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Ask Me Another

Penn Jillette: Fool Us Once

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Penn Jillette on Ask Me Another in Phoenix, Arizona.
Trevor Huxham, KJZZ
Penn Jillette on Ask Me Another in Phoenix, Arizona.

Magician Penn Jillette prefers tricks to illusions: "which is just gluing two front surface mirrors together at 45 degree angles, and then the sides look like the back!" He doesn't particularly like spending time with his stage partner Teller: "We wanted to work together, but there was no sort of affection." And he doesn't even like magic: "I was never fond of it."

So what does this renowned performer, whose show at the Rio Hotel and Casino is the longest-running headliner act in Las Vegas, enjoy? Being fooled. "It's the best feeling in the world," he told host Ophira Eisenberg at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona. "You don't get into magic 'cause you wanna fool people. You get into magic 'cause you wanna be fooled. And then you keep chasing that first high."

This is the inspiration for Penn & Teller's latest TV show, Penn & Teller: Fool Us. The show puts on display what usually happens backstage: a fellow magician attempts to fool them with a trick. The program is filmed in front of a live audience as a gesture of goodwill to the viewers--there are no camera tricks at play. Usually contestants can tell if they're succeeding two-thirds of the way through their act, but if they do fool Penn and Teller, they're quick to reveal their trick. "As soon as we finish...because you're jacked up from the show and out of your mind, you run over and...they tell you everything! 'By the way, I'm having an affair!' Everything! All their secrets they have!"'

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While Penn & Teller: Fool Us is a reality competition show, it still holds true to the duo's interest in pulling back the curtain and letting the audience in on the magic. The two met while Teller was putting himself through college performing at frat parties. "I've forgotten what level of Dante's hell that is," Penn joked to Eisenberg. "But it's really close to the center." Teller dealt with hecklers by simply ignoring them, and doing his act silently. So when they first performed together, Teller stayed silent to keep the integrity of his bits. This contrasted well with Penn's style, who was more comfortable being loud and a bit aggressive. They discovered that this way, they could approach their act as a one-person show done by two people. "And the proof of that is that during our 90-minute show in Vegas, I make eye contact with Teller twice," he shared. "And only because we have to."

For his Ask Me Another challenge, we put Penn's knowledge of magic history to the test.

HIGHLIGHTS

On why he thinks there aren't many women magicians

You know, I think there are gonna be...One reason is we didn't let them. I mean, women were not welcome in magic clubs. That's one whole awful reason. But also there's a kind of...magic is just a formal form of mansplaining!

On his relationship with Teller

I thought I could do better stuff with Teller than I could do alone professionally, and Teller felt the reciprocal. And we wanted to work together, but there was no sort of affection. And I think that's one of the reasons we've been together so long--is it turns out that respect is more useful than affection. And we're together 40, 50 hours a week. It's like, if I go out with Teller after a show, 'Well what'd you do this week?' 'The same thing you did!'"

On Penn & Teller's Showtime series, Bulls***

I tell ya, I don't know who's idea it was--yes I do, it was mine. When you have the stupid idea of giving yourself a show with an obscenity in it...we were nominated for, I think at least three Emmy's, and they just simply did not want anyone to open up an envelope and say, 'And the winner is Bulls****!'

Heard on Penn Jillette: Fool Us Once

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