Thursday, April 01, 2010

Project 365 (91/365): Penn And Teller

It's April, so we start a new month, hot on the heels of a very exciting escapology-themed month. I'm not one to play any April Fool's gags this year, so let's just theme April as the "comedy month", which I do believe suits our purposes very well.

Without further ado, I'm republishing with a few minor tweaks a piece I wrote about the magician duo that I've admired and respected the most over the past couple of years...

.:91/365: Penn And Teller:.

Made for each other.

Who They Are: The Origins

According to Wikipedia, Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller have been at it since the early to mid-80's as a duo magic and comedy act. They were initially a trio act in the 70's along with Weir Chrisimer, but it was Penn and Teller as a duo that really made waves in the world of magic.

Known as "the bad boys of magic", as well as "the tall, loud guy, with the short guy who never talks", Penn and Teller took the magic world by storm with their cutting edge act. You see, unlike most other magicians, they are unabashedly opinionated (Penn and Teller are libertarians and atheists.), and when they're on TV, they're not always doing magic. Penn is a raconteur (A storyteller.), an accomplished juggler, and even knows how to play bass. Teller is a master of sleight of hand, and mime performances. There's something about Teller's amazing facial reactions that draw you to his performance despite his never having to say a single word.

Penn and Teller have had numerous TV specials, and lots of guestings. They are headliners in Las Vegas, and have an act comprised of amazing feats like the two-man bullet catch, cups and balls with transparent cups, and a host of other effects they've managed to tailor for their show. I'd love to link you to clips of these acts, but I think you should look for them yourself, because they are just splendid things of beauty.

What They Mean To The Industry: Polarizing

As opinionated and as high profile as these two are, they have earned the respect and ire of the magic community, insofar as their acts have garnered a lot of attention for its inherent shock value, and cruel humor, as you will see below. I'm merely reposting a video I put up for your amusement the last time, but I do believe it bears repeating.

This, along with acts where they would actually expose magic secrets for some of their routines, have earned mixed reactions from people, who either think they're geniuses or think they're attention-starved hacks who need cheap thrills and shocks to impress people. They've taken shots at other magicians like Paul Daniels, and are very opposed to quacks like John Edward, going as far as to exposing certain methods other performers also employ in their performances just to discredit him. The fact that they are very good friends with the Amazing Randi should tip you off that they're prone to that.

No matter how polarizing the opinions may be when it comes to Penn and Teller, one thing can't be denied: they have made their mark on the history of magic, and few tandem acts can ever approach the kind of energy and dynamism Penn and Teller inject into their performance, no matter how mundane an effect may seem to be. As a duo act, they are one of those quintessential yardsticks by which other duo acts must peg themselves against, and among comedy performers, they are quite amazing in that department as well.

What They Mean To Me: Tandem Par Excellence

As a performer, I believe that I have a long way to go in the realm of comedy. I may be a member of the Comedy Cartel, but I recognize that my yearlong body of work in standup comedy is just a miniscule drop compared to what the likes of a Mike Unson or a Tim Tayag have accomplished. I can and do inject humor even during some of my magic routines, but it's never been the other centerpiece of my act (The first, of course, being the routines I do themselves.). I can talk, given my experience in radio and in debate, and I can hold my own for a bit in improv, but I really don't think of myself as a comedic genius, especially not since mentalism has to have some realism and seriousness attached to it, and I do a lot more of that than magic, since I'm more adept with sleight of mind than sleight of hand, more so now than ever.

As magician comedians, this duo act sets the benchmark, in my opinion. There may be wittier or funnier acts out there, but Penn and Teller broke the mold. Their clash of personalities, their harmony as mouthpiece + performer, and their overall stage presence plainly adds up to one of the most impressive acts I've ever witnessed. Watching them, I never fail to laugh at Teller's physical comedy, and Penn's ability to just keep rattling off at a hundred miles an hour. They're a perfect team, and nobody ever outshines the other, by sheer dint of their role division, although of course, being the silent one means Teller didn't get a radio show when Penn did. Heh.

If I ever had the chance to be a part of a permanent duo act, I wanna be Teller! There's just something so cool about not having to say a single word and yet holding the audience in the palm of your hands with your riveting performance. These two are among my personal heroes in magic and mentalism, and though this piece was originally written two years ago, my sentiments about Penn and Teller have hardly changed. I still hold them in very high regard, and I believe that they really put magic at a different level that is both low-brow and high-minded at the same time.

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