Comic illusionist Matt Donnelly, known by some audiences as “the mind noodler,” entertains nationwide with a fairly bold confidence while seemingly passing thoughts into people’s psyches. But he’s far too sharp to be needled to noodle in one area at the beginning of a recent media chat when asked if he can plant excellent questions in an interviewer’s mind.
“I don’t know about that,” he said with a laugh, speaking by phone from an airport in Detroit. “But I’m a comedy-first magician. I definitely don’t worry about anyone saying that I don’t have superpowers.
“You know, especially recently, it seems we’re all bombarded by so much bad news. So I don’t think there will be anytime soon that I start taking myself too seriously.
“But we are going to give you a great show and a wonderful evening out.”
“We” refers to his three cohorts — Alex Ramon and dog MJ, Jessica Jane, and Vinny Grosso — on the tour “Penn & Teller Present: The Foolers” a two-hour presentation stopping at 7 p.m. Sunday at Brown County Music Center in Nashville. The performers are among those who actually fooled and stumped classic illusionists Penn & Teller on their CW TV show “Fool Us,” though this tour is without Penn & Teller themselves.
However, in part, the foursome will present live and on stage some of Penn & Teller’s better-known illusions, plus plenty of laughter.
“Their routines are road-tested through decades of shows,” he said.
Find Donnelly’s video clips online and you’ll be sure to see one in which he has an audience member guess his exact weight as he wisecracks his way through the bit — all while apparently seeming to mentally feed clues to the guesser. The average audience member will have a tough time trying to figure how such a heavy deal was done.
“That trick is one that Penn taught to me,” he said.
In fact, Donnelly, who began comedy as a teen in his native New York, got into magic only five years ago while co-hosting Penn Jillette’s award-winning podcast, “Penn’s Sunday School” as well as the magic podcast,” Abracababble.” He just wrapped his ninth season as head writer of “Fool Us.”
“Penn thought it was fascinating that someone with my comedy background would want to try to take a stab at magic,” he said. “I just thought it was something that I should try out. The one thing that I didn’t realize was just how ancient the art of magic really is.
“And it quickly became a new obsession of mine.”
Donnelly spoke over the background noise of airport terminal announcements and more. But it never crossed his mind to want to make all the hubbub disappear.
“I remember what it was like sitting at home with absolutely nothing to do,” he said. “During the pandemic, I nearly thought we had lost a whole way of life that might never come back. So, to be seemingly constantly busy now and on the move is a really good problem to have.”
Donnelly mentioned that one of his segments involves a T-shirt cannon, and another involves audience members sharing their heartfelt wishes. But the curious will have to buy tickets to learn much more. He pointed out that all four performers will be onstage the whole time, working together on illusions.
“We’re a group of friends who really like each other,” Donnelly said. “So this is not a one-up, one-down format. There’s a lot of camaraderie and a lot of banter. And I do a lot of audience interaction. Improv is my real superpower. Because of that, the show is very different every night.”
In case people are wondering, yes, sometimes a magic maneuver thuds. Donnelly tells onlookers.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Failure’s definitely a part of improv. And I’m very honest with the audience.”
Just as he is about that inability to manipulate minds.
About the show
Who: “Penn & Teller Present: The Foolers”, featuring four magicians who fooled the classic illusionists on their TV show.
When: 7 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Brown County Music Center, 200 Maple Leaf Drive in Nashville.
Information and tickets: browncountymusiccenter.com.