For the past 40 years, one of the biggest names in magic actually has been two names: Penn and Teller.
The duo carved a niche for themselves by doing away with the glitzy costumes and mystic mumbo-jumbo used by their competitors, and have brought that no-nonsense style to TV shows, films and theaters around the world.
For their next trick, they’ll be suspending disbelief at the Saenger on Friday.
A signature of the Penn and Teller style is to educate the audience while they deceive them. The duo often explain ready-made magic tricks you’ve seen a hundred times before — then put their own spin on them.
“I take for granted that my audiences know at least as much about magic as I did when I was 15, and that means we come into it with this realistic attitude. We don’t regard magic as sort of this great fantasy world. We’re saying, ‘Yes folks, we’re doing tricks. Here’s how some of them work, and here’s us going a little beyond that.’ It’s basically our sign of respect for the audience’s intelligence,” Teller said.
Yes, you read that correctly. Normally a man of few words, (and even fewer names, belonging to the mono-moniker club along with the likes of Cher and Prince) the famously silent Teller usually lets Penn do all the talking, but he has a lot to say when he’s not onstage.
Take, for instance, the story about how a childhood illness and the TV show “Howdy Doody” first turned him on to magic.
“Clarabell the Magic Clown offered at one point a Howdy Doody magic set. And my parents, spoiling their only child who was recovering from a terrible heart ailment, sent away the necessary three Mars bars wrappers and 50 cents to the television station.
“And not long thereafter … it was as if the Muses had said, ‘OK, Teller, this is what you’re supposed to do.’ ”
Though he started performing at a young age, it wasn’t till he was a teenager that Teller stumbled upon one of the cleverest tricks of his career: the magic of silence.
“I found that, for some reason, by stripping away all that audio stuff … people paid attention. ... It even seemed to squelch hecklers, because what do hecklers have to say to somebody who’s not going to heckle back?”
Teller met Penn not long after that. Their show at the Saenger will feature tricks from the duo’s 40-year partnership.
“When we tour, we do an intricate combination of new and old material. … We will be borrowing and demolishing somebody’s cellphone and resurrecting it in the body of a dead fish,” Teller said. “We will be starting the Church of Teller by demonstrating my supernatural, God-given gift to heal polyester. … Penn will also be juggling liquor bottles with the bottoms broken off, which are about 20,000 times as dangerous to juggle as knives.”
No matter how often they appear on TV, nothing beats seeing magic firsthand, Teller said.
“Live is what we do. That’s our real job. You’ve seen TV shows with us, and you’ve seen Penn on ‘The Apprentice’; you’ve seen all sorts of representations of us, but what we really are, the way we make our living, is taking people into a theater and giving them the thrill that you can only get in a live theater, where it’s human beings causing things to seem amazing as opposed to special effects or fancy sets. … It’s just about two guys who worked really hard at getting good at a certain kind of crazy and very personal comedy,” Teller said.