Magicians will tell you that the art of misdirection is much easier if you have two hands. Santa Clarita magician Chris Canfield was born with only one.
Using new, creative ways to misdirect viewers might just be Canfield’s secret to tricking Penn and Teller when he appears on their show “Penn and Teller: Fool Us” at 8 p.m. on Friday. He said he learned much of his craft from studying another one-handed magician named René Lavand, but he uses his disadvantage to his advantage.
“I have a right wrist and, like, little tiny fingers,” Canfield told The Signal in a phone interview on Wednesday. “But I don’t have a full hand. Now, René Lavand would keep his right hand in his pocket the whole time. And there were different reasons maybe why he did that — maybe cultural reasons. I’m not doing that. I actually use what I have in my performances to misdirect people, maybe even more so than other people might have with two hands in certain ways.”
While Lavand, the Argentinian magician who was known for his close-up magic, lost his right hand in a traffic collision at the age of 9, Canfield, now 46 years old, was born without his.
“There’s no necessarily scientific explanation for exactly why,” Canfield said. “Sometimes it’s amniotic band syndrome. That’s a thing. Or people have asked me about a certain medication — an anti-nausea medication people used to take, and I don’t think my mom was taking it. But no one has ever been able to tell me specifically what caused it.”
Regardless, Canfield never knew any different. He grew up in Elmhurst, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, playing football, baseball and basketball with his friends in the street, and he learned to play with what he had the way all kids learn to play sports with what they have.
“I grew up surrounded by a whole bunch of people playing,” he said. “And pretty competitively, too, which was helpful for me, for sure. They never gave me any slack.”
Sports, however, wasn’t going to be Canfield’s thing. He spent much of his childhood in and around game stores — around puzzles, games, game creators and problem solving. He was very much exposed to the creative process, he said, which influenced many of his own creative endeavors, including musical ones. He even invented a guitar pick that someone without a right hand could use.
Magic, Canfield would discover, was the best way to express himself artistically. He said his dad was a magician, and that played a huge part in who he’d become.
“I grew up really not knowing a world without magic,” he added. “It was always around. It’s one of those things where, you know, when you’re a kid and someone’s doing something around you, it’s just kind of part of who you are and what you do.”
Canfield’s dad would practice and show off card tricks and coin tricks around his son, he’d bring home magic supplies that the youngster could use, and he even took him to see magic man David Copperfield when Canfield was 9 years old.
“We also used to watch all the magic shows on TV together,” he said. “The specials like Doug Henning or the David Copperfield specials.”
Canfield’s dad will not get to see his son perform Friday when his episode of “Penn and Teller: Fool Us” airs on TV. His dad died 30 years ago. But Canfield said he thinks his father would’ve been profoundly excited and moved to see his boy take up one of his deepest passions and bring it to this level — to TV on the Penn and Teller show.
“Penn and Teller: Fool Us,” a competitive television program that first aired in 2011 on the CW featuring magicians Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller, gives magicians the chance to perform and fool the world-famous duo. If Penn and Teller can’t figure out how a trick works, the magician behind that trick will win a Fool Us trophy and other prizes.
Canfield said the show doesn’t necessarily pit magicians against other magicians. Nevertheless, they’re all competing to get the trophy. He added that about 52 magicians participated in the process this season.
“It’s geared toward magicians and it’s run by magicians,” Canfield said.
And since the series was previously recorded and the outcomes were, at the time, a secret to the viewing public, all Canfield could legally say about the experience was that it was a joy.
“I loved it. I thought it was a wonderful experience,” he said. “They treat you amazing. They understand exactly what we’re trying to do. What I mean by that is that they really tried to help you do your best. They’re on your — everybody’s on your side. They want you to have a really great performance. They want you to fool Penn and Teller, and they want to do everything they possibly can to set you up for success. I couldn’t have imagined a better experience.”
Even though Canfield performs magic professionally, headlining in places like The Magic Castle in Hollywood and holding a position as president of Santa Clarita’s chapter of the International Brotherhood of Magicians — IBM Ring 280 — he’s also director of technology at TraitWare, a tech company that streamlines the login process by eliminating the need for usernames and passwords while utilizing multi-factor authentication.
Canfield is also married with a 12-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. It’s a lot of work, he said, juggling family life, a career, magic and all his other endeavors. He admits that his getting on the Penn and Teller TV show might be attributed to his persistence, but he said his hard work is likely the secret, if such a thing exists.
“I’m actually not really sure there is a secret,” he said. “All I can say is, I submitted a video once. I didn’t hear anything back. I submitted it again, and they gave me a call. But that’s not a super exciting story. I would say that probably what does it is putting together a really solid performance that really shows off who you are, and that you have an idea that’ll work well on television. There are a lot of great performances. There are a lot of great pieces that are absolutely wonderful but wouldn’t work well on a TV production. So, I put together what I thought would work really well for TV production that would also work well with the hosts on the show.”
Whereas some magicians might find the art of misdirection more difficult with just one hand, Canfield built a unique act around it. It’s an act that, he said, shows off who he is as a person. And it’s an act that might actually be the difference between fooling Penn and Teller and not.