In magic, there are lots of iconic tricks that have spanned the centuries. Magicians will often, at one point in their career give their take on some of the classics like The Cups And Balls or Sawing A Woman In Half. The Bullet Catch is one such classic that doesn’t often get performed by magicians as it genuinely can be dangerous.
The premise of the trick is that someone (usually a weapons expert/assistant/volunteer), loads a gun with a bullet that is sometimes signed or marked by a spectator. The marksman then aims the gun at the magician who is stood on the other side of the stage. They typically fire the gun through a pane of glass and fire at a few other objects to show that it really is firing a bullet. The magician then catches the bullet in their mouth or hand and they know it’s the same bullet because it has the spectator’s signature on it.
History of the Bullet Catch
It was first performed as early as 1581 by Couleu in France. He would perform his magic act which involved having pistols fired at him and catching the bullets in his hand. He ended up being killed after an argument with his assistant who shot him! He was the first magician to die performing the bullet catch and since then, supposedly another 11 magicians have died attempting it again. The last magician to die from performing the trick was Chung Ling Soo who died at the Wood Green Empire in north London in 1918.
One of the most famous performers of the bullet catch was the great Robert Houdin. He ended up using the bullet catch to end an uprising in Algeria. He was challenged to a duel by one of the Marabouts and caught the bullet fired at him in his teeth. He then fired his bullet into a whitewashed wall and when the bullet hit the wall blood seeped out of the bullet hole. This convinced the Marabouts that the French had magical powers and contributed to ending the uprising.
My favourite performances
There are quite a few versions that I’ve found online but I thought I’d just share the three with you that I liked the most. There tend to be two types of performances: the bullet catch illusion (where you make it look as if you caught the bullet) and actually catching the bullet. Both are equally entertaining.
Penn and Teller’s Bullet Catch
My favourite one has to be Penn and Teller’s wonderful contribution. Even under intense scrutiny, watching this video over, over and over again, there is no way it’s possible! I love the theatre of their performance and how they manage to make what is usually a very serious performance, funny.
Here’s one of Chris Angel catching a bullet in a bulletproof glove. I have to say, while I’m not usually a fan of Angel, I really like this one.
And finally, let’s have a look at David Blaine’s bullet catch. He definitely takes it to the next level. This one is probably less of an illusion and more “OMG HE”S ACTUALLY DOING IT”.
David ended up doing a bullet catch in his live show that he toured around the US. He would fire the gun himself using a piece of string attached to the trigger and mirror to line up a laser. Crazy!