Penn & Teller: Magic Geeks

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Penn & Teller Theater: by Ken DenmeadPenn & Teller Theater: by Ken Denmead

Penn & Teller Theater: by Ken Denmead

I’m on vacation in Las Vegas this week, but I had to file this post after seeing the wonderful Penn & Teller show last night. You may know about the amazing and irreverent magic duo (Penn Jillette is the giant with the gift for gab, Teller the mute master of sleight-of-hand), but if you’ve never seen them live, you’re missing out. Getting to witness them work their magic and comedy, both performing the tricks and explaining many of them, is a treat.

The show is also an excellent lesson in skepticism. Penn explains forcefully their disdain for the trickery and downright fraudulent behavior of “psychics” and “mediums” such as John Edward, and go to great lengths in the show to demonstrate how their supposed powers are actually nothing more than parlor tricks.

Things start before the official show with the audience being welcomed up on stage to sign an envelope (used in a later mind-reading trick), and inspect an empty wooden box out of which Teller magically appears only moments after the last guest steps off. Even cooler is that for most of the hour before the official show starts, there’s a great piano/bass duo playing jazz off of stage left. Penn is the bassist, and he’s really good.

Highlights of the show include their famous “Magic Bullet” routine where each of them shoots a bullet that has been marked (both shell and projectile) by audience members at each other across a line down the middle of the stage that no one ever visibly crosses during the whole setup, only to “catch” the bullets in each others’ mouths. The best part of the trick is how they’ve primed the whole audience through the rest of the show to look for the tricks of the trade in terms of hand-offs, palmings, and other slights-of-hand, only to completely confound everyone by pulling it off without doing any of those things. It’s magic!

GeekDad Ken and Penn JilletteGeekDad Ken and Penn Jillette

GeekDad Ken and Penn Jillette

And, important to know, the show is fairly kid-friendly. Indeed, for one of the first tricks involving cutting and magically repairing a long piece of cloth, they brought up an 11-year-old girl who gamely played along. If you bring your kids with you to Vegas (not really that advisable, considering everything else they’ll see and hear in the casinos), the Penn & Teller show is a reasonable choice for a family outing with kids older than, say, 10.

Wired: Comedy and magic intelligently delivered. Penn & Teller both stay out in the lobby after the show signing autographs and taking pictures until everyone is gone. THAT’S showmanship!

Tired: Not much.

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