Penn & Teller
Innovation & Tech Today|Fall 2021
Magic’s best-dressed duo talks life, tech in magic, and 46 years of genuine friendship.
Corey Noles

Penn & Teller have been gracing stages together for 46 years. Donning impeccable three-piece suits, both carry a stagemanship that is tough to parallel in the age of strobe lights, jumbotrons, and fireworks.

Penn Jillette and his powerful voice have been the exciting side of the duo. He can work a crowd like few today and not just grab but hold its attention. Teller, simply by being silent and through his body language, has a way of mesmerizing an audience with what feels like a delightful mystery.

Their record-breaking Las Vegas show at The Rio has an impressive eight wins as “Las Vegas Magicians of the Year” and was called “The single best show in Vegas,” by the Los Angeles Times.

The duo will appear in season two of The World According to Jeff Goldblum, which launches on Disney+ on November 21, 2021. The pair sits down with Goldblum to discuss magic as a craft and includes a field trip to perform in front of UCLA neuroscientists. We won’t spoil the rest, so watch it for yourself.

The current hit series Penn & Teller: Fool Us! for The CW Network, on which both up-and-comers and magic veterans try to fool Penn & Teller for a chance to star in the pair’s hit Las Vegas stage show, was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Award.

The controversial Showtime series, Penn & Teller: BS!, was nominated for 13 Emmys and was the longest-running series in the history of the network. The show highlighted the pair’s ardent skepticism by tackling the fakes and frauds behind such topics as alien abduction, psychics, and bottled water.

Recently, Innovation & Tech Today had the opportunity to sit down individually with both Penn and Teller (editor’s note: yes, of course, he speaks. Very eloquently, I might add.)

Innovation & Tech Today: In your episode of The World According to Jeff Goldblum, you spoke about blurring the line in magic, lying, and how you guys insist on keeping your show an honest one. And I was wondering, was that intentional?

Penn Jillette: That was completely and utterly intentional. That is the mission statement of Penn and Teller. Magic has until the past 10 years, five years, been in the United States and really throughout the world, predominantly the realm of white men. And usually starting with a boy, usually about 12, trying to get status and ego in being able to fool people. It starts out, many magic careers start out, deeply unpleasant. They started out with Jerry Seinfeld, who has a line like, “Here’s a quarter. Now it’s gone. You’re a jerk. Now it’s back. You’re an asshole. Show’s over.” But that’s all magic. And because when I was young, I was not into magic. Really was not into magic. I was a juggler. And even though juggling and magic are in the same strata at the bottom of show business, they are philosophically exactly the opposite. In magic, you claim to do something you can’t do. In juggling, you claim to do something you can do. Music, of course, falls in between there, because with music you’re not talking about just the skill, you’re talking about also the emotional component. So, magic didn’t interest me. It did not get into my psychological bedrock the way it gets into other magicians.

And then a shitty magician who called himself a scientist, Kreskin, put out an ESP set, which he claimed you could do stuff. And I found out he was a fraud by stumbling onto a book that showed how he did the trick. I flew into a rage. And I not only was not interested in magic, but I explicitly disliked magic, explicitly disliked magicians, thought that the form itself was morally suspect.

Then I met Teller and then I met Amazing Randi. And Teller said two things to me, Randi mostly said that magic could be done morally, and Teller underlined that. And then Teller said that magic was essentially an intellectual art form, which seemed like nonsense when you get a greasy guy in a tux with a lot of birds, torturing women in front of mylar with bad, rip-off Motown music. To see that as intellectual was really weird, but that conversation continued. And there was no way that I was going to be involved in a magic show that was, what I felt, was immoral.

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