Joshua Jay Fools Penn & Teller & Us

Inside Magic Image of Penn & Teller's Fool UsWe 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”).

You can check out a YouTube clip of his performance here.

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.

Why is TV Magic So Unmagical?

Carreras ltd cards spotting the cardEntertainment Weekly writer Brittany Frederick asks why with so much magic on television recently, we are not feeling magical?

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.

Updated: Penn & Teller Return to Broadway

Inside Magic Image of Penn & TellerBreaking news from Variety: Penn & Teller have signed to return to Broadway this July.

The show titled “Penn & Teller” will bring the best from their Vegas show and some of their classic stuff from their years of work and will run six weeks at the beautiful Marquis Theater.

Variety points to the recent success of The Illusionists – Witness the Impossible as evidence that a magic show will work well for the tourists that invade Broadway during the summer.

Penn Jillette issued a statement, saying, “When I was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, I felt I should have been in NYC, and when I moved there I was home. We loved being on Broadway. We love doing our show in Vegas, but even after all this time in Vegas . . . well, coming back to Broadway feels like we’re coming home. Our hearts never left. Do they make Elmo costumes in my size?”

The duo are returning to Broadway having appeared there in 1987 and 1991.

The show runs from July 7th through August 16th.  Check back for updates as we learn more.

Bill Maher Hates Magicians – So What?

Inside Magic Image of Innovative BunnyIn a Las Vegas Review-Journal column by Doug Elfman this morning, comedian Bill Maher looks to stir up some controversy in advance of his show this Saturday at The Palms Casino.

Mr. Maher is reputed to be a star on HBO and takes pride in attacking people and groups.  Religions are fair game and so are conservatives and liberals.  It works for him so why stop with ideology and spirituality.

Whenever I talk to him, we’ll be talking about President Barack Obama, or weed, or Woody Harrelson, and then he will slip in a side joke that pokes fun at illusionists.  Maher mocks magicians mercilessly.

“When we started back in the old days, before the iWatch, practically before answering machines, in New York, no matter how good you were, you could never do better in the small clubs than the magician guy or a guy with puppets,” Maher said.

Maher goes on to insult Cirque du Soleil, drop names of famous comedians with whom he recently worked and stroke The Palms as a wonderful place to work.

He likes Penn & Teller, though.  They are not typical magicians so they escape his wrath.

We have already given too much space to him but we thought you should know.

Penn & Teller: Fool Us and Masters of Illusion Renewed for 2015

Inside Magic Image of Penn & Teller's Fool UsAccording to Variety, the CW has ordered another season of “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” and “Masters of Illusion” for 2015.

That is great news for magic fans and portends great things for the future of our great art.

Fool Us originally aired ITV in the UK in 2011.  The production team edited those episodes and repackaged the shows for the CW’s US broadcast this year.

The series received consistently great ratings and – if you asked us – it was a no-brainer for the network to order a new season.

That’s good news but even better news is that they will need to shoot new shows to meet the CW’s order. Penn Jillette promised if renewed, they would film in the US and with US magicians. We have no doubt he will keep his promise.

“Masters of Illusion” had some fantastic acts in this year’s episodes. We do not know if they will need to tape additional acts to meet the renewal order but will report as soon as we hear.

This is great news indeed.