The Muhlenberg magic program asked me to explain some of my experiences with creating and doing magic
on stage and television to a group of about 400 on Wednesday night.
This was a very small, limited event with a mostly serious academic audience. I wanted to give
the students a sense of the kinds of things Penn and I have gone through in making some of our stuff.
I didn’t want to do homework or make it too formal. So I had Laura dub up a few clips of P&T pieces,
and had Larry Hass – who runs the series – play James Lipton. I had them put out a chalkboard, in case
I wanted to write out the old Greek terms Rosey loved to use. Larry had also asked me to bring along
the needles and do that trick to warm up the gang. That seemed like more than enough prep.
They put out rug and a couple of comfortable chairs, and made the lighting look homey and we were ready to roll.
After some preliminary remarks, Larry brought me on. I waited for the applause to stop, cleared my throat,
then turned around and sat down. It was the right joke. Then they played a video of “Hitchcock Zippo,”
from Sincity, a piece most of the audience had never seen, maybe the noirest thing we ever did on TV.
Followed that with the Needles – so that we were fully twelve minutes into the show with me still silent,
then Larry asked his first question.
It was a good one, about the construction of the Needles routine, and it made the transition into Q&A
very smooth. For the next hour and twenty minutes we discussed magic, show business, plotting,
television, partnership, and all the kinds of things I have often shared with young magicians in
private. Being able to go to video now and then gave a sense of progression, and provided points
of departure for more questions.
The videos we showed included the second Letterman spot with the roaches, where we tease him with
the top hat and in the end produce the roaches a second time; the SNL Upside Down bit; and a recent
video of the goldfish trick. We had ready (but didn’t have time for) the Letterman Watch in Fish.
My god, Penn is amazing on the Letterman and SNL videos, so smart, fast, brave, fiery, and funny.
Just seeing this stuff again gave me a fresh appreciation of my incredible luck in having him as a partner.
Larry had intelligent, serious questions and I was answering from true experience. The audience
kept making those little noises that indicate that they’re with you and understanding and glad they came.
Thinking about and looking at all this stuff sure made me proud to be half of Penn & Teller.
It ran about an hour and forty minutes.
Since I hate talks that just trail off at the end or drag on with progressively-less-interesting questions,
I’d brought along the script for the piece I wrote for NPR about going to the Meadowlands Fair
with Penn and the gang and seeing the Gorilla Girl. It’s full of things Penn and I were thinking
about back in the 1980s. The pang of nostalgia kept pushing my heart into my throat, but I knew that
getting sentimental would hurt the feeling of the piece. So I tightened my gut, and managed
to keep my composure and read it calm and cool. It made a nice simple ending.