Interesting interview with Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller fame.

A couple of years ago, when I was in America, my stage-magic-loving husband persuaded me to go to a magic show in New York. It was one of those “The Magicians” type things, with five or so different acts with very different personas. One of the things that struck me about it, however, was just how mean all of the audience participation was; it was glad we were up on the mezzanine in the theatre so there was no possible chance we could be called on.

A few weeks later, we’d managed to make our way to Vegas, were I suggested we see Penn and Teller’s show. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with P&T, mostly because I think they’re interesting people, excellent magicians, and I like their work in the debunking/sceptic community. But hot damn do they have some nuclear-level hot takes in the politics department. Their stage show… certainly delivered in all of these areas.

But the thing that surprised me, given Jillette in particular’s persona, was how kind they were to their audience. They performed several acts that needed participation, during all of which they were very gracious to their volunteers. Unlike the show I’d seen in New York, at no point did they make the audience members the butt of any jokes, or put them in situations that were (or appeared to be) humiliating, frightening, or dangerous. And, of course, they ended the show with the bullet catch. I’d been kind of dreading this, because I am extremely over-sensitive to sudden, loud noises; stage gunshots in plays and musicals are, like, my actual nemesis. Except, again, Jillette was extremely clear at all times what was going to happen, and when it was going to happen, and gave the audience explicit instructions on when to cover their ears.1

In the article above, Jillette says:

Our goal when we started was “Let’s do a magic show for people smarter than us.” No other magicians have ever said that sentence. I hated the whole idea that some smarmy motherfucker who couldn’t get laid was out there saying, “I can do this; you can’t.” So when Teller and I first got together I said, “I want to do a magic show that’s honest and has complete respect for the audience.”

And, the thing is… they actually do do this. And, y’know. I can’t not respect that in return.

(All that being said, the Cato Institute—at which Penn and Teller are fellows—is still a garbage institute doing garbage to the world so… you can’t have everything, I guess.)

  1. The actual gunshot sound itself was also much, much more muted than the sounds I’m used to hearing in stage productions, which I also found interesting. I’ve never head an actual gun fire in real life, but I somehow suspect it’s more like the gun used in Penn and Teller’s show rather than, say, Les Mis, in which case… fuck you, Broadway shows. Fuck the fuck you. ^