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Penn & Teller

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

(1955-03-05) March 5, 1955 (age 65) (Penn)
(1948-02-14) February 14, 1948 (age 72) (Teller)
Residence Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Known for Magic, comedy, skepticism

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!


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]

File:Penn and Teller (1988).jpg
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] In 1987, they began the first of two successful 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 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 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.

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

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 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]


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

On April 5, 2013, Penn & Teller were honored with the 2,494th star at 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.[13][14][15]


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 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.[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]


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 circumcision and 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]


Year Title Role Notes
1986 My Chauffeur Bone & Abdul
1987 Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends Themselves Direct to Video
1989 Penn & Teller Get Killed Themselves
1991 The Eyes Scream: A History of the Residents[citation needed] Themselves
1994 Car 54, Where Are You? Luther and Luther Cameo appearance
1999 Fantasia 2000 Themselves Presenting the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment
2005 The Aristocrats Themselves Penn also co-directed the film
2013 Tim's Vermeer Themselves Directed by Teller, Produced by Penn


Year Title Role Notes
1985 Penn & Teller Go Public Themselves Filmed at and first aired on KCET Los Angeles[24]
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"
1990 "Don't Try This at Home!"[25]
1991 Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (game show) Presented one of the clues for where the villain had gone.[26]
1993 Live from AT&T Bell Labs[27] Aired only to American Schools via satellite
1994 The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller Channel 4
1995 Phobophilia
1995 The World's Greatest Magic II Performed the "Bullet Catch" illusion for the show finale.
The Drew Carey Show Archibald Fenn & Geller 2 Episodes: "Drew Meets Lawyers" and "See Drew Run"
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 Themselves Episode: "$20.01"
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"
Late Night with Conan O'Brien 3 Episodes: 16 October 1997, 7 June 2000, & 23 January 2003
1998 Babylon 5 Rebo & Zooty Episode: "Day of the Dead"
Penn & Teller's Sin City Spectacular Themselves 24 Episodes
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart 2 Episodes: 13 August 1998, 5 June 2000
Hollywood Squares 60 Episodes
1999 Home Improvement Episode: "Knee Deep"
The Simpsons 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"
Penn & Teller: Bullshit! 89 Episodes
2004 The West Wing Episode: "In The Room"
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
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
2011 Cash Cab Guest contestants playing for charity
Penn & Teller: Fool Us 9 Episodes, ITV1
Penn & Teller: Tell a Lie 6 Episodes, Discovery Channel
2012 The Apprentice Penn competed and Teller appears for support
2013 Celebrity Apprentice
2014 Chopped Penn competed Takes place in the all-star celebrity challenge
Wizard Wars Themselves Main judges, SyFy


Penn & Teller:

Penn without Teller:

  • Sock (2004, ISBN 0-312-32805-2)
  • How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker: The Wisdom of Dickie Richard (2006, ISBN 0-312-34905-X; Co-author: Mickey D. Lynn)
  • God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales (2011, ISBN 1451610378)
  • Everyday is an Atheist Holiday!: More Magical Tales from the Author of God, No! (2012, ISBN 1469276887)

Teller without Penn:

  • When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours: Joe Teller—A Portrait By His Kid (2000, ISBN 0-922233-22-5)

Other media


  • "Penn & Teller Present: Music to Look at Boxes By" (With Mike "Jonesy" Jones)
  • "It's Tricky" by Run–D.M.C. (Penn & Teller shown throughout the video and at the end appear to take over the persona of Run–D.M.C.)
  • "Something to Believe In" by The Ramones (Penn and Teller are seen supporting the fictitious "Hands Across Your Face" charity)
  • "Waking up in Vegas" by Katy Perry (Penn & Teller are kicked out of their hotel room by Perry and her boyfriend.)

Video games

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.[28]

The game has since been used in an annual charity event called "Desert Bus for Hope" run by the website 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]


  • "Penn and Teller: New(kd) Las Vegas 3D", was a 2012 Halloween Horror Nights maze collaborated at Universal Orlando. It featured a backstory of Las Vegas being destroyed by Penn and Teller's latest magic trick involving a nuclear warhead gone wrong.[29]


  1. ^ "Penn and Teller". The Advocates. Archived from the original on December 21, 2013. Retrieved October 20, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Teller". 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)". Retrieved 2013-01-10. 
  9. ^ The Brights' Net: Enthusiastic Brights
  10. ^ Gagnon, Geoffrey (November 2006). "Faces of the New Atheism: 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. Season 1. Episode 5. July 16, 2011. ITV. 
  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. ^ "WitWi Carmen Sandiego? (1991) | PILOT #1: The Purloined Pooch | Jerrylynn vs. Prashant vs. Mike". 
  27. ^ 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. 
  28. ^ Penn Jillette Discusses Unreleased Sega CD Game
  29. ^ Penn and Teller New(kd) Las Vegas’ 3D haunted house revealed for Halloween Horror Nights 2012 at Universal Orlando

External links

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