Penn & Teller are back in New York City you should go see them if you can. Penn & Teller on Broadway runs through August 16 at the Marquis Theatre.
I don’t know when exactly I became a die-hard Penn & Teller fan but it was at some point in the 1980s when they appeared on television often and were always funny a way that was smarter and with more of an edge than any other act around. Maybe when they appeared on the first Comic Relief show and they did a juggling act that involved them smoking at a time when the anti-smoking movement was getting stronger. “We don’t endorse smoking unless you want to look cool,” Penn said.
What’s more, they were a magic act that allegedly earned the hatred of most magic acts. They showed you how they did their tricks, until doing it in a way that forced you rethink everything. They don’t claim to have magic powers and they don’t use melodramatic music or ridiculous flourishes. They say they are going to fool you and then that’s what they do. While a lot of magic acts try to play up attachments to the supernatural, Penn & Teller are brutally honest with their audience. They also have a great sense of humor and even when you get fooled in a big way, it’s a thrill to see how they work and manipulate an audience. They are marvelously irreverent in ways that will make you happy to be a curmudgeon.
Before they moved to Las Vegas where they have their long-term residency, the duo was in New York. Penn Jillette would meet at the Howard Johnson’s in Times Square with anyone who wanted to have dinner and a movie with him.
I first saw them live in New York during a rare series of shows in the early summer of 2000. It was at the Beacon Theater and I sat in front of Al Goldstein and felt like a high roller for it. Andy Richter was in the audience too. New York City’s absurd and unfairly restrictive gun laws meant that they couldn’t do their famous bullet-catching trick, so they did a freedom-themed trick where they made it look like they were burning an American flag, only to have it appear unscathed on a flag pole on stage.
I saw them in New York again in 2009 at the Gramercy Theater in a special event called “35 Years of Magic and Bullshit.” It was the only time I’ve ever seen Teller speak on stage as himself as part of the show. The two performed a few tricks, including testing out a few new ones, but mostly were interviewed by a fellow magician and took questions from the audience.
At one point the host asked, “If you didn’t succeed with Penn & Teller, where would you be today?”
“I would still be a Latin teacher,” said Teller.
“I would be in prison,” said Penn.
I got to see them in Las Vegas when I went in 2011—I made sure to get my tickets to their show as soon as I had the flight booked. Vegas without seeing Penn & Teller would have been a big waste. The show rocked.
Penn & Teller meet after the show with anyone who wants a photo or autograph. Teller does talk when you meet him in person. It is rare to see them perform in New York City. Don’t miss out.