What Will Magic Be Like in the Future?

Question: Describe the first magic trick you ever performed.

Penn\r\n Jillette: I was interested when I was very young in card magic... \r\nbut I was interested in card magic, the kind that's like juggling. I \r\nmean, there are kind of a couple different—many, many but I'm breaking \r\nit down to two different styles of magic. There are people that are very\r\n concerned with "How do you fool people, what are they thinking, how do \r\nyou get them to think something else?" Very important to Teller.

Then\r\n there's the part of magic that has to do with manipulation and when I \r\nwas a child I cared very much about the manipulation stuff, which is the\r\n juggling side of magic. I mean, I wanted to learn a perfect shuffle so \r\nyou could shuffle the cards 52 times and end up with the same order you \r\nstarted in. You know, that's what I was interested in. I was interested \r\nin manipulating the cards and holding things in my hands that looked \r\nhard. I was not very concerned with fooling people.

I was more \r\nconcerned with the flourishes and the technique which is why I didn't \r\nspend much time in magic but moved right onto juggling, which is very \r\nmuch inline with my heart. I mean, juggling is very, very \r\nstraightforward; very, very black and white; you're manipulating \r\nobjects, not people. And that's always appealed to me.

\r\n What is the future of magic?

Penn Jillette:  Magic \r\nhas so few people working in it that it moves very, very slowly. I would\r\n say that you don't get much, you know, you've got this huge burst of \r\nchange in magic with Houdini, who did not event but popularized the idea\r\n of magician as a spokesman for skepticism. We've learned to lie to \r\npeople now we'll teach you how there's no lying to you. That wasn't \r\nstarted with Houdini, but Houdini certainly made the most coin off of \r\nit.

Then you go on and you've got this... you've got Doug \r\nHenning bringing, you know, magicians with kind of a hippie sensibility,\r\n which doesn't mean much. You've got a bunch of other magicians doing \r\nthat kind of torturing women in front of mylar to, you know, bad Motown \r\nmusic, in front of a mylar curtain. You know, I mean, that kind of \r\nstuff. Then you have the biggest break through done in our lifetime was \r\nDavid Blaine's "Street Magic," where his idea was to do really simple \r\ntricks but to concentrate... to turn the camera around on the people \r\nwatching instead of the people doing.

So to make the audience \r\nwatch the audience, which that first special "Street Magic," is the best\r\n TV magic special ever done and really, really does break new ground. \r\nThen a lot of people jump in and start doing it and turn it in to pure \r\nsuck. I mean, that whole form is... sucks now. I mean, no one is doing \r\ngood stuff but when David Blaine first did it, before he did all the \r\n"I'm really no kidding, honestly I'm not going to eat, swear to God I'm \r\nnot eating, no really I'm not eating, no it's not a trick I'm really not\r\n eating." I don't know what that is.

But that first street magic \r\nthing was just brilliant. I don't think the future of... I think the \r\nfuture of magic... you don't want to forget Siegfried and Roy who \r\ninvented the idea of doing an animal act while doing a magic act and \r\ninvented the idea of full Vegas show. I mean, all of those are big break\r\n through but you don't get the kind of... you don't get the number of \r\njust the raw number of people like you have in music. When you have the \r\nnumber of people you have in music you can have, you know, instantly \r\nHendrix and James Brown turn into Prince, you know, OK Go was able to \r\npop up out of the lack of irony that comes in out of kind of punk but \r\nalso emo. You don't have hundreds and hundreds of thousands, millions of\r\n people working in it. In magic you're talking about thousands of \r\npeople. So being several orders of magnitude down you just don't get \r\nthat kind of evolution.
\r\nSo in 20 years I imagine magic will be damn similar to how it is now. \r\nAlso, magic doesn't tend to work in the cutting edge of technology. I \r\nmean, you've got that... I believe he's Japanese, forgive me if he's \r\nnot. That Japanese kid doing the stuff out of the iPad where he's \r\npulling stuff out. And that's just film-to-life stuff.

That was \r\nstuff that was done a hundred years ago in France. There's no new \r\ntechnology there. The screen is different but the ideas are not new and \r\nmost shows are shows certainly... but David Copperfield, Chris Angel, \r\nDavid Blaine, Lance Burton, none of us are using really what you call \r\ncutting edge technology. And the problem... the reason you can't is that\r\n people are more aware of what's possible with cutting edge technology \r\nthan they are with threads and a line.

Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

"Damn similar to how it is now," says Penn.

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