Backstage Unsolicited Performing Advice for Penn & Tellers Fool US

Its that time of year again, sooooo,….

If you just got cast for this season of Fool Us, CONGRATULATIONS!

You’re about to appear on easily the best television program that showcases magic since The Paul Daniels Magic hour. You will perform on the nicest stage I’ve ever worked in my 25 + year career of working across the globe. You just won the lotto. Seriously. Penn and Teller treat you like an equal and give you every shot at killing. It’s the best. That said, you’re undoubtedly nervous about the experience and what’s about to happen to you….

Can I offer you some advice? You may not have thought of this, but I wish I knew these things before I went to tape my own spot in Season 3. So, here it is

First, EVERYONE on that production wants you to kill. EVERYONE. Its not about fooling P&T, its about you having an amazing set and making great television. They’re not even secret about it, fooling them is NOT a priority. They just want great magic from you. Seriously, everyone is in your corner.

LISTEN and heed the advice of Michael Close and Johnny Thompson ( 2019 edit, Johnny has sadly passed away and at the time of this edit, its only Micheal Close working as consultant) the magic consultants on the show. Mike has 40 years experience in magic and 3 years experience shooting the fastest paced production I’ve ever been a part of, and he’s a hell of a nice guy who’s crazy funny. I promise he knows what he’s talking about. Johnny Thompson is the master, if he says do something, make that adjustment. You couldn’t afford these two guys to consult on your show unless you’re wealthy, but guess what…its here, for free!. Listen to them. Its hard to swallow, but do it. Listen to the producers who have infinitely more experience than you regarding what makes TV look good. No one is trying to take you down a peg by making suggestions. These people seriously are the nuts and bolts of this production and believe me when I tell you, they can see things about how your set looks on TV that you cannot. Everything they offer is there to help you. I pushed back on some things I wish I hadn’t. It was a waste of time. I currently use the advice of the producers in my live show and you know what, ??? They were right.

In my first tech rehearsal Johnny Thompson fell asleep. That was a kick in the balls. OK, he was REALLY sick that day, really sick, and it was second to last day of filming, and JOhnny’s what? 70……. The guy was wiped out, but…it hurt. Still, production offered some changes to my set and he did manage to stay awake to watch my spot, afterwards he gave me a piece of advice that I use EVERY single live show I perform and it makes that hunk WAY better. You honestly can’t put a price tag on this advice. IF you could hire these guys it would cost thousands of dollars for that advice. You’re getting paid to have these people bump up your act, OMG, what a gift. Take it in. Trust me.

Regarding the actual shoot. Look, I’ve been a full time act since I was 16. I’ve never had a day job. I’m a lifer and as a result, like many of you, the social aspect of being on a multi person show is huge. It IS the juice. I have better sets when I’m joking around with the other acts before I go on. It helps me get into the zone. This will NOT happen on Fool US. When you shoot you’ll be isolated from the other acts.

You can’t watch them do camera block, tech rehearsal or shoot the live show. You can’t be in the audience. You literally sit in a little room waiting to be called to go out and tape. After make up you’re kind of in a jail cell. If you’re hoping to hang with the acts backstage, forget it. Afterwards in the bar yes, but during the show, no. It’s hard to be alone and not get to chill with the acts especially on such a high pressure shoot. Be aware of that and get ready for it. It’s a mind screw if you’re used to production shows were socializing is a big part of it.   Just an FYI, find a way to get into your own head space without other acts around or it’ll hurt your set.

For many of us Penn and Teller were people we admired growing up. I loved their short films, movie and TV appearances. If you’re of a certain age It WILL head fake you to walk out to walk out and see your hero’s sitting 20 feet from you. Just remember, work your act. You’re a pro, work the material. Ignore them for those 7 minutes. Don’t get hung up what they think of you. I really wish I did that.

End of the day, as my friend Glenn Ottaway rightly points out, they’re using you and you’re using them. They use you for material to fill their show, you use them for profile and the tape. That’s the exchange. It doesn’t matter what they think of you in the moment. It makes for good TV for them to be seen liking your work, so don’t think they’re being super judgmental. Just do the material you’ve worked for all these years. You’ll be great. If a joke doesn’t fly, don’t worry. If the audience doesn’t get it, the laugh track will ( old TV joke, but kind of true )

That little advice brings me the show itself. Remember, this is a 2 week shoot. Two shows a day for 14 days, plus the crew shoots Penn & Teller segments within that time too. Its exhausting for these people. My advice to you is to try and get on early in the shoot and early in the show. Early in the shoot ( days 1-5 or 6 ) you get a fresher crew and a fresher P&T. Key, it seems to me, is to get on early in the actual show. 1st or 2nd position is ideal. Comedy club thinking is 3rd spot is the best for a showcase. This is not that. Unlike every other comedy production show I’ve done live or on television, with Fool US there’s a gap between each act as they strike the stage and reset. I followed a dude with a zillion props left on the stage. The host intro’ed him. He went on first with his 7 min, then there was 30 min of strike and reset then the host again, then I went out. The audience saw two acts do 7 minutes each in about 45 min. If you don’t think that down time drains the crowd, you shouldn’t be on the show. BE READY FOR THAT.

Vegas is a travel town, If you tape on a traditional travel day like a Friday, the audience won’t be as hot as they might be on a Saturday night. Get ready to come out swinging. Always swing for the fences. There’s a warm up comic for in-between acts as production resets, but it doesn’t seem to help. I advocate for doing material that you open with, not close, because it’s naturally stronger material from the beginning of your show and doesn’t require the full length of your normal show for the audience to like you and doesn’t have the build that your closing piece might depend on. Its natural to assume you’d want to use your closer for the TV show ( I did ) but its best to use a punchy opening piece that establishes like-ability and strong magic.

Let me leave you on this, what I think is the most important thing. There’s a rule in comedy clubs, which is where I came up in show business, and that is don’t be a stage hog. In other words, don’t go long, amongst other things. The same sort of thing applies here. Seriously, DO NOT be a douche bag and fight with Penn and Teller. This show is about making magic look amazing, giving you a great tape that you could never in a million years afford to make yourself and having a fun spot. Fooling Penn and Teller should be so low on your list of priorities that it’s not even noticeable. Listen to me closely here, if you fight with them about method or some B.S little bit of something in an effort to say you fooled them…. You accomplish nothing. NOTHING !!

The big win for the show is BEING ON THE SHOW. You already got that. No one ever got more gigs because they fooled P&T ( unless you sell magic to magicians ) Its best to go on and look like a boss and thank them for the wonderful opportunity of being on the show. They just gave you the best gift of your whole career. I wish I could personally thank Teller and Penn. They seriously helped my career more than anything else thus far. You will get international work out of this show. Why be a Dbag? Do not fight with them, do not nit pick with them, be honest, let them have the win even if its kind of unclear. If Penn says the name of the trick you did, isn’t that enough? He doesn’t need to go into detail about the method.  Let it go. It is, after all, their show. Unless you honestly freaked them out, let it go.

This accomplishes two things.

1) It makes you look like a pro and not a petty douche bag, additionally that arguing you’ll do, will most likely be cut out in editing … so really, why? You only piss them off.

2nd) This is key. PLEASE remember, someone has to follow you on that show. I had to follow a guy that argued with P&T so much ( and remember you have zero idea what’s going on with the taping prior to you walking out, so you have no idea what the act ahead of you has done ) he argued so much with the boys that when the P.A. walked me out to my mark to start my shoot, I looked across at Penn and could tell he was visibly pissed off. You know how hard it is to focus on your set, or anything else when you see your hero pissed and you wonder what the hell you think YOU did to do this to him? I had friends in the audience for my taping and they said Penn was indeed pissed with this guy. Bad when the audience notices.  So bloody unprofessional of that act. I’d love to name him, but I won’t. To Penn’s credit, he treated me with respect and he was fun and funny with me and gave me a really useable pull quote ( another bonus of being on the show ). I owe him for that. He’s a celebrity and didn’t have to check himself for my benefit, but did. He could have gone any other way.

So…..Be a friggin pro and be nice to them, and in return they’ll be nice to you. It helps everyone including the act that has to follow you. Keep your ego in check. You’re on the show. You’ve got the brass ring, don’t let it slip away by being petty about fooling them. Trust me, even if you fool them, your cock remains the same size. Let it go.

Oh finally , for the love of god, treat the crew kindly. I shouldn’t even have to tell you this if you’re a pro, but I’ve heard stories about this…so, remember the actual people who make you look and sound good are the crew, not you, not Penn and Teller not Close or Thompson. Be nice to the the crew !!!!…, lest your mic cut out or your make up look like crap or you’re lit weirdly. Be a proper human being to these working pro’s. Its to your benefit and guess what, it’s the human thing to do anyway.

Good night, and good luck,


Next Post

Previous Post