Teller Speaks on the Enduring Appeal of Magic

The magician famous for being mute as a performer says that magic is all about the unwilling suspension of disbelief

Illusionist/director/writer Teller of the film "& Teller 2" poses for a portrait during the 11th annual CineVegas film festival held at the Palms Casino Resort on June 13, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Charley Gallay/Getty Images for CineVegas)

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We try to convey our attitude in one of our signature pieces: It’s a version of the ancient Cups and Balls sleight-of-hand trick. But we use clear plastic cups, so that the audience sees every secret move. But they’re surprised. Because in the Cups and Balls, body language plays so much of a part in what makes that trick deceptive, that even as you’re seeing the balls being loaded into the clear plastic cups, part of your mind is not seeing them. That’s a very interesting experience, and lets folks know that we know how smart they are. And the smarter the audience is, the more they naturally enjoy magic. The more you know about gravity, the more amazing a good levitation is. What other art form offers such tingling intellectual stimulation? 

Still, when we first took our show Off Broadway, back in 1984, our producer, Richard Frankel, said, “Lads, the word ‘magic’ will not appear in connection with any advertising on this show. If you say ‘magic,’ people will drive their station wagons in from the suburbs, drop their children off at matinees, and no first-string reviewer will ever take you seriously. Let’s think of ‘magic’ as the m-word.”

So when we opened, we simply called the show ‘Penn and Teller.’ It was the best advice anybody ever gave us.

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