Illusions, Delusions, and Flat Out Lies

Listen to this episode

S1: I’d like to warn you about the explicit nature of the show, but I’ll just hint that you know what you’re in for, making this an implicit explicit warning and.

S2: It’s Wednesday, January 27th, twenty twenty one from Slate, it’s the gist. I’m Mike Pesca. So you’re one of my take on GameStop, right? You’re treating it as a game. Stop moving on. On the show today, I spiel about the lives of Joe Biden and why they aren’t merely a difference in degree, even an exponential degree compared to what we lived through.

Advertisement

S3: But first, Derek Delgaudio could be the best at his job in America. He has a special out on Hulu now directed by Frank Oz, called in and of itself. So you may have noticed that I got into the show a little quicker today than I usually do. And that’s because I’ve been thinking about this interview and this show in and of itself. So the Hulu special is based on a live show which played in L.A. and then New York City for 560 performances. You walk into the theater, there are hundreds of labels on a wall. They’re all the size and feel of a coat check tag and they have descriptions on them. A mathematician, a matador, a blacksmith, a daughter, the life of the party, an umpire, and you pick one. They come into play in a specific way later. The entire performance, however, is a look at identity and labels and the perceptions of what people are. So the genre, the genre of the show, when I said Derek Delgaudio is the best in America at his job, that job would be magic and the genre would be a magic show only. It’s probably more often described as a magic but show as in everyone who has seen it tells their friends, Oh, what is that about? They’ll say, well, it’s magic, but it’s storytelling like The Moth. And there are confessional aspects and it’s personal and the audience is involved and there’s just a lot of emotion. It’s really real. That’s what they’ll say. It’s magic. But what I was interested in, however, wasn’t magic and magic tricks. But what’s wrong with magic? You’ll hear me ask that. I get that magic has these connotations of Joe Bluth or Doug Henning the spirit of illusion, and they all might be off putting, especially if you’re doing what Derek is doing and trying to communicate to the public. This isn’t the Joe Bluth boom disappeared dove that you’re used to. And Frank Oz, who I don’t know, is he America’s most accomplished living puppeteer? Probably. He also finds the label of puppeteering a little off-putting. By the way, I just realized this puppeteering also a job, Bluth passion. So listen, the three of us have a good discussion. This preamble isn’t a warning. It’s not here to condition you. It’s not saying, look, the interview is a little rough at times. No, I mean, I push a little. They push back. I think in the end, interesting insights are had. But I just want to use this space to give a couple of my other thoughts on the labels that we use. But also when an audience expects a show, a work of art to be one thing and it winds up being the other. And I think audiences hate that at least American audiences do. I remember the Cameron Crowe movie Vanilla Sky. I think it was a remake of a French movie and it was sold as a romantic movie. But it’s really here’s a spoiler. It’s really a sci fi movie. And that fact drove audiences crazy. They revolted. Another example a little little bit different is the Hannah Gadsby special. Ninet was probably praised the best standup special of the year. But a lot of comedians, the comedy community within the comedy community, there is a lot of pushback. You know, this is in comedy and it became a flashpoint among some comedians because it changed, challenged the form, upended expectations and did things maybe to some people that didn’t seem like comedy. It was very upsetting, seemed like a category error. So what’s fascinating to me, though, is that Hannah Gatsby was always very clear. Well, of course it’s comedy. Of course it is. I’m a comedian. Don’t exclude me from that tradition. Whereas Derek and Frank but Derek, because I’m thinking of magicians, does not mind escaping the definition of magician nor Frank, just puppeteer. And I have followed Derek for years. I’ve interviewed him before. And yeah, it’s true. He shouldn’t be limited by don’t come into the show thing and that’s all he does. Or he does tricks. But since he’s the best at it, since it is in a way the apotheosis of a storied tradition, I wanted to know why he felt the best strategy was to eschew the tradition. Sometimes we eagerly shed labels and that’s a good thing. Sometimes we keep the old labels to help position the work of art in a line or as a craft with a history, as a discipline. That’s part of a tradition. Take newspapers. Most of them aren’t on paper. So we could say, Oh, The Wall Street Journal’s video on capital rioters. That’s not a newspaper. Don’t limit it by calling it a newspaper or we. Take that idea of a newspaper and expand it to very much include some of the great journalism that’s being done off the page. I’ve always said that podcasting is radio. If I look back on my career, I’ll say I started in radio and I stayed in radio. They just changed the delivery system. But the practitioners, the creators, they do have the right to define themselves, how they would like to. And if there was ever a profession that would want to make themselves disappear, I guess it’s magicians I know. Don’t call it magic, OK?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: It’s the engrossing, thought provoking, transformative work of Derek Delgaudio and director Frank Oz. Mr.

S4: Derek Delgaudio is in and of itself, was a stunning theatrical experience in which the two time Academy of Magical Arts close up Magician of the Year uses his craft to tell a story about himself, but also about us.

S5: We are all the unreliable narrators of each other’s stories. But I’m not just defined by what you see. I’m also defined by all the things you will never see.

S4: In and of itself was a part memoir and part philosophical contemplation, it’s now a Hulu special of the same name special being the operative word the play was. And now the film is directed by Frank Oz, who, like Derek, is known for an exquisite mastery of a storied and ancient craft because Frank Oz is Miss Piggy Yoda, Cookie Monster, a puppeteer. They’re both with me now. Gentlemen, thanks for joining me. Hello, how are you? Thanks. So I read about the connection between you two.

Advertisement

S2: In fact, Derek, you had a long tweet thread about how you decided to tap Frank Oz. I was thinking about the connection between you two and probably, you know, 90 something percent of it is as artists and as storytellers. But there is the element of physical, literally manual manipulation of material to achieve a desired effect. A story to wow people. Frank. Have you ever contemplated that? And do you think about that connection ever?

S6: No, no, I don’t think so. And again, it’s no use saying I’m a puppeteer, he’s a magician. You know, the show is actually about that. The idea that we label each other when actually there is more to us than one thing. The idea that I’m a puppeteer is only one aspect of me. The idea that Derek is a magician is only one aspect of him. But to answer your question, no, it never occurred to me and I know that that’s part of it.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Derek, the paradoxical nature of identity and how when we say magician, perhaps that connotes something like Lyor, someone who can’t be trusted. And this show is using the skills that you have in the tradition that you have to a little bit explode the box of what the labels mean.

S7: It’s an attempt, but only in in the sense that I needed to to actually say what I needed to say. It’s difficult to convey what I wanted to convey if people think that I’m I’m trying to deceive them. So the title A Magician just tends to conceal the things I’m trying to reveal.

S2: But I guess my question is, I’ve read a lot about you and I watched old interviews and you have such a reverence for the tradition and the craft. Do you chafe at being called a magician? And in doing so, is that what does that say about what I know to be your reverence for the history and tradition of that craft?

Advertisement

S7: Well, it depends on whose it depends on who’s saying it. If people if people have an understanding of what it means to me, then no. But if they understand it as they understand it and it has nothing to do with how I see the world or how I see my role or what I do, then, then, yeah, it’s difficult to kind of to let that stand. So it really depends. It’s not so much running from it. So is it is wanting to wanting to make the things that I want to make without having perception of others get in the way of it?

S8: Yeah. Yeah. Derek, I think that’s true for both of us. I mean, I don’t have any problem calling people, calling me a puppeteer. And I think Jack has no problem with people calling him a magician if they actually knew what we were doing. And the perception usually is that they don’t. The perception is rather limited and often pejorative and condescending. It’s not pleasant. Their perception is not pleasant, not the names we call ourselves.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

S2: The connotation or what maybe is the common, like you said, the common perception. And that’s it.

S7: You know, as I say, like, for instance, like starting a conversation on this note, you know, talking about these things is is already a distraction from what the show is actually about in terms of like what what it is, the dialogue that I’m trying to have. And so it’s like it tends to be it’s sidetracks us from the things that actually matter, that really genuinely matter to me.

S8: Yeah, I mean, I’ll just throw in here, Mike, I mean, you’re an interviewer, right? Yeah, it’s one of the things I do, right. Well, that’s that’s all you do. You’re an interviewer, right? I know what you mean. Yeah. So you’re an interviewer and that’s how I see you. And so I get it at all you do is just when you wake up, you got to get some coffee and then you talk to people. That’s it. Right. Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Advertisement

S2: The publicity team says don’t don’t call it magic. And I’ve done hours and hours of research into what you do. And so from my perception, you know, I have this reverence for the art of what you’re doing and to some extent, right. How I feel about it is something like why should it be an insult if someone uses I understand you’re trying to market a exquisite work of theatre that says so much about the human perception. But if you don’t have that label on it, if you don’t have the category, I mean, maybe I could convince, you know, some percentage of the audience to sit down and watch this thing that you don’t even know what it is. But there is also a necessity, I guess, just in terms of getting people to pay attention to categorize what you have. And I don’t even know. You know, I’ll just say I don’t even know that if people come in with that perception that’s working against you, I think the intrigue and mystery of not knowing what it is, we’ll get more people in.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S9: You think this is a performance? You see a man in a theater, there’s an audience. It is difficult to see past what this looks like. You can see it for what it is or you can imagine what it could be.

S7: I know from experience the difference between someone thinking they’re going into a quote unquote, magic show and someone going in just being told they have to see this. And the expectation of seeing a magic show is much more disappointing and confusing then than not having any preconceived notions. It’s an inescapable truth. There’s nothing wrong with with the craft of magic or puppeteering or the the art of the interview, any of these things. But everything comes with some sort of preconceived notion. And some of those fields and crafts have more more weight or more pejorative connotations, you know, and things attached to them. And unfortunately, magic and puppeteering are are two of the lowest in terms of the entertainment world. And so you can’t it doesn’t matter doesn’t even matter if it’s frank, like you get the best in the world or something. And it’s still oh, it’s it’s that’s what it is.

Advertisement

S8: And I think what they’ve seen is unfortunately a lot of bad magic and bad puppeteering, you know, and they don’t understand that there can be something lifted higher than that, that’s all.

S7: I remember the first time we did. The Colbert Show, The Late Show in twenty eighteen, and we had been doing well with the show and and going on obviously going on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is a huge bump in terms of you get the Colbert bump. Right. And it was true for ticket sales. But what would happen, which we didn’t expect, was the audiences that came just hated the show. They heard magician and they heard Stephen Colbert likes it. And that’s and they bought tickets and it didn’t matter. All the other beautiful things that he said about it, all they heard was magic show. Stephen Colbert told me to come see it. And and we have a one star review average around TripAdvisor now because of it. Because because people are like Colbert sent me to the show, there’s not even a magic show. This is ridiculous. So, like, yeah, it’s it’s a problem in terms of setting expectations. And so it’s not that it’s not we’re not being delicate about like, oh, don’t call me this. Don’t call me that. It’s we want to have people go into this experience in a way that is appropriate. And setting the wrong expectation can actually literally destroy what we’ve tried to create for them.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S8: Yeah, it’s interesting, it could go it sometimes went two ways. One is, hey, I came from magic, don’t see any magic here. What’s all this talk? On the other hand, sometimes it becomes a Trojan horse and they realize, oh, Jesus, this is more than I thought. Yeah.

S2: So in terms of putting it on film, it brings me to this question. You’re one of the greatest card manipulators I’ve ever seen as you’re doing this, Frank. Cuts to I mean, it’s an editing choice, your face at times we don’t even see the cards. And that to me tells me that what you’re trying to do is not necessarily wow the TV audience or the Hulu watching audience, because you know that everyone could just say, well, with camera tricks, you could actually achieve any effect. So there’s no point to even commit to trying to wow them in terms of that. And this is my question in a way. Does the film get to the heart of what you’re trying to do in a different way or more direct way than the theatrical experience did?

S7: Yes, I think that this is more the film in many ways is more true to the work than the live show shows, because we have the opportunity to show you what we want to to show you and and say what we wanted to say without knowing that you can’t be distracted by the trivial things like what are his hands doing or what’s behind the curtain or things like that that you can’t help but think when you’re in a in a theater. And so it puts it puts the right issues in the foreground and puts everything else in the background, which is which is a luxury that we’re we are fortunate to have on film.

S6: I think the real difference here and the real help in showing it’s not about tricks is also the the power of the Close-Up is extraordinary. And that’s what this thing is about, is people’s emotions on their faces in the theater. One can’t see that even if you’re in the first row, you can’t see a real close up of Derek’s face and the subtleties and you certainly can’t see everybody else in the audience. So here’s an opportunity to see all the people in close up with the human face, which is the most emotive visage in the world.

S3: I’ll give you another way in which the film is actually maybe better than the theatrical experience, because we can help as audience members but to question how an effect is achieved. So when is an audience member you see there are several points in the show and the TV show where you interact, I mean, deeply interact with members of the audience. And I think most people will spend at least some of their mental energy saying, how do you do that? Is that is that person a plant? How on the up and up it was.

S2: But then when you show 20, 30 different people having this experience, it becomes clear that there was no trickery. Persay, there was no that’s like.

S8: Yeah.

S7: Yeah, you’re right, Mike, it was it was we we knew that was one of the things we knew going into it, is because I heard from doing the show, obviously, I had people come up to me and ask me questions and talk about it afterwards or write things about it. And I knew that I knew that that was one of the things that people thought was, oh, I bet that they’re in on it or that’s an act or things like that. And so we knew going into the film that this is a way to to show the honesty of it and that I really was just telling the truth. And they’re they’re the ones telling themselves the lies and that these really were people who experienced these things. But more importantly, that they know, like with the with the book, these people took the leap. Like even people thought the book was was like an actor like that, that someone didn’t really come back every day or whatever. But like in the film, it’s very, very clear that these are real people having real experiences and and that it’s not it’s not based on any sort of trickery. These are really human moments, really caught on camera.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: Yeah, I guess how do you do that, how did he do that is the lowest form of being an audience member or appreciating or thinking about what you know?

S7: Of course. I mean, it’s like going to a movie and thinking about the special effects. If you’re doing that, it’s it’s wrong. Like you’re the filmmakers messed up or something is not risen to the risen to the occasion of being of an experience that you’re completely immersed in and you’re just on the ride and you should just get off with your head spinning. And and unfortunately, the how did he do that part is is generally the point. It’s not part of the experience. It’s literally the point. And that’s not the point for us on any level.

S2: Did you have discussions about to what extent is this presenting a show and to what extent is this a documentary of the show?

S8: We did, but it turned out that the show told us the movie told Derek and I what I wanted to be in. It was neither documentary or anything else. It was whatever it was, it was in and of itself. And again, that’s the exciting thing to both of us, that you can’t describe it. And it’s intriguing because because of that and people I hope we will come and see it.

S2: Was there anything that fell away that didn’t translate?

S7: No. No, that no, I don’t know. It all is in there. But it’s either either heightened by some sort of extra media animation, archival footage, things like that. But no, it’s all it’s all fair.

S2: Derek Delgaudio Show in and of itself was directed by Frank Oz. It is available on Hulu now. Thank you guys so much. Thank you. Nice questions.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: And now the spiel Joe Biden is a liar has been caught in a lie, a serious lie, three quarters of the way to an egregious lie if you go by Pinocchio’s Richard Alize, what BTU’s are the air conditioners or the IBOU is to beer? That’s, of course, the international bullshit unit. Here is the thing. He said the untruth strap in. I apologize in advance for platforming a liar.

S2: Under the previous administration, the federal government contract awarded directly to foreign companies went up 30 percent.

S1: That is going to change on our watch, Washington Post ruled that three Pinocchio’s pretty bad. Now, I would like to take a few minutes to quibble with the number of Pinocchio’s they gave, which, of course, puts me in the ridiculous position of arguing Pinocchio’s in public, Pinocchio’s Pinocchio by Pinocchio, Pinocchio. They’re not an objective quantity. There is no correlation to the amount of radiation given off by a mineral that’s kept in a jar in Geneva that all the other Pinocchio’s are set against. The Naval Observatory does not maintain a Pinocchio meter that you could call into. At the tone, the lies will be two Pinocchio’s. I’m like Jupiter over here. We’ve got to do it’s Pinocchio. Pinocchio over here. We got to get really the analysis is of foreign contracts. And the Post was confused about where to even find these stats and they document it. And I understand the frustration. And then they get into that. There’s really no solid metric for what counts as a foreign contract and the figures for the entire country are impossible to go by. But then they find that and this is from their own reporting. I’ll just read you the quote. And last year of the Obama administration, the percentage of foreign contracts that were given waivers to buy American rules. In other words, with a lot of procurement, you had to buy American. You can apply for a waiver. The government might give you a waiver. Twelve percent of foreign contracts had waivers under the last year. The Obama administration in twenty nineteen. It was thirty one percent under the Trump administration. So by that metric, these foreign contracts were up 30 percent. They increased to to thirty one percent. But the Post also gives a lot of context why that’s not the end all be all that. And they did convince me that it’s probably not true. However, you counted that thirty percent of the government contracts were with foreign companies. OK, it’s a quibble. This certainly seems like a distortion that Joe Biden perpetuated on the American people. He maybe got the direction of the trend. Right. But why am I running interference for this liar? I in fact, I do like the overall effort of holding everyone accountable. It’s not like there shouldn’t have been a newspaper column about that claim and looking at that claim. And even if The Post wound up giving out Pinocchio’s like cheese samples at Trader Joe’s, it’s a fine investment of resources. He engaged in some, shall we say, malarkey. Here is another thing that Joe Biden said. Sadly, it is another lie. Adam Serwer noted this one in a column, a larger column, where it made larger points called Biden will lie to you. Indeed he will. Serwer pointed out this one about the number of vaccines I found fascinating.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S9: Yesterday, the press asked the question, is one hundred million enough week before they send Biden? Are you crazy? You can’t do one hundred million in a hundred days. Well, we’re going to, God willing, not only do one hundred million, we’re going to do more than that. But this is we have to do this. We have to move.

S1: No one said Joe Biden, you’re crazy. No one said 100 million in 100 days. It’s not even a double digit increase over where the Trump administration was. Now, at least Joe Biden didn’t look at the cameras when he said, you all said you’re crazy and say you with your lights on, you know what you’re doing, boo everyone, boo. And when he said at least he said they came up to me and said, Biden, he didn’t say, oh, Mr. President, oh, OK. I’m just having flashbacks. Thanks for bearing with me here. But you know what?

S10: It was an exaggeration what Joe Biden was engaged in. And while Serwer doesn’t give out Pinocchio’s, the Pinocchio’s are the point. Great column by him, sir, was right to point out that no one was saying a hundred million wasn’t possible. Everyone he knew, everything said you got to go bigger and bolder than that, sir, were in his column that Joe Biden will lie to you. Points out that all politicians, like all humans, lie. There are reasons to lie venal and strategic. And he wants us to know that Trump did it worse, more often and with much more malignant intentions. It’s all true, but I think it makes an error. Now, I’m not giving Pinocchio’s to the error in conception. Donald Trump’s lies and the lives of other politicians are comparable in the same way that a lot of people bite their nails. And also, Jeffrey. Eight humans is comparable to think of the lives of Donald Trump as just a more frequent, sometimes a much more frequent form of bad or unvirtuous behavior that we all engage in is a disservice. It doesn’t really get at the truth of Trump’s lies. Trump lied by The Washington Post count three thousand five hundred seventy three times. That’s not a raindrop. That’s not the weather. That’s an ecosystem pleasing Trump anywhere on the continuum of somewhat liar to lots of liar benefits him in two ways. One, it makes his successor seen as engaging and Trump like behavior, you know, doing the same category of thing. So it’s sullies Biden, but it also has two kinds Trump and it mischaracterizes him to think of it as well. Everyone lies difference in kind, but degree. That’s the category of conception we’re thinking about. Hey, just think of what Trump is doing is not a difference in kind, but a difference in degree. It misunderstands what we all went through, actually. So when you lie once or twice or once or twice a month, you have lied when you average thirty nine lies a day like Trump did in twenty twenty, his most dishonest way featuring over 500 lies. What you’re doing is seeking to remake reality. That was literally his strategy. It was his conscious strategy, you know, Steve Bannon said. So Trump has lived his life that way and got to try to execute this strategy. If Joe Biden gets people to believe that foreign contracts are up by 30 percent, then people will be walking around saying, oh, that’s a bad thing. Maybe I’ll support Biden’s agenda, though, in this world, once you point out that lie or explain it to people probably in a better way and then posted that lie can be rebutted and the person who lied could be hurt by having people realize it was a lie, you’re still in the realm of reality. Thirty Thousand Lies is remaking reality with the express purpose of creating a world where nothing you say can ever be disproved. Maybe not to everyone, but to enough people don’t. In this world, you don’t have to argue every fact. You just get carte blanche to assert what you want to assert. And part of this strategy, it seems to me, I think we can recognize now in retrospect, was welcoming in a whole group of people who are never allowed to operate in normal politicians and understand truth. Right. The Kuhnen crowd or the online lunatics, their brains were pre broken and they help the overall project, which is once again not to get away with lies. It’s to operate in a world where there is no such thing as truth, to recreate reality to your whims or your purposes. I wish we actually had a different word or term or concept for the phenomenon of lots of lies. This is true. There are some things when they reach a certain critical mass, they become a different thing. Think about collective terms, right? It’s one bubble, it’s a few bubbles, a lot of bubbles. But think of the bubbles, one bubbles. Relationship to foam. All right. Becomes sort of a different thing or a strand of hair is relationship to a rich pelt. But it’s even more than that. What I’m trying to get at a different term for what Trump was doing in the number of lines that it’s not about scale. It takes itself off the scale. And we need to recognize it’s a different category of thing entirely. For instance, we’ve all seen a mirage on the horizon when we’re driving or we’ve all heard. So it was that. Yeah. Oh, I thought I heard something. We’ve all done that. But there are people who are constantly hallucinating or are experiencing florid delusions or are hearing voices. And with those people, we don’t put them on the continuum of, hey, sometimes my eyes play tricks on me. There’s a new category for them. We call them delusional. If we could specifically diagnose them, we call them schizophrenic. True, there are non schizophrenic people who might have a synaptic misfire now and again, and it leaves them in a kind of fog for a moment. But they’re not understood. That person, that phenomenon which we’ve all had, it’s not understood to be a lesser form or a more normalized degree of schizophrenia. Donald Trump is alone. He is unique. He is unlike this very important. He is unlike his not the same kind of thing as politicians that came before or politicians who came afterwards. By all means, let us be mindful and serious about calling out the lies, the lies we experience now that we hear now from our current politicians. But let us also recognize it’s a different kind of vigilance where the stakes aren’t, you know, existence itself.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S11: And that’s it for today’s show. Jane Arraf produces the gist. She really resents being pigeonholed by the occupation. She held a few years before she got her current job. She happened to stuff, a few species of fish into barrels that she made. But this didn’t make her only a grouper. Cooper Margaret Kelly, just producer, is so much more than that. And her collection of short dramas about arrow makers, while great, don’t just make her a Wainwright playwright. All right. And don’t try to stereotype Alicia Montgomery because. Why? Because on the weekends, she crafts small covid for the local rock dove population. But she’s not wholly a pigeonholed literary pigeonhole the gist. She’s never been cut into Bayada. There’s a little piece of advice I have. Just pretend it’s Fozzie Bear because that’s a lot easier. Improves their. And thanks for listening.