Penn & Teller: Off the Deep End (2005)





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Taking their magic show to new lows, quirky entertainers Penn & Teller head deep beneath the Caribbean Sea to the ocean floor. But being submerged doesn't faze the unflappable duo as they pull off some incredible hocus-pocus amid the fish and seaweed. Their bag of tricks includes Teller --surrounded by a school of ravenous sharks -- escaping from a straitjacket, Penn sawing a mermaid in half and the pair making a 75-foot submarine vanish!
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Fishing for Tricks Of late, I have begun to say that Graham and I are like Penn and Teller. I am Penn; I do (almost) all the talking, and I can be kind of abrasive. He is Teller; he doesn't talk (much) and tends to wander around in the background doing things. (Though he's considerably taller than I am; I do wear my long, dark hair in a ponytail, anyway.) No, we don't do magic, though I sometimes think that the only reason our relationship works is magic. Which is Penn-and-Teller-ish as well, given how hard I would find it to put up with Penn. While it's true that no one is planning to fly us to the Bahamas and put us on television any time soon, it is also true that we worry more about amusing ourselves than about what people around us say or think. Now, they've been together longer than I've been alive, it's true. However, it's a decent enough working metaphor whether we can do sleight of hand or not. For this special, after years of working the desert city of Las Vegas, they went down to the Bahamas to do a special completely by or under the water. They cut a woman in half--underwater! (Oh, and accidentally pulled out her air hose and nearly killed her, but that's why they had safety divers around the whole time, right?) They did card tricks--on the beach! They replicated one of Houdini's famous illusions--underwater! And so forth. A bit gimmicky, but there aren't a lot of other ways for magicians to get specials, and as they point out, the tricks really are more difficult underwater. They had trouble with the "saw the lady in half" trick, one of the oldest ones in the book, not just because of the air hose thing but because the water warped the wood that the box was made of. There's a reason most magicians would never think of pulling off some of these tricks. And for a finale, they make a submarine disappear in front of an audience of forty divers. So that's kind of neat. Yes, of course, there's the factor that magic is a lot easier on television. It's kind of like how Edgar Bergen was a better ventriloquist, or anyway I assume he was, before he spent all those years doing ventriloquism on the radio. No, I don't believe that they actually use the magic of television to fool us, and I do believe that it's why they had a live audience for every trick they do. They may be fooling us with the camera, but it's less likely that they're fooling those people, right? They acknowledge that you can get an audience to do all kinds of things for the appeal of being on TV, but that doesn't matter. We as humans believe that we would be able to tell if the audience were just acting. In some ways, we're not wrong, given that the average person isn't really that good at acting. It's not unlike the principles on which stage magic work in the first place. For the most part, we want to go along with it. We want it to be real, and we'll ignore things that indicate that it isn't. Though, this being Penn & Teller, you can't pretend that it's real magic. I'll admit that I watched some of those cheesy "masked magician" specials that FOX did back in the mid-'90s, but even at the time, I wanted to know how it was any different than what Penn & Teller had been doing for years. (In part, it was having Mitch Pileggi do a sleazy voiceover!) Yes, they even show you how they make that submarine disappear at the end, though Penn warns you up front that they're going to, so you can ignore it if you want to. They show you how they make a routine card trick seem a lot more impressive. (And that you shouldn't trust Penn's memory or hearing as you get late in a long day of filming.) There's no guarantee that you'll do this as well as they do, and some of it is quite literally impossible to do without a lot of special equipment. (Like, you know, a submarine and an enormous bubble curtain.) Still, they want you to know that it isn't magic. There are, I think, two ways to think of why Teller is silent. The obvious is that Penn never lets him get a word in edgewise. Certainly it would be understandable if you believed that, given how very much Penn does talk. It has never been what I believed, though. I've figured as long as I've known about them that Teller (it's legally his only name) wouldn't stick around Penn if he were just being stepped on for closing in on forty years. (It was thirty years the year they made this special.) I always figured that Teller was just okay with not talking. I figured that, when you got him alone, he still didn't have much to say, and he figured that it was a decent gimmick for the act. The big loud guy and the quiet little guy. It is one of the things that makes them memorable. Similarly, when I talk for Graham, it's because I like interacting with people and he doesn't. I'm certain that, if he didn't like it, we would have broken up years ago. You can't, after all, force magic.

Edith Nelson
Edith Nelson

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