Monthly Archives: September 2013

An Interesting Talk from Penn&Teller

Every magician I truly like all have something in common; they have taken the time to find a way to raise magic to a higher art form. They come to this artistic bar in many ways and frequently they don’t agree on the why’s and why not’s of what it means to make magic a higher art form.

What it seems to be is that they (and I’ll even go so far as to say “we” as I’d like to think I do this as well) spend the time to care about what the message is, what the content is, and what the audience comes away with. We take the time to consider what we are doing within the context of our own morals & ethics.

And care enough about such things that we revisit the concepts on an almost constant basis, always reexamining where we are and whether or not our positions have changed or grown.

Perhaps the best known act that wrestles with these ideas regularly is the brilliant Penn & Teller. It’s no surprise that P&T are heroes of mine. Many times I have watched their shows and watched discussions/lectures from them, and always I come away with something new to think about or reexamine.

Well, they’ve been at this stuff for the last 38+ years, both in their magic shows and in their television shows, especially “Bullshit!”

Here then is a video, about an hour long, of an interview with P&T at last years “Amazing Meeting” where they discuss their performance ethics, thier favorite episodes of “Bullshit” and answer questions from their audience that are very interesting.


And please, watch to the end.  James Randi comes on stage at the end for a wonderful statement that is well worth seeing.

A Lesson in “Everything Old is New Again”

As a general rule there really isn’t much magic on television.  In a sense this is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It is a bad thing because it starves a lot of magic fans of entertainment that they want to see.

It is a good thing because it doesn’t glut the market or dull the potential audience to possible entertainment options.

So, when something comes on that I wasn’t aware of I try and catch as much of it as I can and “Magic Man” on the Travel Channel is the latest bit of television magic I have found.  The magician is guy named J.B. Benn.  He is billed as one of the worlds most famous close-up magicians.  Which naturally means that I’ve never heard of him.

The general premise of the show is that he goes to some destination spot and he does street and bar magic.  I have very mixed feelings about the whole show honestly.  I have watched five or six of the half-hour long episodes and it seems like it kind of misses the mark both as a show featuring a destination spot and as a show featuring a magician.

They never really tell you very much about the spot he is in.  Not even as much as you would likely find out if you simply did a quick Google search on the location in question.

The magic he does is solid in terms of being entertaining and extremely skillful.  But they have virtually nothing to do with the location he’s at.  He doesn’t seem to take the time to create presentations that take real advantage of where he is at for story telling or background purposes, except in the most perfunctory ways.  In fact, of all the magic I have seen him do so far, about 90% of it is material that I am aware of as being popularly available in the 90’s.  I could literally sit there and tell you effect by effect what he was doing and from what magician it was marketed.

Now, the truth is that I myself have been feeling the pinch of my current repertoire becoming stale.  And knowing that I have a pretty substantial library and magic collection it makes sense that I should dive into it in order to find “new” things for me to do.  Everything old is new again.

But I have to admit to a significant amount of disappointment in seeing things that this “world famous” magician was doing which barely deviated from the store bought directions and “patter.”  Yet here he is with his own TV show.  So clearly he is doing something right, even if it is just selling himself successfully to The Travel Channel.

I guess the lesson is that while “Everything Old is New Again” seems like a good foundation, it isn’t going to be artistically satisfying without a healthy dose of personalization and personality.  And I’m okay with that.

Below is a clip from the show.  It is one I selected as being pretty indicative of everything I’ve seen so far.  I won’t give anything away, but let me just say that the effect you are going to see is almost exactly as I learned it from one of the magicians who was a very early on formative teacher of mine in the mid 90’s.

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