Friday, Dec. 29, 2000; 1p.m. EST
Penn and Teller have been amazing, entertaining and grossing out audiences for almost 20 years. Their bizarre brand of magic has made them one of the most popular acts in the business.
Teller, the quieter half of the award winning team, has been studying magic since he received a Howdy Doody magic set from his parents at the age of five. His new book, "When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours," delves into Teller's quirky, loving, and philosophical family.
Teller will take a break from performing at the Warner Theater to answer your questions on magic, Penn and Teller's live stage show and his new book.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Teller: Good afternoon I am enjoying a very nice plate of trout. Mash potatoes here at the Marriot are excellent.
Herndon, VA: WHY don't you talk during the performance? Did you and Penn plan it this way, or did it evolve?
Teller: go to the sincity (www.sincity.com) website and read one of the 1 to 200 interviews on that question. sorry to be impatient about this but I enjoy new and more challenging questions.
Germantown, Maryland: If you were put in an ICE BLOCK with David Blaine. Who would last longer?
Teller: He probably would. I would be bored to death.
Arlington Virginia: I've read that the illusions for which you and Penn reveal the mechanics for how they work, are illusions the two of you have designed and not illusions designed by others (or classical magician's tricks). Is that true?
I can understand why: who want's to get kicked out of the Magician's union?
Teller: That is true. But the reasons we have to design the tricks ourselves is because regular magicians tricks are so damn dull when you reveal them. I mean basically it all comes down to palming, mirrors and trap doors. okay a little "black art" once in a while but that stuff is so dull that even that gooney guy on fox in the mask couldn't make it entertaining. so we have to think up really clever tricks to expose otherwise you'd just shrug.
Centreville VA: My husband and I will be at one of your shows this weekend....aside from some of your cockroach shenanigans on the Letterman show and your movie I haven't seen much of your act. But I've heard plenty, and your radio ads DO threaten to put a bunny through a wood chipper! Animal rights issues aside, as our seats are right up close, should we bring a can of Raid and be wearing galoshes and protective plastic gear to the show?
Teller: you are a very prudent person. but such precautions are generally unnecessary we try and position things far enough back at the edge of the stage that the splatter doesn't reach much beyond. and alas, though we have guns we have no bugs in this show. we thought it would be unfair to the balcony.
I saw your name on the credits of a Tales From The Crypt episode. Were you a fan of the show(or the comics) before then?
Teller: I've always loved the short story format for television shows. and just about the only short story show around was tales from the crypt so when my pal Colman and I got a creepy idea, Crypt was the obvious place to take it. Contrary to what you may think that story wasn't based on any comic book, they just gave it a comic book name.
Laurel: How is TV influencing magic? Are audiences getting bored with traditional tricks after Mr. Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear, or whatever he did? Does performance on TV kill future interest in tricks performed there, sort of like winner-take-all economics?
Teller: Magic is not a very photogenic art form. It's why if you want to see it and make the little hairs stand up on the back of your neck you have to see it live (for instance right now at the Warner Theater) When you see magic on TV it is in direct competition with the best special effects in the world. So even if you are convinced that there are no stooges, retakes, camera tricks it still looks lame. That why when we show up on TV either we expose how the trick is done or we do something so unpleasant that you don't care how it's done.
Fayetteville, North Carolina: In your movie, I couldn't quite understand why the final scene didn't commence into a bloodbath with all the killing going on . . . I mean, you guys usually do the "gross" (cool in my mind) stuff perfectly, . . . why no more blood?
Teller: That was Arthur Penn's Choice. Arthur Penn directed our movie, and very early in his career - in Bonnie in Clyde - he did the first and ultimate bloodbath ending to a movie. So he wanted to try that scene utterly bloodlessly. We thought it was a very cool way to go about it.
Laurel: For several years, you and your partner have been active in promoting skepticism and the rational investigation of alleged paranormal phenomena. What would you say is the current state of psi-belief in this country, and has the mainstream media gotten any more responsible about balancing their reporting?
Teller: Alas, people seem to be clinging to the millennia-old tradition of being suckers. now-a-days, with so many channels to choose from broadcasters end up having 24 hours a day of empty space to fill. So it seems as though anybody no matter how transparently fraudulent who offers to fill an hour or two of that vacuum can get coverage. It's up to people like you and us to annoy the hell out of them until they make responsible choices.
Atlanta, GA: I enjoyed reading your new book about your folks. Do you have plans to publish any of your essays or reviews in a volume anytime in the near future? I have read a few of them on the Internet.
Teller: I'm flattered you like my stuff. I bet that when I get enough of those in the bank I will do a nice formal publication of them. A lot of them end up showing up you know in Penn and Teller books.
Singapore: Mr. Teller, I am so excited about your new book, is there any chance "When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours" would be available at Borders(Singapore)or on a larger scale, in South-East Asia?
Teller: I suggest talking to your Borders manager about this. I know it is available over the internet through Amazon Borders and Barnes and Noble. so I bet with a little ingenuity you will be able to get your hands on a copy.
somewhere USA :
Do you ever run into any of your old latin students? And if so, what do they think of your new job?
Teller: They behave as though they expected it all along. Of course the most alarming thing is that now they're all in their mid thirties bald and have three children. How time flies.
Dayton, Ohio: In an earlier response you mentioned Black Magic. I don't know much about the magic realm, so can you expound a little on what Black Magic is?
Teller: No no no!!! Not "black magic." "black art." That's is a specific optical principle used in stage magic.
Allentown, PA: What types of tricks were performed in "The Silent Wonder Show"?
Teller: Oh lordy the Silent Wonder Show! I used to do the Misers Dream, the Cups and Balls (with opaque cups believe it or not) and my good old war horse The Needles. The real trick of course was getting the money in the collection pail at the end.
Newark, NJ: About your parents and the new book: What do you find elicits the most interesting stories from them? I've found that my dad tells different stories (or familiar stories with new details) while riding in the car.
Teller: Nothing beats sitting around the kitchen table. Especially if we have pictures to look at like the cartoons in the book or photographs from the old plastic shoebox on the second floor.
Lincoln, Nebraska: I have been a huge fan of yours and Penn's for years. I've been perennially in awe of your ideas and novel way of going about things. In fact, so in awe that the first and last time I was able to meet you, I turned to mush and was barely able to say "will you please sign this..."
So my question is what can I say/do next time to ensure that you think that I am a cool cat? I would love some time to practice.
Teller: You turned to much talking to ME!!! Well, I am very flattered I guess. Next time you come to the show send a nice intelligent note backstage telling me what you are interested in and then after the show hang around till the autographs are done and introduce yourself. That way if you are ready to collapse with mush-itude I can prop you up.
Teller, this is Psycho. (From the Mofo tightcircle.) I looked it up and you were right, "The Man From The South" was written by Ruald Dahl. I thought you would like to know.
Teller: AH-HA!!! I knew it!
Warrington, PA: You looked pretty miserable when you did the tattoo of blood. How did Penn talk you into carving into his flesh like that?
Teller: Miserable?? That was fun! Nothing I personally enjoy more then inflicting gory physical pain on Penn that's a dream come true.
Annandale, VA: About your NPR segment 2 days ago when you revealed your father's pancake recipe, what exactly are the names you call your parents? I couldn't quite make it out but I'm sure it wasn't Mom and Dad. By the way, I liked the use of non-standard measuring devices in making the pancakes.
Teller: I call them Pad and Mam.
San Diego, CA: Do you think you and Penn will be putting together another book in the future, or has that grown old in your eyes? If so, will you be open to ideas from fans for names?
Teller: No doubt we will do other books. We don't have one in mind at the moment but we have many things up our sleeves.
Corvallis, Or: Who do you turn to for professional advice when you need it?
Teller: I guess you don't mean medical advice... right? For theatrical direction we have been really helped by Paul Provenza. for advice magical we often talk to Jamy Swiss and Johnny Thompson. And when we're questing for really obscure curios of novelty entertainment information we are fortunate to have Billy McComb and Jay Marshall just a phone call away.
Allentown, PA: Do your parents paint in all mediums and does your mother also do drawing?
Teller: At this point my mother does mostly acrylics and my father does mostly oils occasionally venturing into sculpture.
laurel, MD: I've heard you grew listening to punk rock. If that's true, I was wondering what's your take on it? I'm curious about your skeptic approach.
Teller: Actually I grew up on Bach keyboard music. Penn woke me up to Lou Reed, the Ramones, Iggy Pop, and so forth. And I loved the bare bones quality. The lack of frou-frou. I still do.
Manassas, Va: Sir,
I have purchased 10 tickets to tonight's show, I am bringing my family, some who are coming as far away as Youngstown ,Ohio...If you and Penn Bomb will you bail me out with my family?
Teller: Dear Mark. You paid your money you take your chances.
but I do have one suggestion. at the intermission, get in line to see Penn in the barrel as quickly as possible. It is an experience not to be missed and if you procrastinate at all the line may be too long.
Warrington, PA: When do we get to see your paintings, Teller?
Teller: When they start to get good.
glassboro, NJ: I've noticed that when you are on food shows or eating in an interview (like right now) you seem to always have fish or something vegetarian. Do you eschew red meat or is that just a happenstance?
Teller: I like red meat. I lean however toward lighter foods so I don't end up too fat to get through the trap doors. and thanks for using the word eschew. Can you imagine someone on David Copperfield's site using such a word?
The White House, WASH DC: Since you are here in DC, Are you a
Democtrat or Republ. or Nader Fan?
Teller: Oh. None of the above. 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. I think our only hope is to support intelligent third party candidates.
Fairfax, VA: I read in a previous response there will be guns but no rabbits. Does this mean the DC police consented?
Teller: The D.C. Police are really terrific. There are very strict gun laws here, but the D.C. police know the difference between a show and a robbery. so while they keep close tabs on our guns, they are very helpful. every night after the show an officer takes our guns to a storage safe at police headquarters and brings them back to us before the next show. this is really one of the most helpful and responsible police organizations I have ever encountered.
Pittsburgh PA: Did your parents ever submit their art to any
Teller: Occasionally, but not very seriously.
Fayetteville, North Carolina: What exactly do you think when you're on stage . . . you've said before it's dark, morbid thoughts . . . but you never go into detail?
Teller: I think very different things at different times in the show. Sometime I'm just thinking about not falling off the stage.
20001: Have you ever considered taking on a new partner, say, Yo Yo Ma or Alan Greenspan?
Teller: I already have someone who plays the bass and Penn is great with money.
wdc: What is Penn like offstage?
Teller: Sometimes funny. In love with science and scientists. He's very serious about the things he's very serious about.
Kensington: A Victorian professor of mine here at Georgetown has told me that she met you in England at a Beerbohm (spelling?) event. What is it about Victorian lit and the Victorian era that interests you? Also, have you lost hearing by standing next to Penn all these years - it must be like having headphones turned up full blast.....
Teller: I got involved in the Beerbohm event because of my fascination with the very ingenious story, "Enoch Soames." It's about the devil you know. And keep in mind when Penn is talking, generally he's aimed at you.
The Plains, VA: My brother, Mark bought us all tickets to tontines show. We're all so excited to see you again.
Can we buy you a beer at John Harvards after the show?
Teller: No. Thanks for the thought, but A) I don't drink and B) I have plans for after the show. I appreciate the invitation.
Vienna VA: Did you and Penn enjoy your "appearance" in that Simpsons episode?
Teller: Oh yes. It's so flattering to have the Simpsons invite you on to make fun of you. And they gave me one of the ultra-cool Simpsons Jackets which they periodically update by sending you new patches and telling you exactly where to put them.
Washington, D.C.: This is not to ask for you to reveal any secrets, but because you never have verbalized on stage before, have you ever been hurt in one of your stunts but couldn't express it because it might go against the grain of the character? Looking forward to seeing your show.
Teller: No. Never been hurt on stage, aside from minor scratches or bruises that a clumsy person like myself might get in the basement. And remember, if there should ever be a real emergency I don't have enough artistic integrity to keep my mouth shut if I need help.
San Diego, CA: Who were the architects that designed yours and Penn's houses? They're really something.
Teller: My house was designed by Sigrid Miller-Pollin and Kevince O'Brien who used to share a company in Santa Monica called Siteworks. Penn's house was designed by Colin Summers.
The White House, WASH DC: IF you are a Libertarian, would you of voted for Howard Stern when he was running?
By the way you are now not invited to the
Lincoln Bedroom (unless of course for a small
Teller: I don't know. I wold have to hear what Howard was talking about. In any case he would have been a better choice for President then Bush or Gore.
Rockville, MD: In the show you are above all others in the fact that you know how all is going on and how it's done. How does this make you feel as you look out towards a sea of dumbfounded faces.
crystal city VA: Hello,
First - I saw the show Wednesday night. Thanks for a great performance and for being accessible to us commoners during intermission and after the show.
Question - Do you tailor the content of your show to the city you are in, swapping certain bits in and out based on the overall vibe in that location? (Of course you did perform a firearms bit in DC so....)
P.S. Lastly, the upside-down bit on SNL years ago is still the most clever thing I have ever seen on TV. Kudos to you and the loud guy for pulling that off so convincingly.
Teller: Well, Thanks! There isn't much regional difference in the way people react to our show because now-a-days, we all live in the same very large television community. So we just pick whatever the hell we feel like doing and do it wherever the hell we are playing.
University Park, MD: Is this your card?
Teller: My God You've Found it! and it has my signature on it too! And look! The corner I tore off matches the one in my pocket! How do you people do these things...
I know you don't have much faith in psychic ability. Neither do I. But what do you think of this...
In 1555, Nostradamus wrote,
"Come the third millenium, first month,
in the home of greatest power,
The village idiot will come forth
To be acclaimed leader."
That one seems a bit spooky to me...
It seems to hit it right on the nose.
Teller: ... Just as it would eight years ago, and eight years before that, and eight years before that.
Seattle, WA: Teller, has your new book changed your parents' feelings about their art?
Teller: Well, now they're digging around through the storage shelves figuring maybe there is something there they can make a buck off.
Teller: Well, kids. I have finished my trout and my mashed potatoes. Thanks for a very intelligent bunch of questions. See you down the road.
washingtonpost.com: Thanks to Teller for taking the time to answer questions and thanks to everyone who participated.
© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company