Teller Makes Us Uncomfortable — and We Love It

Dent Passport holders had the remarkable opportunity recently to socialize a bit backstage in Las Vegas with Teller, the silent half of the Emmy award-winning Penn & Teller duo.

Teller is friends with Dent board member Matt McKenna, and via Matt, we were invited to spend some time with Teller just before he went onstage. During that time, we learned more about how he and Penn develop their act and what drives them to innovate.

If you are not familiar with the relatively low-key Teller, I encourage you to read “Teaching: Just Like Performing Magic” a fascinating article written by Jessica Lahey in the Atlantic.

In this piece, Lahey reveals that Teller (a former Latin teacher) feels education, at its most engaging, is performance art — and that “learning, like magic, should make people uncomfortable, because neither are passive acts. Magic doesn’t wash over you like a gentle, reassuring lullaby. In magic, what you see comes into conflict with what you know, and that discomfort creates a kind of energy and a spark that is extremely exciting. That level of participation that magic brings from you by making you uncomfortable is a very good thing.”

Jason and I frequently discuss why so many Denters are avid magic enthusiasts (and in several cases amateur performers as well.) The late great master magician Eugene Berger spoke at our first conference to wide acclaim, and as a group we’ve made multiple well-attended treks to the Magic Castle in Hollywood. Last July board member Cady Coleman introduced us to the legendary magician Jamy Ian Swiss during San Diego Comic-Con, and a few months ago we organized an event in Boston featuring Dan Novy of the MIT Media Lab who teaches a course called “Indistinguishable From… Magic as Interface, Technology, and Tradition.”

I’d be remiss to not mention our Miami dinner several months ago where renowned artist Peter Tunney was our featured speaker. While Peter was there to talk about his creative works using photography and painting as media, he also regaled us with an unexpected magic routine!

Why magic? When Denter Everett Harper made the statement that our community members are “generous with their curiosity,” something clicked. Magic — like puzzles in general — disproportionally appeal to the intellectually curious.

We’ve now expanded on that thinking. A recent survey of Dent community members revealed that a significant percentage of them enjoy getting together at our annual conference, (and our other gatherings) because many wrote our events help them “break out of my comfort zone.” Given that, along with Teller’s insights, we plan to offer more magic-themed gatherings soon. There will be some performances at our upcoming conference, and Passport holders will be joining us for a special dinner and tour at the Magic Castle in April. You can request an invitation to the conference here and the Passport community here.