Teller (magician)

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Teller 2012.jpg
Teller in July 2012
Raymond Joseph Teller

(1948-02-14) February 14, 1948 (age 73)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Alma materAmherst College
Years active1974–present
  • Joseph Teller (father)
  • Irene B. Derrickson (mother)

Teller (born Raymond Joseph Teller; February 14, 1948) is an American magician, illusionist, writer, actor, painter, and film director. He is half of the comedy magic duo Penn & Teller, along with Penn Jillette, where he usually does not speak during performances. Teller is (as is Jillette) an H.L. Mencken Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.[1]

Early life[edit]

Teller was born Raymond Joseph Teller[2][3] in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,[4] the son of Irene B. (née Derrickson) and Israel Max "Joseph" Teller (1913–2004).[5][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 Delaware farming family. They 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 graduated from Philadelphia's Central High School in 1965, and in 1969 graduated from Amherst College with a Bachelor of Arts in Classics. He became a high-school Latin teacher.[10]

Teller legally changed[when?] his birth name of "Raymond Joseph Teller" to the mononym "Teller".[11][12]

Teller and his show business partner Penn Jillette do not drink or use drugs. Teller did drink alcohol in his early 20s but stopped and later said, "It made me stupid and careless and I disliked that. It also ruined my sleep. I'm just scared of drugs. Messing with your brain seems really dangerous."[13] Teller taught Greek and Latin at Lawrence High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.[14][15][16] In 2001 he was inducted into the Central High School Hall of Fame.



Teller began performing with his friend Weir Chrisemer as The Othmar Schoeck Memorial Society for the Preservation of Unusual and Disgusting Music. He met Penn Jillette in 1974, and, with Chrisemer, they became a three-person act called Asparagus Valley Cultural Society, which started at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival and subsequently played in San Francisco. In 1981, Jillette and Teller 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 one dedicated to Harry Houdini.[17] The following day they were recognized by the Magic Castle with the Magicians of the Year award.[17]


Teller almost never speaks while performing. There are exceptions, such as 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.[18] He found that if he maintained silence throughout his act, spectators refrained from throwing beer and heckling him and paid more attention to his performance.[19]

Other exceptions to his silent act include instances where his face is covered or obscured, as when he spoke while covered with a plastic sheet in the series premiere of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!,[20] and when he was interviewed in shadow for the 2010 History Channel documentary, Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery,[21] while Teller spoke at length in an NPR story on Houdini in 2010.[22] He was also interviewed, with his mouth obscured in shadow, in the Nova ScienceNow episode "How Does the Brain Work?" (He appears to say "Science!" in a falsetto voice in Penn and Teller's appearance in the "Light Optics" episode of the television show Bill Nye the Science Guy, but it was actually spoken by Penn, using a ventriloquist technique combined with the movement of Teller's mouth.) Teller also spoke in his 1987 guest appearance in "Like a Hurricane," a fourth-season episode on NBC's Miami Vice,[citation needed] and had speaking parts in the movies Penn & Teller Get Killed (in the final scene), Long Gone and The Aristocrats. He voiced an animated version of himself in two episodes of The Simpsons ("Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder" and "The Great Simpsina"); a series of cloned store clerks in "Zoey's Zoo"; an episode of Oh Yeah! Cartoons; and as Octum in the English version of the 1988 animated feature Light Years (original French title: Gandahar). Teller speaks at length about magic performance and sleight-of-hand in the documentary Penn & Teller's Magic and Mystery Tour. He has been shown screaming and swearing in the "Anger Management" episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. He has 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 was interviewed on a BBC Radio 4 programme about magicians' assistants called "Box Jumpers", presented by Debbie McGee, broadcast in March 2004.[23]

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 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.0 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. Teller spoke at length during an interview on the Charlie Rose television program on January 27, 2014. During their performance in the series premiere of Penn & Teller: Fool Us, Penn is rambling on and Teller yells out his name, Teller can then be heard telling Penn to "shut up". Also, during their performance on the season 1 finale, he tells Penn that he is okay after breathing helium and while he is in a trash bag. In another episode, he says "Fuck, no!". Another instance of Teller speaking is in series 7 episode 4, where Penn and Teller teach the French Drop technique. Teller uses a megaphone to correct Penn's pronunciation of his French words.

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. He also spoke about Tim's Vermeer, the feature documentary he directed, on KCRW's The Treatment.[24]

Teller plays himself, with voice, in Showtime's Dice season 2, episode 4.[25] He also appeared in the season 11 finale of CBS's The Big Bang Theory as Amy's father. Throughout the show, he is prevented from speaking by his wife, played by Kathy Bates. Once Penny shuts her down, however, Teller tells her (albeit in a whisper) "Thank you." In the first and eighth episodes of season 12, he participates in dialogues normally.

Teller also guest stars as himself in an episode of Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? in which he maintains his traditional silent act (and even performs magic tricks) throughout the episode, then surprises the other characters by speaking in the final scene.


Teller collaborated with Jillette on three magic books, and 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 100 unpublished cartoons which were strongly influenced by George Lichty's Grin and Bear It. The book was favorably reviewed by Publishers Weekly. Teller's father's "wryly observed scenes of Philadelphia street life" were created in 1939. 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.[6]

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).[26]

In 2010, Teller wrote Play Dead,[27] 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.[28]


In 2008, Teller and Aaron Posner co-directed a version of Macbeth which incorporated stage magic techniques in the scenes with the Three Witches.[29] 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."[30] In 2018, Teller and Posner co-conceived and directed a brand new production of Macbeth at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Chicago, Illinois.[31]

Teller directed a feature film documentary, Tim's Vermeer, which was released in 2014.[32][33][34][35][36] He and Jillette served as executive producers, with distribution by Sony Pictures Classics.[37]


  • Jillette, Penn; Teller (1989). Penn and Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends. New York: Villard. ISBN 0-394-75351-8.
  • Jillette, Penn; Teller (1992). Penn and Teller's How to Play with Your Food. New York: Villard. ISBN 0-679-74311-1.
  • Jillette, Penn; Teller (1997). Penn and Teller's How to Play in Traffic. New York: Berkley Trade. ISBN 1-57297-293-9.
  • Teller; Teller, Joe (2000). "When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours!": Joe Teller – A Portrait by His Kid. New York: Blast Books. ISBN 0-922233-22-5.
  • Teller; Karr, Todd; Abbott, David P. (2005). House of Mystery: The Magic Science of David P. Abbott. Marina del Rey, California: Miracle Factory. Retrieved April 4, 2013.

Film and television[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1986 My Chauffeur Abdul
1987 Miami Vice Ralph Fisher Season 4 episode 8: "Like a Hurricane"
1987 Long Gone Hale Buchman Jr.
1989 Penn & Teller Get Killed Self
1995 The Fantasticks Mortimer
The Drew Carey Show Geller Season 1 episode 6: "Drew Meets Lawyers"
Season 2 episode 17: "See Drew Run"
1997 Sabrina the Teenage Witch Skippy Season 1 episode 1: "Pilot"
Season 1 episode 13: "Jenny's Non-Dream"
1998 Dharma & Greg Mr. Boots Season 1 episode 20: "The Cat's Out of the Bag"
Babylon 5 Zooty Season 5 episode 8: "Day of the Dead"
The Simpsons Self Season 11 episode 6: "Hello Gutter, Hello Fadder"
Season 22 episode 18: "The Great Simpsina"
2000 Fantasia 2000
2003–2010 Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
2004 The West Wing Season 6 episode 8: "In the Room"
Penn & Teller: Fool Us
2012 Atlas Shrugged: Part II Laughlin
2016 Director's Cut Rudy Nelson
2018 The Big Bang Theory Larry Fowler 3 episodes

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ "Penn and Teller". The Advocates. Archived from the original on December 21, 2013. Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  3. ^ "Teller". Retrieved October 20, 2014.
  4. ^ 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".
  5. ^ "Obituaries: Newspaper and Funeral Home Obituaries and Death Notices from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand".
  6. ^ a b "Forecasts", Publishers Weekly, August 15, 2000.
  7. ^ "'The Exorcist' at the Geffen: No green vomit, but plenty of evil – The Ticket". Jewish Journal. June 27, 2012.
  8. ^ "Joseph Teller, artist, father of magician". philly-archives.
  9. ^ "Hollywood Now: The Monuments Men, Teller Directs, Jason B".
  10. ^ Lahey, Jessica. "Education Is Performance Art". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  11. ^ della Cava, Marco R. (November 16, 2007). "At home: Teller's magical Vegas retreat speaks volumes". USA Today. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  12. ^ "Penn & Teller: Rogue Magician Is EXPOSING Our Secrets!!!". April 12, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2012.
  13. ^ "Teller Speaks!". March 6, 2008 – via
  14. ^ Talks at Google (August 4, 2015), Penn & Teller on Broadway | Talks At Google, retrieved August 12, 2018
  15. ^ "Reparations". Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. Season 4. Episode 7. May 15, 2006. Showtime (TV network).
  16. ^ Lahey, Jessica (January 21, 2016). "Teaching: Just Like Performing Magic". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 24, 2016. Teller taught high school Latin for six years before he left to pursue a career in magic with Penn...
  17. ^ a b "Magicians Penn & Teller Get Star on Walk of Fame". CBS Los Angeles. April 5, 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2013.
  18. ^ Elber, Lynn (April 25, 2007). "'Silent' Teller to magically make 'Macbeth' a 'horror thriller'". Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved May 21, 2007.
  19. ^ "For Penn & Teller's Magical Partnership, The Trick Is Telling The Truth". National Public Radio. August 1, 2015. Retrieved August 1, 2015.
  20. ^ Penn & Teller: Bullshit!; "Talking to the Dead"; Episode 1.1; January 23, 2003
  21. ^ Houdini: Unlocking the Mystery, History Channel, October 31, 2005
  22. ^ Smith, Robert (October 30, 2010). "The Magic of Harry Houdini's Staying Power". NPR. Retrieved August 2, 2011.
  23. ^ "0195 - MagicWeek UK Magic News".
  24. ^ Teller (December 11, 2013). "Teller: Tim's Vermeer". The Treatment (Interview). Interviewed by Elvis Mitchell. KCRW.
  25. ^ "DICE - Season 2 Episode 4". Showtime.
  26. ^ 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. S2CID 1826552.
  27. ^ "Play Dead". Retrieved August 2, 2011.
  28. ^ Chareunsy, Don (September 16, 2010). "Teller's Las Vegas-born Play Dead is headed to off-Broadway". Las Vegas Weekly. Retrieved September 27, 2010.
  29. ^ Kaufman, Joanne (January 8, 2008). "The Magician Not Only Speaks, But Chooses to Utter 'Macbeth'!". The Wall Street Journal. New York. Retrieved July 23, 2015.
  30. ^ Shea, Andrea (May 14, 2014). "The Silent Man Speaks: Teller Re-Imagines 'The Tempest' With Magic". Boston: WBUR. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
  31. ^ "Teller and Aaron Posner to Create New Macbeth for Chicago Shakespeare Theater". Retrieved November 2, 2018.
  32. ^ "Sony Pictures Classics Unlocks Tim's Vermeer -". July 29, 2013.
  33. ^ "Teller's 'Tim's Vermeer' Bought By Sony Classics". Variety. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
  34. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (July 29, 2013). "A Documentary by Teller Explores the Magic of Vermeer". The New York Times.
  35. ^ "Sony Pictures Classics picks up "Tim's Vermeer"".
  36. ^ "Telluride Film Review: 'Tim's Vermeer'". Variety. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
  37. ^ "Triangulation 118".

External links[edit]