Las Vegas headliners Penn & Teller are often described as the “bad boys of magic.” You could also call them the “bad boys of liberty” — since both the bigger, louder half (Penn Jillette) and the smaller, silent half (Raymond Joseph Teller) are self-proclaimed libertarians.
As befitting his “loud” status, Jillette talks about his political beliefs at the drop of a rabbit-filled hat. In an interview with the Boston Phoenix (July 2-8, 2004), he said, “Well, I’m a real total-freedom nut, a libertarian, and I’m one of those crazy optimists. Let people do what they want and everything will be okay.”
On the FilmForce.IGN.com Web site, Jillette said, “I’m a hardcore libertarian. I want everything legal.” (October 13, 2003.) And in the Cato Institute’s Regulation Magazine, he described himself as “a Libertarian, pro-freedom, governs-least-governs-best, free market advocate.” (Summer 2001.)
Jillette also took theWorld’s Smallest Political Quiz, scoring 100/100 and saying, “That was easy.”
Teller, on the other hand, has been quieter about his politics, but did come clean during an online chat on WashingtonPost.com. When asked who he supported in the 2000 election, Teller said, “I am Libertarian. Democrats and Republicans, well, it’s kind of like a ‘magician’s choice’ — two identical incumbent organizations pretending to be different so that we will vote the same old mob back into power. I think our only hope is to support intelligent third-party candidates.” (December 29, 2000.)
Resume, Appearances, Awards and Puppets
Put the two libertarians together on stage, and it’s no surprise that a “deep commitment to rational thought and freedom” runs through their comedy/magic act, as Jillette told the Las Vegas Sun (August 3, 2001).
However, it’s a safe bet that most of the audience is just appreciating the jokes and tricks. Penn & Teller’s act includes shadow puppets, goldfish, a wood chipper, a gorilla, broken glass bottles (which they juggle) and their famous Magic Bullet Trick. Violating all the traditions of magic, the two even show the audience how some of their tricks are performed. The CheapVegas.com Web site called the act “more entertaining than just about any other magic show in town.”
More entertaining and more successful; Penn & Teller are arguably the most famous magic team in the world. They first joined forces in 1975, when Teller was a high school Latin teacher who dabbled in magic and Penn was a street performer. The team clicked, and within a decade they had their own off-Broadway show.
In the years that followed, they toured the country, starred in several television specials, and appeared on TV shows ranging from Saturday Night Live to the Tonight Show to The Simpsons to Inside Dish on Food TV. Since 2002, they have been headlining six nights a week at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, where they have twice been named “Las Vegas Magicians of the Year.”
Penn & Teller are also the authors of the books Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends (1989), How to Play With Your Food (1992) and How to Play in Traffic (1997). In addition, Jillette wrote the novel Sock (2004), while Teller penned a memoir to his father, When I’m Dead All This Will Be Yours (2000). They starred in two TV series, Penn & Teller’s Sin City on the FX Network, and Bullsh*t! (which debunks “frauds and fakes”) on Showtime. In 2005, they appeared in the documentary, The Aristocrats, where they discuss an explicit joke.
The duo won two Emmy Awards and an International Golden Rose Award for their 1985 PBS special, Penn & Teller Go Public. In 1997, they were named two of the funniest people alive in Entertainment Weekly’s “50 Greatest Comedians Today.”
Their talents don’t stop with entertainment. Jillette wrote a monthly column for PC Computing magazine and is active with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, while Teller was a Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute.
The Fight for Free (and Offensive) Speech
In their spare time, Penn & Teller are free-speech activists. Teller has spoken out against government mandated V-chips in televisions, while Jillette has been a vocal critic of the Federal Communications Commission’s crackdown on “offensive speech.”
In a April 1994 interview with Reason magazine, Jillette said he takes “the First Amendment defense” about freedom of expression: “Congress shall make no law. As Justice Douglas said, those are the only words you need in that amendment.”
In 2001, the pair was awarded the Hefner First Amendment Award from the Playboy Foundation for their work to defend free speech.
“I’m a hardcore libertarian. I want everything legal.” — Penn Jillette in an interview on FilmForce.IGN.com (October 13, 2003)
“I am Libertarian. Democrats and Republicans, well, it’s kind of like a ‘magicians choice’ — two identical incumbent organizations pretending to be different so that we will vote the same old mob back into power.” –Teller in an online chat on WashingtonPost.com (December 29, 2000)