This fan theory is a little different from the other ones I normally post. Normally, the fandom or subject I focus on is a movie, tv series or video game, but the idea of being a fan is not limited to just these forms of entertainment. I, like so many other people, have always been fascinated by magic tricks and have always adored Penn & Teller for their mastery of their craft. Not only can I appreciate the final product of an illusion for its beauty, simplicity and performance, but I can also appreciate it for how it was executed and the amount of hard work that it takes to deliver a sincere and realistic performance. In reality, I have absolutely no performing talent and my evaluation and appreciation of art may be lacking. However, I still love to speculate on the subjects that I love because this is how I personally gain the maximum enjoyment from them. At the end of the day, that is the true purpose of entertainment is to enjoy it in your own way, and my way to is too endlessly speculate on it. That being said, if you are of the school of thought that magic tricks are more fun by simply not knowing how they are done, perhaps this post isn’t for you. My theory is wrong anyway so take everything I am about to say with a grain of salt.
An interesting aspect about this trick, is that at no point does Penn Jillette lie to the audience. As a magician, he is a professional liar and deceiver which serves to convince the audience that certain events are happening or not happening. This makes Penn’s performance for this particular trick critical and eloquent. It is true that Penn and Teller will be moving a signed bullet from the end of the stage to the other because they really do fire the very real bullets from their very real Colt Python 357 Magnum “magic wands.” In fact, they really shoot each bullet through a pane of glass.
The pane of glass is very important. It can exhibit a bullet hole without giving away the bullet’s true trajectory. The reason to hide the bullets’ actual path is because each one is being fired to the left of Penn and to the right of Teller; offstage away from the audience. The laser sight attached to each gun is both a misdirection and a guide. It is slightly angled so that the shooter confidently knows that as long as the laser is on their partner, the bullet will safely miss them.
Let’s just pause this right here and appreciate the level of preparation, practice, trust and safety protocols that would be required to pull off this much of the trick. Seriously, if it is true that every time this trick is performed, a bullet is fired in the general direction of each participant, the two performers should receive a standing ovation for the quality of production, preparation and practice it would take to pull off this trick.
Now the question remains; how does each polished performer appear to catch the bullet between their teeth and seem to present the exact bullets to the volunteer audience members that wrote their initials on each bullet? Again, Penn is very honest about the trick. The daring duo have successfully moved two bullets to the other side of the stage without anyone crossing the center. Penn will continue with his frankness and never once claim that the bullets in their mouths are the exact same bullets that were just fired, because they are not. In fact, they are previously fired bullets that have been shot into some medium such as ballistic gel (to show evidence of being fired on the bullet while leaving it undamaged). How Penn and Teller get identical bullet tips into their mouths is the tricky part.
While the original bullets, still in their casings, are being signed by the volunteers, a member(s) of the Penn & Teller crew is copying the initials being displayed to the audience (and the counterfeiter(s) on a screen. The forgers use the same color marker and copy the initials on the fraudulent pre-fired bullets. At this point the hidden assistants carefully place each bullet into the bullet proof vests that are hung on a wall. The wall contains a small trap door that someone can reach into the bullet vests unseen and rig the forged bullets in such a way that both magicians can seamlessly slip the vests over their heads and put the bullets in their mouths in one graceful, well practiced, natural movement. It should be noted that this is the only time during the entire performance that Penn and Teller ever cover their mouths, albeit for the briefest of moments.
Following a convincing performance of pretending to receive the bullets between their teeth with a snap back of the head, Penn cleverly leads the volunteers to identify their initials without betraying his truthfulness. The audience members that have identified themselves as being familiar with firearms, confirm that each shell has been spent and each initialed bullet tip also shows signs of being fired.
And that is my theory of how Penn & Teller’s Magic Bullets trick is executed. It may seem simple, but if this theory is correct, it only confirms the beauty that is contained in simplicity. I say simplicity, but it is only so on paper. The actual trick has been agonized over and meticulously rehearsed to the umpteenth degree. The very act of firing a live firearm on stage would be a whirlwind of coordination, safety protocols and obsessive analyzing of props and placement.
This is an absolutely stunning trick that leaves the audience breathless. Honestly, examining this trick with the assumption of knowing how it could have been performed, gives me a greater thrill of anticipation and appreciation. I also take my own flawed assumptions lightly knowing that I am undoubtedly wrong about the whole process. I have come to terms with this but relish the opportunity to take the time to think on and enjoy the trick on another level. Remember that this theory is most definitely wrong, but I hope that you had even a fraction of the fun that I did trying to figure it out. The definitive mechanics of this trick may never be fully revealed, but only time will tell and until then, keep theorizing!
Author: Erik Montgomery