Have you ever been to Vegas? To be honest, I find it a bit too sensational. Literally, wherever you look, your senses are stimulated. Or assaulted, maybe. Yes, assaulted. And it all seems a bit fake to me – like one big illusion.
I was recently in Las Vegas for a speaker’s meeting – 15 speakers from across North America who speak to youth. It was a chance to grow and learn from each other, and I definitely learned a lot, but the highlight for me was going to see Penn & Teller.
Penn & Teller, if you don’t know, are magicians (or illusionists, at any rate). And I think they’re great. If I had to choose a role model magician (or a pair of them), I’d definitely choose them.
Some magicians leave me feeling stupid, taking every opportunity to remind me that they can do something that I CAN’T do. They try to convince me that they have some secret special powers. But Penn & Teller specifically claim NOT to have any special powers, and sometimes even tell you how a trick is being done. While most magicians focus on tricks, Penn & Teller focus on performance. I’d try to describe it, but you’re better off just checking them out on Youtube. You might also check out their great Showtime TV Program – a bit like a risqué version of Myth-busters – bolder subjects, bigger rants, and deeper psychology. I can’t print the full title, but it starts with Bull…
One thing that I’ve noticed about GREAT magicians is that nearly everything they do is intentional. Not only are their actions and words carefully chosen, but they embed multiple layers of meaning in their performance - politics, philosophy, comedy, art. I’m sure nobody (myself included) sees ALL the layers and messages, but if you look for it, you can usually find something. Their magic, like their TV show, definitely left me thinking.
After the show, they go straight to the lobby for autographs, and they always stick around until everyone who wants has had a chance for a photo. I thought that was really classy. For the extra few minutes of their time that it takes, it adds huge impact! I was stoked. Sometimes it’s the little things that make all the difference, eh?
Penn Jillette is 6’7”. Tall guy. Teller looks tiny up on stage beside him, but it must be an illusion, because he’s actually 5’9”. He also doesn’t really look 62 years old. Me being the curious type, I asked each one the same question as we snapped photos: “After all these years of performing, what keeps you going?”
Teller is silent on stage, which makes his magic routines seem poetic in a way, but he actually does talk in the lobby afterwards: “Are you kidding? From the time I was a kid, doing magic is what I’ve loved. I get to live my dream job!”
Penn’s answer was simple and nonchalant: “I like doing the show.”
In all the excitement and illusion of Vegas, there was something comforting and REAL about those simple answers. Strange, in a way, that the professional illusionists would be the LEAST fake part of Vegas, but I got the sense that they were just regular guys who happened to have found their place in a field they loved. They’ve been able to express their ideology and create art through their work, and make people laugh while also making them think. Pretty good trick.
I guess I’m trying to do the same things, and I guess that’s maybe why I like them so much. Pretty good trick, indeed.
.Snapping photos with Penn (below) & Teller (above) in the lobby of The Rio after their show.
March 5, 2010
"One of the things that Teller and I are obsessed with, one of the reasons that we're in magic, is the difference between fantasy and reality."
- Penn Jillette
(of Penn & Teller
- Vegas Magicians & Comedians)
Joel Hilchey is the founder of The Beanstalk Project, a youth engagement initiative to develop global leadership and create positive social change. He speaks at schools and events across North America, inspiring character by juggling, storytelling, and playing with mousetraps.
RIDDLE: It's creative thinking time: Let's say you wanted to make a ball vanish on stage (a tennis ball, for instance) - How could you do it? What might be some options or ideas? What do you think would look cool if there WERE a way to do it?