×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

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.”

Popular on Variety

More Scene

  • Jessica Biel Limetown Premiere

    Why 'Limetown' Star & Producer Jessica Biel Thought the Show Was Based on a True Story

    In a world of increasingly outlandish headlines, the story behind “Limetown” — in which an entire community in rural Tennessee disappears overnight — seems plausible. Even Jessica Biel, who executive produces and stars in the Facebook Watch television adaptation of the hit 2015 podcast, was initially convinced that it was real. “I just thought I [...]

  • Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Watchmen

    Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Talks 'Watchmen,' 'Matrix 4': 'I'm Not Nervous At All'

    Yahya Adbul-Mateen II is facing some serious pressure. The actor is in the middle of a massive career surge, taking on roles in HBO’s “Watchmen” and the upcoming “Matrix 4” — and with those roles, the expectations of their fans.  “I have the responsibility of upholding something that was already done while also bringing in [...]

  • David Lindelof Watchmen Premiere

    'Watchmen' Creator Damon Lindelof Weighs in on Martin Scorsese's Marvel Criticisms

    Damon Lindelof disagrees with Martin Scorsese about his recent claims that Marvel movies don’t qualify as cinema. The director’s proclamation, along with the polarized critical reception of “Joker,” are the latest salvos in a long history of questioning comic book movies’ place in cinematic history. The lingering question: Can superhero fare be considered “high art?” [...]

  • Anne Hathaway Modern Love

    Anne Hathaway Talks Mental Health Awareness, Playing a Bipolar Woman on Amazon's 'Modern Love'

    In Amazon Prime’s upcoming “Modern Love,” Anne Hathaway sheds light on an important facet of living with mental health issues, playing a bipolar woman who struggles with dating. “We’re all becoming more sensitive, wiser and more cognizant of gentility, and especially emotional gentility. I think those conversations are starting to happen. And I think the desire [...]

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content