​Why Penn & Teller need each other


For 40 years the comic illusionists have been performing - and gleefully debunking - magic tricks.

CBS News

Penn & Teller are magicians whose sleight-of-hand is never intended to slight their audience's intelligence. Lee Cowan sought them out in their natural environment for some Questions-and-Answers:

The Las Vegas Strip is home to many a magical performance, but this show -- featuring Penn & Teller -- is magic of a different sort.

"The Bullet Catch fools more people than any trick we've ever done," said Penn Jillette. "I think we have more tricks per hour than -- I don't think just in any magic show now, but any magic show that's ever been."

Penn & Teller have been doing magic tricks together for 40 years. For the last 14 they've been headlining at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

They are as different in style as they are in stature. Penn is tall and loud -- few magicians use a nail gun in their act.

Teller, on the other hand, is short and quiet. In fact, he doesn't utter a word in character . . . which can make for a challenging conversation.

Cowan asked, "Does it ever get awkward for you not to talk? It's awkward for me to do an interview with someone I know isn't going to answer any questions!"

Teller shrugged.

He did, however, agree to explain that later at his hilltop home on the outskirts of town.

"Not speaking is just about the most intimate thing that you can do," Teller said.

"Intimate in terms of ..." said Cowan.

"See? You felt like you had to speak. If we just stop, and look at each other, Oh gosh, that gets intimate fast, and that's what I feel when I'm on stage."

Penn and Teller met in the mid-1970s. Teller, 66, was a high school Latin teacher who did magic in his spare time.

Penn, seven years his junior, went to Clown College and became a juggler.

"We were carnie trash, we were street performers," said Penn. "We would do any show we could get."

They teamed up not because they liked each other, but because they needed each other.

"Teller and I never got along," Penn said. "We never had a cuddly friendship. It was a very cold, calculated relationship where we thought we do better stuff together than we do separately."

"So it was almost a matter of necessity?" Cowan asked.

"Well, it turns out that respect lasts longer than affection."

"So is this opposites attract?"

"Well, opposites -- I don't know if 'attract' is exactly the right word," said Teller. "Opposites do sometimes complement."

Not that their partnership didn't hit a few bumps over the last 40 years, but there weren't many. "All of our real confrontations and unpleasantness was in the first two or three years," said Penn.