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Penn & Teller ‘Ambitious’ coronavirus video: 25 magicians, 1 trick

Updated April 3, 2020 - 3:02 pm

Penn Jillette found the inspiration not from a magician, but a musician: Mike “Jonesy” Jones, who plays a wicked jazz piano as Penn plucks the upright bebop bass before Penn & Teller’s shows at the Rio.

Last week, Jones sent Jillette the YouTube video of Robbie Robertson’s all-star cover of The Band classic “The Weight.” Robertson had assembled a lineup of musicians from all over the world — Ringo Starr is on drums — for the song’s 50th anniversary. The video montage premiered on the “Playing for Change” international YouTube channel.

“I saw this video and thought, ‘If you can do that with musicians, why not magicians?’ ” Jillette says. “I was impressed at how fast they seemed to put it all together, because it seemed like everybody was forced to shelter in place and still play music. I didn’t realize until later that this was all done last year.”

Yep, in September. No matter. Jillette and his stage partner, Teller, swiftly produced a similarly styled video of a series of magicians performing “The Ambitious Card” trick. Find the video on the Penn & Teller YouTube channel.

The routine is universally performed among illusionists of all levels and experience: A playing card (a 3 of clubs in this instance) appears to move to the top of the deck after being placed in the middle.

But no two magicians perform the trick in quite the same way. In that regard, the video is reminiscent of Penn & Teller’s 2005 film “The Aristocrats,” where comedians tell different variations of a joke with the same setup and punch line.

“This is all about the singer, not the song,” Jillette said. “Everybody does ‘The Ambitious Card,’ but what’s fun is seeing what they do with the trick.” The result is an interlocking, 20-minute suite of magicians answering P&T’s call.

The full 25-magician lineup: Jillette, Teller, Mat Franco, Jen Kramer, Simon Coronel, Bernardo Sedlacek, Jared Kopf, Chris Kenner, Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette, Shoot Ogawa, Matt Donnelly, Xavier Mortimer, Woody Aragon, Kostya Kimlat, Piff the Magic Dragon, Michael Carbonaro, Mike Pisciotta, Mac King, Mike Close, David Regal, Carisa Hendrix, Handsome Jack, Vinny Grosso, Henry Lewis and Jandro.

Several cagey moments are tucked into the video. Piff appears in front of an image of what he says is his “private island,” a way to invoke David Copperfield (who is not in the video, though his producer Kenner is). CrimeFighter Jillette is Penn’s daughter and a budding magician. Donnelly, Teller’s co-host on “Penn’s Sunday School,” is hit in the face with pies — twice — by his kids.

And Bob Dylan fans will easily pick up on the reference to “Meet Me in the Morning” in Kopf’s pass to Teller.

The video posted Tuesday. Jillette has since been hit up by magicians who didn’t appear but want to be edited in.

“There are probably another 50 on my list that I should have invited,” Jillette says. “But these are the ones I happened to be talking with at the time, and Teller also had his own list. It was like the last 25 magicians I happened to be in email with are in the video.”

It’s a club to be in, ideally suited for the task, with all hands on deck. And we’ll now make the puns … disappear!

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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