Penn Jillette on loving magic without loving “magic culture”

May 8, 2018

This short clip from an interview with Penn Jillette is absolutely fascinating. It’s easy to feel alienated by the culture surrounding magic. It’s not that the magic community is unwelcoming, more that it’s insular by nature, and absolutely filled to the brim with people who were reading The Royal Road to Card Magic in the womb and have lived and breathed the art since their early childhood. It’s intimidating. So it’s kind of a relief to learn that Penn Jillette, one of the most respected men in the industry, also feels like somewhat of an outsider.

Talking on SiriusXM, Penn explained that he not only didn’t care for, but actually actively disliked, magic until he met Teller in the mid 70’s. Coming into magic in his early 20s, Penn doesn’t feel the same connection to the magic community that many of his peers do.

So you get into that, and many people fall in love with the culture of magic. I didn’t.

Instead, Penn sees magic as a way of questioning society’s grasp of reality. Though perhaps that’s why he’s so successful. In an email to his “bastard son” (it’s a long story), Teller once suggested that the reason he was so good at magic was because he was meant for something else:

I should be a film editor. I’m a magician. And if I’m good, it’s because I should be a film editor.   

Regardless of what Penn and Teller were destined to do (and I’m aware they’d likely hate the use of that word), we can only be glad they somehow made their way into magic.