Penn & Teller Dish from London

Inside Magic Image of Penn & TellerPenn & Teller are in London and the toast of the town with great press. We read this morning’s Telegraph for a nice interview with the duo. They express their admiration for Derren Brown, “He’s one of the best live performers I’ve ever seen. He really puts a lot of intelligence and thought into it. He’s an artist,” said Teller.

They profess only luke-warm enthusiasm for Dynamo, “Teller says that while they admire his skills, ‘we know people like Johnny Thompson who’s 78 – and by comparison with whom [Dynamo’s] skills are somewhat… minimal. Compared with some of the old masters of this stuff.’”

They respect David Copperfield’s incredible work-ethic but bemoan the otherwise dormant magic scene.

“[Copperfield] does really good tricks, and he’s always doing new ones. But there aren’t many [magicians], you know?” Penn says heavily. Yes, there’s Siegfried and Roy, “but since Roy got his head bit off by a tiger, that slows him down somewhat. David Blaine doesn’t really do anything now. Why not? I don’t know. I don’t think he made that much money.”

We note that this is the latest in their 40 years of giving interviews where they fail to mention Inside Magic. Perhaps they are saving their effusive praise for our dogged coverage for a big presser once they return to Las Vegas. Yes, that is most certainly it. After all, tens of readers over the course of twenty years adds up to a statistical probability that they have heard of us.

We are most fascinated by behind the scenes stuff. We love logistics. So, for us, the key nuggets came at the end of the article wherein we learn the two get together on Tuesdays each week to brainstorm new tricks. That is the kind of geeky, inside information that makes us giddy. We would love to be present during one of those sessions. We wouldn’t say a word or even give some sort of indication of our existence – sort of as if we were a fly or insect in the room – we would just listen and relish the moment.

We learned that they have been working on a new effect that sounds pretty interesting. They are looking for a way to perform the Vanishing Elephant but with a live cow dressed as an elephant. We don’t know why that sounds cool but it does. We cannot imagine it is easy to work with cows and note that very few magicians have used cows in their acts in the last twenty years.

We knew of a former husband and wife act (former because they divorced) in which the husband referred to his wife as a cow on stage but that does not count. She didn’t vanish but did get a lawyer. He is doing close-up now and has “returned to ‘real magic’” with just a deck of cards and a few coins.” We suspect his new emphasis on cards and coins had something to do with the results of his divorce settlement.

Penn & Teller, like David Copperfield, seem to be asked the same questions by all interviewers. They do their best to give interesting answers and some reporters follow-up with interesting questions that lead to new information. Not often, though. That is not their fault. The Telegraph article is one of the better interview pieces we have read and worth your consideration.

Couldn’t Have Happened to a Nicer Guy: Johnny Thompson Honored by LA Critics

Johnny Thompson and Pam as Great Tomsoni & Co.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.