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From Las Vegas to "Celebrity Apprentice," there's just no stopping Penn Jillette

From Las Vegas to "Celebrity Apprentice," there's just no stopping Penn Jillette

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Most men in their late 50s start to slow down a little bit. But -- then again -- most men aren't Penn Jillette.

Best known as the taller, louder half of that eccentric pair of performers (who -- now through September -- will regularly be presenting their acclaimed magic act in the appropriately named Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas), Jillette has been a very busy guy these past few months.

How so? Well, just in the past year, this 57 year-old has:

  • starred in "Penn & Teller: Fool Us," a popular British television program where magicians from around the world tried to come with new stage illusions that would then bamboozle this team of tricksters.


Copyright Simon & Shuster. All right reserved

  • written "God, No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales."  Which wound up on the New York Times Best Seller list last Summer.

And speaking of NYC ... For the past five weeks, Jillette -- along with comedienne Lisa Lampanelli, pop idol Clay Aiken, late night legend Arsenio Hall and other well-known figures from the worlds of entertainment, sports and reality television -- has been competing against one another on NBC's "The Celebrity Apprentice 5." As these performers attempt to raise money for their favorite charities (Penn's is Las Vegas' Opportunity Village) while also vying for Donald Trump's final approval.

As he does in all aspects of his life, Penn has thrown himself wholeheartedly into every challenge on "Celebrity Apprentice 5." Doing everything that he can to help Unanimous (i.e. Jillette's team on this reality  show) win each week. Up to and including stuffing himself into the trunk of a Buick Verano, just he could then demonstrate how roomy this 2012 car was.


Copyright 2012 NBC / Universal. All rights reserved

How exactly does a performer learn to be this confident, this motivated? It didn't come from Penn's upbringing. This 6 foot, 6.5 inch individual actually came from a non-show business family. More to the point, Jillette grew up far away from the lights of Broadway, Hollywood and Las Vegas Strip. Spending much of his formative years in Greenfield, Massachusetts -- a relatively rural town in the western part of that state.

"So how did Penn going from living out in farm country to becoming one of the best-known magicians of this age?," you ask. By watching television. More importantly, by realizing that he didn't like certain types of performers which Jillette saw on the boob tube. People like the Amazing Kreskin, who would go on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and then pretend that stage magic was some sort of a mystical art. Rather than the long-practiced, well-craft illusion that it actually was.

It was this desire to see truthful magic presented out there onstage, the sorts of illusions that James Randi practiced, that eventually led Jillette to form a long lasting performing partnership with Teller. Who shared Penn's enthusiasm for removing all of the hokum when it came to hocus pocus.

2012 marks the 38th year that these two have performed together. To what do Penn & Teller attribute their longevity as a team? To be blunt, Jillette has often stated that it's because he and Teller aren't really close friends. That while these two have always enjoy working  with each other, Penn & Teller also maintain separate lives & separate interests outside of the times when they're out onstage together.

So while Penn is off trying to trip the light fantastic by appearing on the 2008 edition of "Dancing with the Stars" and/or co-producing "The Aristocrats" (which is this 2005 documentary when a virtual Who's Who of comedy performs the world's dirtiest joke), Teller is in NYC happily developing "Play Dead," a 2010 off-Broadway production which then paid tribute to the old spook shows of the 1930s & 1940s.

 
Kym Johnson and Penn Jillette in the 2008 edition of
"Dancing with the Stars." Copyright American
Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved

But in the end, all of these outside projects get set aside when it once again becomes time for Penn & Teller to reunite onstage at the Rio. Where -- for the past 11 years -- this team has been wowing the crowds in Las Vegas with their sometimes-gross-but-always amusing antics.

There's no getting around the fact that these two are not your typical performers. But what ultimately matters here is that Penn & Teller work. Which is they've been an audience favorite not only in Las Vegas but around the globe for 38 years now. There's just no stopping these guys.

 

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