Bellingham magician says trick he’ll show Penn & Teller has ‘been a 25-year journey’

Bellingham magician and Mount Baker Theatre regular John Walton says he’s been preparing the “quasi-mentalism” illusion he’ll perform on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” TV show for a least a quarter century.

“It’s been a 25-year journey,” Walton, 67, told The Bellingham Herald. “The degree of difficulty is off the charts — that’s why it took me 25 years.”

Whether all that work paid off and the trick is now good enough to fool legendary magicians and entertainers Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller ... you’ll just have to tune in at 8 p.m. PDT Monday, Sept. 30, on the CW network to find out.

If it is — and only approximately only one in five magicians actually stumps Penn & Teller on the show — Walton will earn a guest spot in their Las Vegas show.

Monday’s episode, which was taped in March at the Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio Las Vegas, is far from the first time Walton has performed the trick.

Whatcom County residents who attended Walton’s annual holiday show — an event Mount Baker Theatre will host for the 20th time on Dec. 21 — may have seen the illusion he calls “DaVinci Outnumbered” in its infancy.

Walton said he debuted the illusion for the first time in competition at the 2006 Pacific Coast Association of Magicians convention in Monterrey, California, and won first place. In 2013, the prestigious Society of American Magicians — an organization once led by the great Harry Houdini — gave him an originality award for the stage illusion.

“That’s one I’m real proud of,” Walton said. “They have only given that award a handful of times since 1912.”

But even that didn’t satisfy Walton’s desire to perfect the illusion.

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Bellingham magician and Mount Baker Theatre regular John Walton will perform “DaVinci Outnumbered,” an illusion he’s been working on for 25 years on the CW’s “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” Monday, Sept. 30. Damian Vines / Mount Baker Theatre Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Even when he got the illusion — one he says he is the only magician in the world currently performing it — just the way he wanted, he still had to compress it for TV.

“It originally took about 11 minutes to perform,” Walton told The Herald. “Then I got it down to eight minutes. Then five minutes. For TV, I had to get it under five minutes, so now it’s down to 3½. TV also uses nine cameras, so I had to be real careful of all the angles.

“It was a lot of work getting it ready.”

That’s not counting having a TV crew follow him around for about a day interviewing him for other footage for the episode.

“I really enjoyed performing — that’s what I do,” Walton said. “The hardest part of the whole experience was the interviewing.”

One of the best parts, Walton said, was talking to Penn & Teller — yes, Teller actually does speak off stage — about magic and tricks they’re developing for their own act.

“Developing magic is Teller’s favorite part, and it’s my favorite part,” Walton said. “Just listening to how he prepares and perfects tricks was rewarding.”

As was meeting and watching one of Walton’s favorite magicians, Woody Aragon from Spain, who is one of three other illusionists who compete in Monday’s episode.

“I learned so much from him,” Walton said. “He is a close up artist. I would say tune in and watch Woody and stick around to watch me. I’m just so honored to be in the same episode as him.”

The Mount Baker Theatre is hosting a Facebook event, allowing the community to watch from home and send encouraging comments to Walton, according to a release on the event. Walton and his family have been longtime supporters of the theater, and the Harold and Irene Walton Theatre — a black box facility within Mount Baker Theatre — is named after his parents.

Where to watch

What: Bellingham magician John Walton performs on “Penn & Teller: Fool Us.”

When: 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30.

TV: CW (channel 11 on Comcast).