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Arts & Entertainment

Magic Vs. Lying

Penn & Teller

Lesson time 4:26 min

To convince an audience, you need to encourage them to arrive at a conclusion on their own. Penn & Teller discuss their philosophy on the deception inherent in magic.

Penn & Teller
Teach the Art of Magic
In their first-ever MasterClass, Teller breaks his silence as he and Penn teach their approach to creating moments of wonder and astonishment.
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[MUSICAL TRILL] - You have to accept the fact that in order to do magic you're going to lie. And you have to accept the fact that you don't want to, and you really don't want to, and you're fighting against that. And you have to accept that in a very, very simple way of your executive functions taking over your empathy and compassion. - One of that one of the big tricks to making something convincing for the moment to an audience is to let them come to that conclusion themselves. So instead of saying, here I have an ordinary deck of cards, you say, would you shuffle those cards for me? Now, the person is shuffling the cards, and that tells them that the cards are normal. All those cards might all be identical. But if the person is just shuffling them and not paying attention, the person has become convinced that it's a real deck of cards. The magician enables the audience to tell itself the story that we want to tell. It's very hard for them to contradict what they themselves have constructed. And that's much more convincing than when you try to force the meaning on it. - What you're doing in magic is you're exploiting the fact that it is very, very hard to accept that someone looked you in the eye and told you something that was not true. The taboo of lying to someone within your tribe, something you know not to be true, not self-deluded, not a couple ways of looking at things, but actually giving false information is one of the complete taboos. The actual looking in the eye of a friend and tell them something that's not true is one of the most perverse things you can ever do. So what you've done is you've asked for the audience, and received from the audience, a free pass to lie. - One of the things that you see any magician, even practicing, do right at the beginning until they've done it for years is if they're doing a secret move, at the moment that they're doing something sneaky they'll look up. They'll look away. They'll look any place except at what they're doing because looking at what they're doing makes them feel so terribly guilty. When they learn that they can actually look directly at the move that they're doing and they don't have to go really fast at the moment that they're doing something sneaky, they start to become good. - It's one of the reasons, I think, that there's almost too much celebration. You know, there's almost this, we've got them good. Your overcoming that. And I don't think you ever get over that. But you'll learn certain tricks. You'll learn to control your breathing. You'll learn where you look. Often in patter, you give away that you're lying by simply saying something, often true, that you wouldn't say if you were doing it for real. - That kind of stuff drives me crazy. And so that was part of my reason for not talking. I just thought it was-- I also thought it was kind of an interesting-- in the lying capacity, yes, what you are trying to do is this sort of experiment where you're ...

Open your mind with magic

With more than 40 years performing together, Penn & Teller have sold out shows around the world, earned a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and created the longest-running headline act in Las Vegas. Now the legendary magicians are taking you behind the curtain. Learn fundamental magic tricks and the psychological tools that create amazement, at home or on stage. Expand your perception of the possible.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

It was fun to learn and see how magic tricks are done. Even when knowing exactly how it was done, it was still fun to watch and the amazement was still there.

Though it was weird to hear Teller talking, their advice and knowledge was great! Magic has always been a hobby of mine, and these two helped me fine-tune my skills and learn new tricks. These guys really are the best. (As if you didn't know that already)

SO tickled to see you guys 'back stage' and teaching me actual magic. Thank you both so much. We have loved you both for many years. God Bless.

It was worth it just to hear Teller tell it like it is ! Entertaining and I have some things to practice now...


A fellow student

This lesson just proves why I believe P&T to be the best magicians out there.


This lesson was very important for me to hear. Very well placed lesson in this class. Great teachers!

Brett G.

A simpleton's (atheist's) explanation of lying for the purpose of successfully creating "miracles" (atheist's miracles, not Godly ones) in fooling your audience.

Edwin I.

I want to do this, my name is Fish. I am seeing a whitish panel parallel to the front of the glass, and the tank is clear once the fish appear. The thing that sells it is the fish drop from teller’s hands. It is quite good.

Brett G.

Great explanation about magic tricks (which by default assumes misdirection, deception and storytelling) - and lying. I don't agree with their explanation, since everyone assumes that magic tricks are synonymous with deceiving the observer. For instance, the observer actually pays good money to be deceived - knowing that they are being deceived - and like the guy who pays for a comedian to make him laugh - they will walk way feeling like they got their money's worth. Magic tricks - no matter how great they are - are just tricks. Lying, however, is something far more sinister that I don't believe belongs in magic... Just my 2C...


PENN AND TELLER CONTEST! Win two tickets to see P&T live in Las Vegas. Enter a video of you performing a Penn and Teller-inspired magic trick into the Community thread:

Nate S.

I am fascinated by the parallel between Teller and Steve Martin. Steve Martin talks about how he was tired of hearing and telling jokes where the setup and punchline were so formulaic that the audience knew when they were supposed to laugh. So Martin created an act around jokes that didn’t have a clear setup and punchline and the audience had to decide for themselves when to laugh. And Teller was tired of patter that told the audience which lies to believe and began performing silently so that the audience would tell their own lies to themselves.