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Magic’s Legends Hail Penn & Teller’s Offbeat Style

Good words for ‘bad boys’

Decades of irreverence and oddball humor have made Penn & Teller notorious as the Bad Boys of Magic, but even as renegades they’ve charmed their fellow performers — including some of the world’s most respected illusionists.

“Everything they do is original,” says Johnny Thompson, a magician who has worked in Las Vegas as a consultant with the team for almost 20 years. “These are not things you can buy off the shelves of a magic store. They come to me with the most unique premises — and the most wonderful thing about working with them is there’s no time limit.”

Thompson, who is helping the duo with three brand-new setups, says some tricks take two or three years to perfect for the stage — but the time is well spent, he adds, citing Teller’s Silver Fish as an example. Based on an old trick called the Miser’s Dream, which featured an opaque champagne bucket, Teller’s Silver Fish takes things to a “new level,” using a transparent fish bowl to produce coins and fish seemingly out of thin air.

Though Penn and Teller often borrow inspiration from famous acts such as the Miser’s Dream, magician David Copperfield says the Bad Boys always add their own spin to illusions.

“Years ago, before they began presenting their bullet-catch routine, they came to me to make sure there was no overlap with what I was working on,” Copperfield says. “The gesture meant a lot to me. Their routine is brilliant. It is certainly among the best — if not the greatest bullet catch of all time.”

Illusionist Lance Burton recalls Penn and Teller’s infamous flag-burning trick, in which a U.S. flag smolders inside a coiled Bill of Rights, noting that although the act appears contentious, the takeaway is a respectful lesson in the protection of creative rights and freedom.

Says Burton: “They have a peculiar sensibility about their approach to magic, and I don’t know if there’s anyway to really explain what that is, except to say that there’s the right way to do a trick, there’s a wrong way to do a trick and then there’s the Penn and Teller way.”

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