Penn And Teller

Penn & Teller
Penn Jillette (left) & Teller (right)
Born Penn Fraser Jillette
Raymond Joseph Teller

(1955-03-05) March 5, 1955 (age 59) (Penn)
(1948-02-14) February 14, 1948 (age 66) (Teller)
Residence Las Vegas
Known for Magic

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 a show in Las Vegas at The Rio. Penn Jillette serves as the act's orator and raconteur. Teller, however, generally does not speak while performing, who instead communicates through mime and nonverbals, although his voice can occasionally be heard during their performance. 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 Weir Chrisimer, and performed their first show together at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival on 19 August 1975.[1] 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.

By 1985, Penn & Teller were receiving positive reviews for their Off Broadway show and Emmy Award-winning PBS special, Penn & Teller Go Public.[2] 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[3] (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.

On Bullshit!, the duo described their social and political views as libertarian.

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.[4][5] 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[6] and are now listed on the movement's homepage under the Enthusiastic Brights section.[7] 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.[8]

Off-stage relationship

Penn Jillette has told interviewer Larry King 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 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 closest 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.[9][10]


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.[11][12][13]


Penn and Teller's material varies from light-hearted gags, such as gory tricks and clever pranks perpetrated on the unsuspecting public, to tackling serious 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. 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.[14]

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.[15]

One of their more recent tricks[16] 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.[17]

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.[18]


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[19] Themselves
1994 Car 54, Where Are You? (film) 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

Penn features in the Pixar film Toy Story as the voice over for the Buzz Lightyear commercial¹ and in the movie "Fear and loathing in Las Vegas" as a carnie talker².
1 = Source:
2 = Source:


Year Title Role Notes
1985 Penn & Teller Go Public Themselves Filmed at and first aired on KCET Los Angeles[20]
Saturday Night Live 7 Episodes
1987 Invisible Thread Also known as Penn & Teller's Invisible Thread
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!"[21]
1993 Live from AT&T Bell Labs[22] 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
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
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


  • Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic (1997, ISBN 1-57297-293-9)
  • Penn & Teller's How to Play with Your Food (1992, ISBN 0-679-74311-1)
  • Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends (1989, ISBN 0-394-75351-8)
  • Sock 2004, ISBN 0-312-32805-2 (Penn Jillette sole author)
  • How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker: The Wisdom of Dickie Richard 2006, ISBN 0-312-34905-X (Penn Jillette and Mickey D. Lynn)
  • When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours: Joe Teller—A Portrait By His Kid 2000, ISBN 0-922233-22-5 (Teller sole author)
  • God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales ISBN 1451610378 (Penn Jillette sole author)
  • Everyday is an Atheist Holiday!: More Magical Tales from the Author of God, No! ISBN 1469276887 (Penn Jillette sole author)

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.)
  • "Waking up in Vegas" by Katy Perry (Penn & Teller are kicked out of their hotel room by Perry and her boyfriend. They later kick Perry out again.)

Video games

The 1995 video game Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors featured an unusual mini-game called Desert Bus in which the player drove a realistic bus route between Tucson and Las Vegas. This mini-game became popular due to the fact that it imitated a real 8 hour bus ride. Once reaching the destination, the player gets 1 point and, if desired, can then drive the return route. The game was considered by some [23] to be long and boring, but found a cult audience due to the weirdness behind the idea, there are forums, Twitter feeds, and other resources to the dedicated fans.[24]

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.


  • "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.[25]


External links

  • Penn's "Hydro-therapeutic stimulator" (aka Jill-jet) patent
  • A man, a ball, a hoop, a bench (and an alleged thread)… TELLER!
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