Penn & Teller are famous magicians who have mixed comedy with their magic since they first started performing in the late 1970s. They’ve appeared on talk shows, sitcoms, Broadway, and broadcast and cable television specials, with Penn Jillette as the taller, more gregarious partner, while Raymond Teller usually remains silent as their act delights audiences.
“I’ve watched and admired Penn & Teller since I was a teenager,” says Matt Baker, professor in the School of Mathematics at Georgia Tech and an award-winning magician, who found inspiration in their approach. “As an educator, I’ve used magic to make my classes more fun and interesting, and in some cases, even more educational.”
Baker got the chance to show Penn & Teller the latest math-based tricks up his sleeve in person, when he was invited this August to tape a segment of the duo’s CW show, Penn & Teller: Fool Us.
How to tune in
Baker’s taping, from the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas, is set to air at 8 p.m. EST Friday, December 1. In Atlanta, you can watch it on Peachtree TV (WCPH), channel 17. Online streaming will be available Saturday, December 2, at cwtv.com
The series episode, titled “The Bill in Penn’s Head Trick,” will feature Baker showing off his skills among four magicians.
“As a magician, it’s clear why the opportunity to appear on Fool Us was exciting to me — it’s the longest-running and most-watched magic show on television, and it’s considered the most prestigious gig in the magic business,” Baker says.
“I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into designing original magic tricks which utilize mathematical principles in new and interesting ways,” Baker added. “I think the routine I’m performing on Fool Us is a great example of this.”
Fool Us has invited aspiring magicians to Las Vegas to appear on the show since it premiered in the U.S. in 2014. If the hosts can’t guess how the trick was done, or they guess wrong, the magician receives a Fool Us trophy and a chance to return to Las Vegas for an appearance at one of Penn & Teller’s shows.
A successful audition
Baker sent an audition tape of a magic trick — less than five minutes, one continuous shot with no edits — to the show’s producers in April. He heard back within a week that he had been selected for the trip to Las Vegas to perform in front of a live studio audience.
“It was truly an unforgettable experience,” Baker says. “It’s easy to get so stressed out about appearing on television, or performing in front of Penn & Teller, that you don’t actually enjoy the experience at the moment, but I didn’t have that problem. I had a lot of fun on stage. And I did exactly what I set out to do, performance-wise; I didn’t drop any lines or fumble my props, and I think I remembered to look at the camera and smile.”
Fooling the magicians
Baker can’t talk about whether or not he successfully fooled Penn & Teller, but said the show’s producers make it clear that stumping the duo is a secondary consideration.
“According to Penn & Teller themselves, the purpose of the show is to highlight good magicians and good magic tricks, and the reality TV aspect of making it into a competition is just a gimmick to get people to watch and to keep the show on the air,” Baker said. “The producers make a big point of saying that if you appear on the show, you’ve already won. Fooling Penn & Teller is just a bonus.”
About Matt Baker
Baker, who is currently on sabbatical through a Simons Foundation Fellowship, served as associate dean for Faculty Development in the College of Sciences for five years. In that role, Baker helped develop programs that enhanced the instructional, research, and career opportunities for faculty, with a focus on hiring, mentoring, retention, diversity, and inclusion.
Baker’s academic accomplishments have won him numerous awards and honors, including his election as a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society in 2012, and selection for an earlier Simons Fellowship in Mathematics in 2017. Baker has also edited or written four books, but only his most recent one, The Buena Vista Shuffle Club, is about his magic obsession.
That affinity also earned him accolades: the Atlanta Society of Magicians named Baker Greater Atlanta Magician of the Year in 2015 and 2019.
For More Information Contact
Writer: Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer II/Science Writer
College of Sciences
Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston