Penn Jillette on artistic satisfaction and magic

Here's a fun and revealing interview with Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller), talking about the artistic satisfaction he gets from doing the kind of magic he does, and the working relationship he has with his longtime business and performance partner, Teller. Penn and Teller are in London for their first show here in more than a decade (I've got tickets to see them tonight — an early birthday pressie from my wife!).

He couldn't care less what they think. "I have always hated magic," he says. "I have always hated the basic undercurrent of magic which Jerry Seinfeld put best when he said: 'All magic is "Here's a quarter, now it's gone. You're a jerk. Now it's back. You're an idiot. Show's over".' I never wanted to grow up to be a magician. It was never my goal." He would rather have been a rock star, he says, but the business seemed already saturated with extraordinarily talented people. "So my thinking was, and I will say this outright, music is full of people I absolutely love. I don't have a chance. They are all better than me. Magic has, ooh, nobody in it that I like." He rocks back in his chair, cackling. "This is the field for me!"

Everything about Penn and Teller seems to defy conventional wisdom. Here are two men who value the world of ideas: Penn counts Bob Dylan, Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins among his friends; when in New York, Teller has tea with Sondheim. And yet they have taken up residence in perhaps the most mindless town in the United States. They are creatively restless: in addition to their show, their current projects include producing a film about "the secret technology that was probably behind Vermeer's work", directing an off-Broadway play (Teller), and writing a book about atheism (Penn). But they have signed up to a deal that compels them to perform a show in the same hotel, at the same time, night after night.

Penn and Teller interview

(via Kottke)