Penn and Teller’s Water Tank Trick

Question: Explain your famous water tank trick.

Penn Jillette: We wrote the water tank for Saturday Night Live. We wanted to do something big, it was for the Madonna show, a kick off show the year we were on and we want to do something big. And we wanted to do something that... our favorite Penn and Teller stuff is the stuff that the big trick is ignored. When David Blaine does a water tank all he's talking about is, "I'm in the water. I'm going to drown. I might die." Our way of doing the water tank is "I'm going to do a card trick, the card trick is what matters, I have supremely skilled hands. I'll do the beautiful card trick and oh by the way Teller is holding his breath during it." That to me is much more interesting.

So we started with that and did it for the first time for "Saturday Night Live" and then it was the bit we did the most. We did it on just about every show. We did it on "Letterman." I mean, a bit that he did on "Saturday Night Live" and on "Letterman" and a lot of other shows and also we had our own show over in England called the "Unpleasant World of Penn and Teller." We brought John Cleese on as a guest and he played the audience member part in the water tank.

Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

This trick, which they debuted on Saturday Night Live in 1986, put an unexpected twist on Houdini’s classic water tank escape.

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