(This review contains affiliate links which means we earn a commission if you end up signing up to MasterClass. However, it is an honest review about my personal experience taking the class)
Have you watched a magic show and thought, “how did they do that?”
How the hell did they saw that woman in half? How did he turn that scarf into magic wand? How did she know he’d pick that card???
I’ve been to enough magic shows in my life (mostly as a kid), but I’d never really gotten into it. I’d always figured that you needed to be … well, a magician to pull it off.
Luckily, I subscribed to Masterclass a while ago to learn new things from some absolutely legendary instructors (and I’ve had plenty of free time these days because of the lockdown).
One of the MasterClass classes I have taken in full is Penn & Teller’s magic class.
Who knows, maybe at the end of it I’d be able to finally pull that rabbit out of my hat.
At the very least, I could write a Penn & Teller MasterClass review and tell you whether or not the class is worth taking.
Here it is!
What is MasterClass about?
MasterClass is becoming a hugely popular online education platform where the instructors are legends in their field.
Want Steve Martin to teach you comedy? Gordon Ramsay to teach you cooking? Garry Kasparov to teach you chess? Thomas Keller to teach you cooking? Deadmau5 to teach you electronic music? Daniel Negreanu to teach you poker? Natalie Portman to teach you acting?
Then MasterClass is for you.
The format of MasterClass revolves around video lessons by the instructors as well as downloadable workbooks.
What makes MasterClass unique is this:
- The instructors are legends. MasterClass has 80+ instructors and all of them are household names. It’s pretty staggering how MasterClass were able to recruit these instructors to come aboard.
- Production quality of the videos. The production quality of all the video lessons are Hollywood level good. The videos are as good as you’ll see on Netflix and the Penn & Teller videos are no exception.
I’ve taken over a dozen MasterClasses and I found each one valuable. You can read about my overall experience with MasterClass in my epic review here.
Who are Penn & Teller?
For those of you who don’t know, Penn & Teller are a magician duo that have been performing since the 1970s. In the mid-1980s, they took their show to off-Broadway, where they received critical acclaim, allowing them to move their show to Broadway.
In 1987, they made their MTV debut in Run-DMC’s “It’s Tricky” as three-card monte scam artists.
Since then, they’ve appeared in all manner of late-night comedy shows, before landing their own Showtime series called Bullshit, where they took a critical eye to the paranormal (among other things).
Basically, these guys are the most legendary magician duo in the biz. And they’re bringing their knowledge to Masterclass.
What’s the Penn & Teller class about?
The class is stage magic. Let’s be clear: it’s not black magic, wiccan magic, or any form of spell-casting. It’s all about sleight-of-hand, illusions, and some fun tricks.
Their masterclass is broken down into 17 video lessons that range from 5 to 17 minutes. As far as masterclasses go, it is a little on the shorter side — but don’t let that put you off. Their lessons offer hands-on learning for a bunch of famous magic tricks — from the French Drop to Card Magic to everything in between.
Many of the lessons not only feature our famous duo, but also include a variety of amateur magic learners. This was a great selling point for me, as I was able to see people at my skill level (read: zero) learn how to do a magic trick.
While Penn & Teller are great teachers, they’re also professionals, and no amount of slowing down the trick will change the fact that they’re performing it seamlessly.
Having some newbies up on stage helped. I could see where the mistakes were being made, as well as where, specifically, the trick was being performed. Each time the newbies practiced it, the trick got a little better, until it was seamless enough to fool the unsuspecting eye.
Again, being able to see this real-time transformation from newbie to competent magician was eye-opening.
Like all Masterclasses, Penn & Teller’s class comes with a downloadable workbook. This one runs a little smaller than most at 64 pages.
While the workbook does a good job of spelling out each trick that the magicians use, I found it less useful than the videos themselves. I think that’s probably because it’s about teaching you a series of illusions, and (at least for me), you really gotta see those in action.
Hey — I had to watch a YouTube video to finally learn how to tie a tie. Maybe diagrammed learning isn’t my strong suit.
Along with some fun tricks, Pen & Teller get into the more philosophic elements of magic, devoting entire episodes to “what is magic,” along with “magic vs. lying.”
After doing some digging on P&T, it seems quite clear that they have a passion for debunking pseudoscience, along with calling out manipulation. That carries over into their class, where they explain how mediums are relying on psychological tricks in order to deceive bereaved relatives. I really respect their decision to devote their time to delineating “magic” from “malicious deception,” along with their explanations as to why.
Basically, they teach you magic tricks, and they teach you how to see through cons. That last part is worth a million bucks in my opinion.
Who is this masterclass for?
This course should be attractive to a lot of people.
If you’re an aspiring magician who has no idea where to start, this is a great course for you.
It’ll teach you:
- Classic magic tricks
- Theory of magic
- Performance tricks
It’ll give you the confidence as a performer to deliver a stellar trick. Plus, you’ll be so inspired seeing how their tricks work, that you may be driven to build a few of your own.
If you’re the curious type, who always wondered how the heck that magician at your 10th birthday party got your card right, this class helps explain those tricks. There’s certainly a gratifying element to seeing how you’ve been bamboozled in the past.
If you’re a performer, this class offers some great tips on how to work the crowd, thanks to their great lessons on misdirection.
Honestly, this class is great for nearly anyone — even if you only have a passing interest in magic.
You’ll get a kick out of it.
Who is this class not for?
While I think this class is awesome, it’s not for everyone. If you’re a pretty advanced magician looking to up your game, you probably will find most of these lessons a bit basic. This class develops the fundamentals of magic.
If you hate magic (I don’t know anyone who truly hates magic), then you’re probably not going to like this class. Having said that, if anyone could change your mind, it would be Penn & Teller.
The class also does require a bit of room to move around along with some props to use for your tricks. Most of these props are pretty commonplace, but if you’re looking for a class that requires minimal additional purchases, you might get a little frustrated with this class — though there are so many inexpensive ways to source a deck of cards.
Point being: if you want to take a magic class, taking Penn & Teller’s one is an easy one that doesn’t require an outlandish spending budget to get started.
The Mentalism Lesson
I really liked this lesson, so I figured I’d use it as an example of something surprising I learned during my masterclass.
Penn & Teller delve into “mentalism,” basically using a series of psychological tricks and sleight-of-hand to pretend to have psychic or clairvoyant powers.
Again, in reality, it’s all stage magic.
The trick itself isn’t that miraculous, and that’s not the point. Instead, the lesson is to show you how easily someone can exploit another person’s grief by using mentalism.
This is, to Penn & Teller, completely unethical and exploitative. That’s not what magic is about.
It’s eye-opening to see how easily a skilled magician could convince someone that they were talking to someone’s dead relative. Again, it’s all lies.
At the end, Penn & Teller explain that you can use this trick, just never under the guise of “having psychic powers.” Basically, don’t exploit people.
Again, I have so much respect for them delineating “good” and “bad” magic, as well as showing how “bad magic” works in practice.
The Card Lesson
Another bright spot was a lesson where Penn & Teller (along with veteran magician Johnny Thompson) explained how to do three fundamental card tricks that boil down to either forcing the picker to choose a specific card or knowing information about the deck itself.
As always, they brought along a group of neophyte magicians to learn the trick. Seeing three pros along with three amateurs was a great way to understand how the trick looks when executed properly, as well as what it looks like when you break it down into its basic steps.
I got to be honest: I never even thought about using a card double as a way to “teleport a card.” So many of these lessons have a great “why didn’t I think of that” quality.
Though the lesson tops 20 minutes, it flew by pretty quickly for me. I still can’t master that glide, but I’m getting there.
How much does it cost?
Penn & Teller’s class is through Masterclass, which runs a subscription model. The All-Access Pass is $180 for the year, which gives you access to every class on the platform (currently there are 80+ classes and more are being added every few weeks).
On the other hand, you can pay $90 just for Penn & Teller’s MasterClass.
For me, I think the All-Access Pass for $180 is the better deal. Odds are, if you like one masterclass you’ll like another. I recommend checking out their course catalogue before deciding to shortchange yourself on purchasing only a single class.
Read my deep dive into the cost of MasterClass here.
What are the alternatives?
You like magic, but aren’t yet sold on Penn & Teller’s masterclass?
One of the best alternatives would probably be old Penn & Teller episodes or shows. They’ve made a career of exposing the inner workings of magic, so that certainly would be a great place to start.
Having said that, those shows certainly had to balance entertainment along with education — something that Masterclass doesn’t have to worry about. So when it comes to learning magic from Penn & Teller, there isn’t really a good alternative.
When it comes to learning magic in general, your alternatives are YouTube, magic guides, and purchasing tricks at magic shops.
Good magic tricks aren’t cheap, but YouTube is free.
The downside with free YouTube videos is that the quality is a mixed bag. You never quite know what kind of tutorial you’re gonna get. Plus, YouTube doesn’t come with a workbook, a curated course, and a Masterclass community.
Basically, YouTube might be good for learning a trick or two, but it doesn’t quite stack up to the curation that Penn & Teller’s masterclass provides.
Penn & Teller MasterClass review: The pros
As with anything I review, I had plenty of things I liked that I want to make sure I highlight for you.
- Awesome subject. Sure, this one is a bit subjective, but it’s “magic!” Who hasn’t wanted to do magic before? When it comes to subject matter of classes on masterclass, magic is one of the most exciting ones I’ve come across.
- Well-taught. It goes without saying that Penn & Teller are gifted teachers. They combine stage presence with rational explanations, and bring in a cast of newbie magicians to help you learn how to master the tricks. The newbies were also one of the best parts of the class. Seeing them grasp the tricks was a huge part of my learning and made the tricks feel way more reachable too.
- Cool Tricks. This class straddles the divide between theory and practice. It has some very compelling lessons on “what is magic” and “mentalism,” but devotes a lot of time to learning tricks themselves. This is great. You don’t just listen, you actually get to learn real tricks that you can show off to your friends after.
- It’s downright fun. Penn & Teller are entertainers. They’re fun to watch. It’s not a dry class. Their cadence is always lively and exciting. You never quite know what sort of shenanigans they’ll pull off next.
Penn & Teller MasterClass review: The cons?
Nothing is perfect. As this is an honest Penn & Teller MasterClass review, here are a few things I thought could have been a little better.
- It’s not a long class. There are 17 lessons, which puts this on the lower end of masterclasses for length. There’s a lot packed into those 17 lessons, but I would have enjoyed a class that was 50% longer.
- Some of the lessons could be deeper. I’m thinking on the mentalist class, where they show you how a mentalist could exploit someone’s grief. I understand they probably don’t want to encourage unscrupulous folks by teaching them too many underhanded tricks, but I would have appreciated them spending a little more time on the various tactics that mentalists deploy.
- The workbook was harder to follow. It’s probably due to the fact that this is a magic class, but the workbook lessons felt a little inaccessible. Luckily, it just serves to accompany the video lessons, so I never felt that I missed out on anything. Still, it might be a good idea to give that workbook an update, whenever the grandmasters get around to it.
So …. Is the Penn & Teller MasterClass worth it?
My answer is a resounding yes! Penn & Teller’s masterclass is definitely worth taking.
They offer 17 lessons that teach you a great variety of magic tricks — enough to give you a solid foundation upon which to build new, innovative tricks of your own. Along the way, they teach some more academic lessons about magic itself, along with a healthy dose of stage ethics.
Plus, the class itself is so fun! You get to be bewitched by the tricks, then slowly learn how the magic happened. It’s fun to be let in on the secrets.
At $90 for the single class, it’s a fun, but relatively expensive class. I certainly recommend it.
What I recommend more, however, is the yearly subscription at $180. That gets you access to all the MasterClass classes, including this magic class by Penn & Teller.
With the All-Access Pass you get access to literal dozens of classes as cool as this one for just the price of two single classes. It’s a great bang-for-your-buck.
Thanks for reading my Penn & Teller MasterClass review.
I really loved this class. I still can’t pull off a convincing French Drop (they know I kept the ball in my right hand!), but I’m gonna keep on trying until I can pull it off.
It was an inspiring class. It made me feel like a kid again, going all wide-eyed whenever they’d pull off a masterful illusion, and then nodding along as they’d explain it — the lightbulb going off over my head time and time again.
This is a class anyone can enjoy. This is a class that anyone should enjoy.
We all have a fair amount of time on our hands these days. While all the Masterclasses bring knowledge into the world, this one brought a great sense of happiness and wonder that none of the others have replicated.
To help keep you happy and young at heart, I recommend you take Penn & Teller’s masterclass. It’s informative, entertaining, and awe-inspiring.
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