127 East 23rd St. at Lexington Ave.
Thursday, November 12, $99, 7:00
The magical duo of Penn Jillette and the single-named Teller have been together now for thirty-five years, unleashing their unique brand of comedy and prestidigitation on audiences around the world through live appearances, books, television, film, and the web. For the last seven years, Penn & Teller have been taking on controversial topics on their very funny Showtime series, BULLSHIT, examining such subjects as orgasms, the apocalypse, alien abduction, alternative medicine, anger management, circumcision, creationism, world peace, and even suburban lawns. In addition, Penn rants every Monday on crackle.com, where he recently discussed gay porn grammar and people who have the nerve to tell others to get a life.
It’s been quite a life for Penn & Teller, who will be celebrating their thirty-five years together on November 12 at the Gramercy Theatre in a benefit for the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation, in a special evening moderated by Coney Island fixture Todd Robbins that will feature an intimate discussion, an audience Q&A, a free commemorative poster, some classic P&T bits, and a silent auction. The foundation awards grants in the arts and education to lesser-known community-oriented institutions in conjunction with the VH1 Save the Music Foundation; this year’s honoree isPS/MS 161, the Don Pedro Albizu Campos School on West 133rd St. Graham, the innovative, legendary music promoter and proud immigrant who worked with such seminal figures as Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Jimi Hendrix, died in a helicopter crashin 1991 at the age of sixty. The benefit will be Penn & Teller’s first ticketed performance in New York City in nine years – and yes, Teller will actually speak. The dynamic duo – the hulking, verbose Penn and the small, silent Teller – recently looked back at their career, Bill Graham, and more in an exclusive e-mail twi-ny talk.
What do you remember most about Bill Graham? What do you think his legacy is?
Penn & Teller: Mr. Graham presented our show at the Warfield in San Francisco in the late 1980s. We only worked with him once, but we were thrilled. We played that stage that I had seen so many wonderful Bill Graham shows on when Teller and I lived in San Francisco doing our own show in another theater from 1979 to 1981, when we were just starting out. One night during the Warfield run Bill brought Neil Young to see us. We sat backstage, in the dressing room, and Bill told me about arguing with Hendrix about lighting the guitar on fire. Bill thought he should do more real music and Jimi thought the burning guitar was a crowd pleaser.
He was a producer who was very concerned about the art. Yeah, he wanted to make money, but he also wanted to do beautiful, important shows, and he did. He helped invent the big full rock show. He made things smarter while still being fun. I was honored to be in his theater that night (and it was amazing to meet Neil, and I credit Mr. Graham with that too).
twi-ny: PENN & TELLER: BULLSHIT has been a huge success on Showtime. Have there been any topics that the network has rejected, or do you have complete freedom?
P&T: Showtime has been great on what they've allowed us to cover – I mean, I am pretty sure they are the first network to green light a show whose title is an obscenity. There is not much they back away from.
twi-ny: After all this time, why has Teller chosen this event to finally speak in public?
P&T: Teller actually speaks in public all the time, but you’re just not at the grocery store when he is ordering bologna at the deli counter. He does these other lectures on the science and wonder of magic where he speaks the entire hour and a half, but those are generally for private groups or out of the country. We did this thirty-fifth anniversary Q&A for the first time in L.A. last summer and it seemed to go well, so we thought we'd take it to N.Y. as a way of celebrating twenty-five years since we opened Off-Broadway. This is the first time he’s speaking onstage in New York .