Penn & Teller

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Penn & Teller
Penn & Teller (cropped).jpg
Penn Jillette (left) & Teller (right)
BornPenn Fraser Jillette
Raymond Joseph Teller[1][2]

(1955-03-05) March 5, 1955 (age 59) (Penn)
(1948-02-14) February 14, 1948 (age 66) (Teller)
ResidenceLas Vegas
Known forMagic, comedy, skepticism
Website
pennandteller.com
 
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Penn & Teller
Penn & Teller (cropped).jpg
Penn Jillette (left) & Teller (right)
BornPenn Fraser Jillette
Raymond Joseph Teller[1][2]

(1955-03-05) March 5, 1955 (age 59) (Penn)
(1948-02-14) February 14, 1948 (age 66) (Teller)
ResidenceLas Vegas
Known forMagic, comedy, skepticism
Website
pennandteller.com

Penn & Teller (Penn Jillette and Teller) are American illusionists and entertainers who have performed together since the late 1970s, noted for their ongoing act which combines elements of comedy with magic. The duo, having been featured in numerous stage and television shows, currently headline in Las Vegas at The Rio. Penn Jillette serves as the act's orator and raconteur. Teller, however, generally does not speak while performing, and instead communicates through mime and nonverbals, although his voice can occasionally be heard during their live shows and television appearances. Besides magic, the pair have recently become associated with their advocacy of atheism, scientific skepticism, and libertarianism, particularly through their television show Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

Career[edit]

Penn Jillette and Teller were introduced to one another by Wier Chrisimer, and performed their first show together at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival on 19 August 1975.[3] From the late 1970s through 1981, Penn, Teller, and Chrisimer performed as a trio called "The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society" which played in San Francisco at the Phoenix Theater. Chrisimer helped to develop some bits that continued, most notably Teller's "Shadows" trick, which involves a single red rose.[citation needed] The group disbanded in 1981 after Chrisimer quit show business, leaving Penn Jillette and Teller to work as a pair.[citation needed]

Penn and Teller in 1988, at the 40th Emmy Awards

By 1985, Penn & Teller were receiving positive reviews for their Off Broadway show and Emmy Award-winning PBS special, Penn & Teller Go Public.[4] They played a pair of "find the lady" street tricksters in Run DMC's "It's Tricky" video in 1986. In 1987, they began the first of two successful Broadway runs. Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, the duo made numerous television appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live, as well as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Today, and many others.

Penn & Teller had national tours throughout the 1990s, gaining critical praise. They have also made television guest appearances on Babylon 5[5] (as the comedy team Rebo and Zooty), The Drew Carey Show, a few episodes of Hollywood Squares from 1998 until 2004, ABC's Muppets Tonight, FOX's The Bernie Mac Show, an episode of the game show Fear Factor on NBC, NBC's The West Wing, in a two-part episode of the final season of ABC's Home Improvement in 1998, four episodes during season 1 of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch in 1996, NBC's Las Vegas, and Fox's The Simpsons episodes "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder" and "The Great Simpsina" and the Futurama film Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder in 2009. They also appeared as three-card Monte scam artists in the music video for "It's Tricky" by Run-DMC in 1987, and were thrown out of a Las Vegas hotel room in the music video for "Waking Up in Vegas" by Katy Perry in 2009.

Their Showtime network television show Bullshit! took a skeptical look at psychics, religion, the pseudoscientific, conspiracy theories, and the paranormal. It has featured critical segments on gun control, astrology, Feng Shui, environmental issues, PETA, weight loss, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the war on drugs.

They have also described themselves as teetotalers. Their book, Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic, explains that they avoid alcohol, drugs, and caffeine, though they do appear to smoke cigarettes in some videos.

The pair have written several books about magic, including Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks For Dear Friends, Penn & Teller's How to Play with Your Food, and Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic. Since 2001, Penn & Teller have performed six nights a week (or as Penn put it on Bullshit!: "Every night of the week ... except Fridays!") in Las Vegas at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino.

Penn Jillette hosted a weekday one-hour talk show on Infinity Broadcasting's Free FM radio network from January 3, 2006 to March 2, 2007 with cohost Michael Goudeau.[6][7] He also hosted the game show Identity, which debuted on December 18, 2006 on NBC.

Their television series Penn & Teller Tell a Lie premiered on the Discovery Channel on October 5, 2011.

Penn & Teller have also shown support for the Brights movement[8] and are now listed on the movement's homepage under the Enthusiastic Brights section.[9] According to an article in Wired magazine, their license plates are customized so they read, "Atheist" and "Godless", and when Penn signs autographs, he sometimes writes "there is no God" with his signature.[10]

Off-stage relationship[edit]

Penn Jillette has told interviewer Larry King[when?] and Seth Meyers[when?] that a big part of the duo's success and longevity is due to them never having been close friends. They respect each other as business partners and enjoy working together, but have little in common besides magic. As a result of their drastically different lifestyles and interests, they rarely socialize or interact when not working. Jillette believes[citation needed] that their partnership succeeds precisely because they give each other a great deal of space off-stage.

Penn later amended this position in a video where he and Teller responded to questions from members of Reddit and also in a video interview for Big Think, stating that while they share few similar interests outside magic, Teller is his best friend and that his children treat him as a close relative. He states that while most entertainment partnerships such as Martin and Lewis and Lennon and McCartney were based on a deep affection for each other that lends to a certain volatility when things go wrong, their business relationship and friendship is based on a respect for each other.[11][12]

Honors[edit]

Penn & Teller at a ceremony to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in April 2013

On April 5, 2013 they were honored with the 2,494th star at the Hollywood Walk of Fame for their achievement in the category of their career spanning over 35 years Live Performance. The star is few steps away from the star of Houdini and down the street from The Magic Castle.[13][14][15]

Tricks[edit]

Penn and Teller's material varies from light-hearted gags such as gory tricks and clever pranks, to tackling issues through political satire and by exposing frauds. Many of their effects rely heavily on shock appeal and fantasy violence, although presented in a humorous manner. Some of their more daring tricks include Teller hanging upside-down over a cushion of spikes in a straitjacket, Teller submerged in a huge container of water, Teller being run over by an 18-wheel tractor-trailer, and Teller swinging through Penn's hands.

Sometimes, the pair will claim to reveal a secret of how a magic trick is done, but those tricks are usually invented by the duo for the sole purpose of exposing them, and therefore designed with more spectacular and weird methods than would have been necessary had it just been a "proper" magic trick. For example, in the "reveal" of one trick, while Teller waits for his cue, he reads magazines and eats a snack.[clarification needed] Another example is their rendition of the cups and balls, using transparent cups.

Penn and Teller perform their own adaptation of the famous bullet catch illusion. Each simultaneously fires a gun at the other through small panes of glass and then "catches" the other's bullet in his mouth. They also have an assortment of card tricks in their repertoire, virtually all of them involving the force of the Three of Clubs on an unsuspecting audience member as this card is easy for viewers to identify on television cameras.[16]

The duo will sometimes perform tricks that discuss the intellectual underpinnings of magic. One of their routines, titled "Magician vs. Juggler", features Teller performing card tricks while Penn juggles and delivers a monologue on the difference between the two: jugglers start as socially aware children who go outside and learn juggling with other children; magicians are misfits who stay in the house and teach themselves magic tricks out of spite.

In one of their most politically charged tricks, they make an American flag seem to disappear by wrapping it in a copy of the United States Bill of Rights, and apparently setting the flag on fire, so that "the flag is gone but the Bill of Rights remains." The routine may also feature the "Chinese bill of rights", presented as a transparent piece of acetate. They normally end the trick by restoring the unscathed flag to its starting place on the flagpole; however, on a TV guest appearance on The West Wing this final part was omitted.[17]

One of their more recent tricks[18] involves a powered nail gun with a quantity of missing nails from the series of nails in its magazine. Penn begins by firing several apparently real nails into a board in front of him. He then proceeds to fire the nail gun into the palm of his hand several times, while suffering no injuries. His pattern builds as he oscillates between firing blanks into his hand and firing nails into the board, and fires one blank into Teller's crotch. Near the end of the trick he says it is a trick and that he and Teller believe that it is morally wrong to do things on stage that are really dangerous—it makes the audience complicit in unnecessary human risk.[19]

A trick introduced in 2010 is a modern version of the bag escape, replacing the traditional sack with a black trash bag apparently filled with helium. Teller is placed in the bag which is then pumped full of helium and sealed by an audience member. For the escape, the audience is blinded by a bright light for a second and when they are able to see again, Teller has escaped from the bag and Penn is holding it, still full of helium, above his head, before releasing it to float to the ceiling. The duo had hoped to put the trick in their mini-tour in London; however, it was first shown to the public in their Las Vegas show on 18 August 2010. In June 2011, Penn and Teller performed this trick for the first time in the United Kingdom on their ITV show Fool Us.[20]

Libertarianism[edit]

On Bullshit!, the duo described their social and political views as libertarian. In addition to disbelief in the paranormal and pseudoscience, Penn & Teller also take a skeptical view of government authority.[21] In various episodes of their show they have heavily criticized both the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as taken stances against gun control and in support of drug legalization, tobacco, prostitution, nuclear energy, nudity, and profanity. Penn & Teller are both H.L. Mencken research fellows with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.[22][23]

Filmography[edit]

YearTitleRoleNotes
1986My ChauffeurBone & Abdul
1987Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear FriendsThemselvesDirect to Video
1989Penn & Teller Get KilledThemselves
1991The Eyes Scream: A History of the Residents[citation needed]Themselves
1994Car 54, Where Are You? (film)Luther and LutherCameo appearance
1999Fantasia 2000ThemselvesPresenting the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment
2005The AristocratsThemselvesPenn also co-directed the film
2013Tim's VermeerThemselvesDirected by Teller, Produced by Penn

Television[edit]

YearTitleRoleNotes
1985Penn & Teller Go PublicThemselvesFilmed at and first aired on KCET Los Angeles[24]
1985
1986
Saturday Night Live7 Episodes
1987Invisible ThreadAlso known as Penn & Teller's Invisible Thread
1990The Magic of David Copperfield XII: The Niagara Falls ChallengeGuest appearance during the illusion "Camera Trick"
1990"Don't Try This at Home!"[25]
1993Live from AT&T Bell Labs[26]Aired only to American Schools via satellite
1994The Unpleasant World of Penn & TellerChannel 4
1995Phobophilia
1995The World's Greatest Magic IIPerformed the "Bullet Catch" illusion for the show finale.
1995
1997
The Drew Carey ShowArchibald Fenn & Geller2 Episodes: "Drew Meets Lawyers" and "See Drew Run"
1995
2008
The Tonight Show with Jay LenoThemselves4 Episodes: 14 November 1995, 27 November 1998, 13 May 2004, 25 November 2008
1996
1997
Sabrina, the Teenage WitchDrell & SkippyEpisodes: "Pilot", "Terrible Things", "Jenny's Non-Dream", "First Kiss"
1997FriendsSalesmenEpisode: "The One With The 'Cuffs"
Muppets TonightThemselvesEpisode: "The Gary Cahuenga Episode"
1997
2003
Late Night with Conan O'Brien3 Episodes: 16 October 1997, 7 June 2000, & 23 January 2003
1998Babylon 5Rebo & ZootyEpisode: "Day of the Dead"
1998
1999
Penn & Teller's Sin City SpectacularThemselves24 Episodes
1998
2000
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart2 Episodes: 13 August 1998, 5 June 2000
1998
2004
Hollywood Squares60 Episodes
1999Home ImprovementEpisode: "Knee Deep"
1999
2011
The SimpsonsEpisodes: "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder", "The Great Simpsina"
2002¡Mucha Lucha!"The Return of El Maléfico"
Grand Illusions: The Story of MagicDiscovery Channel documentary (6 episodes)
Fear FactorEpisode: "Celebrity Fear Factor 3"
2003Las VegasEpisode: "Luck Be a Lady"
Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery TourThree-part mini-series
The Bernie Mac ShowEpisode: "Magic Jordan"
2003
2010
Penn & Teller: Bullshit!89 Episodes
2004The West WingEpisode: "In The Room"
2004
2010
Last Call with Carson Daly6 Episodes: 13 July 2004, 16 November 2005, 5 April 2007, 16 June 2008, 5 April 2010, 5 May 2010
2005Penn & Teller: Off the Deep EndMade for NBC, shown November 13, 2005
2007
2008
Late Show with David Letterman2 Episodes: #15.32, #15.113
2009Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder
The Great American Road TripGuests
2010FETCH! with Ruff RuffmanThey taught one of the show's contestants, Rubye, to perform magic tricks
2011Cash CabGuest contestants playing for charity
Penn & Teller: Fool Us9 Episodes, ITV1
Penn & Teller: Tell a Lie6 Episodes, Discovery Channel
2012The ApprenticePenn competed and Teller appears for support
2013Celebrity Apprentice
2014ChoppedPenn competedTakes place in the all-star celebrity challenge
Wizard WarsThemselvesMain judges, SyFy

Books[edit]

Penn & Teller:

Penn without Teller:

Teller without Penn:

Other media[edit]

Music[edit]

Video games[edit]

The 1995 video game Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors featured a mini-game called Desert Bus in which the player drove a bus route between Tucson and Las Vegas. Once reaching the destination, the player gets one point and, if desired, can then drive the return route. The game was considered by some to be long and boring yet found a cult audience.[27]

The game has since been used in an annual charity event called "Desert Bus for Hope" run by the website desertbus.org. The site invites celebrities to play the game streamed live online, with all proceeds being donated to Child's Play. On November 14, 2011 an iOS port of Desert Bus was created and released in the iTunes Store. The game was developed in conjunction with the Desert Bus For Hope event and all profits from the game are donated to charity.[citation needed]

Attractions[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Penn and Teller". The Advocates. Archived from the original on December 21, 2013. Retrieved October 20, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Teller". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved October 20, 2014. 
  3. ^ Penn Jillette (19 August 2013). "Twitter / pennjillette: 36 years ago today,Teller and ...". Twitter. Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  4. ^ "Penn & Teller Booking Agent – Book Penn & Teller Comedian For Corporate and Private Events Worldwide". Artists > Comedy. Entertainment Booking Agency. Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  5. ^ "Penn & Teller on Babylon 5". 13 July 2004. Retrieved 2013-08-31. 
  6. ^ Infinity Broadcasting article on Penn
  7. ^ Penn & Teller website
  8. ^ "The Brights' Net – Enthusiastic Brights (Page 2)". The-Brights.net. Retrieved 2013-01-10. 
  9. ^ The Brights' Net: Enthusiastic Brights
  10. ^ Gagnon, Geoffrey (November 2006). "The Illusionists". Wired. Retrieved 14 March 2010. "Never shy about their atheism (Penn's got the Nevada license plates ATHEIST and GODLESS), the two have been raising their voices – even the oft-silent Teller – to decry the muddying line between church and state... Sometimes they'll even sign autographs with "There is no God."" 
  11. ^ Penn & Teller (October 4, 2011). "IAMA: Penn and Teller | reddit's top ten questions". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  12. ^ Penn Jillette (June 13, 2011). "Penn Jillette: Penn and Teller Are Not Lovers". YouTube. Retrieved 2013-10-23. 
  13. ^ "Magicians Penn & Teller get star on Hollywood Walk of Fame". Retrieved April 6, 2013. 
  14. ^ "Magicians Penn & Teller Get Star On Walk Of Fame". Retrieved April 6, 2013. 
  15. ^ "Magicians Penn & Teller Honored With Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame". Retrieved April 6, 2013. 
  16. ^ Penn & Teller on force trick
  17. ^ Guide to West Wing on Penn & Teller
  18. ^ "Penn & Teller – Fool Us" (in English). Season 1. July 16, 2011. ITV. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaEC8dgQLIM. Retrieved October 18th, 2012.
  19. ^ Penn Says: Nail Gun Trick
  20. ^ Twitter / MrTeller: Helium went in tonight. It
  21. ^ Shermer, Michael (May 22, 2009). "Michael Shermer - Science, Skepticism and Libertarianism". Point of Inquiry. Retrieved 2010-01-29. 
  22. ^ "Cato Institute fellow's page: Penn Jillette". Retrieved 2010-01-29. 
  23. ^ "Cato Institute fellow's page: Teller". Retrieved 2010-01-29. 
  24. ^ "New Honor For Penn, Teller". Los Angeles Times. 15 May 1986. Retrieved 4 May 2012. 
  25. ^ "Don't Try This at Home! (TV Movie 1990) - IMDb". 
  26. ^ AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ (1993). "AT&T Archives: Live from AT&T Bell Labs (1993)". AT&T. AT&T Tech Channel. Retrieved 30 April 2012. 
  27. ^ Penn Jillette Discusses Unreleased Sega CD Game
  28. ^ Penn and Teller New(kd) Las Vegas’ 3D haunted house revealed for Halloween Horror Nights 2012 at Universal Orlando

External links[edit]