Teller Biography

(Magician and Illusionist Best Known as One-Half of the Comedy Magic Duo ‘Penn & Teller’)

Birthday: February 14, 1948 (Aquarius)

Born In: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Teller, born Raymond Joseph Teller, is a multitalented American personality who has thrived in etching his name in showbiz as a magician, actor, director, writer and painter and is perhaps best known as the non-speaking half of the famous American comedy magic duo Penn & Teller. Teller formed the illusionist duo Penn & Teller along with Penn Jillette in 1975 and over the years they have earned repute as distinguished magicians, entertainers, and scientific skeptics with their remarkable performances that include elements of both comedy and magic. While Penn serves as orator and raconteur of the act, Teller normally refrains from speaking during performances, and instead communicates through mime and nonverbal expressions. Teller has featured in several stage and television shows including in Penn & Teller: Fool Us and Penn & Teller: Bullshit!; and co-wrote three magic books with Penn. The two are presently headlining at the Rio hotel and casino in Las Vegas where they are performing since 2001, emerging as the longest running headliners to entertain at the same hotel in the history of Las Vegas. Teller is a H. L. Mencken research fellow at the Cato Institute as Penn. They are also staunch atheists and advocates for scientific skepticism and libertarianism. Other endeavours of Teller includes authoring the book When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours!: Joe Teller – A Portrait by His Kid; directing the feature film documentary, Tim's Vermeer; and co-directing a version of Macbeth and a version of The Tempest.

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Quick Facts

Also Known As: Raymond Joseph Teller

Age: 74 Years, 74 Year Old Males

Family:

father: Joseph Teller

mother: Irene B. Derrickson

Born Country: United States

Magicians American Men

Height: 1.75 m

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

More Facts

education: Central High School (1965), Amherst College

Childhood & Early Life

Teller was born as Raymond Joseph Teller on February 14, 1948, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US, to Israel Max "Joseph" Teller and Irene B. (née Derrickson) Teller. His father was of Russian-Jewish descent who was born in Brooklyn, New York, and raised in Philadelphia. His mother was of British Isles ancestry and hailed from a farming family from Delaware. His parents got introduced to each other while both were attending art school at Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial. Irene was a Methodist and Teller was brought up as "a sort of half-assed Methodist".

Teller attended Central High School in Philadelphia and completed his graduation from there in 1965. He then obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Classics from Amherst College in 1969. He joined Lawrence High School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, and taught Greek and Latin for some time. His name was included in the Central High School Hall of Fame in 2001.

He legally changed his birth name to the mononym Teller. His driving license reads NFN Teller with NFN meaning No First Name.

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Career

Teller started performing at the Othmar Schoeck Memorial Society for the Preservation of Unusual and Disgusting Music, an Amherst College student organization, with his friend Weir Chrisemer. He got introduced to Penn Jillette through Weir in 1974 and the three formed a three-person act called Asparagus Valley Cultural Society and gave their first performance at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival on August 19, 1975. The trio then went on to stage their show from the late 1970s through 1981, performing at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia and at the Phoenix Theater in San Francisco. Weir left the entertainment industry following which the trio disbanded in 1981. Weir helped in developing some of the bits that are still performed by Penn and Teller, most notably the Shadows trick of Teller.

Penn and Teller started performing as a duo in 1981 and by 1985, they started garnering positive reviews for the PBS special, Penn & Teller Go Public that went on to win an Emmy award in 1985. Teller usually refrains from speaking during performances. This trademark silence of Teller is attributed to one of his live performances that he garnered as a youth, when he sustained himself by performing magic at college fraternity parties. He noticed that if he maintained silence during his performance then the audience paid more attention to his performance instead of disturbing or throwing beer at him.

Penn & Teller featured on several television shows like Saturday Night Live (1985-86), Behind the Scenes (1992), The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (1995-2008), and Late Night with Conan O'Brien (1997-2003). Their weekly American television variety show Penn & Teller's Sin City Spectacular that aired on FX Networks from August 10, 1998 to June 30, 1999, earned an Emmy award nomination for Outstanding Music and Lyrics in 1999. Penn and Teller also starred as themselves in films like the 1989 black comedy Penn & Teller Get Killed and the 2014 biographical feature film documentary An Honest Liar. Meanwhile, during the 1990s Penn and Teller gained critical acclaim touring and performing across the US.

Teller co-authored three magic books with Penn namely Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends (1989), Penn & Teller's How to Play with Your Food (1992) and Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic (1997).

He authored the biography/memoir of his father "When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours!": Joe Teller – A Portrait by His Kid (2000) that includes paintings made by his father as well as hundred unpublished cartoons which drew strong influence from cartoon style of George Lichty's famous former daily comic panel Grin and Bear It. The book received favourable reviews from Publishers Weekly.

Since 2001, Penn & Teller perform at the Rio hotel and casino in Las Vegas and over the years, it has established itself as one of the permanent shows that are staged at the venue.

The duo credit distinguished Canadian-American stage magician, scientific skeptic and author James Randi for their own careers. Through their American documentary television series Penn & Teller: Bullshit! that aired on Showtime from 2003 to 2010, the duo advocated for scientific scepticism, expressed their social and political views as libertarian, and took a sceptical approach at psychics, the pseudoscientific, religion conspiracy theories, and the paranormal. Social issues and subjects like the War on Drugs, gun control, organic food, animal rights, astrology, Feng Shui, the Americans with Disabilities Act and environmentalism were also covered on several segments of the show. It went on to earn 21 awards nominations including 13 Primetime Emmy Awards nominations, and won two awards, one from the Writers Guild of America and another from the Independent Investigations Group.

Teller and Aaron Posner co-directed a version of Macbeth (2008) and a version of The Tempest (2014), both of which incorporated techniques of stage magic. The two later went on to conceive and direct a production of Macbeth in 2018 that was staged at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in Chicago, Illinois.

Teller co-authored the paper titled Attention and Awareness in Stage Magic: Turning Tricks into Research that was published in November 2008 in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience. He co-wrote the Off-Broadway show Play Dead with magician Todd Robbins. The show was first staged at The Calypso Room in Las Vegas at the Rio from September 12 to 24 in 2010 before being opened for previews on October 21 that year and premiered at The Players Theatre in New York City on November 10 same year.


Teller and Penn co-created and starred in the six-part series Penn & Teller Tell a Lie (2011). They also co-created and judge the magic competition television show Penn & Teller: Fool Us since January 2011.

Penn & Teller was honoured with the 2,494th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the live performance category on April 5, 2013. Their star is near the star of Harry Houdini. The next day Magic Castle honoured the duo with the Magicians of the Year award.

Teller directed the documentary film Tim's Vermeer that was written by him and Penn and produced by Penn and Farley Ziegler. It premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 5, 2013, and had a limited theatrical release in the US on January 31, 2014.

Both Teller and Penn are H.L. Mencken research fellows at the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C. headquartered American libertarian think tank. Penn and Teller have also self-identified themselves as Brights that is members of the Brights movement and their names presently finds place in the Enthusiastic Brights section of the movement's website. The duo received a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in 2000-01, the Emperor Has No Clothes Award from Freedom From Religion Foundation in 2003 and the Richard Dawkins Award in 2005 for raising public consciousness of atheism.

Personal Life

Although Teller and Penn maintain extremely different lifestyles, share few interests besides magic, and hardly socialize or interact while not working, they have mutual respect for each other as business partners and enjoy working together. Penn called Teller his best friend and mentioned that Teller is treated as a close relative by his children. Teller also mentioned in an NPR interview that his disagreements with Penn most of the time paves way for better artistic decisions.

Teller is a teetotaller as is his business partner Penn. The two mentioned in the book Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic that they refrain from taking alcohol, caffeine and drugs, however smoke cigarettes in some videos.

Teller underwent three back surgeries within a span of 18 months during 2018-19. He also had an open heart surgery in early October 2022.

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