We were thinking about the television show “Fool Us,” starring Penn & Teller. It is a great show and has taken off with magician and non-magician viewers alike. But we continued our thought.
Isn’t Fool Us the last thing we want to do as magicians?
We eschew two types of tricks: ones that make the audience volunteer look foolish; the brunt of a gotcha trick. You know the ones – the magician is smart and the volunteer looks stupid. We’ve been on the receiving end of such a trick and even with our comfort on stage generally, being a volunteer is a stress-inducing situation. The last thing we wanted was to look like an idiot in front of a crowd. We would much prefer to do that on our own – that didn’t come out right but you know what we mean. We did Sucker Sliding Die Box for more the 20 years and have no place to issue such a blanket statement but we just did so sue us.
The second type of tricks we don’t care to see or perform are effects that are really just puzzles. This category seems related to the one above. We have important exceptions to this rule though for Magic Squares and sophisticated “memory” effects.
So back to Penn & Teller’s show. While it is titled “Fool Us” it could be titled “Entertain Us.”
This is what audiences seek. We don’t go to the orchestra to see how well the cellist fingers and applies her bow to the strings. First of all, we wouldn’t know what to look for; second of all, we’re there for the music. We have done a complete search of all posters ever generated for orchestral performances (in English, French and German – we could find none in Esperanto) and not one of those posters invited audiences to attend the show to watch individual musicians play their instruments. We did find one reference to Dizzy Gillespie with enlarged cheeks whilst blowing his horn as no one else has or will. But that was a one-off.
We know a magician who begins his close-up performance with about five minutes of banter and introduction to the audience before a single card is shuffled (it is philosophical idea, we know a single card cannot be shuffled). There is entertainment and later in the act the audience and the magician appear amazed at the effect performed. They have shared a relationship that began with introductions, communications and a short-lived bind. But it wouldn’t make the first cut for “Fool Us.”
All of this is just our random thought as we looked up the next showing of “Fool Us” because we find the show so entertaining.
We don’t know the website “Looper” but it caught our eye today with a story on the behind the scenes of the wildly popular magic-oriented television show, Penn & Teller’s Fool Us.
We love logistics. Perhaps our love is in the extreme. We love to be at the back of the theater to see how props are packed and unpacked. The huge trucks and the many workers who move the props into their show-ready position. We really love it. Ask anyone who knows us — that’s about three people (or 2.2 people in metric, we think).
Looper takes readers inside and behind the filming of Fool Us and the time expended to film a season’s worth of shows in just a couple of days in front of an audience that could understandably be less enthusiastic as the taping goes on for hours.
One of the burning (literally — but that’s due to a Voodoo curse we received in New Orleans when we refused to pay for what we considered inadequate Voodoo practice — guess Madam Etouffee proved us wrong. We know experience physical burning sensations each time we obsess on some random thought. But that’s our problem, not yours, we hope) — trying to figure out why the delightful Alyson Hannigan wore the same lovely but repetitive dress for each show.
The Looper knows and explains.
We also wondered why there were many more female magicians fooling Penn & Teller — again, The Looper knows. It is an encouraging reason and promises good things for our beloved art. (“Beloved Art” was also the name of our sister’s fake lover — according to some court documents detailing the catfishing efforts of someone who wasn’t really name “Art” and certainly shouldn’t have been beloved by our innocent little sister). Louise took it stride — meaning she ran and kicked the fake Art to break off their relationship. Louise is now working in Hollywood as a freelance conjoined twin for some of the biggest stars in the business. She has beautiful red hair all down her back — unfortunately, none on her head, just down her back.
So our sister Louise shares the redhead / red-hairy back trait with Ms. Hannigan.
The story goes even further behind the scenes to reveal how Penn & Teller’s guess at the method of the trick is checked by a magician who knows the secret. There have been times when Penn & Teller disagreed with the off-stage judge but the judge’s ruling is final. How many times have we heard that phrase in our errant attempts to become Mr. California, Mr. Hollywood, Mr. North Hollywood, Mr. single block between Melrose and Santa Monica, Mr. Living Room in an apartment over a dog food bakery on Santa Monica? Many times, that’s how many. We still have our sash for third prize (“Mr. Congenital”) but it doesn’t mean so much to us now that we know what “congenital” means.
From time to time and when required by the standards of decency and regulations, we publish letters to the editor. If you have something on your brain you would like to share, please send us a note at email@example.com. We won’t use your last name so ask anything – related to magic.
Dear Inside Magic:
A long time ago or maybe last week you said you were going to do podcasts. When will they start going?
We are going to be doing podcasts and have already had two guests who have volunteered to discuss the history of magic, some of the greats they’ve seen and from whom they learned much. While we are very talented in the double-lift and second deal, we are still learning how to hook-up the electronics necessary for a podcast. We have been researching everywhere. We started reading Popular Electronics magazines from the 1960s – just because we still had them, holding up part of our dining room table, also from the 1960s by coincidence. The table fell down and scared our 12 cats but we were determined to learn the technique of what the kids call “pod casting.”
Our research showed that the technique did not exist in the 1960s (from 1964 forward), the 1970s (the only “pod” reference dealt with the American space program and did involve microphones and receivers but seemed far too expensive to build), and the 1980s. We figured we would just break down (not emotionally – that’s what the 12 cats prevent) and go to Radio Shack to get a ready-made kit. But you know what? There are no Radio Shacks any more. They’ve gone the way of Good Humor trucks and regular milk delivery to your front door.
Undeterred, we went to the Internet (capitalized to meet the current style guide here at Inside Magic (pronounced, “IN – side mAGIC” – the .com is silent. We found many things on the Internet but few things on pod casting until we figured out that we should search for something more specific. We modified our search in the “search bar” to something other than “pod” OR “casting.” Each word on its own brings up results that are unhelpful. The latter brings up many results that are not safe for work but we work from home so all we had to worry about was offending the cats and they don’t do much during the day.
Bottom line: we think we know what we need to do and we will do it, by gollly. We hope to tape our first one in the next two or three weeks and it should go live within a few days after. Thank you so much for asking.
What is the best way to become a master magician? Is there a course I can take?
The appellation “Master Magician” is given to only one magician at a time. Currently Lance Burton holds the title after he was given the status by Lee Grabell. It is, therefore, a very rare honor and one that many of us will never achieve.
On the other hand, you can try to master magic by practicing before a mirror over and over until you fool yourself, perform for a trick for an audience only once (never do it again no matter what they say), and NEVER reveal a secret. If you keep these things in mind, you’ll go far. It is a wonderful art and we admire your apparent desire to learn more about it.
We had written a 15 volume set on “How to Become a Master Magician” but it is no longer in print and was the subject of, in our view, needless litigation. Sorry we don’t have an old set we can give you but it is holding up the other side of our table.
Why do some magicians change their names to just one name? Like Cher or Sammy?
If that is your real name. (See what we did there?) Usually a single name (usually the first name although Penn & Teller are an exception) is something one takes on when they reach a level of fame but in the magic world, it helps to get promoted and adds to the mystery.
Would you want to see “Timmy Quinlan” or “The Amazing Q”? We hope it is the second one because we just bought 1,000 business cards saying “The Amazing Q” from Vista Print one night when we saw a commercial about a special offer just for those watching at 3:30 in the morning.
They haven’t arrived yet and we have no idea how we will distribute them – especially because we forgot (we were tired and that cats were doing their nocturnal running the length of the trailer and then running back) to put our phone number on them.
That means, if you pick up one of our Amazing Q cards, you’ll need to come to our residence and knock on our door – thus scaring the cats and causing them to hide but not before bumping into each other like furry pinballs (our first album name, by the way) – or write us a letter by US Mail. Our landlord will not accept FedEx packages on our behalf because she worries they could be bad things.
We’ve asked what kind of “bad things” could be in a standard envelope with a FedEx logo. She responds out of the corner of her mouth not holding her cigarette, “you wouldn’t know, would you?”
Great question but the bottom line is folks will have to send letters.
We don’t know why ordinary letters wouldn’t carry the same “bad things” but apparently they don’t.
So when the cards come (by regular mail) we will write our phone number on the bottom of each. We wish we had chosen Comic Sans as the font so that when we wrote our phone number on the card, it looked like we intentionally were writing poorly. But you know what they say, “if wishes were dishes, someone would have to take them out of the dishwasher just once in this dang house, how hard could that be? You can put them in, no problem, but you can’t take them out?”
If you have a question for our editor, you can use the contact link at the top of the page or just send an email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Updated to correct the days per week Siegfried will be performing]
When we first joined the prestigious Magic Castle / Academy of Magical Arts in beautiful Hollywood, California, we were befriended by Siegfried Tieber.
He frequented the lower rooms of the Castle where performers could get time to be in front of real audiences. He was kind and helpful in helping to shave the rough spots out of our pretty rough act.
But more than a nice and helpful guy, Siegfried showed audience after audience that he was a true magician. He had skills – of course – but he had charm and charisma to make it appear that the audience and Siegfried were experiencing the miracles together.
He took his act to Downtown LA in his solo show See/Saw and it was consistently sold out.
Before we go any further, check out his website here. It is one of the prettiest we have ever seen for a magician or any person.
The great news is that he is returning on October 3rd with a new show, Red Thread.
He’ll be performing for no more than 34 audiences members at a time and tickets will go for $74.00. Siegfried will perform six shows a week in four nights with one show on Thursdays and Fridays; and two shows on Saturdays and Sundays.
Siedgfried has been seen not only by hundreds, nay, thousands at the Castle, but nationwide on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us show where he did in fact fool them.
He told reporters Red Thread is “an exploration of chance and chaos. Every outcome is the starting point of further possibilities.”
“It doesn’t take long before this starts to look like a labyrinth: some paths converge, some run parallel to each other, some are dead ends. Like the Greek mythological princess, Ariadne — who gave Theseus a thread when he entered the labyrinth — my hope is to take the audience with me and guide them through this journey.”
We stamp on the ground like a baffled horse — which was our 22:1 the pick in the Oaks Classic at Churchill Downs the day before the 1999 Kentucky Derby. It was an all filly race and we figured we had the inside track. We had a dream that day that the Number 7 was rubbing our back with a light oil (scentless), we woke at 7:07 am, we caught the 777 bus to Churchill downs, found Baffled Horse was the 7th horse in the 7th race and put $777 on the nose. We watch the race with a certain sense of satisfaction to find that our pick game in 7th. So even though we didn’t win, it was significant to us and taught us to not sleep or if we do sleep, not to enter into REM states of sleep where dreams can occur. We have switched to coffee in large amounts. We go to 12 step meetings just to get the free coffee and cigs. We never even smoke cigs, we just light them in a cool manner and blow the smoke out through the cigarette and then toss the flaming stick on the ground with the assured throw once would see in 1940s movies.
But we digress.
We love this trick. It fooled us so badly. We were sitting with friends outside the Magic Castle one night an a young man asked if he could show us a trick. He was smoking a cigarette but really smoking it. It was as if he wanted the smoke to go into his lungs. He still had the cool toss and the smelly fingers but he was taking smoking to a whole new and likely unsafe level. We don’t know if there has been any research on the effects of taking tobacco smoke into your lungs but it seems like something they should look at it. Maybe the big tobacco companies could look into it since they would seem to have the most data.
He performed the trick and I could find no explanation. None. Now I learn that it can be bought here at MJM Magic. Check it out and see if doesn’t make you drool.
She points to the recent spate of shows about our craft such as Criss Angel BeLIEve; Syfy’s Wizard Wars, Close Up Kings, and Troy: Street Magic; The CW’s resurrection of Masters of Illusion and importing of Penn & Teller: Fool Us. She likes the craft but apparently not the way it is being translated to television sets. It is tough to disagree with her take.
She points out that Masters of Illusion has been squished from an hour-long show to 30 minutes (including commercials). The net effect is that “Dean Cain has to go through acts so quickly that you barely have time to let the tricks sink in.”
Ms. Frederick bemoans – again with our wholehearted agreement – the move from logistics of putting on a magic show to the effect in isolation.
“What was so fantastic about Criss Angel BeLIEve when Spike unveiled it in October 2013 was that it was almost about everything but the performance. We got to know Angel a lot better and understand what it was like for him to do these challenging tricks every day. We learned about the history involved with many of his demonstrations. We met his team, and were able to listen in on their discussions about how to make magic happen, whether it was building a prop or finding the perfect location. We saw when things didn’t go according to plan and how they dealt with those situations. These are elements of magic that most TV audiences probably haven’t even thought about.”
Audiences are now taken from appreciating the history of a particular effect and the very real logistical challenges of presenting the trick, to merely asking whether an effect is performed with camera tricks or dodgy editing.
Check out her full article and well-considered opinions here.
Each year we miss the Sundance Festival and kick ourselves for it. There, wonderful films seeking distributors are offered, promoted and awarded with prizes. For instance, we first heard about La La Land through Variety’s review of the film at the Sundance Festival. We knew that if and when it was picked up by a major studio, it would be a must see.
But, because we didn’t go to the festival, we missed it.
This year we missed the Amazing Johnathan documentary. It is currently untitled but we’re guessing the words “Amazing” and “Johnathan” will be in or very near the final title.
As readers of this award winning magic news site know, we have never actually won an award and we never let the truth get in the way of a good headline or story. Readers will also know that we love the Amazing Johnathan and one of our greatest disappointments – other than our failure to play for the Chicago Cubs or even be a batboy for goodness sakes – was missing the performance of this great entertainer at the Magic Castle in what was billed as his last performance ever, anywhere.
Johnathan has a fatal heart issue and literally any show could be his last.
Nonetheless, he continues to work and provide entertainment for thousands. We saw his show in Las Vegas and laughed so hard we split our shirt collar – we always keep it buttoned to prevent body lice from either entering or escaping, depending on the season or our access to showers.
We won’t give away the secret but the compilation at The Silver List surprised us. And we are not easily surprised. We figured for sure we could correctly identify all persons on the list but we were wrong. We beat ourselves up when we make a mistake so this was crushing for us.
We thought for sure there would be some mention of Inside Magic editor-in-chief and magician person Tim Quinlan but nary a comment. We don’t like to brag but between the ad revenue for Inside Magic and our professional appearances, we’re rolling in the dough – plus we’re making a lot of money. But we spend it on dough to roll in and we like a high-quality dough, not some Pillsbury fake dough that doesn’t give the comfort one expects when one is rolling. We were going to put up a YouTube video of us rolling but a woman beat us and she does a much better rolling that we could ever hope to accomplish.
You can see just one of her many dough rolling episodes here. The video shows her rolling in baked dough but she does real, unbaked dough as well. We cannot compete.
Similarly, we are unable to keep up with the magicians who make millions of dollars every year for performing their magic. We admire them but don’t envy them. Envy is or should be one of the deadly sins and does not leave the person feeling the sense of envy in a good place. It is like when you have a fight with your Uber driver about whether we should worry about fluoride or chem trails and he/she dumps you in a bad neighborhood. That’s a physical bad place to be but as a metaphor it works. Envy leaves you wondering what happened to the last few hours and why you can’t remember why you even worried about the success of others.
Check out the list and see if you agree with the rankings. But do it with an open mind and heart. Embrace the success of others and the willingness of others to work very hard at what we all do.
We do find some pleasure (guilty, no doubt) that Inside Magic arch-nemesis Tony Spain is not listed. He claims millions per year from his itinerant magic travels around the world, but apparently he didn’t make the list.
Magician Ben Young has a fancy website, a long list of appearances and likely does a fair amount of advertising for his services but for our money, nothing beats the kind of press he received from a friend in the recent edition of The Tullahoma News.
Yes, he has been on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us and befriended by some of the top performers in our craft. But for some reason we are more moved by accolades bestowed by a former classmate.
Erin McCullough’s column in the Tennessee news source inspires us to track Mr. Young on our upcoming visit to Las Vegas. That beats a Yelp or Trip Advisor review in our estimation.
Ms. McCullough knew Mr. Young from their time together in school and expresses surprise and delight in learning of her friend’s success since leaving the area.
“Now, I had known Ben was talented, but I had no idea of the depth of his craft until I saw it in person. If you’ve never been able to see a magic show, please do yourself a favor and go seek one out, because they are incredible!”
Apparently they studied Italian together in college and, sure, he would perform a few effects for fellow students but Ms. McCullough never saw him in full stage magician mode. Now, Mr. Young is beginning (or part way into) a tour of Air Force bases and cannot be confused with the talented hobbiest. He is a full-blown magician.
We’ll be in Las Vegas when Hollywood shuts down for the holiday break and will seek out Mr. Young — assuming he isn’t on tour — solely because of the apparently unsolicited but heartfelt endorsement of Ms. McCullough.
We readily admit we are the lowest of the low. We are a hypocrite of the first order. That’s generally true but most painfully evident in our behavior last week.
It started out innocently. We were catching up on our TiVo of Penn & Teller’s Fool Us. We enjoy that show and are happy to hear they have been signed for a second season with the CW here in the US. The show makes us smile and as our little reward back to the producers, writers, directors and stars of the show, we do not fast forward through the advertisements. We are gracious in that way.
Like most viewers of the show, we take delight not only in seeing great magic but the interesting way Penn attempts to describe what he and Teller believe was the secret at work. They use vague code words and make reference to great magicians from history to convey the message that they know the know-how. There is no exposure but for those of us in on the craft, we know whether a magician has been foiled in his or her attempt to fool Penn & Teller.
Joshua Jay is a great magician. We feel like we have watched him grow over the years; likely because we have. He began performing in utero and has ascended the lofty limbs of the magic forest with aplomb. (Sorry for the last sentence. We farm out parts of our articles to off-shore content creator mills and they a great at maximizing word count – that’s how they’re paid – but struggle with metaphors in our language).
Mr. Jay performed an effect that blew us – and Penn & Teller – away. We could describe the effect in great detail but won’t because that is evidence of our hypocrisy. Our father always said, “there’s no sin in beating yourself up, but always know your safe word.” We’re not sure he intended that sage advice for revealing one’s foibles on the internet but it fits and thus we happily appropriate it for our writing herein. (Another off-shore sentence beginning at the word “that”).
Penn & Teller were fooled by the trick. After all, how could anyone have a spectator think of a card and then produce the card as the only printed one in an otherwise blank deck. Penn & Teller offered their solution but Mr. Jay denied what we assumed had to be the secret. Granted, we did not see him perform the sleight but figured there could be no other explanation. We, and Penn & Teller, took him at his word. If he said he did not use the sleight, he did not.
That left us to engage in behavior that we find contemptible and boorish.
We replayed the video of his routine more than two or three times.
We live alone here in West Hollywood while we await our family’s move to California. We have fully paid-up subscriptions to the prominent magic magazines, surf the web for news and tricks, sometimes go for walks along Santa Monica Boulevard and visit The Magic Castle. Those activities can be accomplished in a few hours each and so that leaves us with roughly 14 hours times 7 days a week times 30 or 31 days each month to sit, stand or lie down while eating or sleeping.
We watched the video incessantly for a solid 24 hour period. We used the slow motion button to analyze every move, every nuance of Mr. Jay’s performance. We were frustrated by some of the camera angles and cuts but those were not Mr. Jay’s doing.
The proof of a bad motive is often the corrupt results, said the inventor of the modern day Capri Pants. Once again, lessons from the world of fashion instructs the world of professional magic. (Other examples include the cape, pockets and the classic pop-up tie).
Precisely one day after beginning our analysis of the Jay Tape, we came to the conclusion that Mr. Jay did not perform the accused sleight. We also concluded he must have accomplished the miracle by some other method. We have no idea how he performed the effect. We love that feeling.
Yes, we are embarrassed to say we used our access to modern technology to discern the secret but we failed. It was a wonderful lesson learned. The feeling of being truly amazed was the reason we got into magic. The attempt to figure out the trick only diminished that sense of wonder. Congratulations to Mr. Jay for fooling Penn & Teller and us so completely. It was fantastic.