Question: Describe the first magic trick you ever performed.
Jillette: I was interested when I was very young in card magic...
but I was interested in card magic, the kind that's like juggling. I
mean, there are kind of a couple different—many, many but I'm breaking
it down to two different styles of magic. There are people that are very
concerned with "How do you fool people, what are they thinking, how do
you get them to think something else?" Very important to Teller.
there's the part of magic that has to do with manipulation and when I
was a child I cared very much about the manipulation stuff, which is the
juggling side of magic. I mean, I wanted to learn a perfect shuffle so
you could shuffle the cards 52 times and end up with the same order you
started in. You know, that's what I was interested in. I was interested
in manipulating the cards and holding things in my hands that looked
hard. I was not very concerned with fooling people.
I was more
concerned with the flourishes and the technique which is why I didn't
spend much time in magic but moved right onto juggling, which is very
much inline with my heart. I mean, juggling is very, very
straightforward; very, very black and white; you're manipulating
objects, not people. And that's always appealed to me.
What is the future of magic?
Penn Jillette: Magic
has so few people working in it that it moves very, very slowly. I would
say that you don't get much, you know, you've got this huge burst of
change in magic with Houdini, who did not event but popularized the idea
of magician as a spokesman for skepticism. We've learned to lie to
people now we'll teach you how there's no lying to you. That wasn't
started with Houdini, but Houdini certainly made the most coin off of
Then you go on and you've got this... you've got Doug
Henning bringing, you know, magicians with kind of a hippie sensibility,
which doesn't mean much. You've got a bunch of other magicians doing
that kind of torturing women in front of mylar to, you know, bad Motown
music, in front of a mylar curtain. You know, I mean, that kind of
stuff. Then you have the biggest break through done in our lifetime was
David Blaine's "Street Magic," where his idea was to do really simple
tricks but to concentrate... to turn the camera around on the people
watching instead of the people doing.
So to make the audience
watch the audience, which that first special "Street Magic," is the best
TV magic special ever done and really, really does break new ground.
Then a lot of people jump in and start doing it and turn it in to pure
suck. I mean, that whole form is... sucks now. I mean, no one is doing
good stuff but when David Blaine first did it, before he did all the
"I'm really no kidding, honestly I'm not going to eat, swear to God I'm
not eating, no really I'm not eating, no it's not a trick I'm really not
eating." I don't know what that is.
But that first street magic
thing was just brilliant. I don't think the future of... I think the
future of magic... you don't want to forget Siegfried and Roy who
invented the idea of doing an animal act while doing a magic act and
invented the idea of full Vegas show. I mean, all of those are big break
through but you don't get the kind of... you don't get the number of
just the raw number of people like you have in music. When you have the
number of people you have in music you can have, you know, instantly
Hendrix and James Brown turn into Prince, you know, OK Go was able to
pop up out of the lack of irony that comes in out of kind of punk but
also emo. You don't have hundreds and hundreds of thousands, millions of
people working in it. In magic you're talking about thousands of
people. So being several orders of magnitude down you just don't get
that kind of evolution.
So in 20 years I imagine magic will be damn similar to how it is now.
Also, magic doesn't tend to work in the cutting edge of technology. I
mean, you've got that... I believe he's Japanese, forgive me if he's
not. That Japanese kid doing the stuff out of the iPad where he's
pulling stuff out. And that's just film-to-life stuff.
stuff that was done a hundred years ago in France. There's no new
technology there. The screen is different but the ideas are not new and
most shows are shows certainly... but David Copperfield, Chris Angel,
David Blaine, Lance Burton, none of us are using really what you call
cutting edge technology. And the problem... the reason you can't is that
people are more aware of what's possible with cutting edge technology
than they are with threads and a line.
Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman