marketing driven editing. The reader is given a chance to meet Penn Jillette without apology or shading. The writing had us laughing out loud in our high-pitched, embarrassing, girl-like screech and within two or three pages we were in tears, unable to speak due to the lump in our throat.
When we tried to read portions of the book aloud for friends, we were often incoherent either because of our laughter or tears. Penn Jillette's recounting of his father's passing and his own battle with hospital social workers was unexpected, moving and impossible to read out loud.
So far, so good. The book is a wonderful read for magicians or lay folk. Yes, the language is a bit salty but we doubt you expected anything else. If the book was nothing more than an enjoyable grouping of stories about this incredible performer's life and passions, it would be well worth the cover price. But the book is more – at least for us.
The purpose of the book is to convince the reader that Atheism is not just valid alternative to Theism and more specifically Christianity and Judaism; it is the only explanation that holds water. To be an atheist, he writes, you don't have to be smart, brave, a martyr or a saint. You need only to say "I don't know." Of course there is "I don't know" and there is "I don't know (and don't really care)." He distinguishes the Atheist's "I don't know" from the Agnostic's in a humorous but superficial way. And that is okay. Agnosticism does not hold much sway for Penn Jillette. He essentially rejects it as a serious school of thought within the first chapter.
Atheism and Theism are significant philosophical / theological concepts that have occupied the thoughts of great thinkers over the centuries. This book adds nothing to that legacy. But we think it was never intended to advance discourse on such a lofty subject. We are guessing Atheism was forced to fit over the story collection to provide an apparently unifying theme that just happened to be a great title for a book written by someone like Penn Jillette.
Penn Jillette is a gifted and entertaining writer of things magic and otherwise. We have reviewed his written work on this unworthy magic web site in the past and we’ll have a review of his newest book, God, No! Signs You May Already be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales next week.
Mr. Jillette could probably write a pretty decent Magic for Beginners book and teach basic sleights effectively. But that’s not how he chooses to use his remarkable talent. Like his silent partner, Teller, Mr. Jillette uses magic as a device or tool to offer his unique and usually correct perspective (from our point o’ view) of the topic or issue he has chosen to explain.
His writing seems effortless and spontaneous. We would like to think that style is a result of thousands of drafts, re-writes, third-party editing, and gut-wrenching revisions.
We presume, however, his writing style reflects his true persona. We don’t have that gift. In fact, the sentence, “We don’t have that gift” took two and a half hours to craft. We began with “we not as good as he is at writing that way,” worked our way towards “he is better at writing than speaking and he is very good at speaking too,” and finally “We don’t have that same ability that he, Penn Jillette has.”
Our point? We like Penn Jillette’s writing.
In fact, we are not ashamed to say we would marry his writing if such a thing were possible. We don’t know if that makes us gay for wanting to marry the writing style of a man, but if it does, we’ll take those slings and arrows and make lemonade served in slings with arrows for stirrers. Continue reading “Penn Jillette: Card Trick as Rhetorical Tool”→
The article’s opening line is clever but belied by the real story. “Copperfield is no Penn pal,” says The New York Post‘s Gossip Column.
We are guessing it has something to do with Penn & Teller’s upcoming NBC Special. Got to stir the stink — especially during Sweeps Month.
The columnists don’t let up, though. “David Copperfield and Penn Jillette’s greatest illusion may be their supposed friendship.”
The faux controversy surrounds to Penn Jillette’s reaction to Mr. Copperfield’s plans to impregnate a girl on stage. Mr. Copperfield added, “Naturally, it will be without sex.”
Mr. Jillette snapped back “The only way Copperfield can reproduce is with a cheesy magic act.”
Before we go on we should note this controversy was less than a tempest in a teapot. There was only one paper covering it. Sure, the story was re-printed in The Las Vegas Review-Journal, but that’s about it.