Penn & Teller

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Penn & Teller
Penn Jillette (left) and Teller (right) in 2012
Penn Fraser Jillette

(1955-03-05) March 5, 1955 (age 68)
Raymond Joseph Teller[1]
(1948-02-14) February 14, 1948 (age 76)
Occupation(s)Magicians, entertainers
Years active1975–present
Known forMagic, comedy, skepticism Edit this at Wikidata

Penn & Teller, Penn Jillette and Teller, are American magicians, entertainers, and scientific skeptics who have performed together since the late 1970s. They are noted for their ongoing act that combines elements of comedy with magic.

The duo has been featured in numerous stage and television shows such as Penn & Teller: Fool Us and currently perform in Las Vegas at The Rio, the longest-running headliners to play at the same hotel in Las Vegas history.[2] Penn Jillette serves as the act's orator and raconteur. Teller generally does not speak while performing, and instead communicates through mime and nonverbals, though his voice can occasionally be heard during their live shows and television appearances. Besides magic, the pair has become associated with the advocacy of scientific skepticism and libertarianism, particularly through their television show Penn & Teller: Bullshit!


Penn and Teller were introduced to each other by Wier Chrisemer,[3] and they performed their first show together at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival on August 19, 1975.[4] From the late 1970s through 1981, Penn, Teller, and Chrisemer performed as a trio called "The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society", which played in Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theater, and in San Francisco, California, at the Phoenix Theater.[5] Chrisemer helped to develop some bits that continued, most notably Teller's "Shadows" trick, which involves a single red rose.[6] The group disbanded in 1981 after Chrisemer quit show business, leaving Penn Jillette and Teller to work as a pair on a show called "Mrs. Lonsberry's Seance of Horror".[5]

Penn & Teller in 1988, at the 40th Emmy Awards

By 1985, Penn & Teller were receiving positive reviews for their Off Broadway show and Emmy Award–winning PBS special Penn & Teller Go Public.[7] In 1987, they began the first of three Broadway runs.[8] The same year, they appeared as three-card Monte scam artists in the music video for "It's Tricky" by Run-DMC. Through the late 1980s and early 1990s, the duo made numerous television appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and Saturday Night Live, as well as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Today, and others.

Penn & Teller had national tours throughout the 1990s, gaining critical praise. They have also made television guest appearances on Babylon 5[9] (as the comedy team Rebo and Zooty), The Drew Carey Show, a few episodes of Hollywood Squares from 1998 until 2004, ABC's Muppets Tonight, FOX's The Bernie Mac Show, an episode of the game show Fear Factor on NBC, NBC's The West Wing, in a two-part episode of the final season of ABC's Home Improvement in 1998, four episodes during season 1 of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch in 1996, NBC's Las Vegas, and Fox's The Simpsons episodes "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder" and "The Great Simpsina" and the Futurama film Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder in 2009. They appeared in the music video for Katy Perry's 2009 single "Waking Up in Vegas", in which they are thrown out of a hotel room by Perry.

Penn and Teller made an appearance on Bill Nye the Science Guy season 2, episode 7 - "Light Optics".[10]

From 2003 to 2010, their Showtime television show Bullshit! took a skeptical look at psychics, religion, the pseudoscientific, conspiracy theories, and the paranormal. It has featured critical segments on gun control, astrology, Feng Shui, environmental issues, PETA, weight loss, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the war on drugs.

The pair have written several books about magic, including Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks For Dear Friends, Penn & Teller's How to Play with Your Food, and Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic. Since 2001, Penn & Teller have performed in Las Vegas at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino.[11]

Penn Jillette hosted a weekday one-hour talk show on Infinity Broadcasting's Free FM radio network from January 3, 2006, to March 2, 2007, with cohost Michael Goudeau.[12][13] He also hosted the game show Identity, which debuted on December 18, 2006, on NBC.

Their television series Penn & Teller Tell a Lie premiered on the Discovery Channel on October 5, 2011.

Since 2010, Penn & Teller have hosted Penn & Teller: Fool Us, originally on ITV, moving to The CW in 2015.

Penn & Teller credit magician and skeptical activist James Randi for their own careers. During an interview at TAM! 2012, Penn stated that Randi's book Flim-Flam! was an early influence on him, and said that "If not for Randi there would not be Penn & Teller as we are today."[14]

In early 2022, Penn and Teller competed in season seven of The Masked Singer as “Hydra” of Team Bad. Because of Hydra's three-legged design and large size, the costume had to be assembled back stage while "Hydra" had to be wheeled out on a special platform to get it to and from the stage.[15] Penn operated the left side of "Hydra" while Teller operated its right side. They were eliminated on the week of April 6 where it was shown that Teller used a puppet of a rabbit in a hat to "operate" the central head of "Hydra". Teller was given most of the singing due to how rarely people hear his voice and the possibility of people recognizing Penn's voice. Nicole Byer, who was the guest panelist of the night, successfully guessed the duo to be underneath the "Hydra" masks.

Off-stage relationship[edit]

Jillette stated in a video where he and Teller responded to questions from members of Reddit, and also in a video interview for Big Think, that while he and Teller share few interests outside magic, Teller is his best friend, and his children treat Teller as a close relative. He stated that while most entertainment partnerships such as Martin and Lewis and Lennon–McCartney were based on a deep affection for each other that lends to a certain volatility when things go wrong, their business relationship and friendship is based on a respect for each other.[16][17] Teller has made similar statements. In an NPR interview, Teller said their disagreements often lead to better artistic decisions because they bring out new ideas and expand the range of discussion.[18]


Penn & Teller at a ceremony to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in April 2013.

On April 5, 2013, Penn & Teller were honored with the 2,494th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for their achievement in the category of Live Performance. Their star is a few steps away from the star of Harry Houdini and down the street from The Magic Castle.[19][20][21] However, they were refused membership of The Magic Circle due to their tendencies to reveal how magic tricks are done during performances.[22]

The duo received a Writers Guild of America Award for Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. They have been nominated for 11 Emmy Awards winning one, in 1985, for Penn & Teller Go Public. In 2017, Penn & Teller: Fool Us was nominated for a Critic's Choice Award.[citation needed]

In 2003, Penn & Teller received the Emperor Has No Clothes Award, which celebrates "plain speaking" on the shortcomings of religion by public figures. In 2005, they were awarded the Richard Dawkins Award, an award given to people who raised public consciousness of atheism in the previous year. They are also recipients of a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award.[citation needed]

In 2014, they were nominated for a BAFTA Award for their documentary Tim's Vermeer.[citation needed]

For their contributions to the West End production Magic Goes Wrong with Mischief Theatre, they were nominated for a 2020 Olivier Award.[citation needed]


Penn & Teller material varies from light-hearted gags such as graphic tricks and clever pranks to tackling issues through political satire and by exposing frauds. Many of their past effects relied heavily on shock appeal and fantasy violence, although presented in a humorous manner. Some of their more daring tricks included Teller hanging upside-down over a bed of spikes in a straitjacket, Teller submerged in a glass tank of water, and Teller being run over by an 18-wheel tractor-trailer. Penn & Teller will often present tricks that they initially appear to have botched, in the "trick gone wrong" vein.[citation needed]

Sometimes, the pair will claim to reveal a secret of how a magic trick is done, but those tricks are usually invented by the duo for the sole purpose of "exposing" the method to the audience, and therefore designed with more spectacular and theatrical methods than would be practical in a "conventional" magic trick. For example, during their NBC Off the Deep End special, an escape act was performed where Teller was placed into a wooden box that was then put into shark-infested waters. The live audience believed Teller to be inside, but the television audience was shown that Teller escaped the box through a trapdoor in the bottom before it was placed in the water. He continued to read a magazine and eat a snack while awaiting his cue. Often a trick will be presented as if to explain it to the audience, only for a more elaborate version to be performed. In a segment of Bullshit!, Penn & Teller demonstrate the illusion of sawing a woman in half, only for the saw to fall and "accidentally" cut the woman in half again.[citation needed]

Penn & Teller perform their own adaptation of the famous bullet catch illusion. Each simultaneously fires a gun at the other through small panes of glass and then "catches" the other's bullet in his mouth. They also have an assortment of card tricks in their repertoire, virtually all of them involving the force of the Three of Clubs on an unsuspecting audience member as this card is easy for viewers to identify on television cameras.[23]

The duo will sometimes perform tricks that discuss the intellectual underpinnings of magic. One of their routines, titled "Magician vs. Juggler," features Teller performing card tricks while Penn juggles and delivers a monologue on the difference between the two: jugglers start as socially aware children who go outside and learn juggling with other children; magicians are misfits who stay in the house and teach themselves magic tricks out of spite. In "King of Animal Traps", Penn narrates a story of his childhood fascination with various kinds of mechanical traps as Teller, representing Penn's younger self, sets and then triggers each of the traps in progressively more (seemingly) dangerous ways.[citation needed]

In one of their most politically charged tricks, they make an American flag seem to disappear by wrapping it in a copy of the United States Bill of Rights, and apparently setting the flag on fire, so that "the flag is gone but the Bill of Rights remains". The routine may also feature the "Chinese bill of rights", presented as a transparent piece of acetate. They normally end the trick by restoring the unscathed flag to its starting place on the flagpole; however, on a TV guest appearance on The West Wing, this final part was omitted.[24] The methods of the trick were revealed by the duo in an episode of Fool Us.

One trick[25] involves a powered nail gun with a quantity of missing nails from the series of nails in its magazine. Penn begins by firing several apparently real nails into a board in front of him. He then proceeds to fire the nail gun into the palm of his hand several times, while suffering no injuries. His pattern builds as he oscillates between firing blanks into his hand and firing nails into the board, and fires one blank into Teller's crotch. Near the end of the trick, he says that it is a trick and that he and Teller believe that it is morally wrong to do things on stage that are really dangerous—it makes the audience complicit in unnecessary human risk.[26]

A trick introduced in 2010 is a modern version of the bag escape, replacing the traditional sack with a black trash bag apparently filled with helium. Teller is placed in the bag which is then pumped full of helium and sealed by an audience member. For the escape, the audience is blinded by a bright light for a second and when they are able to see again, Teller has escaped from the bag and Penn is holding it, still full of helium, above his head, before releasing it to float to the ceiling. The duo had hoped to put the trick in their mini-tour in London; however, it was first shown to the public in their Las Vegas show on August 18, 2010. In June 2011, Penn & Teller performed this trick for the first time in the United Kingdom on their ITV show Fool Us.[27]

In one of their TV appearances on The Tonight Show, they performed a trick that involved all members of the audience. Each person received four cards which were torn apart and "mixed" so as to have two out of the eight halves selected in a process that seems random, as each person has freedom of moves throughout the process. Yet in the end, everyone ends up with two halves of the same card. Some mathematicians made a deep analysis of the trick and generalized it so it would work with any number of initial cards, using mathematical induction; their complete analysis was published in the Journal of Magic Research.[28]

Politics and personal lives[edit]

On Bullshit!, the duo described their social and political views as libertarian. In addition to disbelief in the paranormal and pseudoscience, Penn & Teller also take a view of doubtfulness to government authority.[29] In various episodes of their show, they have heavily criticized both the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as taken stances against circumcision and gun control, and in support of ideas such as freedom to eat fast food, private property, and lower taxes. Penn & Teller were both H. L. Mencken research fellows with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank and research organization.[30][31] Penn disavowed libertarianism in 2020 and is no longer affiliated with the Cato Institute.[32]

Penn & Teller have shown support for the Brights movement[33][better source needed] and are now listed on the movement's website under the Enthusiastic Brights section.[34]

They have described themselves as teetotalers. Their book, Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic, explains that they avoid alcohol, drugs, and caffeine, although they do smoke cigarettes in some videos.[citation needed]


Year Title Role Notes
1986 My Chauffeur Bone & Abdul
1987 Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends Themselves Direct-to-video
1989 Penn & Teller Get Killed
1991 The Eyes Scream: A History of the Residents[35]
1994 Car 54, Where Are You? Luther and Luther Cameo appearance
1999 Fantasia 2000 Themselves Presenting The Sorcerer's Apprentice segment
2005 The Aristocrats Penn also co-directed the film
2013 Tim's Vermeer Directed by Teller, Produced by Penn
2014 An Honest Liar
2016 Director's Cut Herbert Blount and Rudy Nelson


Year Title Role Notes
1985 Miami Vice: The Prodigal Son Penn's character was Jimmy Borges
1987 Miami Vice: Like a Hurricane Teller's character was Ralph Fisher
1985 Penn & Teller Go Public Themselves Filmed at and first aired on KCET Los Angeles[36]
1985–86 Saturday Night Live 7 Episodes
1987 Invisible Thread Also known as Penn & Teller's Invisible Thread
1989 Exploring Psychic Powers... Live "Healed" a fake blister on Teller's thumb
1990 The Magic of David Copperfield XII: The Niagara Falls Challenge Guest appearance during the illusion "Camera Trick"
Don't Try This at Home![37]
1991 Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Presented one of the clues for where the villain had gone.[38]
1992 Behind the Scenes 10 Episodes
1993 Live from AT&T Bell Labs[39] Aired only to American Schools via satellite
1994 The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller Channel 4
1995 Phobophilia[40]
The World's Greatest Magic II Performed the "Bullet Catch" illusion for the show finale.
1995, 1997 The Drew Carey Show Archibald Fenn & Geller 2 Episodes: "Drew Meets Lawyers" and "See Drew Run"
1995–2008 The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Themselves 4 Episodes: 14 November 1995, 27 November 1998, 13 May 2004, 25 November 2008
1996 Space Ghost Coast to Coast Episode: "$20.01"
1996, 1997 Sabrina, the Teenage Witch Drell & Skippy Episodes: "Pilot", "Terrible Things", "Jenny's Non-Dream", "First Kiss"
1997 Friends Salesmen Episode: "The One With The 'Cuffs"
Muppets Tonight Themselves Episode: "The Gary Cahuenga Episode"
Penn & Teller's Home Invasion[41] ABC Special
1997–2003 Late Night with Conan O'Brien 3 Episodes: 16 October 1997, 7 June 2000, & 23 January 2003
1998 Dharma and Greg Vincent & Mr Boots (Uncredited) Episode: "The Cat's Out of the Bag"
1998 Babylon 5 Rebo & Zooty Episode: "Day of the Dead"
1998–99 Penn & Teller's Sin City Spectacular Themselves 24 Episodes
1998, 2000 The Daily Show with Jon Stewart 2 Episodes: 13 August 1998, 5 June 2000
Hollywood Squares 60 Episodes
1999 Home Improvement Episode: "Knee Deep"
1999, 2011 The Simpsons 2 Episodes: "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder", "The Great Simpsina"
2002 ¡Mucha Lucha! "The Return of El Maléfico"
Grand Illusions: The Story of Magic Discovery Channel documentary (6 episodes)
Fear Factor Episode: "Celebrity Fear Factor 3"
2003 Las Vegas Episode: "Luck Be a Lady"
Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour Three-part mini-series
The Bernie Mac Show Episode: "Magic Jordan"
2003–10 Penn & Teller: Bullshit! 89 Episodes
2004 The West Wing Episode: "In The Room"
2004–10 Last Call with Carson Daly 6 Episodes: 13 July 2004, 16 November 2005, 5 April 2007, 16 June 2008, 5 April 2010, 5 May 2010
2005 Penn & Teller: Off the Deep End Made for NBC, shown November 13, 2005
Listen Up Episode: "Last Vegas"
2007, 2008 Late Show with David Letterman 2 Episodes: #15.32, #15.113
2008 Numb3rs Episode: "S5E6"
2009 Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder
The Great American Road Trip Guests
2010 Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman They taught one of the show's contestants, Rubye, to perform magic tricks
Hell's Kitchen Episode: "9 Chefs Compete Part 1"
2011 Cash Cab Guest contestants playing for charity
Penn & Teller: Tell a Lie 6 Episodes, Discovery Channel
2011–present Penn & Teller: Fool Us 70 Episodes, ITV1 (Season 1) and The CW (Seasons 2+)
2012 The Apprentice Penn competed and Teller appears for support
2013 Celebrity Apprentice
2014 Wizard Wars Main judges in all of the 12 episodes to date, SyFy
Blue Peter[42] Guests
2015 Whose Line Is It Anyway? Season 11 Episode 10
StarTalk Season 2 Episode 4
2016, 2018 Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Season 15 Episode 27 and Season 16 Episode 104 and 105
2018 The Grand Tour Season 2, Episode 9
2018 Deception "Pilot"[43] Cameo appearance
2019 Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? Themselves Episode: "The Cursed Cabinet of Professor Madds Markson!"
2021 Earth To Ned Episode: “Alien vs. Nedator”
Hell's Kitchen Guest. Episode: "Young Guns Going Big"
2022 The Masked Singer Hydra
2022 Young Sheldon Pimple & Pus Episode: "A Clogged Pore, a Little Spanish and the Future"
2022 The G Word Themselves Episode #3: "Money"


Penn & Teller:

  • Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic (1997, ISBN 1-57297-293-9)
  • Penn & Teller's How to Play with Your Food (1992, ISBN 0-679-74311-1)
  • Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends (1989, ISBN 0-394-75351-8)

Penn without Teller:

  • Sock (2004, ISBN 0-312-32805-2)
  • How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker: The Wisdom of Dickie Richard (2006, ISBN 0-312-34905-X; Co-author: Mickey D. Lynn)
  • God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales (2011, ISBN 1451610378)
  • Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!: More Magical Tales from the Author of God, No! (2012, ISBN 1469276887)
  • Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales (2016, ISBN 1501140183)

Teller without Penn:

  • When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours: Joe Teller—A Portrait by His Kid (2000, ISBN 0-922233-22-5)

Other media[edit]


  • "Penn & Teller Present: Music to Look at Boxes By" (With Mike "Jonesy" Jones)
  • "It's Tricky" by Run–D.M.C. (Penn & Teller shown throughout the video and at the end appear to take over the persona of Run–D.M.C.)
  • "Something to Believe In" by The Ramones (Penn & Teller are seen supporting the fictitious "Hands Across Your Face" charity)
  • "Waking up in Vegas" by Katy Perry (Penn & Teller are kicked out of their hotel room by Perry and her boyfriend.)
  • "This Time I've Got It" by The Great Tomsoni & Co. (Penn & Teller in lab coats, Penn playing bass guitar)
  • "Donna Everywhere" by Too Much Joy (Teller directed the video which features the band spending their entire budget as the video plays out. Teller features as a security guard and Penn as the band's representative)

Video games[edit]

The 1995 video game Penn & Teller's Smoke and Mirrors featured a mini-game called Desert Bus in which the player drove a bus route between Tucson and Las Vegas. Once reaching the destination, the player gets one point and, if desired, can then drive the return route. The game was considered by some to be long and boring yet found a cult audience.[44] The entire set of games was actually more of a collection of tricks and pranks, rather than games meant to be actually good to play.[45] Both in-game and in interviews Penn states that Desert Bus was a reaction to the controversy of violent video-games going on at the time.[46] In essence making fun of this controversy, by creating a simulator "stupefyingly like reality".[45]

The game has since been used in an annual charity event called "Desert Bus for Hope" run by the Canadian internet comedy troupe LoadingReadyRun. The fundraiser involves members of LoadingReadyRun (and occasional guests) playing the game and streaming that live online, while interviewing celebrities via Skype and accepting challenges for the audience, with all proceeds being donated to Child's Play. On November 14, 2011, an iOS port of Desert Bus was created and released in the iTunes Store. The game was developed in conjunction with the Desert Bus For Hope event and all profits from the game are donated to charity.[47]


  • "Penn & Teller: New(kd) Las Vegas 3D" was a 2012 Halloween Horror Nights maze collaborated at Universal Orlando. It featured a backstory of Las Vegas being destroyed by Penn & Teller's latest magic trick involving a nuclear warhead gone wrong.[48]



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  3. ^ Collins, Glenn (1988-12-04). "Up to New Tricks". The New York Times.
  4. ^ @pennjillette (August 20, 2011). "36 years ago today, Teller and I did our first show together at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. Had done a few shows together before that" (Tweet). Retrieved 2013-08-31 – via Twitter.
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  13. ^ "Penn & Teller website". Archived from the original on 2006-03-17. Retrieved 2006-03-27.
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  17. ^ Penn Jillette (June 13, 2011). "Penn Jillette: Penn and Teller Are Not Lovers". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
  18. ^ "For Penn & Teller's Magical Partnership, the Trick is Telling the Truth". NPR.
  19. ^ "Magicians Penn & Teller get star on Hollywood Walk of Fame". Retrieved April 6, 2013.
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  26. ^ Penn Says: Nail Gun Trick
  27. ^ Twitter / MrTeller: Helium went in tonight. It
  28. ^ Teixeira, Ricardo (September 8, 2020). "Mathematical Explanation and Generalization of Penn and Teller's Love Ritual Magic Trick". Journal of Magic Research. 8: 21–32.
  29. ^ Shermer, Michael (May 22, 2009). "Michael Shermer - Science, Skepticism and Libertarianism". Point of Inquiry. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  30. ^ "Cato Institute fellow's page: Penn Jillette". Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  31. ^ "Cato Institute fellow's page: Teller". Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  32. ^ "'You have one job, Joe'". Retrieved 2023-02-01.
  33. ^ "The Brights' Net – Enthusiastic Brights (Page 2)". Retrieved 2013-01-10.
  34. ^ "The Brights' Net - Enthusiastic Brights (Page 2)".
  35. ^ "The Eyes Scream: A History of The Residents | BAMPFA". 22 December 2014.
  36. ^ "New Honor For Penn, Teller". Los Angeles Times. 15 May 1986. Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  37. ^ "Don't Try This at Home! (TV Movie 1990) - IMDb". IMDb.
  38. ^ "WitWi Carmen Sandiego? (1991) | PILOT #1: The Purloined Pooch | Jerrylynn vs. Prashant vs. Mike". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12.
  39. ^ AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ (1993). "AT&T Archives: Live from AT&T Bell Labs (1993)". AT&T. AT&T Tech Channel. Retrieved 30 April 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  40. ^ "Phobophilia: The Love of Fear (1995) - IMDb". IMDb.
  41. ^ "Home Invasion (TV Movie 1997) - IMDb". IMDb.
  42. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Penn and Teller Magic Trick on Blue Peter - CBBC". YouTube.
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  44. ^ "Penn Jillette Discusses Unreleased Sega CD Game". Archived from the original on 2021-11-08. Retrieved 2012-10-13.
  45. ^ a b "Desert Bus (Sega CD) - Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN)" – via
  46. ^ "Comic-Con 2010: Penn & Teller discuss their videogame 'Desert Bus'" – via
  47. ^ "Desert Bus". App Store. 15 November 2015. Retrieved 2020-11-19. Originally conceived by Penn, Teller, and Eddie Gorodetsky, this game was made in support of the annual Desert Bus for Hope charity fundraiser for Child's Play, hosted by the crew from LoadingReadyRun.
  48. ^ Brigante, Ricky (August 3, 2012). "'Penn and Teller New(kd) Las Vegas' 3D haunted house revealed for Halloween Horror Nights 2012 at Universal Orlando". Inside the Magic.

External links[edit]