Creator / Penn & Teller
The big guy distracts you so you won't watch the little guy...

Penn & Teller are an American double-act, comedians and stage magicians, with a regular gig at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Penn Fraser Jillette (born March 5, 1955) is the tall, talkative one with dark hair and glasses. Teller (born February 14, 1948) is the short one who never speaks and makes amusing facial expressions on the frequent occasions when Penn exposes him to danger. They were introduced to one another by a mutual friend in 1975. Ever since then, they've done most of their work together, developing their own rather quirky style of magic.

The pair have a wide fraud-busting streak, which got its widest exposure in their Showtime TV show, Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. A running theme in their work is truth, lies and deception, with many parts of their stage magic routine built around lampshading the fact that magic is all about deceiving the audience. Many of their tricks also play on the audience's visceral reaction to tricks that appear dangerous but are in fact completely safe, celebrating the fantasy that two guys can shoot guns into each other's mouths and emerge from it completely unharmed.

Aside from their various stage shows, Penn & Teller's body of work includes:

  • Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends, a 1987 straight-to-video release including punchlines for seven different tricks to play on one's friends and instructions for performing them.
  • Penn & Teller's Invisible Thread, a 1987 Showtime made-for-TV movie about how a stupid magic trick saves the human race from being wiped out by aliens for being redundant.
  • Penn & Teller Get Killed, a 1989 Black Comedy film directed by Arthur Penn (no relation to Penn Jillette) in which fictionalized versions of Penn and Teller perform tricks, play practical jokes on one another and try to escape from assassins.
  • Behind the Scenes, a 1992 PBS show that aimed to teach young children about art. Each episode focused on a different technical theory and featured lessons from renowned artists. Through it all, Penn and Teller provided explanations while incorporating their trademark sense of humor and plenty of tricks.
  • The Unpleasant World of Penn and Teller (on-screen title: Penn and Teller), a 1994 UK TV series where the pair perform many of their best-known tricks in front of a studio audience, with several British celebrities including John Cleese and Stephen Fry appearing as guests.
  • Phobophilia, a filmed 1995 stage show where Penn and Teller perform various tricks and skits exploring Primal Fears. Noteworthy for including a full version of their famous double Bullet Catch trick.
  • Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour, a three-part 2003 documentary miniseries where they travel to China, Egypt and India to study the traditional culture of magic. Notably, Teller talks twice in the Egypt episode.
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, a highly successful Showtime series that ran from 2003-2010, where they call out various pseudoscience and political causes they consider to be bullshit.
  • Penn & Teller: Fool Us, a 2011 ITV series, hosted by Jonathan Ross, where a variety of magicians attempt to fool Penn and Teller with tricks of their own. Those who succeed get to perform on their stage in Las Vegas. Though canceled by ITV in 2012, the CW in the United States reran the ITV episodes in 2014 and, finding success, commissioned a second season that began airing in 2015. A third season premiered on July 13th, 2016, now hosted by Alyson Hannigan, who continues to host the show to this day.
  • Penn & Teller Tell A Lie, a 2011 Discovery Channel show where each episode presents six or seven unbelievable stories, one of which is a lie.
  • Three jointly written books, Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends (1989), Penn & Teller's How to Play with Your Food (1992), and Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic (1997). They feature both instruction in simple magic tricks and practical jokes and various stories and anecdotes from the two of them.
  • Penn and Teller's Smoke and Mirrors, a 1995 video game that was never formally released but got leaked by a reviewer who had received an advance copy of the game. It is most famous for its "Desert Bus" minigame.
  • Lots and lots of talk show appearances and many cameos all over the place, including:
    • The Simpsons episodes "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder" and "The Great Simpsina" (Teller speaks in both and acted as magic consultant for the latter)
    • The Futurama movie "Into the Wild Green Yonder"
    • The Babylon 5 episode "Day of the Dead", as Rebo & Zooty, the 23rd century's greatest comedy duo.
    • One of the Celebrity Fear Factor episodes (as one contestant; Teller performed all the stunts while Penn stood around talking and betting on the outcome)
    • In the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas movie Penn makes a cameo as a Carnie Talker
    • The West Wing, where they performed one of their stage tricks, involving a flag-burning, in the White House
    • Fantasia 2000, where they presented the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment
    • Sabrina the Teenage Witch, with various appearances from Penn as Drell, head of the Witches' Council, and some from Teller too
    • Bill Nye the Science Guy, in which they helped explain light optics (Teller got to say "SCIENCE!")
    • Semi-regular appearances on The Hollywood Squares during the Whoopi Goldberg era, including the infamous "YOU FOOL!" episode; Penn said it first, then Gilbert Gottfried borrowed it and things escalated from there
  • Their own haunted house at Universal Studios Orlando's Halloween Horror Nights event in 2012: Penn and Teller New(kd) Las Vegas. Basic premise is: Penn and Teller try out a new trick involving a nuclear warhead...which predictably fails. Guests now have to travel through the mutant filled husk of a city that was Las Vegas while Penn and Teller (through various videos placed throughout the maze) try to convince the guests that everything is ''perfectly fine''. Penn and Teller had a significant role in the development of the house and even flew to Orlando to greet guests, hand out 3D glasses, and finally walk through the house during one set and spent part of the night standing in the finale scene. Takes extreme artistic license.

Works by Penn & Teller with their own pages:

Otherwise, Penn & Teller and their work provide examples of:

  • Alter-Ego Acting: Penn & Teller each have a consistent on-stage persona which is not the same as what they're like in real life. For instance, Penn does not raise his voice at all in real life, and Teller, being a former classics teacher, is an extremely articulate conversationalist.
  • Bee Afraid: They did a trick once where they produced 100,000 bees, without using gloves or masks. The producing was a trick, but they really did handle all those bees without protection; they just made sure they weren't allergic to bee stings so they wouldn't suffer any permanent ill effects and sucked it up. Penn still got stung in some nasty places (Teller escaped with only three stings, mostly because he poured all the bees on Penn).
  • Big Guy, Little Guy: Penn is, in his own words, "stupid tall" (6'6") and Teller is average height (5'9"). He explained this once by saying that "Teller and Art Garfunkel are normal. Penn Jillette and Paul Simon are waving to each other from opposite ends of the Bell Curve."
  • Black Comedy: Used in several of their tricks. The "Water Tank" trick, where Penn attempts to do a card trick while Teller is supposedly holding his breath in a tank full of water, is a great example. In the fictional narrative of the trick, Penn botches the card trick and Teller drowns in the tank as a result, which is pretty horrifying. But the way the entire trick is put together around it, including Penn's various lines ("No, screw it, he's braindead"), the audience volunteers who just don't know what to make of the whole thing, Penn's mock eulogy for Teller (where he claims to be planning a solo tour to be entitled simply "Penn"), and especially the final punchline (Penn reaches into the tank to turn Teller's limp body around, revealing the audience member's signed card inside Teller's face mask - "AND IS THAT YOUR CARD?"), is priceless.
  • Bloody Hilarious: They are rather enamoured with this trope.
  • Bullet Catch: One of their most famous tricks is a double bullet catch, where Penn and Teller appear to each shoot a bullet into the other's mouth.
  • Butt-Monkey: Teller is most often the one put in the "dangerous" situations and the one who has the bulk of the acting duty. Well, It's not like he can say 'No'...
  • Burning the Flag: They burn an American flag wrapped in a copy of The Bill of Rights, as one of the tricks in their Las Vegas show. They do the trick to make a point about how Americans have the freedom to burn their own flag if they wish. Additionally, the Bill of Rights is unaffected by the conflagration symbolizing how it is unharmed. No, they don't actually burn the flag. Teller has removed the flag before they ignite the flash paper. In one version, they follow up the trick with the explanation, where they burn a flag wrapped in the "Chinese Bill of Rights" — a clear plastic sheet. The trick is a minor plot point in one episode of The West Wing where the real life Penn & Teller perform it for the fictional President Bartlett
  • Decon-Recon Switch: Integral to several of their magic routines. See The Reveal/The Unreveal below.
  • Disappearing Box: One of their stage routines.
  • Don't Try This at Home: One of their TV specials is actually titled Don't Try This At Home! — and consists almost entirely of them doing things you couldn't do at home if you tried.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Some of their earliest appearances, notably Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends, have Penn trying to hide his accent. To someone familiar with his distinctive voice, this can be very jarring.
  • Embarrassing Old Photo: One of the tricks in Penn & Teller's How to Play With Your Food warns children that, once they start dating, their parents will be sure to embarrass them in front of whomever they're interested in by bring out stupid photos of them dressed up in Halloween costumes. It then proceeds to teach them how to make sure their parents will never want to remember Halloween.
  • Escape Artist: Penn and Teller engage in this on occasion. For instance, their stage show in the eighties opened with Teller hanging upside-down in a straightjacket hanging over a bed of spikes while Penn read the poem Casey at the Bat.Explanation 
  • Fat and Skinny: Penn and Teller, respectively, at least until 2015, when Penn lost over a hundred pounds to resolve health issues related to his weight and high blood pressure. He's had to assure people multiple times that the weight loss was intentional and he's not dying or anything like that.
  • Genre Shift: While their three books all teach tricks, there is a noticeable shift from the somewhat mean-spirited practical jokes of Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends (1989), largely revolving around humiliating the target, to the more lighthearted How to Play in Traffic (1997). How to Play with Your Food (1992) is intermediate and, interestingly, features a story where Penn describes a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy a random guy at a restaurant a red Jell-O, after which he came to the realization that being randomly nice to people was actually quite fun. Their TV and film work also reflects this, with practical jokes, pranks and swindles being central to Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends, Penn & Teller Get Killed and Penn & Teller's Invisible Thread, while in later years their stuff is much more political and principled.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: A somewhat unusual case. They famously only socialize outside of work once or twice a year and their relationship developed as a strictly-business one built on mutual respect rather than friendship (or, as Penn puts it, "cuddly feelings"). However, as they've spent their entire adult lives working very closely together, they've inevitably come to be sort of best friends anyway - when their parents died, for instance, they went to each other, and Teller was the first person aside from Penn and his wife to see their kids after they were born.
  • Hidden Depths: Because Teller is mute and the Butt-Monkey, often a lot of magic skills aren't called out or noticed - it can even seem like he's a different take on a beauty assistant that other magicians have. (Assistants are also trained and an important part of their acts while trying to look like they're not.) But he is in fact a very talented magician in a great deal of magical disciplines. Penn has stated on multiple occasions that Teller is a much better magician than he is.
  • Honor Before Reason: A story element in the "Water Tank" trick; after the trick starts apparently going wrong, Penn tries to call it off and let Teller out of the tank, but Teller insists on continuing before he gave his word not to come out until the trick is finished. During his mock eulogy, Penn says that you have to respect a man prepared to die for what he believes in, even if the thing he believes in is just a dumb card trick.
  • Hypocritical Humor: They enjoy this. In one of his shows, shortly after voicing his dislike for camera tricks, Penn runs an entire credit scenes with shoddy jump cuts of them making their cast and crew (including a cameraman and his camera) appear and disappear verifying that no camera tricks were used.
  • Manipulative Editing: Inverted with Penn & Teller: Off the Deep End has some spectators told that their scenes will receive Manipulative Editing and give some impressive reactions to non-existent tricks; they are actually shown unedited.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: Penn is quite a bit more soft-spoken and amiable in person than his stage persona would have you believe.
  • No Indoor Voice: Penn's on-stage persona. Even when speaking quietly, his voice has a pronounced rasp, since during his younger days doing street magic, he never warmed up his vocal cords and regularly blew his voice out, to the point where he would mix Coke and Chloraseptic throat spray just to keep talking.
  • Oh My Gods!: One of Penn's exclamations is "Jesus haploid Christ!", referring to the fact that since Jesus had a biological mother but no biological father, he would only have half of the normal set of chromosomes. (Note that Penn is most decidedly not Christian.} It also counts as Artistic License Biology, because if parthenogenesis (virgin birth) works in humansnote , this is not how it would work and it could never produce male offspring as women have two X chromosomes whereas men have an X and Y
  • Only One Name: Teller. His parents gave him the usual number (he was born Raymond Joseph Teller), but he changed it at some point — all of his official documents, including his passport, identify him only as Teller. He likes to joke that it's "like the bank clerk."
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: Inverted. Penn Jillette has said, "I'm not the best magician in the world — I'm not even the best magician at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, or the best magician in Penn & Teller."
  • Pick a Card:
    • Penn & Teller have done several deliberately over-the-top variations, such as the one where the number and suit of the card are revealed to be printed on Teller's eyeballs. They also, as habitual highlighters of the fraudulent nature of stage magic, have a favorite card (the three of clubs) to make their marks "randomly" select.
    • In Penn & Teller's How to Play with Your Food, they give instructions for making an arrangement with your favorite pizza place so that when you order a "P&T crust", you would receive a pizza with the three of clubs made of pepperoni on it. You would then use this to pull a "was this your card?" switcheroo on your friends: "Was your card the four of diamonds? No? Oh well, I'm only learning. Let's order pizza." The pizza then arrives and your friend opens it to discover their card on the pizza.
    • There's also the Penn & Teller Cenotaph, a monument to them at Forest Lawn Mortuary Hollywood Hills with the three of clubs and bearing the quote "Is this your card?" "Oh well, still need practice. Wanna go for a walk?"
    • It's revealed in one of their books that their road manager is also in on the joke; among his many tattoos is a three-of-clubs drawn on the palm of his left hand, which he has to get re-inked every five years or so.
  • Plot-Based Voice Cancellation: One trick has Teller speaking... after he turns on a woodchipper loud enough to drown out his voice. Another trick has him speaking... with a helium voice.
  • Pull a Rabbit out of My Hat: In a 2015 appearance The Tonight Show, Penn talked about realizing that although it's a cliché, neither he nor Teller had ever seen an actual rabbit produced out of an actual top hat during a live magic performance, only watered down versions like a fake rabbit being produced from a handkerchief with a top hat printed on it. While Penn spoke, Teller produced a fake rabbit from a handkerchief with a top hat printed on it, then a real live rabbit from a real top hat.
  • The Reveal: They're widely known as the magicians who actually show everyone how their tricks are really done, and for the most part they donote ... ...only to introduce more complicated and impressive elements or variations, none of which they explain in advance. They are magicians, after all. Their rendition of the Cups and Balls trick (possibly as old as ancient Egypt, you can find it in nearly every magic kit) with clear plastic cups is so smooth that at full speed you still can't see well how it's done without repeated study.
    Penn: [juggling three of the balls in mid-trick] This is NOT juggling. This is called MISDIRECTION.
  • Saw a Woman in Half: With a large buzzsaw, with the addition of making the audience think it's gone horribly wrong. Bonus points for doing so immediately after explaining all the safety measures in place.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • They're rather fond of it. Most notably, Penn has always been extremely vocal about Teller being the better magician of the duo, a compliment Teller receives gracefully. Teller, for his part, has said on multiple occasions that he believes Penn is the better showman.
    • One of the tricks in How to Play in Traffic is about choosing between two potential sex partners and opens with a lengthy disclaimer about how since magicians are socially awkward nerds who are the antithesis of sexy, the trick is pure Speculative Fiction as far as they're concerned.
    • In one TV special, when they were about to perform the Bullet Catch trick, they told an anecdote about how when Harry Houdini planned to attempt it, the magicians' guild sent him a letter imploring him not to try it, because it was too dangerous, and if anything went wrong it would be a horrible loss to the profession. Penn then reveals that the guild, when hearing they would attempt the trick, also sent a letter, reading, "Go for it."
    • When beginning a demonstration of a card force trick, Penn asks Teller, playing the part of the mark, "Wanna see a magic trick?" Teller immediately turns around and starts to walk away.
  • The Silent Bob: Teller never says a word but Penn always knows what he's trying to communicate, because this is an act.
  • Silent Partner: Teller never talks but Penn is verbose enough for both of them.
  • Silent Snarker: Teller is expressive with his face and body language.
  • Stage Magician: Penn & Teller like to point out how they are basically distracting the audience from the inner workings of their act, and then show them how the magic happens.
  • Stolen Good, Returned Better: Played with in this segment from The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller. Stephen Fry reluctantly parts with his expensive watch, which Penn & Teller proceed to ... improve.
  • Suddenly Voiced: Teller talks about the magic on the linking rings on an episode Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour.
  • Take That!: All but one episode of The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller had Penn aim one of these at British magician and non-fan of theirs Paul Daniels ("This trick is so simple, Paul Daniels could do it!"). The only exception? When they had that week's guest Dawn French do it ("Welcome to The Paul Daniels Magic Show. I am, of course, (his wife and partner) Debbie McGee...").
  • Tastes Like Diabetes: Invoked in How to Play with Your Food, which features a chapter purported to be a story for children. It starts with an extremely overly sugary opening to a Halloween story... before breaking off to explain that now that the grown-ups have all left they can get to the point, which is of course a bloody trick to play on one's parents.
  • The Television Talks Back: A Penn & Teller variation of the old "is this your card?" trick is designed to be done with the TV on in the background. The person doing the trick holds up a card — "Is this your card?" — and it isn't... and then a moment later the guy on the TV stops what he's doing, holds up a card, and says "Is this your card?" — and it is.
  • The Three Stooges: They have performed a stage version of a Stoogesque sketch.
  • Three-Way Sex: A trick in How to Play in Traffic revolves around playing a Knights and Knaves-esque game supposedly to choose which of two potential sex partners you have a better "connection" with. It ends with you supposedly reading both of their minds (courtesy of the trick, of course), concluding that you can't possibly choose, and inviting both of them to your hotel room together. (This is followed by a parenthetical note that you could in theory just pick the one you like better instead, but who in the world would do that?)
  • The Teetotaler: Penn claims to have never had a drop of alcohol in his life.
  • Vocal Evolution: Years of shouting without proper warm up have rendered Penn's voice deeper and raspier than it used to be. Teller's voice has hardly changed if one watches videos of the rare times he speaks on camera.
  • The Voiceless: Teller's on-stage personanote . He does actually speak on stage and on camera, albeit very rarely, but it's usually hidden one way or another, to maintain the illusion that he never does.
    • On a celebrity edition of Fear Factor; Penn and Teller maintained their stage personas over the course of the competition, but after Teller completed the final stunt and Joe Rogan told him that he had taken the lead, a happy Teller pumped his fist and whispered, "Yes!" rather audibly.
    • While he takes a lot of effort to maintain it, there have been a number of occasions (even specials and shows) where in a non-professional environment, he'll speak. Teller also speaks to guests at the meet-and-greet after their shows in Las Vegas.
    • Played with at times; when Teller got "volunteered" for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by Penn, he let out a whole series of expletives when Penn dumped the ice water on him, every one of which was bleeped over.
    • In a live television card-knife trick, Teller audibly tells Penn, "shut up."
    • One of their acts is called "Teller's Salute to Recycling" in which Penn says that the monologue will be done with Teller speaking. Teller speaks but is drowned out by a wood chipper so you can never hear his voice.
  • Wingding Eyes: One of their card tricks involve this. Teller's eyes are covered by shades until The Reveal. Performed on The Hollywood Squares.

Alternative Title(s): Penn And Teller