Penn and Teller
Penn & Teller are a comedy magic duo.
Penn Fraser Jillette (5 March 1955 - )
Penn, as he is known in show business, is an illusionist, juggler, and comedian. He pairs with Teller, who does not speak during performances, and the duo make a point of explaining that magic involves nothing supernatural. In fact, they have objected strongly to "the Amazing Kreskin," a magician who implies otherwise, making viewers think they are seeing something supernatural.
The illusionist whom Penn regards highest is James Randi], who openly tells viewers he is presenting deception as entertainment, not as some kind of supernatural magic.
Penn is married and has two children.
Raymond Joseph Teller (14 February 1948 - )
Raymond Joseph Teller was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, attended Central High School there and then went to Amherst College, after which he taught Latin at Lawrence High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
He legally changed his name to Teller, having one of the few United States passports issued in a single name, as the silent half of the comedy magic duo known as Penn & Teller.
The 6' 6" Penn and 5' 9" Teller appear often on television, radio, in the movies, at casinos, and elsewhere. Their magic acts place them at the top of their profession, and they make a point of explaining that magic does not involve supernaturalism, that they in fact are anti-supernaturalists. Both are outspoken skeptics and atheists.
Teller is not married.
The New Atheists
A cover story in Wired (November 2006), "The Church of the Non-Believers," named what Gary Wolf described as "the new atheists": Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Greg Graffin, Penn and Teller, and Warren Allen Smith.
Geoffrey Gagnon described "The Illusionists" as follows:
- Penn & Teller got famous catching bullets in their teeth, eating fire, and making rabbits vanish. But now they're trying something even more ambitious: They want to make religion disappear. Never shy about their atheism (Penn's got the Nevada license plates ATHEIST and GODLESS), the two have been raising their voices – even the oft-silent Teller – to decry the muddying line between church and state. "Atheists are saying, 'All right, we've had enough,'" Teller says.
- A person who wants to believe in science or reason, they say, can't cling to faith of any sort. Sometimes they'll even sign autographs with "There is no God." In interviews they've called religion a scam, and Teller once accosted proselytizers, trashing their leaflets and admonishing them to quit wasting their lives. A few years back, a middle-aged woman took a swing at Penn when he talked smack about her pastor after a show. "If you want to be a performer, you need to speak from your heart," Penn says. "And the instant you speak from your heart, you'll find that somebody else's heart is different."
- Over the years, they've included in their act heavy doses of what Teller calls pro-science, pro-skeptic banter – their current show features a few references to their lack of faith (including a quick moment in a knife-throwing gag in which Penn's fear of getting stabbed in his genitals becomes a riff on how church types lack balls). They get their jabs in elsewhere, too. In 2003, the pair aired an uproarious episode of their Showtime program Penn & Teller: Bullshit! that took aim at creationism and became a fan favorite on Google Video. The bit set the stage for a flag-waving essay on atheism that Penn taped for National Public Radio's "This I Believe" last year – a satirical segment cleverly focused entirely on what the magician refuses to believe.
"Magicians should be natural skeptics," says Penn, who points out that he and Teller follow in a tradition of great illusionists, like Harry Houdini, who scoffed at spiritualism. After all, what's a burning bush that talks when Penn & Teller can survive a refrigerator dropped on their heads from 20 feet?