Penn Jillette Talks About MAGIC IMMERSIVE — Interview

“You can let music float over you. You can’t let magic float over.”

Penn Jillette’s eyes gleamed behind the frames of his small, circular glasses as he spoke about the necessity of audience engagement in the world of magic. One half of famed magic duo Penn and Teller, Jilette was welcomed to the Magic Immersive venue at 360 N State St. on the heels of its December 3rd Chicago premiere to chat about his involvement with the immersive experience.

Picture This Post (PTP) got the opportunity to sit down with Penn Jillette (PJ) and discuss  Magic Immersive, as well as his personal goals as a magician and the role magic has to play in the current moment.

Editor’s Note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

(PTP) How did you get started in magic? And what has kept you in the world of magic?

(PJ) I’m kind of odd. Almost all magicians start very young. The story that Jamie (Allan) has and the story that Teller has and the story that just about every magician I know has is identical. My story is different. I didn’t like magic at all. I was very upset at the lying. I was into music, I was a juggler — which although they’re the same tier of show business, they’re really diametrically opposed.

Juggling is, you know, “I can do this. This is what I’m doing.” It’s all very straightforward, and magic is devious. I didn’t like that at all. I hated it. And then when I was young, 18, I met Teller. And Teller had this idea that magic was essentially intellectual and could be done treating the audience with respect and dignity. You could get consent for the lying. And that was a fascinating idea, and Teller and I have been talking about it in public for 46 years. So I came to magic really seriously when I was 20, which is, you know, 15 years after all of my peers.

So has breaking down the “deviousness,” --as you call it -- been a throughline with all the other work that you've done?

Oh, yeah. That’s our obsession. Magic is a way of talking about how we determine what's true in a safe environment. I don't think there’s anything more important than that.

Lighthouse Immersive MAGIC IMMERSIVE
Photo By Volodymyr Kevorkov

In terms of Jamie (Allan) and Magic Immersive, how did you get involved in this whole experience?

There's not really a good story… Jamie thought we would fit into his idea and he gave us a call and we said, “Yes” right away. It's a really nice way to go in and learn an awful lot about magic very, very quickly. There's every kind of magic represented and the history of magic is presented. And the idea of being immersive, I mean, magic is almost by definition immersive. You have to intellectually engage or there's nothing there. You can let can let music float over you. You can't let magic float over you. You have to engage. Music is wonderful in dealing with the subject of love. And magic is wonderful when dealing with the subject of truth.

Can you talk a little bit more about how you and Teller contributed to this experience?

We are here on video. And you can’t do magic on video, magic is a live form. So we’re in an odd position, but because it's the audience watching the video together, we can give them props. And so the magic does not happen on the video screen with us, the magic happens in their hands with us hosting it, and so it becomes a live experience that uses video recording as a prop.

What is your perspective about the many virtual magic shows that were happening back in 2020, and at the start of the pandemic?

Well, you know, people were trying desperately to find some way to communicate artistically. No, Zoom magic shows are not that great. But they’re a lot better than not having magic shows and with the pandemic we needed to be safe. You know, real sex is better than porn, but porn’s okay.

What do you think that magic offers audiences today in this current moment?

Most of the problems we’re experiencing today—including the problems of the virus—come from people not sharing the same reality, not being able to ascertain truth. And magic deals with that as its direct, surface subject. It’s an epistemological art form, it’s dealing with how we obtain knowledge. And I think there’s no greater problem facing the United States and facing, indeed, the world, than finding a way for people to agree on a reality and then decide what their opinions are. Magic does that in a playful, fun way—but you can have a lot of fun with things that are important.

Reflecting on your career on stage and in television, do you think that truth is the overall throughline? Or, are there other throughlines that you see in your life’s work?

There’s a lot of stuff… Looking back, it’s very easy to decide that’s one of the things we’ve talked about the most on the surface. But underlying stuff that we care about? I think that respect for the audience is very important. I’m trying to think of the stuff that Teller and I talk about when we’re working on a trick. We talk about, “Are we being completely honest?” which may seem completely crazy for magicians to talk about, but it’s what we talk about the most. “Are we being honest?” “Are we being respectful?” “Are we being kind?” “Are we treating people with dignity?” And then “Can we fool the fucking shit out of them?” Once all that stuff is in place, then you can really have fun.

See Penn and Teller appear via video in Magic Immersive.


Through January 2


360 N. State St.


$45+, with VIP Option***

For more information on Magic Immersive Website

Images courtesy Penn Jillette MAGIC IMMERSIVE.

***Picture This Post Hot Tip: Opt for the VIP option if you want to make the most of your experience and enjoy a short parlor show as well as access to a museum featuring artifacts from some of magic’s most storied performers.

Brent Ervin-Eickhoff

About the Author: Brent Ervin-Eickhoff

Brent fell in love with storytelling as a 2nd grader, making a movie about wizards in his backyard with his mother's borrowed camcorder. Since then, he has worked on countless creative projects as a filmmaker, writer, and stage director. In all of his work, Brent's goal is to foster creative experiences that offer others a deeper understanding of the impact their choices have on the world around them.

When he isn't working on a creative project, Brent enjoys trying out new recipes, attending live concerts, and playing Ultimate Frisbee. While he wouldn't claim to be particularly athletic, competing in pick-up games where "spirit of the game" is just as important as skill is right up his alley.

Read more about him and other Picture this Post writers on the Picture this Post Masthead.

Click here to read more Picture this Post articles by Brent Ervin-Eickhoff

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