Penn & Teller Bullet Catch


January 16, 2003, 03:43 PM
Okay - this is where they stand up on stage with a pair of revolvers, and blaze away at each other, catching the bullets in their mouths.


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January 16, 2003, 03:47 PM
wax bullets in their mouths before the shootin match started, then they shoot nuttin:D

January 16, 2003, 03:54 PM
Spoilsport.... :)

January 16, 2003, 03:54 PM

In the wake of all these previous theatrical tricks, it only seems appropriate that Penn and Teller conclude their performance with something as flashy as The Bullet Catch, a trick that has claimed the lives of 12 magicians, shot dead on stage.

"We get two audience members up - and incidentally, we're not one of those high-budget shows that bring along their own audience members. We just grab people out of the audience, but we ask for anyone who's conversant with weapons, with specifically handguns," says Teller.

Those audience members are asked to choose a bullet each, mark them, then examine and load the .357 magnum guns. With the audience members safely back in the audience, Penn and Teller walk to opposite ends of the stage, like an old fashioned duel.

Aiming the guns at each other's faces through panes of glass, Penn and Teller shoot at each other through the glass and catch the marked bullets in their teeth.

"People get very nervous during that trick. My mother doesn't like that trick at all," Teller says. "It's kind of a magic trick, but it's also kind of a daredevil stunt and also, frankly, given the current public unease about handguns, it ends up being a very interesting political exploration too."

heres the trick
wax bullets:

Mike Irwin
January 16, 2003, 04:03 PM
I read somewhere once that more than one magician has been killed attempting this trick.

January 16, 2003, 04:06 PM
a trick that has claimed the lives of 12 magicians

4v50 Gary
January 16, 2003, 04:09 PM
CSA General Cleborne did this trick in battle. Caught a bullet in his left cheek and since he was talking, it came right out of his mouth. Don't try this at home.

January 16, 2003, 04:19 PM
I was lucky enough to be picked to verify the trick. From picking a round for Teller, to having Penn spit the bullet into my hand, I examined each step and still haven't a clue how they did it.

These "bad boys of magic" put on a pretty entertaining show, ranging from cheesy card tricks to moving illusion-enhanced stories to death-defying stunts. The last one was a double bullet catch: they fire .357 caliber handguns at each other and catch both bullets in their teeth.

The stage starts divided by a yellow line, Penn and Teller on either side and never crossing the line. As Teller never speaks, Penn asks the audience if anyone is familiar with firearms, being a soldier, cop, target shooter, etc. On this night, a corrections officer and yours truly (!) were picked to inspect the gear ("How do you know about guns?" "Trained at Gunsite and Lethal Force Institute!" "Excellent!"). Going to opposite halves of the stage, we examined the Python .357 revolvers (looked perfectly normal and showed wear of age and use) with attached laser sights, selected one round each from a container, marked the bullets with our initials and shells with made-up symbols (mine a triangle with a dot in the center), checked glass panes, and generally verified that the props were real. I was convinced!

Penn proceeded to recite Cooper's Four Rules to the audience, emphasizing gun safety...which they then violated most blatantly (at least they told a thousand people what the rules are). Moving off stage, we watched as the goofy duo donned bulletproof vests & helmets & goggles. They turned on the laser sights, aimed thru the two panes of glass at each other's mouths, and fired simultaniously. We returned to the stage, noting the bullets in the magicians' teeth, took the bullets (hmm...dubious honor of having Penn Jillette spit a bullet into my hand), verified the initials, verified the post-firing rifling marks and powder residue, then took the matching spent shell from the appropriate revolver on the opposite side of the stage, sniffed the shell's strong distinctive scent of gun smoke, noted the special markings, and checked the distinctive shatter pattern on the glass panes.

I've studied guns, and I've studied magic. Beats me how they fired simultaniously and undeniably caught the other shooter's bullet in their teeth! Unique markings, evidence of firing, broken glass, short time, uncrossed dividing excellent illusion well performed!

It was a real trip to be picked to go on stage with Penn & Teller to verify their coolest trick, and to prove (at least to a couple people) that the volunteers from the audience are legitimate.

Footnote: I later told Jeff Cooper about the incident being the only time I've heard The Four Rules recited in public; he was not amused with what followed.

January 16, 2003, 04:21 PM
BTW: They weren't wax bullets. You can come examine the powder burns & rifling grooves on the FMJ bullet if you like. And yes both bullet & shell smelled of gunsmoke afterwards.

Don Gwinn
January 16, 2003, 04:37 PM
CTDonath, you wrote about that on either TFL or Glocktalk at the time, didn't you? I was just about to post that I don't know how they do it, but I know it's a hell of a trick because I remembered that a TFL member was once called onstage and couldn't explain any trickery.

I have no doubt that there is some kind of trick, but I love the fact that I can't figure out for the life of me what it is!

January 16, 2003, 04:43 PM
Yup, posted it right after it happened, and there have been a few threads that raised the topic.

I've long been suspicious about magicians using "plants" in the audience to "verify" the tricks. Now I know that in at least this case, they don't use "plants". The audience may be amazed by the trick; I was floored to actually be up there handling & checking things.

January 16, 2003, 04:51 PM
maybe they use ultra-ultra-super-ultra light loads?

January 16, 2003, 04:54 PM
Heard Penn on a radio interview when they first started the trick; he went through the history of the magicians that had been killed performing it, as well as how they tested the trick the first time.

Apparently one magician used some sort of black-powder pistol; he'd remove and palm the bullet, then tamp the powder down with his ivory wand for good luck. A chip came loose from the tip of the wand, *BANG*, one dead magician.

Penn said he and Teller had worked through things, got to the point where they needed to test it, and drew straws to see who got to be the guinea pig. He said the loser was the one who pulled the trigger, since they're the one who would have to live with killing their partner. Scary.

I still have no idea how they pulled it off.

Vladimir Berkov
January 16, 2003, 05:00 PM
Back when they used muzzleloaders, the common way to do it was to have a "fake" barrel in the ramrod, which so that the percussion cap bypassed the real charge, and fired the blank out of the second barrel. One Chinese magician was killed, when the rifle he failed to keep the muzzleloader in good working order, and a spark jumped to the real load which discharged and killed him.

January 16, 2003, 05:02 PM
Sounds like a new variation on a very old trick. I remember watching this trip on "That's Incredible", where a man with "steel teeth" sat behind a glass window and a marksman fired through it and he "caught" the bullet with his teeth.

Here's the basic plot.

1) A spent bullet is palmed & put in the mouth of the catcher.
2) The shooter does not fire a real round. It is a special round designed to break the glass, nothing more. It might be wax or some other thing, but all it does is break the glass giving the illusion of a real bullet.
3) The catcher then "rocks his head" back simulating catching a bullet.
4) The catcher spits out the previously palmed bullet.

January 16, 2003, 05:16 PM
I've seen them do this trick live twice now, beats me how they do it.

I've had a chance to examine one of the revolvers and it is real.

I've also examined the empty casings, one of the marked bullets and talked to one of the 'volunteers' who is a police Lt. He drew a picture on his bullet.

I know this is a trick, but it's not as easy as simple wax bullets. :confused:

4v50 Gary
January 16, 2003, 05:18 PM
Can't we prove that magic doesn't exist with ballistic fingerprinting? Millions of dollars of equipment and human hours won't solve a crime, but it can sure one great magic act. :p

January 16, 2003, 05:18 PM
Nope, that's not it either. I marked the FMJ bullet and watched it go into the revolver. Same bullet came out of the recipient's mouth directly into my hand ("eww...Jilette saliva..."). Nothing visibly crossed the yellow line dividing the stage & participants.

Upon catching it, I did notice Penn acting like the bullet started to go down his throat and he was trying to upchuck it and get it between his teeth. The action did not seem designed for audience observation, nor for concealment. That, plus the convincing breakage pattern in the glass, plus the "everybody stick your fingers in your ears", gives creedence to the "ultralight load" theory.

January 16, 2003, 05:22 PM
The revolver looked completely real and unmodified. What struck me was that it looked used - seriously (but not overly) used, well worn like it might have been some cop's carry gun.

January 16, 2003, 06:01 PM
What are the chances of not seating the bullet tight in the case, then pulling it out/dumping it out the front of the cylinder? Could have hand loaded a once fired bullet to get the rifling marks, although I would have thought that they would carry forward farther on the bullet than just what sits down in the case... and that still doesn't explain the powder residue.
And they would still have needed to find a way to switch off bullets...

must be magic :)

January 16, 2003, 06:15 PM
I'm not going to tell you how they do it, but I will say this: The explanation is ALWAYS more simple than you think. Forget about wax bullets and handloading tricks and remember that these guys are slight of hand masters!


P.S. There are many ways to convinsingly pop a hole in glass without using a bullet....Hollywood does it all the time.

January 16, 2003, 07:05 PM

So I take it you've never seen any of their shows live have you?

January 20, 2003, 11:29 PM
Spoiler ahead... ;)

January 21, 2003, 03:13 AM
Many ways it could be done. Which one they use I don't know. What I do know is they pull it off much better then I EVER could. I do NOT enjoy magic where the actors are in REAL danger. When I see a stunt that I feel has real life/death risk I do not care to watch. I feel I am encouraging them to risk life and limb. As I can see ways they can do 95% or more of magic trics I enjoy them. I do recall one guy who had some tricks I couldn't understand/figure out so I stopped watching him.

January 21, 2003, 07:43 AM
There are two sections to the bullet itself; the head is palmed and then given to the "catcher" the actual case is the one fired, and it fires a wax bullet.

There is a reason they use a revolver instead of a semi-auto. you would find the round to be not a real one, when you realize it's not enough to cycle the slide..

Great trick.. My (rental) car broke down in Vegas before, stopped off at Teller's house... Remote house, built into the rocks... Very cool, I expected nothing less from him...

January 21, 2003, 09:05 AM
That's not it. There is no copying the markings by someone backstage watching a TV closeup: that IS my handwriting on the bullet & shell, no question, and the bullet has rifling & powder burns that clearly were not there when I marked it.

Joe Demko
January 21, 2003, 02:11 PM
Have read their books, seen their act, read interviews with them. One thing they are definitely NOT doing is catching bullets in their teeth. Jillette would be the first one to tell you that beneath it all is some cheap trick that you really don't want to know. It's better to think that they are actually catching bullets in their teeth than to know that you were fooled by a cheap trick.

January 21, 2003, 02:34 PM
Has anyone given this any thought, that there...


They are actually catching the bullets in their teeth!


January 21, 2003, 06:50 PM
OK I have never seen them do it in person. But from what is explained here is how I would do it. First get two real guns. Then two boxes of ammo with unique markings. Do everything as said. Have lazer set off target. Shoot to break glass and bullet is recovered in catcher off stage. Transfer bullet from catcher when removing vest/other stuff to mouth and there you go.

January 21, 2003, 07:05 PM

The one time I saw them do it on TV, they showed the bullets in mouth immediately after the shots were fired. This was before anything was removed and before any assistants approached either of them.

January 21, 2003, 08:49 PM

I think you are missing the idea explained.

First. A skilled person could easily immitate any mark you make on a bullet.
Second. The bullet they marked up to immitate yours WAS fired through a gun at some earlier time to give it the rifling marks and powder smell
Third. The bullet you SIGNED was wax or some other substance and was fired which broke the glass.

I was also picked to do this like you were. It was a lot of fun.

January 21, 2003, 09:07 PM
Imitate the mark to that detail? not. I observed a couple subtle nuances in the marking process, and those nuances are evident in what's on the shelf - nuances that won't be picked up by a TV camera, and can't be copied that quickly.

What I signed wasn't wax. I know a copper FMJ when I see it.

Both "solutions" still are too complicated/difficult for what I witnessed. Golgo is right: it is a cheap trick that would piss us off by the simplicity and elegance of the slight-of-hand. Elaborate illusions just don't have the same impact that really simple, really clever slight-of-hand does.

Cool that you got picked too!!! What did you tell Penn that got you on stage? I mentioned I was a graduate of the Lethal Force Institute - figured that had "gun nut" all over it.

January 21, 2003, 09:20 PM
You should have told them that you had replaced their loaded cartridge with one you had brought with you from home. :D
Then see how they would react. ;)

charlie d
January 21, 2003, 10:55 PM

I agree with you about the initials. You screwed up the D just as most would when trying to write on a small radius compound curve on a tiny thing held in his fingers.

IMO there's no way for someone to duplicate that in a hurry. They would be confounded by the curves too and their screw up would be far different.

January 21, 2003, 10:57 PM
I know, I know,

pick me, pick me, pick me!

It was...

magic! <rimshot>

No? :confused:


The Force ?
A Hogwarts Spell?


edited for cuteness

January 21, 2003, 11:01 PM
Oh BTW...

Penn & Teller is on Showtime this Friday. Maybe they'll do this trick.

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