Written by Dana Cassidy, Alligator Staff Writer
This is a reprint from The Independent Florida Alligator. The original article can be found here: https://www.alligator.org/news/q-a-uf-graduate-attempts-to-succeed-on-pen-teller/article_6b2dad84-8b10-11e8-96a8-effc1a747b4a.html
Recent UF graduate Emily Griffith had no clue her psychology final would turn into a featured magic act on the television series “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.”
In the show, contestants try to outsmart the famous magicians Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller with their magic act. If the secret behind the performance cannot be determined by either of the judges, the contestant wins a five-star trip to Las Vegas to perform as the opening act in Penn and Teller’s live show.
The show will premier Monday at 8 p.m.I sat down with Griffith, 21, to discuss the nature of her act and experience on the show — she even stumped me with her trick.
Q: Where did the idea for your magic trick come from, and how did you develop it into a performance?
A: (The act) was a final graded project for my (creative psychology) class — 72 percent of our grade. We worked on it for the majority of the semester.
The idea for the act came from a lot of trial and error. Because I’m a psychology major, the area of magic I wanted to focus on was mentalism because I can relate it to my psychology class a bit better, and I’m obviously interested in the human mind and how mentalism works.
I learned one really basic one in which someone picks a card, and I guess it reading their body language.
After a while, it just became way too easy, so I decided to up it. Instead of giving a person a pack of cards, I gave them a phone, and instead of picking one out of 52 cards, they pick out of 500 songs while I guess what song it is.
For the show, I increased it to 1,600 songs.
Q: How would you describe your act? What does it entail?
Griffith: If you want, I can do it for you now!
Griffith: So what happens is: I have this phone with a massive playlist of 1,600 songs divided into decades up into the 2000s, and after 2010, it’s divided by years.
Pick a song. The more you like it, the better it works, and I’ll turn around and wait until you’re ready. I am going to turn around and wait until you’ve chosen a song to make sure I don’t see anything.
(I put on earbuds and flipped through the the playlist and chose a song titled “Pound the Alarm” by Nicki Minaj from 2012, and Griffith turned back around.)
Griffith: So I need you to count to 10 for me.
(I proceed to count to 10.)
Griffith: If it is who I think it is, I was listening to this artist before I came here, so sweet or salty?
Griffith: Hot or cold?
Griffith: Fast or slow?
Griffith: Okay. So it’s a female artist, it’s kinda recent but not super super recent, so it’s probably one of her earlier songs. You said sweet, which makes me think Nicki Minaj. You said fast, so it’s probably one of her more upbeat songs, probably heavy bass… Pick a state.
Griffith: Pick a food.
Griffith: Okay. So it’s Pound the Alarm.
(I’m completely baffled, so I ask Griffith to explain the dynamics of the trick)
Griffith: It’s based off of a psychology principle, but I warped that, and that’s how it goes. But I won’t reveal the entire thing.
Q: How did you get to be featured on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us?”
A: I was a fan of the show when it first premiered in the U.S. My father and I really enjoyed watching it. We thought it was really funny, and it was always really entertaining.
I emailed the producers actually right after my (creative psychology) class ended saying that I was a female magician. I had a trick that was original, and I wanted to see if they had an interest. They said they had just finished filming season 4 and to email back later in the year. I emailed them in November and said, “Hey are you guys still interested in seeing this audition tape?” and they said, “Sure, why not?”
So I filmed (my audition tape), sent it in, got an email back in mid-December saying that they liked it, and they wanted me to be on the show.
They flew me out from the Gainesville airport during Spring Break to Las Vegas, I practiced for a week, they filmed the little intro thing, and then I performed.Q: What were your emotions throughout your performance?
My No. 1 goal was to just remain as calm as possible.
A lot of people go on the show and try to “fool” Penn and Teller, or basically do a trick they can’t guess, so a lot of people stress out beforehand. But my goal was more “I just want to survive this television appearance.”
Q: Although you can’t give spoilers, how was your overall experience on the show?
It was overall super enjoyable. All the people were really really nice. All the people found it interesting that I had only been doing magic for a year, while a lot of them were like career magicians. And that was neat to talk about because everyone was like, “Woah that’s different.”
I did come into the show with a really, really bad cold, and I felt really bad about that, and that was kind of the only negative experience because when the show airs, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna have such a nasally congested voice and that’s my biggest concern.
It was really fun, and it was fun to see the behind the scenes that go behind a television show.
Regardless of the outcome, I accomplished my goal, which is showing that women can go up and do magic — and there’s not a lot of women who do that — and to be a presence for people, especially girls who maybe want to go into this industry to practice magic to show that they can do it.
Q: Have you always been interested in magic?
No, but I went through a phase when I was about 6 or 7. My parents got me into “Harry Potter” at a super young age. It was a bug that I think got bit earlier on and fizzled out, and then when I got this opportunity, I was like “You know what? Lets how see far we can go”.
Q: Outside of magic, what do you like to do?
Sleep. I like to sleep a lot. But I love a lot of creative outlets like scientific illustration and going to the gym.
Q: What are your plans for the future after the show has aired? Do you plan on pursuing a career as a magician?
I have an internship lined up in Orlando, and I plan on doing that till January or potentially the summer, but after that I’m currently applying for Ph.D. programs.
But my future plans don’t really involve being a professional magician, but it’s definitely a world I’d like to keep tabs on.
Q: I have to ask — could you tell us the secret behind your trick?
No (laughs), I’m sorry. But when it airs, I’m sure someone on YouTube will blatantly guess it.
Follow Dana Cassidy on Twitter @danacassidy_ and contact her at email@example.com.