Other articles by John C. Sherwood

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Penn & Teller:
An Interview with Teller

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Until someone shoots down the claim, what follows appears to have been the first interview that Teller -- the "smaller, quieter half" of Penn & Teller -- gave to a magazine distributed among professional stage magicians. The interview was published in 1993 and, because the magazine ceased publication shortly afterward, I'm pleased to make it available again to a more general audience via the Internet.

The interview was the result of a happy circumstance -- a bond of kindness between Teller and the late Robert Lund, curator of the American Museum of Magic of Marshall, Michigan, and a similar link of friendship between Bob Lund and myself. The Lunds had moved to my hometown of Marshall to live and set up their museum, and our friendship grew from the time of their arrival in the 1970s (I was stupendously fortunate to have my mentors seemingly delivered to my doorstep). ptframe

Teller had come to Marshall in early October 1993 to conduct some research at the museum -- a convenient stop, as he was scheduled to perform with Penn Jillette at nearby Kalamazoo. I was a reporter and editor for the newspaper in nearby Battle Creek. Teller didn't mind speaking to the press to help publicize the Penn & Teller show, so he agreed to speak with me -- and when he learned that I wanted to make the interview do double duty for an article for the stage conjuror's magazine The New Tops, he did not object. At the time, neither Penn nor Teller appeared to move much in the circles of the established magical fraternity, so it was rare for them to be featured in a magical publication with an article that had their complete cooperation. Teller's quick assurance that my proposal was OK came as an exciting surprise.

Bob set up the appointment, and my son Nathan and I met with Teller for about 90 minutes at the Marshall inn where Teller was staying. He was more than cordial and, although tired and recovering from a headache, he did not appear rushed. Indeed, he seemed all too happy to relax and talk. After establishing that I was a magical performer with a sound background in the history of conjuring performances, Teller lapsed easily into mutual "magic talk" and didn't mind telling stories on himself. In short, I was impressed by his humanity and approachability -- factors I was later to find applied just as much to Penn Jillette.

The subsequent newspaper article -- "Speaking up about magic: Teller isn't mum about museum" -- was published in the Oct. 14, 1993, edition of the Battle Creek Enquirer of Battle Creek, Michigan, and featured a front-page, above-the-fold photograph of Teller with Bob Lund, looking over the David Abbott apparatus described in the article that follows. By my arrangement, the same photo was used on the front cover of The New Tops for November 1993, published by Abbott's Magic Co. of Colon, Michigan, to accompany the article that at the time was intended solely for magicians. As the article included no detailed revelations or magical secrets, I've recognized that it can be posted on the Web without any concern among those who make their living performing magic.

There was no interview session with Penn prior to the publication of the newspaper article, but, after the Kalamazoo performance, Penn expressed interest in the piece and took a copy to pass on to Teller. Another copy of the article was autographed by both performers -- and subsequently signed by both Bob and Elaine Lund. Bob's remark was, "Someday, your great-grandchildren will be able to sell this thing for, oh, maybe fifty dollars." That multiple-autographed front page was framed -- and subsequently autographed twice more at different Penn & Teller performances. On viewing the framed article in 1997, Penn's grinning exclamation was a simple and direct "Cool!" And, more than three years later, after signing it again, Penn put his arm around this fan/journalist and remarked, "You can grab my a-- any time you want" -- but I suspect it's an offer he extends fairly frequently. At the third signing session, Teller remarked that he remembered the interview well -- a fact that I can only ascribe to the vivid, pleasant memories he must hold of the Lunds and their astonishing museum.

It was that third event -- which occurred almost eight years after the interview -- that prompted the idea of posting the original piece on the Web for others to scan and, perhaps, profit by. Apparently Teller agrees, for the "Teller Speaks" area of the official Penn & Teller Web site provides a link to this page (an honor indeed!). Now, several years have passed, and that has made it possible -- and necessary -- to add a few additional observations where pertinent. These are enclosed in brackets.

Regarding errata: As originally printed, the Tops article included several errors -- typographical and stylistic, including a glaring one of identity in the final paragraph -- that have been corrected here. Also, the original Tops article referred to my then-impression that Teller never spoke during any performance by Penn & Teller. Televised performances -- including the duo's 2001 Pizza Hut commercials -- rarely, if ever, hint at the notion that Teller talks. But anyone who has seen the duo perform live gets a general sense that Teller indeed *does* speak and even sing -- although his words usually are muffled, inaudible, obscured or performed in a disoriented fashion -- such as in the guise of other characters in the act (although Teller has denied that he provides the voice for Mofo, the duo's psychic decapitated gorilla). And yet, Teller recently has given radio interviews -- most recently in his hometown of Philadelphia. In general, however, Teller still is regarded as the "silent" half of the Penn & Teller team, and it's notable when he "says" something; the duo's own Web site has an area labeled "Teller Speaks."

Introductory notes by John C. Sherwood, February 2001

By John C. Sherwood
(originally published in The New Tops, November 1993)

"Teller will talk to you," Bob Lund had said. And he even told me where to find him.

I went there. And I found him, emerging from his rental car and heading towards its trunk to pull out some stuff.

"I'm sorry I took so long," Teller said. "I stopped along the way to pick up some Bufferin."

It took a little getting used to. Not the Bufferin thing ... the fact that Teller was talking.

When he's onstage with Penn Jillette, the silent half of the famous "bad boys of magic" never speaks [see note above]. OK -- you knew that. You probably know a lot about them, even though they don't talk much to people who write for magic magazines. To them, most magicians are pretty uncool. Call them a two-man Monty Python, the anarchistic, nihilistic antithesis to classical magic. Or call them anything else. They probably don't care.

At left: Teller and John Sherwood, October 1997

In advance of a mid-October performance in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Teller flew to Michigan (by plane, fool) a few days early to visit the American Museum of Magic in Marshall. He wanted to hobnob with the folks who own the place, Bob and Elaine Lund, and to do some research for an article he planned for The New Yorker.

Teller, who is 45 [in 1993, that is -- Teller turned 53 on Feb. 14, 2001] and speaks like the gentle East Coast academic he used to be (and probably still is), got to know the Lunds a couple of years ago and has been a frequent visitor to Marshall ever since. Naturally, he got to talking about the museum -- and about the Lunds.

"What attracts me to this place is that it's run by a person," Teller said. "A real person. Bob and Elaine are real Americans. They have this incredible independence. They work like crazy and have this great sense of humor.

"So few people today have anything they love that is really theirs," he said. "Everybody is somebody's minion. Bob and Elaine have this incredible museum, and their chief fascination is with magicians that you've never heard of."

That's why he was there. Eventually, the magazine piece probably will become part of a book, Teller said. Tentatively called "No Bunnies: The Dark Side of Magic," the book will show how the magic business has come to change the personal lives of its performers.

"The wonder of the Lund place," Teller said, "is that he has rare and extremely human things about magicians -- the real world of show business." One of these performers was Delbert Hill, who disguised himself as "the world's only lady fire eater" during the 1940s -- after he went AWOL from the military. "Bob Lund has Delbert Hill's entire life in a box!" Teller exclaimed, clenching his fists in excitement.

Bob also had some other stuff that excited Teller the moment the so-called silent one walked into the museum. ...

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