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Penn and Teller’s Art of Magic MasterClass Review: Behind the Illusion

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Penn and Teller’s MasterClass: Our Verdict (2023)


4.5 / 5

Penn and Teller’s “Art of Magic” MasterClass delivers an engaging educational experience with charismatic instruction from living legends in the world of magic. The course’s exceptional production quality justifies the cost, particularly for newcomers. However, magicians may find the emphasis on basic tricks less fulfilling. I recommend it strongly for aspiring magicians while cautioning against it for those already well-versed in magic.


  • Informative and engaging teaching style
  • Excellent production quality
  • Includes class guide for tutorials
  • Bonus chapters


  • Not much beyond entry-level practical skills
  • Relatively short duration
  • Choppiness of structure

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As an enthusiast of the conjuring arts, I’m thrilled to share my thoughts on the MasterClass: “Penn and Teller teach the Art of Magic.” Renowned for their unbelievable illusions and innovative approach to the art, Penn and Teller’s unique blend of magic and comedy has captivated audiences worldwide.

The dynamic duo is notoriously known for their willingness to break the rules of magic, unveiling the secrets behind some of their tricks. While the transparency in these kinds of performances adds an educational element, how do they fare when teaching magic tricks? Can we gain a deeper understanding of the secrets, psychology, and artistry of magic through their MasterClass? Is their course resourceful for a budding magician or for anyone just beginning to enter the arcane world of magic?

In this in-depth review, we will answer all of these questions and figure out whether the great magicians Penn and Teller are suitable teachers of the art of magic.

Table of Contents

What is Penn and Teller’s MasterClass?

Penn and Teller’s “Art of Magic” MasterClass stands out as an online course on conjuring. It is a golden ticket to a world where tricks are revealed, illusions are demystified, and magic becomes more than just smoke and mirrors. Be prepared to see what’s inside the magician’s box, what’s behind their sleeves, and how their gimmicks work.

In their course, Penn and Teller teach the fundamentals of magic. From close-up magic to magic that can be performed on a grand stage, the course offers not just education on the know-how of magic but, more importantly, the fundamental principles of the art. Through in-depth tutorials and example-ridden discussions, the duet promises to empower aspiring magicians. But what sets their MasterClass apart is not just their mastery of the art but also the wisdom and philosophy behind their magical craft.

The course comprises 17 video lessons, ranging from approximately 5 to 20 minutes. It takes under 3 hours to complete the entire course. Considering how valuable the lessons might be, that’s not too long, but it depends on how much we can learn from it. Of course, to practically learn all the tricks that Penn and Teller teach requires effort, persistence, and almost a lifetime of practice to perfect.

Penn and Teller: Maestros of Magic

Penn Fraser Jillette and Raymond Joseph Teller are not just living legends in the world of conjuring; they stand as towering monoliths in the Las Vegas entertainment industry. They are renowned for their groundbreaking approach, which combines humor, skepticism, and astonishing illusions.

Penn’s larger-than-life persona, towering presence, and booming voice perfectly counterbalance Teller’s silent magic, enigmatic character, and skillful sleight of hand. The contrast is sure to allure.

Together, they’ve crafted a unique and unforgettable brand of magic, clearly reflected in their achievements as authors, TV show hosts, and especially the TV series “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.” Not to mention their long-running residency at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Sin City and earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. All of this solidified their status as icons of the magic community.

In essence, Penn and Teller are pioneers who’ve reshaped the perception of illusions, making them masters of magic as well as a legendary duo in the world of entertainment. Their legacy continues to enchant and, to some extent, educate audiences worldwide.  

Course overview: Magic with Penn and Teller

In Penn and Teller’s “Art of Magic,” the iconic duo imparts their expertise in sleight of hand, mentalism, card magic, and rope tricks. This course provides valuable insights into the principles underlying magic tricks, step-by-step tutorials for performing them, and even teaches some of Penn and Teller’s signature routines.

Whether you are a novice or have prior experience in magic, this course offers an educational experience. For beginners, it serves as a gentle yet comprehensive introduction to the world of magic. Techniques such as the “French drop,” “palming,” and “loading” are demonstrated, enabling students to perform like seasoned magicians.

In some videos, Penn and Teller simplify their elaborate routines into tutorials accessible to anyone willing to put in the effort. They painstakingly guide learners through the process, explaining the meticulous steps involved in each trick. While these are very helpful, they do not guarantee you will learn them. Even participants shown in the videos who were being taught live by Penn and Teller struggled to master the tricks. Perseverance and practice are essential to excel in even the simplest sleight-of-hand tricks.

The course covers a range of basic tricks, including:

  1. A straightforward cups and balls routine
  2. The vanishing and reappearance of a coin creating the illusion of it passing through the table
  3. Mentalism techniques using the “center tear” method
  4. A card-to-impossible location trick involving a duplicate card
  5. Rope magic, where a cut rope is magically restored

Beyond the practical aspects of magic, this MasterClass offers profound insights into Penn and Teller’s unique perspective of the art. It underscores the idea that mastering magic is akin to mastering a form of acting. Magic routines encompass essential elements of storytelling, character development, and scriptwriting, with the added dimension of creating your own special effects.

The primary aim of the course is to nurture creativity and the ability to captivate audiences through magical performances. Ultimately, Penn and Teller remind us of the joy that magic brings. A magic performance is meant to be a shared experience between the performer and the audience, evoking emotions of empathy, wonder, and joy.

Inside the magical classroom

Let’s assess the quality of Penn and Teller’s instruction. Here are some of my favorite lessons.

Coin magic

Teller showcasing a coin trick
Teller demonstrating a coin trick

There is something beautiful about the deceptive simplicity of coin vanish and production. Magic involving coins primarily relies on sleight of hand. Not only does it entail close-up interaction, but more importantly, it demands a high level of skill and dexterity for a clean performance, resulting in the most elegant mysteries. Beauty is often in the eyes of the beholder. In this case, the sheer difficulty of conjuring the miracle of a disappearing and reappearing coin is perhaps why coin magic is my number one favorite lesson or trick.

Magic vs. lying

Penn and Teller's communicating on camera in front of the theater
Unlike during their perfomances, Teller actually speaks during the course!

Magicians perform illusions, and they always involve deception. Therefore, it could be said that every magician engages in deception. This truth is evident in all magical performances where seemingly impossible miracles occur. Penn and Teller openly acknowledge and teach us this fact.

How can lying be acceptable? The audience willingly grants the magician a free pass to lie, knowing it’s integral to the art form. To this, Teller gives us an important anecdote. Since he doesn’t speak during his magical acts, his deception is conveyed through actions. In other words, he never resorts to verbal deception.

Advanced student coaching

MasterClass with Penn and Teller: Practical tricks and advanced performance advice
Helping a fellow magician improve

This MasterClass benefits both rookies seeking practical tricks and advanced students looking for advice on subtleties in performance. Here, we get an inside look at how Penn and Teller advise someone who understands some principles of magic and has crafted their own routine. In this lesson, conjuring masters offer more nuanced tips on making routines more convincing and subtle structural changes to enhance the audience’s enjoyment of the trick. It’s a rarity to witness the experience of magicians receiving advice from great magicians behind closed doors, and here we get a few sneak peeks.

Penn and Teller’s MasterClass pricing and value for money

To enroll in Penn and Teller’s online course, you would need to pay $120 for the annual MasterClass plan, which amounts to $10 a month. The course includes a downloadable class guide that explains each trick using words and images. This subscription gives you access to dozens of other courses across various disciplines, none related to magic.

An annual subscription is reasonable if other courses interest you. I enjoy learning new things, and I find MasterClass a platform offering high production value, a wide range of subjects, and instructors with verified expertise. So, I consider it worth the investment.

For anyone aspiring to be a magician, it’s well-known that the journey can be expensive, especially when you factor in the cost of props, books, or courses that match your preferred type of magic. Keeping this in mind, I can say that while Penn and Teller’s MasterClass provides valuable lessons in magic, it does not include magic tricks that you can’t otherwise learn for free on YouTube.

Thoughts on Penn and Teller’s MasterClass: Pros and cons

My overall experience with the course was quite enjoyable. While I didn’t discover many new techniques, the course’s presentation, high production quality, and the valuable expertise of Penn and Teller made their MasterClass a worthwhile experience.

Pros of Penn and Teller’s MasterClass

Informative and engaging teaching style

Penn and Teller’s teaching style is informative and engaging. Their MasterClass is suitable for beginners and somewhat beneficial for advanced magic students. A stand-out moment for me was when Teller explained how to “palm” a ball to the participants since they were surprised by the trick even when they knew exactly how the magic was done. This enhanced the learning experience as I could momentarily live vicariously through the participant’s perspective.

Excellent production quality

The course maintains cinematic quality throughout. As far as I know, no other magic tutorial videos match the production quality of Penn and Teller’s MasterClass. Having step-by-step guides to tricks in high definition is undoubtedly a plus.

Includes class guide for tutorials

Penn and Teller’s MasterClass includes a 64-page PDF class guide. This booklet features images and further explanations of the step-by-step tutorials on learning the magic tricks. It also references other relevant sources that can assist you in mastering additional tricks.

Bonus chapters

At the end of the course, Penn and Teller offer additional content where they advise both an up-and-coming magician and a professional magician. I found that this segment allowed students to understand what it would be like for professional magicians to advise other high-level magicians.

Cons of Penn and Teller’s MasterClass

The only new magic trick I learned was the rope trick. I was already familiar with the fundamental principles behind the others and could perform those tricks.

Entry-level practical skills

The tricks with tutorials in this MasterClass are basic skills one can learn on YouTube. I was disappointed that Penn and Teller did not teach more advanced tricks. For example, the card tricks they taught were very simple moves that didn’t require much sleight of hand work. This part was the longest of the different segments but didn’t cover many sleights. They could have revealed more advanced techniques.

Relatively short duration

Three hours is a substantial amount of time, and my enjoyment of the course made it seem to fly by. However, certain parts of the course deserved more attention and elaboration. For example, lessons on the principles of performance lasted approximately 9 minutes. I believe the principle of authenticity is crucial for creating compelling magical routines. I thought Penn and Teller could have provided a more detailed explanation of how they handled authenticity in their magic or how others could be more authentic.

Choppiness of structure

Perhaps there are too many aspects of magic to condense into a three-hour video, but the course feels choppy or disjointed between each lesson. In one video, Penn and Teller discuss the philosophy that magic inherently confronts, and in the next, they jump into rope tricks. Sometimes, too many abrupt transitions between topics make it challenging to follow the course’s syllabus.

Conclusion: Is the Penn and Teller MasterClass worth taking?

I find myself torn when evaluating the worthiness of Penn and Teller’s MasterClass. As someone with a history of taking magic courses and thoroughly exploring online tutorials, my assessment of this course is marked by mixed sentiments.

On the positive side, Penn and Teller’s charismatic teaching style delivers a captivating experience, offering profound insights from two legendary figures in the world of magic. The course’s cinematic visuals, including a class guide and bonus chapters, contribute to a well-packaged educational experience that I enjoyed. Considering the time and effort typically required to source the magic tricks Penna and Teller teach, the course’s cost becomes justifiable, especially for beginners and those interested in exploring other courses on MasterClass. This course consolidates a comprehensive array of tricks in one place, all taught by icons of the art of magic.

However, the course has significant drawbacks, particularly for those already familiar with the tricks. While Penn and Teller offer valuable insights into their general philosophy of magic, the tricks they teach are the simplest versions of those types of magic tricks. Additionally, the course’s relatively short duration and occasional disjointedness in its structure detract from its overall appeal. Given its cost, I would not recommend it to individuals already well-versed in the tricks outlined in this review. Furthermore, I strongly discourage subscribing to MasterClass solely for this course, as it primarily delves into Penn and Teller’s perspective on magic rather than offering a range of advanced tricks.