“Did you really get Penn high?” And Other Frequently Asked Questions

I’m overwhelmed by the positive response to my performance on Penn & Teller: Fool Us. I’ve received emails and calls from around the world from friends and clients and have been following the fascinating online comments and posts from strangers on YouTubereddit and twitter! Here are my answers to the most frequently asked questions:

Was Penn really mad at you?
The reason Penn was so angry is because he and Teller have done versions of this classic trick themselves. They knew the ending of the trick as soon as I started. So while they were watching me, they were thinking of all the ways I could be doing it, while I eliminated each way, one by one. That’s why Penn was filled with the best kind of passionate hate at the end. I wasn’t kidding when I said “I feel the love.” Between magicians and comedians, “I hate you” is a wonderful compliment. It’s like when you see someone do something that you don’t think should be done you just shake your head and go: “I hate you so much” and then give them a big hug. If their reaction reveals anything, it is this: They were thankful someone took the time to work hard. I believe Penn was respectfully, happily angry that I had done exactly what they asked me to do: fool them. In a CW promo video, Penn says“You get into magic in order to be fooled. And when we were young and starting out, of course nearly every act fooled us. but it’s like with magic, you’re always searching the first high.”So, I’d like to think I’ve done something no one else has done: I got Penn high.

Were Penn & Teller really fooled?
Absolutely. There was nothing staged or set-up. Before I did the show I had many of my own suspicions. But when we arrived at the Rio in Vegas, the production crew emphasized that secrecy was of utmost importance. We could not be in the theater when Penn and Teller were there. They weren’t allowed to see us, we weren’t allowed to see them, and Penn & Teller were never told who was going to be performing for them. I had no clue how they were going to react to my performance or what they were going to say. When Penn freaked me out by telling them to bring the trophy back up, you could see it on my face: I was not ready for him to mess with me like that!

Were you nervous about performing for them and the cameras?
When I walked out on stage for the first time and saw Penn & Teller sitting there, it felt surreal. I couldn’t approach them and break the ice as I would do in any real life event. I had about ninety seconds before they introduced me to get acquainted to the surroundings, while the crew did final tech prep. This was the most difficult part: being in a new environment, a new stage. It was physically disorienting and mentally distracting. I was aware of every light and sound coming in around me and I had to consciously block these out and focus on being present and connecting with Penn & Teller. After all, that was the purpose of the show, for me to perform for them, for me to give them the attention and focus I give to every audience. So as soon as I blocked out all those distractions, invited the guys to join me on stage, shook hands, made eye contact, and connected with them, it became just like any other performance, and I was able to do what I love to do most: make people happy.

Did you know you were going to fool them?
I don’t like fooling people. I always thought it distasteful for a magician to tell his audience that he was going to fool them. Fooling people is the baseline of magic and I thought it was an unspoken assumption that that’s what was happening. I would never verbalize it because it would create a “me vs. you” relationship, and that doesn’t make for a positive, artistic experience. But this time, fooling them was the assignment. As I prepared, I thought deep about how Penn & Teller were going to perceive what I was doing. I went through the same exact process I have gone through when constructing magic for the last twenty years. I made calculated assumptions about what my audience would already know. I anticipated what they would think at every moment in the process. I attempted to control as many perceptions as I could. I didn’t know I was going to fool them. But I prepared.

In an interview, Penn discussed how they did the same trick on The Today Show two months earlier. If they had done it themselves, why were they fooled by your version?

(from Episode 175 of Penn Sunday School)

The effect itself is quite old and there are dozens of different ways of doing it. There are technical, mechanical and psychological methods for performing the same perceived effect. Most of them look identical, and only a serious student of magic would know the difference. A technical secret uses sleight of hand — we’ll call it “the work.” A mechanical secret uses secret gimmicks that do the work for you. A psychological secret can be simple or complex but typically requires proper language, proper sight lines, subtlety and the faulty perceptions and memories of the audience in order to execute well. When I was deciding which method to utilize, I eliminated mechanical so there would be nothing to hide. And then combined theatrical, psychological and technical skill to create the most impactful and “fooling” version of this classic effect. I structured the layers of deception and wove multiple threads, while avoiding cheap red herrings. Distraction isn’t a method. People have heard of “misdirection,” but great magicians (as written by the magic legend, Tommy Wonder) don’t “mis-“ they just direct. So, to the best of my abilities, I directed their perceptions. I accurately anticipated what they would assume. I worked harder and acted calmer than I ever had before. That’s why I believe they were fooled.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently writing my first book for the public, “Think Like A Magician.” You can sign up on my fan list (bottom of the site), and I’ll keep you updated with the progress. I’ll be opening up for the Penn & Teller show at the Rio in Las Vegas in November. I’ve got a busy schedule of business events and social events around the country. If your organization is looking for entertainment for this year’s holiday party, I highly encourage you to book one of the trained and certified magicians that are a part of my See Magic Live team. You can search our directory or call our office: 877-567-8921. We’ve got dozens of professional corporate magicians all across the U.S. ready to amaze you and your group! If you would like to hire me to personally perform for your group, facilitate a workshop, business meeting or speak at your next annual convention, you can email us or complete the web form on my webpage.

Thank you for your continued tweets and e-mails! And thanks for sharing the video on your social media feeds! Let me know what other questions you have in the comments below!