Penn & Teller

Penn & Teller
Born Feb. 14, 1948 (Teller)
Mar. 5, 1955 (Penn)
Nationality American

Penn & Teller is the stage name for the partnership between two American magicians: Penn Jillette (born 1955) and Teller (born 1948). The latter now goes by only that name, although he was born Raymond Teller. The pair, who have worked together for more than 30 years, specialize in performing illusions.

In most cases, only Penn speaks during a performance, while Teller relies on non-verbal methods such as mime, which has become part of the duo’s schtick. Away from magic, both men are strong supporters of scientific skepticism and atheism, as well as being libertarian in political outlook.

Developing a Magic Career

Penn was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on March 5, 1955, and worked as an entertainer, specializing in juggling. Teller was born in Philadelphia on Valentine’s Day, 1948, and was briefly a teacher. The two men first met in 1975 when they were introduced by Wier Chrisimer who became part of their first act.

Chrisimer left the group in 1981, having been responsible for a few of the couple’s enduring acts, especially a trick using a rose, named “Shadows.” Word gradually spread about Penn & Teller’s impressive stage performances, and their Off-Broadway show won them praise and acclaim in 1985.

Expanding Their Audience

In the same year, Penn & Teller Go Public on PBS brought their act to a wider television audience. Two years later, they opened on Broadway for the first of two runs. In the following few years, they became frequent guests on TV talk shows presented by the likes of Jay Leno and David Letterman.

They toured the United States multiple times during the 1990s, winning critical acclaim. On TV, the pair played a number of guest roles in shows as diverse as Babylon 5, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and The West Wing. They were guest characters on The Simpsons in 1996. Penn & Teller have appeared in several music videos, including Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas.”

Other Television Appearances

Penn TellerPenn & Teller presented a show on the Showtime TV network entitled Bullsh*t! in which they turned a skeptical eye on a number of topics. Some of the topics included the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and religion. The two men’s quirky, broadly libertarian political and social views were frequently in evidence, with segments dealing with subjects ranging from the war on drugs to gun control.

They also wrote several books on the subject of magic and caused some controversy within their profession by presenting a series of shows explaining how specific tricks were done. However, these were specially created for the programs. They did not reveal how other magicians perform their illusions. They also presented the updated “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment in Disney’s Fantasia 2000.

Projects Away from Magic

The pair have continued to perform live with a long-running show most nights of the week in Las Vegas. Nevertheless, Penn has worked alone on a small number of projects. He presented NBC’s Identity game show from 2006 onward. He also hosted a talk show on FM radio for just over a year beginning in early 2006.

The duo was reunited on screen for the Discovery Channel’s Tell a Lie series. Both men have stated that they drink no alcohol and also steer clear of caffeine and other drugs. In private, the two members of Penn & Teller have relatively little to do with each other, as magic is their only real shared interest. They were included on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013, with their star being close to Harry Houdini’s.

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