Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Penn Jillette: "Houdini was not a magician. Houdini was a superstar."

I enjoy listening to Penn Jillette talk (and talk), and when the topic turns to Houdini, well, that's as good as it gets!

And that's what happens in this terrific interview on KNPR, Nevada Public Radio. Penn is promoting his new book, Every Day Is An Atheist Holiday (which apparently includes a fair amount on Houdini). The Houdini/magic discussion starts at 29:15. Here's a taste:

"We look back on the 20th Century in 100 years, and look at entertainment, the only two people in the running for being remembered in the 20th Century are Elvis Presley and Houdini. And as time goes on, Houdini's winning."

Penn goes onto to say Houdini's fame and evolution of his art is comparable only to "maybe sorta" Bob Dylan and Picasso.

Check out the full interview at KNPR.

Penn Jillette's Every Day Is An Atheist Holiday can be purchased on Amazon. Penn also has a Podcast, Penn's Sunday School, where you can listen to an especially good interview with James Randi.


  1. You know he's right, Houdini & Elvis. And Houdini's fame grows, with no where near the promo that Elvis gets. Yet Houdini is mentioned constantly in the news, albeit briefly usually. It's pretty remarkable.

    1. I also think Elvis' fame is generational. He's a fetish of baby boomers, and I'm not sure his appeal is transferring down to their kids kids. And I don't think he represents music the way Houdini represents the very idea of magic.

    2. Very well put. I'm noticing the same thing with the Beatles, sadly.

  2. Stop. You're killing me. Marilyn Monroe will be remembered and loved as long as there are people on Earth. Her fame is so engrained that the name Marilyn alone suffices to identify her anywhere in the world.

    As well, there are a lot of entertainers from the 20th century who will be remembered for a long time, mainly because so much of it is recorded and preserved. I can drive to work listening to Louis Armstrong performing in 1928.

    Houdini has the unusual cachet of being far and away the best-known performer from the past in his selected art form. It's interesting to wonder why that is so.

  3. I know this post is four years old but...

    Recently, my 12-year-old daughter saw that I had some photos of Houdini saved on my cell phone. She asked me, "Why do you have pictures of Houdini on your phone?" A little astonished, I said, "You know about Houdini??" She replied, "Ummm, yeah. Of course, I know about Houdini. He is only, like, the most famous magician in the whole world. All my friends know about Houdini."

    I suppose she's right as she ended by asking, "Didn't he die from getting punched in the stomach?" To which, I felt the responsibility to say, "Well, we don't know if that's true."

    I think it's safe to say that Houdini's legend will live on into the future for a little bit longer.

    I love Penn and Teller so it's great to see that they admire Houdini just as much as I do.

    1. Great story. Thanks for sharing. It is amazing how all kids seem to know Houdini, while they might not know modern magicians. I had an interesting experience in that regard that I wrote about HERE.