First published November 9, 2021.
When Matthew Teague was 12, a trick with coins sent him “through the rabbit hole” of magic — which led to him becoming a world-class professional magician who just last week made his national television debut.
It was David Roth’s famous “chink-a-chink” trick, in which the magician seemed to make coins teleport across a table without touching them.
“It was something that he had created and I just absolutely just fell in love with magic after that,” Teague said in an interview.
Teague got to perform his own version of that trick on national television last week in front of perhaps the most famous magicians in the world on Penn and Teller: Fool Us.
Teague performs weekly at Ho-Chunk Gaming in Black River Falls and at venues across the country, but the show’s estimated two million viewers was his largest audience ever.
“I’ve never had an audience that big before. I tried not to think about it while I was performing,” Teague said.
The show is now in its eighth season. Teague first sent an audition tape all the way back in season two. On the show, magicians perform their best tricks in hopes that the famous Penn and Teller won’t be able to tell how they did it.
Teague didn’t fool them, mostly because he performed his version of a classic trick first designed by a legendary magician, and Penn and Teller already knew how it was done. Still, since Roth passed away in January, Teague wanted to use his moment in the limelight to pay tribute.
“I felt like he was kind of being forgotten, not remembered as well as he should have been. So I wanted to throw him a rose,” Teague said. “(He) was somebody who I’ve never even met and probably didn’t even realize the impact that he had on me.”
In his biographical introduction on the Penn and Teller show, Teague described growing up amid gun violence and crime in New Mexico. Magic was “an escape,” he said, and “saved my life” — all originally inspired by Roth.
On the show, Teague performed his own “creative interpretation” on Roth’s original trick, adding a few single-hand elements and making all four coins vanish at the end of the trick.
“The vanish at the end took me, I don’t know, like 27 years to figure out how to do,” Teague said with a laugh. “Ever since I was a little kid, I was like, ‘it’d be great if you can make the coins vanish at the end.’ It wasn’t until maybe seven, eight years ago that I’d finally figured it out. It was a good 20-some-odd years of pursuing that effect.”
David Roth performs his original trick:
While Penn and Teller weren’t fooled, Penn Jillette – the only member of the duo who speaks during performances – had nothing but compliments for Teague.
“What a great routine. Just beautiful,” Jillette said. “We knew David (Roth) and we were lucky enough to have him on the show and you wanted to do this as a tribute to him. He would have loved you.”
“They said really nice things and it just felt great to kind of get the stamp of approval from some of the best that have ever done it,” Teague said of the praise from Jillette.
Teague said making it a tribute to his magical hero helped him get over the nerves.
“My whole thinking was that I just needed to stay calm and put my mind in somewhat of a serene state so that I wouldn’t be nervous,” he said. “I tried to make the piece bigger than just about me or promoting myself, so that it was easier for me to just kind of tap into what it was that I was there to do.”
Teague hopes the big television audience leads to more opportunities to perform.
“I’m kind of blown away by (the experience),” he said. “Whole thing was just kind of surreal.”
Teague said he had to get a regular job to help make ends meet during the pandemic, but also used the time to create some new magic. You can catch him most Saturdays at Ho-Chunk Gaming in Black River Falls, where he rarely performs on stage — instead, he does “close-up magic” strolling the casino floor. He will also have stage performances coming up at venues around the country, which will be announced on his website at https://www.magicofmatthew.com and Facebook page.