Conversations with Penn & Teller, IndigO2, London


Julian Hall
Wednesday 07 December 2011 12:20 GMT

"Six seconds was all it took between horrible accident and hysterical laughing.” That was how Penn Gillette described his reaction to longtime showbusiness partner,Teller, having his feet nibbled by a Piranha.

The incident came during the filming of the duo's popular US TV series Penn & Teller: Bullshit and speaks volumes of the durability of their comedy and magic act, one clearly held together by more than their healthy disregard for pseudoscience and the paranormal.

The fishy vignette was one of a stream of stories from the duo's fleeting London visit, a career retrospective played out over three nights. Tonight’s mix of performance and chat was hosted by Jonathan Ross and was watched by some who had spent nearly £35 to pay tribute to the duo's equal number of years in the business; not a bad deal if you use that illusion.

Swapping the glitz of their Las Vegas base for a smaller scale nightclub gaudiness of the Indig02, Penn & Teller showed just enough of their wares to remind the audience why they have been able to successfully reinvent themselves, live and on screen, but the extent to which they left them wanting more was a touch beyond the usual showbiz adage.

Among the handful of tricks shown off tonight one has Teller eating a hundred embroidery needles off an apple. Teller, mild-mannered, detached and mute (at least in performance mode) performs it with the grace of a silent movie star. It was the first trick Penn saw him do, back when Teller was still a Latin teacher, and it is no wonder that after witnessing it Penn changed his previous view that a magician was “some dipshit in a hat”.

The evening absorbs perhaps more than it amuses with the pair, who meet infrequently when not performing, frank and pragmatic about their partnership, their meticulous way of working and their approach of demystifying magic.

That said their determination to rail against phonies guarantees some succinct quips. “Talking to the dead is easy, it is getting them to talk back that's the hard part”, says Penn. Teller, muses further: “If you really had that power, why would you put it on stage? You can't claim any credit for it!”

“We want credit for what we do” ran Penn's rejoinder for his partner's observation and while some in tonight's audience may have felt the proceedings lacked a certain pizazz, the tenor of their questions to the pair later on suggested this demand was met.

Til Thursday,,

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