Public Fan Letters | Penn & Teller

I’m currently reading ‘Steal Like An Artist’ by Austin Kleon which ties in to my interest in what seems to be a changing consensus on the origin and process of creativity, art and copyright law. One chapter mentions writing a public fan letter. Here’s one of mine…

I love Penn & Teller, they are not only my favourite magicians but also my favourite artists. I love their open and honest opinions on life and their approach to work. I love their backstory, how they went from street performing carnies to Las Vegas headliners. I enjoy their outspoken (well Penn’s out spoken) views on religion, politics and rational thinking. I try and watch as much of their work as I can, I’ve managed to see them perform live a few times and each time they have something new to offer.

A couple of years ago I performed at a magic convention in Vegas and was lucky enough to see and hear Teller deliver a presentation on Penn & Teller‘s artistic and technical approach to creating a new piece. It was one of the most interesting and inspiring things I’ve ever experienced.

Here’s a nice segment from Teller from a different piece he sometimes gives…

Each week I listen to Penns podcast and when the chance arises I read his books which bring me to tears of laughter. I love listening to Penn argue his point of view which is always phrased in such an informally precise way that it takes you by surprise.

Their careers have decades of success to them, with such a wide variety of material and outlets, from an appearance on the West Wing arguing the right of flag burning to creating a TV series about (and entitled) Bullshit. From directing Shakespeare plays to producing their own films. They seem to have a talent of producing well thought out opinion and conveying it in an original and thought provoking manner.

They are a massive inspiration to me and I can’t wait to see what’s next from them, you know it will be ace.

One of my favourite Penn & Teller pieces…

An old pair of comfy #circus slippers

One of my favourite performers Donald Grant, once remarked to me how performing his act felt ‘like putting on an old pair of comfy slippers’.

Old Slippers

I’m starting to get to a similar point with my act. I know that despite external conditions I’m still capable of shipping my art and delivering the goods (although I’m still capable of screwing them up as well!). No stairs to get on stage? No Worries. Wrong music comes on? On with the show.

Once you’ve done your act several 100 times it starts to become a little less stressful, you start to trust your work a little more. You can refine detail and perhaps enjoy yourself a little more.

In a podcast Penn Jillette reminded me that acts that have worked for 20 years have a quality, maturity and refinement that can’t be taught and is rare to see these days. You can really see this with performers such as George Carl.

These ‘mature acts’ obviously made and make incremental changes over time and I enjoy following acts and watching how they subtly evolve. A new line here, an extra trick there – it’s a circus spot the difference.

However the danger is stagnation, it’s probably not as artistically rewarding for most performers to do the same material year in year out. And times have changed, there isn’t the market demand for such refinement yet lack of flexibility. Modern circus artists need slightly different skills, the ability to constantly create new work, collaborate (often cross discipline) and push the art form in new directions.

It’s not something that I’m not particularly suited for or good at. Yet I’m pushing myself onwards. I like having my comfy slippers but I know at some point I’ll need some brogues, trainers and even a pair of Crocs. After all, slippers do wear out – eventually.

Enough of the shoe analogies, I'm off to the cobblers.