Teller (magician)

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Teller Rio.jpg
Teller – after the Penn & Teller show at the Rio in Paradise, Nevada, August 5, 2007.
Born Raymond Joseph Teller
(1948-02-14) February 14, 1948 (age 67)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Residence Las Vegas Valley, Nevada
Nationality American
Occupation Magician, illusionist, writer, actor, painter, film director
Years active 1974–present
Known for Half of the comedy magic duo Penn & Teller
Height 5 feet 9 inches (175 cm)
Political party
Libertarian Party
Religion None
  • Irene B. Derrickson
  • Joseph Teller (1913–2004)
Penn and

Teller (born Raymond Joseph Teller)[1][2] is an American magician, illusionist, actor, comedian, writer, director and usually silent half of the comedy magic duo Penn & Teller, along with Penn Jillette. Teller is an atheist, debunker, skeptic, and a fellow of the Cato Institute (a free market libertarian think tank which also lists his performing partner Penn Jillette as a fellow), an organization which featured prominently in the duo's Showtime television series Bullshit!. Teller does not have a last name; his name is simply "Teller".[3][4] Teller has legally changed his original polynym, Raymond Joseph Teller, to the mononym "Teller" and possesses a United States passport issued in that single name.

Early life[edit]

Teller was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,[5] the son of Irene B. (née Derrickson) and Joseph Teller (1913–2004).[6] His father, who was of Russian Jewish descent, was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in Philadelphia. His mother was from a farming family in Delaware; the two met as painters attending art school at Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial.[7][8] His mother was Methodist, and Teller was raised as "a sort of half-assed Methodist".[9] He attended Central High School and Amherst College. He taught English and Latin at Lawrence High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.[10] He was selected to be a member of the Central High School Hall of Fame in 2001.



Teller began performing with friend Weir Chrisemer as The Othmar Schoeck Society for the Preservation of Weird and Disgusting Music. Teller met Penn Jillette in 1974, and they became a three-person act with Chrisemer called Asparagus Valley Cultural Society, which started at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival and subsequently played in San Francisco. In 1981, they began performing exclusively together as "Penn & Teller", an act that continues to this day. On April 5, 2013, Penn and Teller were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the live performance category. Their star, the 2,494th awarded, is near the star dedicated to Harry Houdini.[11] The following day they were recognized by the Magic Castle with the "Magicians of the Year" award.[11]


Apart from professional conferences and interviews, Teller almost never speaks while performing, although there are occasional exceptions, usually when the audience is not aware of it. For example, he provided the voice of "Mofo the psychic gorilla" in their early Broadway show with the help of a radio microphone cupped in his hand. Teller's trademark silence originated during his youth, when he earned a living performing magic at college fraternity parties.[12] He found that if he maintained silence throughout his act, spectators refrained from throwing beer and heckling him and focused more on his performance.[citation needed]

Other exceptions to his silent act include instances in which his face is covered or obscured, as when he spoke while covered with a plastic sheet in the series premiere of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!,[13] and when he was interviewed while in shadow for the 2010 History Channel documentary, Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery,[14] while Teller spoke at length in an NPR story on Houdini in 2010.[15] He was also interviewed, with his mouth obscured in shadow, in the Nova ScienceNow episode "How Does the Brain Work?". Teller appears to have said "Science" in a high-pitched voice in Penn and Teller's appearance on the television show Bill Nye the Science Guy, episode "Light Optics", but in fact he only mouthed the word while Penn used a ventriloquist technique to make it sound as if Teller had spoken while keeping his own mouth from moving. Penn and Teller appear as comedians Rebo and Zooty in the 5th season episode of Babylon 5, "The Day of the Dead", written by Neil Gaiman. Teller also spoke in his 1987 appearance on NBC's Miami Vice (a fourth-season episode titled "Like a Hurricane"),[16] and had speaking parts in the movies Penn & Teller Get Killed (he speaks in the final scene), Long Gone and The Aristocrats. He gave voice to an animated version of himself in two episodes of The Simpsons ("Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder" and "The Great Simpsina"), and voiced a series of cloned store clerks in "Zoey's Zoo", an episode of Oh Yeah! Cartoons, as well as the English version of the 1988 animated feature Light Years (original French title: Gandahar), where he was the voice of Octum. Teller speaks at length about magic performance and sleight-of-hand in the documentary "Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour". Teller has been shown screaming and swearing in the "Anger Management" episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. More recently, Teller had a brief speaking part in Atlas Shrugged: Part II, where he advises Dagny Taggart (played by Samantha Mathis) to go out the side door of the Taggart Transcontinental offices.

Teller did break his silence in his portrayal of Mortimer in the 1995 film version of The Fantasticks, though almost all of his dialogue was edited out of the film's final version (his "Dying isn't easy" scene is included among deleted scenes on the DVD release). He also appeared as a "cat" in the Dharma & Greg season 1 episode "The Cat's out of the Bag". He also appeared in an episode of Tosh.O giving "advice" to a fellow magician. He stood staring at the gentleman for several seconds before uttering "Practice once in a fuckin' while" while walking away. He also spoke at length during an interview on the Charlie Rose television program on 27 January 2014.

Teller's voice can be heard on Season 13 of Celebrity Apprentice, "Episode 10: The Mayor of Stress Town", when speaking with contestant Penn Jillette over Penn's mobile device.

More recently, Teller's voice can be heard, talking about Tim's Vermeer on KCRW's The Treatment.[17]


He collaborated with Jillette on three magic books, and he is also the author of "When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours!": Joe Teller – A Portrait by His Kid (2000), a biography/memoir of his father. The book features his father's paintings and cartoons which were strongly influenced by George Lichty's Grin and Bear It. The book was favorably reviewed by Publishers Weekly: When Teller, the quiet half of the Penn and Teller showbiz team, made one of his monthly Philadelphia visits to see his parents, Joe and Irene ("Pad" and "Mam"), he was shown 100 unpublished cartoons his father drew in 1939. These "wryly observed scenes of Philadelphia street life," as Teller describes them, are in a loose, sketchy style imitative of the great George Lichty (1905–1983), famed for his long-run syndicated Grin and Bear It. Teller and his father's "memories began to pump and the stories flowed" after they opened boxes of old letters that Teller read out loud (learning for the first time about a period in his parents' lives that he knew nothing about, such as the fact that his father's name is really Israel Max Teller). Joe's Depression-era hobo adventures led to travels throughout the U.S., Canada and Alaska, and by 1933, he returned to Philadelphia for art study. After Joe and Irene met during evening art classes, they married, and Joe worked half-days as a Philadelphia Inquirer copy boy. When the Inquirer rejected his cartoons, he moved into advertising art just as World War II began. Employing excerpts from letters and postcards, Teller successfully re-creates the world of his parents in a relaxed writing style of light humor and easy (yet highly effective) transitions between the past and present.[18]

Teller is a co-author of the paper "Attention and Awareness in Stage magic: Turning Tricks into Research," published in Nature Reviews: Neuroscience (November 2008).[19]

In 2010, Teller wrote Play Dead,[20] a "throwback to the spook shows of the 1930s and ’40s" that ran September 12–24 in Las Vegas before opening Off Broadway in New York. The show stars sideshow performer and magician Todd Robbins.[21]


In 2008, Teller and Aaron Posner co-directed a version of Macbeth[22] which incorporated stage magic techniques in the scenes with the Three Witches. In 2014, Teller and Posner co-directed a version of The Tempest which again made use of stage magic; in an interview Teller stated that "Shakespeare wrote one play that’s about a magician, and it seemed like about time to realize that with all the capabilities of modern magic in the theater."[23]

Teller directed a feature film documentary, Tim's Vermeer, which was released in 2014.[24][25][26][27][28] He and Penn served as executive producers, with distribution by Sony Pictures Classics.[29]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Penn and Teller". The Advocates. Archived from the original on December 21, 2013. Retrieved October 20, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Teller". Retrieved October 20, 2014. 
  3. ^ della Cava, Marco R. (November 16, 2007). "At home: Teller's magical Vegas retreat speaks volumes". USA Today. Retrieved June 27, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Penn & Teller: Rogue Magician Is EXPOSING Our Secrets!!!". April 12, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2012. 
  5. ^ Morrow, Kathleen (Summer 2007). "Teller". Penn State University, Pennsylvania Center for the Book. Retrieved October 8, 2013.  Biography based on sources including "Email correspondence with Teller. 12–14 August 2007".
  6. ^ Joseph Teller in the SSDI
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^
  9. ^ [2]
  10. ^ "Reparations". Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. Season 4. Episode 7. May 15, 2006. Showtime (TV network). 
  11. ^ a b "Magicians Penn & Teller Get Star On Walk Of Fame". CBS Los Angeles. April 5, 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2013. 
  12. ^ Lynn Elber (April 25, 2007). ""Silent" Teller to magically make "Macbeth" a "horror thriller"". Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved May 21, 2007. 
  13. ^ Penn & Teller: Bullshit!; "Talking to the Dead"; Episode 1.1; January 23, 2003
  14. ^ Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery; History Channel; Viewed June 10, 2010
  15. ^ ""The Magic of Harry Houdini's Staying Power" by Robert Smith, October 30, 2010". Retrieved August 2, 2011. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ Teller: Tim's Vermeer by KCRW's The Treatment
  18. ^ "Forecasts", Publishers Weekly, August 15, 2000.
  19. ^ Macknik, S.L.; King M; Randi J et al. (November 2008). "Attention and Awareness in Stage Magic: Turning Tricks into Research". Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 9 (11): 871–9. doi:10.1038/nrn2473. PMID 18949833. 
  20. ^ "Play Dead". Retrieved August 2, 2011. 
  21. ^ Chareunsy, Don (September 16, 2010). "Teller's Las Vegas-born Play Dead is headed to off-Broadway". Las Vegas Weekly. Retrieved September 27, 2010 
  22. ^ Kaufman, Joanne (January 8, 2008). "The Magician Not Only Speaks, But Chooses to Utter 'Macbeth'!". The Wall Street Journal. 
  23. ^ Shea, Andrea (2014-05-14). "The Silent Man Speaks: Teller Re-Imagines ‘The Tempest’ With Magic". (Boston: WBUR). Retrieved 2014-06-10. 
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Teller’s ‘Tim’s Vermeer’ Bought By Sony Classics". Variety. Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  26. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (July 29, 2013). "A Documentary by Teller Explores the Magic of Vermeer". The New York Times. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ "Telluride Film Review: ‘Tim’s Vermeer’". Variety. Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  29. ^ Interview with Leo Laporte

External links[edit]