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Eccentric conjurers Penn & Teller are due to perform in London. Here, Teller explains why their style of tricks still works in 2011. Words by Jahn Vannisselroy.

Put the idea to US magician Teller that living in such a technologically advanced age is slowly rendering traditional magic redundant, and he’ll soon set you straight.

The diminutive 63-year-old and his loudmouthed colossus of a partner, Penn Gillette, have wowed audiences for 35 years with their skillful mash-up of often-gory illusion and comedy. They’re known and loved for their intelligent discussions, and even revelations, about magic – an attitude that’s led them to a long-term residency in Las Vegas and multiple TV shows.



But for everything he’s seen and done, Teller (he legally made his first name disappear some years ago) remains adamant the artform he’s carved a successful career out of is still a massive drawcard in 2011, and faces no threat from ever-improving technology such as CGI, video games or 3D.

“Sit in a theatre or play a game and you are vividly aware that you are not in a room with something impossible seeming to happen,” he explains. “It’s no challenge to you; you go along with it. When you watch a magic show, you know there’s entirely nothing between you and the performer on stage. You are stripped down. It’s very naked.”



Teller explains while technology may have developed, the human mind has mainly stayed the same, especially in regards to the flaws magic can exploit. It’s all about playing with people’s perceptions, in a non-threatening way.

“You can watch a performer and if you make a mistake about where reality and make-believe begins, the consequences are only a little burst of pleasure and surprise and a laugh, rather than tragedy,” he adds. ”People do enjoy that.”

And Teller promises plenty of enjoyment at Penn & Teller’s 35 Years Of Magic And Bullshit in London this month. As always, an element of explanation will occur; the show contains a Q&A segment on how the two carried out the illusions. Such openness, while welcomed among audiences, hasn’t always won the pair friends among their magical brethren. But Teller couldn’t care less.

“We felt the public has an axe to grind with magicians that act as guardians of some great hidden secret that only they know – there’s a certain smugness that I also find insufferable.

“We’re not treating our audiences as benighted savages; we know you’re sophisticated. Our style has always been to emphasise the trickery, and delight in the fact people are looking for flaws.”



Such a stance means a constant need to come up with new tricks. But Teller says he and his offsider would create, regardless. In fact, incorporating their trademark humour, they’re currently working on vanishing an African spotted pigment elephant, played by a cow; and the ability for Penn to pour tea from Teller, to the tune of I’m A Little Teapot.

“That’s our job,” he says. “Penn and I sit down, often at Starbucks, and stare at each other for as long as we have to. We talk about what we’ve been reading and what we’ve been learning about. From that comes magic. You just do it.”

Penn & Teller’s 35 Years Of Magic And Bullshit.
Dec 6-8. From £30.70 
Indig02, SE10 0DX
the02.co.uk 
Tube: North Greenwich


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Interview: Penn & Teller in London - Teller explains their trick style
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