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January 16, 2018

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Penn & Teller’s 20th anniversary sets showbiz records in Las Vegas


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Penn & Teller on the cover of Vegas Magazine.

Penn and Teller's 10th Anniversary

Penn & Teller at the 10th anniversary celebration of Penn & Teller and their new three-year contract at The Rio on Oct. 26, 2010. Launch slideshow »

Penn and Teller

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With 20 successful years under their magic hats in Las Vegas, Penn & Teller have created one of the most successful showbiz stories of all time with books, videos, music and numerous TV shows and appearances.

Now it gets even bigger and better because very soon, they’ll get a new six-year contract extension for the run of the dynamic duo at The Rio, which will put them in the history and record books.

It was January 1993 when the illusionists and scientific skeptics debuted at Bally’s. They have now been the resident headliners for 12 years at The Rio, and when the news of the contract extension to 2019 is officially announced, they will become the longest-running resident headliners and magic resident headliners ever in Las Vegas.

The two uniquely opposite stars -- one speaks nonstop, and the other never says a word; one is beyond tall, and the other just about reaches his chest -- have been a duo for nearly four decades going back to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival in August 1975.

It’s difficult to believe with all their TV specials and shows that some people still wonder who is who. For the record, Raymond John Teller is the silent one -- at least onstage -- and Penn Fraser Jillette the larger and louder.

They were interviewed by Editor-at-Large John Katsilometes and photographed by Jeff Gale for the 2013 winter issue of our sister publication Vegas Magazine. Teller explains in Vegas why he remains quiet onstage:

“I actually think it helps, my silence, because of my almost annoying level of clarity when I talk. When I turn that off, it turns into a clarity of action onstage. The silent thing onstage allows for a kind of intimacy that no conversation can have. If I just shut up, we’re forced to look at each other and really confront that moment.

“Onstage, I find absolutely nothing but exhilaration in not talking. And, also, I have a guy who talks in fire as my co-conspirator. He is great, and I love listening to him. The audience loves listening to him, but I also think the audience loves the breath of being able to stop and say, ‘Now I need to figure out what’s going on.’ ”

Teller says he was awed by Las Vegas the first time they visited: “Penn and I were visiting Vegas with a band called The Residents, and we all decided to see a Vegas show. I remember one of the guys, who was from Louisiana and spoke in this deep, round, welcoming Southern tone, saying, ‘What I love about this show is you plunk down your admission price, and you sit back and say, ‘Spend it!’ That’s true to this day: You feel that ‘Jubilee!’ is a generous show. Big and generous and absolutely unpretentious, and it becomes out of a real tradition.”

Penn added: “We saw Dean Martin for the first time in Vegas in the late ’80s. We had to see Dean Martin in order to -- not loudly or vocally -- ridicule him. You know? Dean Martin destroyed us. He just shut us up. It was one of the best shows I had ever seen, and I thought it was identical to The Ramones in that they just talk faster and louder and in the same key, and it becomes something beautiful. Dean Martin took this relaxed and not-giving-a-crap attitude and did a whole show with no ups or downs, and it was so fascinating to me. I was just blown away.”

To this day, the eccentric magicians with a psychotic twist who appeared with Katy Perry in her hit video “Waking Up in Vegas” still hold a record over Frank Sinatra for filling the 1,400-seat Celebrity Room at Bally’s without giving away one free ticket to a VIP or a guest.

Said Teller: “That’s how you beat Sinatra’s record -- by knowing no one in Vegas and having non-high rollers who want to see you.”

But he’s prouder when a parent who saw them long ago brings their child to see them perform: “We’ve had this happen, someone coming to us and saying, ‘I just want to tell you that 25 years ago, I saw you on off-Broadway in New York, I was 6 years old, and you brought me onstage. … And I want to introduce you to my 6-year-old kid.’ That’s pretty hard to beat, as a compliment, for someone to bring their kids to see what we do. It’s pretty special.”

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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