Why legendary magician Penn Jillette loves being fooled


When it comes to his 30-plus year career in magic, Penn Jillette and his equally exceptional act partner Teller, are “weirder and bolder” than ever, Jillette tells Salon. Now in the sixth season of their CW show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us,” Jillette opens up about why the duo has trusted their audiences all along, and his early experiences with magic.

“We’ve trusted the audience more all the time, and one of the big things that was different about us from other people in magic, was our trust of the audience. We want to do magic without ever insulting the audience,” Jillette told SalonTV’s Alli Joseph.

Jillette added, “You know, Jerry Seinfeld said that all magic was, ‘Here’s a quarter, now it’s gone, you’re a jerk, now it’s back, you’re an a**hole. Show’s over.’ We really didn’t want to do that. We wanted to let the audience in on the inside, and be fair and kind to the audience.”

Part of Penn & Teller’s stock-in-trade has been, in more recent years, their desire to let audiences in on how magic tricks, or sleight of hand, are done. With “Fool Us,” they turn the tables on themselves, and invite other magicians try to get a trick past them, in order to win a prized guest spot in their long-running Vegas show.

“You get into magic not because you want to fool people, but because you enjoy being fooled,” explained Jillette. “And then you continue as you learn about how tricks are done, to chase that first high. It’s harder and harder for us to be fooled, so we’ve put ourselves in a situation where there is a team of people with lots of money who go all over the world to find people who can fool us. So talking about statistics, there are about twelve percent of people on the show who have fooled us...we get deeply fooled by about fifteen people every season!”

Jillette, who is dad to teenage daughter Moxie Crimefighter (a magician herself), is a big booster of women getting into magic, which he says is a fundamentally sexist industry. “The Magic Circle, the biggest magic organization in London, didn’t allow women on the premises until the ‘90s! The big organization is the “International Brotherhood of Magicians”...but all of a sudden, because of the internet, there are a lot of girls into magic.”

On “Fool Us,” Jillette says he works hard to have many women magicians on the show, most of whom have come up outside of the traditional male-dominated pathways, and, he says, last season, all six of the women who came on, fooled he and Teller. “There’s no way there’s gender related, but it is outsider-related...it means the people who came up a little outside of the form knew things that we didn’t know being so deeply inside it. Nothing pleased me more about all the seasons of ‘Fool Us’ than that particular fact.”


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