There are entertainers out there who keep a busy touring schedule, and then there's Penn & Teller. The superstar magician duo is onstage every night most weeks, fitting in tour dates alongside the regular schedule for their residency at the Rio in Las Vegas, and Penn Jillette says it never gets old. "I love doing it," Jillette says. "I love the fact you get to do stuff over and over again, and every night try to do a little better. Even stuff that we've been doing for 30 years, you can still go out the next night and try to do a little better."
Of course, it's not as though these guys are doing your run-of-the-mill card tricks and rabbit-in-the-hat stuff. Their Vegas show includes a bit in which Jillette operates a nail gun pre-loaded with intermittently spaced blanks, building audience suspense as he points the gun at his partner and his own head. "We do magic for people who hate magic," Jillette says. "We try to do tricks that no one can figure out."
But in something like the nail-gun bit, the trick is just in what appears to be an insane level of memorization and concentration. Jillette says that although he and Teller are constantly coming up with new additions to the show, the amount of prep work can lead to certain tricks being literally years in the making. "We do really, really hard stuff," he says. "There's one trick we've been working on in Vegas so far for three years. There's a bit that went in last month that we've been working on two and a half years. But it's a perfect situation for us, because we've been working together 37 years now. We just constantly work."
Adding to their plate, the duo has also ventured off the stage and into other media. They appeared in a six-episode Discovery Channel series last fall, and Jillette says they have a new TV project in the works. But their Showtime series Penn & Teller: Bullshit! has proven most successful, ending in 2010 after eight seasons' worth of the duo debunking popular misconceptions. "After eight years, we've covered all the bullshit in the world?" Jillette asks rhetorically. "Well, no. We'd have loved to keep going." But he says stage commitments forced them to end the show in 2010, and leave behind the ultimate Bullshit! episode. "The last show would have been 'The Bullshit of Bullshit!,' where we'd trash ourselves," he says. "We'd still like to do that."
The skepticism at the heart of Bullshit! is also a key part of Jillette's personal philosophy as an outspoken atheist and libertarian. Jillette expresses especial disappointment with the state of this year's Presidential race. "We now have Obama, who's pro-every-war, and Mitt Romney, who's pro-every-war, and I would like America to not be known as the country that goes overseas and kills people," he says. "I don't think we have a justified war overseas. And killing people costs a lot of money."
Although Jillette may express his views strongly in other arenas, he says he keeps politics and religion almost entirely out of the stage show. He describes it as "the Garth Brooks rule," following the devoutly Christian singer's lead in keeping his religion out of his concerts. "What I'm gratified by is the people who say to me after the show, 'I'm a Christian and I love you guys,'" Jillette says. "And I appreciate that. It kinda makes me feel like the way the world should be, you know?" | RDW
Penn & Teller • 6/2, 9 p.m. • The Colosseum At Caesars Windsor • 377 Riverside Dr. East, Windsor • 800.991.7777 • caesarswindsor.com • CA $33.90-$73.45