The Penn & Teller Incident

Sunday, 2 May 2010 02:33 by The Lunatic

I just recently found out that almost all of Penn & Teller’s “audience participation” card tricks involve the three of clubs. It’s some kind of an inside joke that's been going on for years.

It's funny, because I remember that specific card. They had a show in Seattle - on December 18, 2002 - which was SUPPOSED to involve the three of clubs. Unfortunately, the trick was foiled by a certain Half Baked Lunatic dressed in a tuxedo :-)

It was our anniversary, and my wife surprised me with a night out on the town. We started with a nice dinner, accompanied by an expensive bottle of wine. After dinner, she directed me to the parking lot in the back of The Moore Theater where we had previously seen a few shows, such as “Stomp” and “The Flying Karamazov Brothers.” I couldn’t see the marquee in front, so I didn’t know what kind of a treat we were in for; but before we went inside she produced a brown paper bag, seemingly out of thin air, which contained a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin, some good tonic water, and a lime. Woohoo!

So after a couple of good stiff drinks, she spilled the beans – third row center seats for Penn & Teller was our entertainment for the evening. We made our way into the theater and found our seats just as the lights were going down.

I wasn’t really wearing a full tuxedo, I had a nice dinner jacket that was half way between a suit and a tux – and I was wearing a bright fire-engine red vest with a bow tie.  Looked pretty sharp, if I do say so myself.

The show started with a hilarious warm-up monolog by Penn which got the audience laughing and put us in a good mood.  For the first “audience participation” magic trick of the night, they selected an elegantly dressed woman out of the audience, and she was perfect for the part.  Too perfect, I thought, and I mentioned to my wife that she must have been a plant. There’s no way they’d rely on the unpredictability of total strangers for a live show like this.

So a while later, when they asked for volunteers for the next trick, I raised my hand – smugly thinking that they certainly wouldn’t pick ME if they already had their audience members pre-selected. That, as it turned out, was a totally flawed assumption on my part. The next thing I knew, I was heading up on stage with three other audience members for what was supposed to be the main act of the show.

Now, before I go on, I should mention that a few nights before, just coincidentally, I had caught a re-run of an episode of The Simpsons, where Homer gets onto a Penn & Teller show, and he goads Teller into talking.  Teller starts yelling at Homer, and then stops short ... suddenly fearing for his life because Penn is mad at him for talking on stage.  He stammers, "Uh, I didn't mean to ... it just slipped out. Oh god, now Penn's gonna beat me ... I'm not the first Teller, you know!"

I get up on stage, feeling the Bombay Sapphire coursing through my veins, freeing the inner dialog which I usually keep pretty well under control. Teller is on this throne with a “Merlin the Magician” kind of costume, complete with a flowing purple robe with yellow stars and a pointed hat, and the first thing I do is point my thumb at him and I say to Penn, "Hey, is he the first Teller or is he a replacement?" 

Penn replied dryly, "Oh, no, not a Simpson's Joke ... you can come up with something more original than a Simpson's Joke ... " 

So I do come up with something more original. I start joking around with Penn while he's doing this big long elaborate trick, and he's getting a bit annoyed at me.  At one point Penn clicks off the microphone transmitter on his belt, leans into me real close, and says, "Stop fucking around and just go along with the trick!"  Yup, Penn (who is a rather LARGE fellow with a reputation for having a temper) threatened me on stage during a live performance.

But it didn’t end there.

As I mentioned, the trick involved four different volunteers. We all had a separate card table on stage, I had the last one – closest to Teller, up on his throne with the Merlin costume.

The trick is a big elaborate deal where Penn goes to each of the four tables, cutting and shuffling the decks, throwing cards around, and explaining that there is a secret message contained within the cards. After the big lead up which involved a lot of running around on stage and bowing to the great mysterious Teller up on his throne, he asked us to cut the deck of cards which each of us now had on the table in front us. I cut the deck as instructed, and he grabs the bottom half of the deck to complete the cut. But I see him slip a card on top of the deck during the cut ... the classic magician’s "force", where I end up with the card that came from his palm instead of cut from the middle of the deck. He then tells all four of us on stage to take the top card from the deck and put it in a pocket without looking at it.

Of course, I wasn't going to have any of that. If I catch a magician palming a card, then I feel like I should be free to palm one myself! So instead of taking one card from the top of the deck, I helped myself to two of them ... I put the second card in my pocket, and while Penn was busy with one of the participants at the far table, I casually straightened the deck in front of me, placing the “forced” card back on top.

I didn't have a chance to look at the card in my pocket, so I didn’t know what I was in for. The four cards were supposed to spell something that Teller had already predicted (I can't even remember what the punch line to the joke was) and I'm supposed to have the now-famous three of clubs which is used in all their card tricks. When it came around to me, the last of the four participants, Penn asks me to pull the card from my pocket to complete the magical word, and ... I pull out a Joker!

It all ended well. Penn said loudly, "and here we have THE JOKER standing in for the three of Clubs", and he just went on and finished up the trick, thankfully without threatening me with bodily injury or putting a curse on my grandchildren.

The audience loved it. And of course, by the time the end of the show rolled around I was ready for another Bombay Sapphire and Tonic!

I’ll end with two Penn & Teller links, one is an article that a friend sent to me after hearing me tell this story a few years later: – it was nice to see that Penn Jillette is a “kindred spirit” and fellow atheist. I knew I had good reason to like him. The second is a recent video of a fun little social experiment that they conducted, which is very thought provoking:

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Comments (1) -

May 21. 2010 07:22

That is a GREAT story! Wow, you must have really kept your cool.  Or maybe it really was just the G&T. Anyway, thanks for the blog post, I really did enjoy it.

Nantucket Prime

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