Penn & Teller bring new tricks to Mesa Arts Center

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Penn & Teller have been making magic for more than 30 years, but they’ll still have plenty of fresh tricks up their sleeves by the time they get to Mesa.

“Teller and I are much more, in our way of thinking, like a band,” said Penn Jillette, the voice of the comedic magic act. “We’re always writing new stuff and rotating it in. There’s an awful lot of new material from the Vegas show” that will be used in the pair’s performance Friday at the Mesa Arts Center.

It will be Penn & Teller’s first appearance in the Valley in 15 years. They’ve been busy with a hit live show in Las Vegas, and just when they planned to take it on the road, TV came calling. Their hit Showtime series, which aggressively exposes popular misconceptions and ideologies to critical thinking, returns for an eighth season in June with a look at cheerleading.

“I would be very happy just doing the live show with nothing else if I had to choose, but the fact we don’t have to get our politics and religion into the live show because we have (‘B.S.’ on Showtime) makes the live show just a little more pure,” Jillette said.

They’ve also made guest appearances on dozens of television shows, from The Simpsons and Futurama (pictured above) to a haunting episode of the space opera Babylon 5 that was written by sci-fi icon Neil Gaiman.

The stage show, which often reveals the inner workings of elaborate magic tricks, sports an undertone of skepticism that comes from the pair’s shared libertarian and atheistic viewpoint — but you wouldn’t suspect their ideological leanings if you’ve only seen their Vegas act or tours. In fact, Jillette says people who know their views are often understandably perplexed by how little overt politics plays into the live show.

“For some reason we just don’t have that spill much into the live show,” he said. “Our skepticism certainly informs everything in the live show like it did everything in Houdini’s show.” But as for flat-out political or spiritual content?

“Maybe we get it out of our system in (‘B.S.’).”

Penn & Teller
Penn & Teller

The Showtime series is also known for its blunt profanity — it’s even in the title — while the stage show is known for its family friendly language, even if the magic tricks are shocking.

Teller, the silent partner, rarely speaks but is no less important to the “one man show with two people.” The duo’s famous distance in their personal lives is often credited for their success in showbiz.

“Our relationship has been 35 years of more like two guys running a dry cleaning business together,” said Jillette. “We’re very interested in the show and working on that, and the friendship is secondary. After 35 years we are each others’ closest friends, but in a strange way” that sees them going out to dinner or taking in a film together no more than once or twice a year, he said.

It may be a strange kind of friendship, but Jillette said the formula’s magic is clear for all to see on stage.

“We’ve really learned from watching peers try to work together that respect will get you much further than affection.”


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