Penn & Teller
Penn Fraser Jillette
Raymond Joseph Teller
March 5, 1955 (Penn)
February 14, 1948 (Teller)
|Residence||Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.|
|Known for||Magic, comedy, skepticism|
Penn & Teller (Penn Jillette and Teller) are American magicians and entertainers who have performed together since the late 1970s, noted for their ongoing act that combines elements of comedy with magic.
The duo has been featured in numerous stage and television shows such as Penn & Teller: Fool Us, and they currently perform in Las Vegas at The Rio, the longest running headlining act in Las Vegas history. Penn Jillette serves as the act's orator and raconteur. Teller generally does not speak while performing, and instead communicates through mime and nonverbals, though his voice can occasionally be heard during their live shows and television appearances. Besides magic, the pair has become associated with the advocacy of scientific skepticism, and libertarianism, particularly through their television show Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.
Penn Jillette and Teller were introduced to each other by Weir Chrisemer, and performed their first show together at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival on August 19, 1975. From the late 1970s through 1981, Penn, Teller, and Chrisemer performed as a trio called "The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society" which played in Petaluma, California at the Phoenix Theater. Chrisemer helped to develop some bits that continued, most notably Teller's "Shadows" trick, which involves a single red rose. The group disbanded in 1981 after Chrisemer quit show business, leaving Penn Jillette and Teller to work as a pair on a show called "Mrs. Lonsberry's Seance of Horror".
By 1985, Penn & Teller were receiving positive reviews for their Off Broadway show and Emmy Award-winning PBS special, Penn & Teller Go Public. In 1987, they began the first of three Broadway runs. The same year, they appeared as three-card Monte scam artists in the music video for "It's Tricky" by Run-DMC. 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 others.
Penn & Teller had national tours throughout the 1990s, gaining critical praise. They have also made television guest appearances on Babylon 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 appeared in the music video for Katy Perry's 2009 single "Waking Up in Vegas", in which they are thrown out of a hotel room by Perry.
From 2003 to 2010, their Showtime 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.
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 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. He also hosted the game show Identity, which debuted on December 18, 2006, on NBC.
Penn & Teller credit magician and skeptical activist James Randi for their own careers. During an interview at TAM! 2012, Penn stated that Randi's book Flim-Flam! was an early influence on him, and said that "If not for Randi there would not be Penn & Teller as we are today.":1:40
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.
However, Jillette has also said, in a video where he and Teller responded to questions from members of Reddit and also in a video interview for Big Think, that while they share few interests outside magic, Teller is his best friend and his children treat him as a close relative. He stated that while most entertainment partnerships such as Martin and Lewis and Lennon-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. Teller has made similar statements. In an NPR interview, Teller said their disagreements often lead to better artistic decisions because they bring out new ideas and expand the range of discussion.
On April 5, 2013, Penn & Teller were honored with the 2,494th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for their achievement in the category of Live Performance. Their star is a few steps away from the star of Harry Houdini and down the street from The Magic Castle.
In 2003, Penn & Teller received the Emperor Has No Clothes Award, which celebrates "plain speaking" on the shortcomings of religion by public figures. In 2005, they were awarded the Richard Dawkins Award, an award given to people who raised public consciousness of atheism in the previous year.
Penn & Teller material varies from light-hearted gags such as graphic 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, and Teller being run over by an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. Penn & Teller will often present tricks that they initially appear to have botched, in the "trick gone wrong" vein.
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 "conventional" magic trick. For example, during their NBC Off the Deep End special, an escape act was performed where Teller was placed into a wooden box that was then put into shark-infested waters. The live audience believed Teller to be inside, but the television audience was shown that Teller escaped the box through a trapdoor in the bottom before it was placed in the water. He continued to read a magazine and eat a snack while awaiting his cue. Often a trick will be presented as if to explain it to the audience, only for a more elaborate version to be performed. In a segment of Bullshit!, Penn & Teller demonstrate the illusion of sawing a woman in half, only for the saw to fall and "accidentally" cut the woman in half again.
Penn & 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.
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. The methods of the trick were revealed by the duo in an episode of Fool Us.
One of their more recent tricks 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 that 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.
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 August 18, 2010. In June 2011, Penn & Teller performed this trick for the first time in the United Kingdom on their ITV show Fool Us.
The managing editor of Science-Based Medicine, David Gorski, has criticized Penn & Teller for their implied endorsement of non-scientific advice and pseudoscience ("two skeptical icons lending their names to a daytime swamp of nonsense") via their appearance on The Dr. Oz Show.
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 view of doubtfulness to government authority. 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 circumcision and gun control, and in support of ideas such as freedom to eat fast food, private property, and lower taxes. Penn & Teller are both H.L. Mencken research fellows with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank and research organization.
They have 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 smoke cigarettes in some videos.
|1986||My Chauffeur||Bone & Abdul|
|1987||Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends||Themselves||Direct-to-video|
|1989||Penn & Teller Get Killed|
|1991||The Eyes Scream: A History of the Residents|
|1994||Car 54, Where Are You?||Luther and Luther||Cameo appearance|
|1999||Fantasia 2000||Themselves||Presenting The Sorcerer's Apprentice segment|
|2005||The Aristocrats||Penn also co-directed the film|
|2013||Tim's Vermeer||Directed by Teller, Produced by Penn|
|2014||An Honest Liar|
|2016||Director's Cut||Herbert Blount and Rudy Nelson|
|1985||Miami Vice: The Prodigal Son||Penn's character was Jimmy Borges|
|1987||Miami Vice: Like a Hurricane||Teller's character was Ralph Fisher|
|1985||Penn & Teller Go Public||Themselves||Filmed at and first aired on KCET Los Angeles|
|1985-86||Saturday Night Live||7 Episodes|
|1987||Invisible Thread||Also known as Penn & Teller's Invisible Thread|
|1989||Exploring Psychic Powers... Live||"Healed" a fake blister on Teller's thumb|
|1990||The Magic of David Copperfield XII: The Niagara Falls Challenge||Guest appearance during the illusion "Camera Trick"|
|Don't Try This at Home!|
|1991||Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?||Presented one of the clues for where the villain had gone.|
|1993||Live from AT&T Bell Labs||Aired only to American Schools via satellite|
|1994||The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller||Channel 4|
|The World's Greatest Magic II||Performed the "Bullet Catch" illusion for the show finale.|
|1995, 1997||The Drew Carey Show||Archibald Fenn & Geller||2 Episodes: "Drew Meets Lawyers" and "See Drew Run"|
|1995-2008||The Tonight Show with Jay Leno||Themselves||4 Episodes: 14 November 1995, 27 November 1998, 13 May 2004, 25 November 2008|
|1996||Space Ghost Coast to Coast||Episode: "$20.01"|
|1996, 1997||Sabrina, the Teenage Witch||Drell & Skippy||Episodes: "Pilot", "Terrible Things", "Jenny's Non-Dream", "First Kiss"|
|1997||Friends||Salesmen||Episode: "The One With The 'Cuffs"|
|Muppets Tonight||Themselves||Episode: "The Gary Cahuenga Episode"|
|Penn & Teller's Home Invasion||ABC Special|
|1997-2003||Late Night with Conan O'Brien||3 Episodes: 16 October 1997, 7 June 2000, & 23 January 2003|
|1998||Dharma and Greg||Vincent & Mr Boots (Uncredited)||Episode: "The Cat's Out of the Bag"|
|1998||Babylon 5||Rebo & Zooty||Episode: "Day of the Dead"|
|1998-99||Penn & Teller's Sin City Spectacular||Themselves||24 Episodes|
|1998, 2000||The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||2 Episodes: 13 August 1998, 5 June 2000|
|Hollywood Squares||60 Episodes|
|1999||Home Improvement||Episode: "Knee Deep"|
|1999, 2011||The Simpsons||2 Episodes: "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder", "The Great Simpsina"|
|2002||¡Mucha Lucha!||"The Return of El Maléfico"|
|Grand Illusions: The Story of Magic||Discovery Channel documentary (6 episodes)|
|Fear Factor||Episode: "Celebrity Fear Factor 3"|
|2003||Las Vegas||Episode: "Luck Be a Lady"|
|Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour||Three-part mini-series|
|The Bernie Mac Show||Episode: "Magic Jordan"|
|2003-10||Penn & Teller: Bullshit!||89 Episodes|
|2004||The West Wing||Episode: "In The Room"|
|2004-10||Last Call with Carson Daly||6 Episodes: 13 July 2004, 16 November 2005, 5 April 2007, 16 June 2008, 5 April 2010, 5 May 2010|
|2005||Penn & Teller: Off the Deep End||Made for NBC, shown November 13, 2005|
|2007, 2008||Late Show with David Letterman||2 Episodes: #15.32, #15.113|
|2009||Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder|
|The Great American Road Trip||Guests|
|2010||FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman||They taught one of the show's contestants, Rubye, to perform magic tricks|
|Hell's Kitchen||Episode: "9 Chefs Compete Part 1"|
|2011||Cash Cab||Guest contestants playing for charity|
|Penn & Teller: Tell a Lie||6 Episodes, Discovery Channel|
|2011-present||Penn & Teller: Fool Us||35 Episodes, ITV1 and The CW|
|2012||The Apprentice||Penn competed and Teller appears for support|
|2014||Wizard Wars||Main judges in all of the 12 episodes to date, SyFy|
|2015||Whose Line Is It Anyway?||Season 11 Episode 10|
|StarTalk||Season 2 Episode 4|
|2016, 2018||Who Wants to Be a Millionaire||Season 15 Episode 27 and Season 16 Episode 104 and 105|
|2018||The Grand Tour||Season 2, Episode 9|
|2018||Deception||"Pilot" ||Cameo appearance|
Penn & Teller:
Penn without Teller:
Teller without Penn:
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.
The game has since been used in an annual charity event called "Desert Bus for Hope" run by the Canadian internet comedy troupe LoadingReadyRun. The fundraiser involves members of LoadingReadyRun (and occasional guests) playing the game and streaming that live online, while interviewing celebrities via Skype and accepting challenges for the audience, 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.