Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images


After nearly 40 years performing together, Penn & Teller are still amazing audiences with their distinct brand of magic.

There is a short list of people in the world who are so well known that one name suffices to identify them, and two of those select few make up one of the most ­famous magic teams in the world. Penn & Teller are perhaps best known for their current 13-year stint at the Rio All-Suites Las Vegas Hotel and Casino (one of the longest-running shows in Vegas history), but the pair has also hosted and starred in multiple Emmy-winning television specials and has produced (with Teller directing) a documentary film. They’ve written numerous books, both individually and together, two of which were New York Times best-sellers. This month marks the power duo’s 39th anniversary performing together and their new show, Penn & Teller: Fool Us, which has the pair watching aspiring magicians perform and then working out and recreating the tricks, premiered July 30 on the CW network.

American Way: Thirty-nine years is a long time to be a team. How do you guys make it work?

Teller: We both entered this with the idea that work was important, and we treat it with the respect work deserves. I never have to worry if Penn is going to show up.

Penn: Respect is more powerful than affection. If you try to run an artistic relationship based on love, every little squabble has to be resolved, and there is lots of heartbreak. When Teller and I first started teaming up, we didn’t crave each other’s company, we just did better stuff together than separately.

AW: What made you decide not to have Teller speak onstage?

Teller: I had made that decision before I ever met Penn. I found the idea of doing magic without speaking — basically, lying without speaking — to be the most interesting sort of challenge. And in doing that, I discovered everything gets more intimate right away, because there is nothing to protect the audience or you.

AW: What’s your favorite trick to perform?

Penn: I think I’m most proud of this one called Cowboy, where we turn an audience member into Teller. It’s full of nuances, and it’s hard magic and hard theater … it really knocks people back on their heels.

Teller: There are things we’ve done for decades that are pure pleasure to perform, because all the bumps are out of them, but the newest stuff is challenging and grabs your full attention, so it’s a hard question … .

AW: It takes a lot of work to bring your type of magic to the stage. What’s the longest it’s ever taken you to perfect a trick?

Penn: A trick called Elsie, where we dress up a cow in an elephant suit, surround her by audience members on every side and then vanish her instantly. We’ve been working on it for six years. It should go into our Vegas show this summer.

AW: You guys have done some pretty dangerous stunts over the years. What’s the greatest injury you’ve sustained doing your show?

Teller: A long time ago, we used to do a piece where we were handcuffed together, and I bruised my knee during rehearsal a couple times. One of the reasons it takes us so long to get our tricks performance-ready is because if anything has any danger, we proceed with baby steps. It’s a moral issue for us that no one should ever be hurt for entertainment. There are times that people have to risk their lives for their jobs — firemen have to risk their lives — but for show business? The theater is the playground for dramatic events and not a place where anyone should ever be jeopardized.



{ Penn & Teller by the Numbers } 39: Years Penn & Teller have worked together • 21: Years they have headlined in Vegas • 13: Number of years they have played at their eponymous theater at Rio Las Vegas • 3 million: Number of people who’ve seen Penn & Teller at the Rio since 2001 • 11,520: Number of bullets caught by Penn & Teller onstage since they created their signature bullet-catch routine • 1 million: Approximate number of size-7 sewing needles Teller has swallowed during his famous needles-eating routine • 0: Number of bunnies harmed during a Penn & Teller show