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Loud and Silent

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For Penn and Teller, the combination of comedy, mind-boggling magic tricks, and the debunking of political, religious and scientific "facts" has led to a partnership that's lasted more than 35 years.

The 6-foot-7 Penn Jillette is known as the talker, while the 5-foot-10 Teller is known as the silent partner. Together, the pair has received 13 Emmy nominations for their long-running Showtime series Penn and Teller: Bullshit! and have appeared on TV shows ranging from Chelsea Lately to the Late Show With David Letterman.

Jillette said he wasn't always interested in becoming a magician, unlike Teller, who started practicing magic when he was 5.

"I really thought that art should be about the truth, and not about lies," Jillette said.

But later on, he said, illusionist James Randi taught him that "magic wasn't a lie," because when people come to see it in a theater, they are aware of the deception.

"There's some kind of a deeper truth to that," said Jillette, who will perform with Teller at the UA's Centennial Hall on Friday.

Jillette declares that the two "have the best working partnership in the history of show business." Although the relationship has always had a strong business focus, "Over the years, Teller has certainly become my best friend," Jillette said, adding that their relationship "did not start with affection. It started with respect."

Jillette and Teller, who goes by his last name only, go out together socially two to three times a year, but they work with each other about 60 hours a week, Jillette said with a laugh.

Jillette said they try to put on a magic show that isn't insulting or dumbed-down. Their aim is a respectful performance with intellectual content, he said.

"We really do all of our interaction with the audience," Jillette said. "It's kind of a one-man show run by two people."

Jillette once seemingly used a nail gun onstage to shoot nails through his hand, and has employed knives and guns in the act.

"We have to make sure, morally, that nothing we do really is dangerous," he said. "I don't think there should be a celebration of danger and death. It should be a celebration of life."

Teller rarely makes a sound onstage, instead preferring to use mime to entertain audiences.

"When I first saw Teller, when I was still in high school, he was already working silently," Jillette said. "Teller got fascinated by the idea of being able to lie without speaking, to allow people to lie to themselves."

He said Teller also quickly learned that "if he just shut up, people grew tired of heckling."

Offstage, the verbal dynamic is completely different, said Jillette, who claimed that Teller is "constantly" talking, while Jillette is "sitting in the corner reading."

Jillette described the Showtime series Penn and Teller: Bullshit! as pro-science and pro-rational. Though debunking religious beliefs was a popular topic on the series, Jillette said the two have a "huge" Christian fan base.

Jillette responded to the oft-said statement, "Just because there's no proof, that doesn't mean it didn't happen," by saying, "I think that is just crazy talk."

He offered an example: Imagine that someone has told you there is an elephant in your kitchen. If you didn't believe there was an elephant in your kitchen, it would be up to the other person to prove it to you—and if the other person was basing the statement on pure belief, Jillette said, the list of things in the kitchen could be infinite.

"You can tell me Tom Waits is in my kitchen," Jillette said. "If you're allowed to do that with no proof, there's no knowledge whatsoever."

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