Penn Jillette Talks Atlantic City When Penn & Teller Return; Robert Irvine cooks at Live! Philly
The unique Comedy Magic team Penn & Teller is the longest-running resident headlining act (as opposed to the production show) in Las Vegas history: twenty years and more. But that impressive milestone might not have been reached had it not been for what happened on the Atlantic City Boardwalk some 35 years earlier.
As 66-year-old Penn Jillette recalled on a recent phone conversation, Penn & Teller’s decades-old partnership had reached a level of success in the mid-1980s without wooing or striving for the mainstream. The former street performers had found a relatively small but rabid audience enchanted and delighted by their unique blend of cynical, shrewd humor, and often cerebral magic tricks – some of which were accompanied by torrents of fake blood and tense situations that seemed the towering, to put motor-mouthed Jillette and his much smaller, always silent partner on stage, the monomononic Philadelphia native Teller, in physical danger. It was a situation that they were perfectly happy with. But then a job offer came from a completely unexpected source: Joel Fischmannwho at the time was Director of Entertainment at the now demolished Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino.
For the most part, Fischman followed the then common practice for those running show business arcades by booking old-school comics Buddy Hackett and Alan King and pop singers like Engelbert Humperdinck and Jimmy Roselli– For example, the types of acts that attract older, well-heeled players.
“We were off-off Broadway holding ourselves – and I say this with embarrassment – we thought we were very hip and smart,” said Jillette, who is performing with his partner on December 9th at Wind Creek Bethlehem and the next two Days at the Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City. “And Joel came up to us and said, ‘I want to book you in Atlantic City.’ And we said, ‘Sorry, we would never play for gamblers and casino people in Atlantic City.’
“And he said, ‘Well, I’m going to make a deal with you: you come down and do the smartest things you can do and try to alienate the audience. And if you don’t like it after three days, you can go and I’ll pay you for the whole week ”- or whatever it was; it could have been five days. It was really a stupid offer. “
“So we went down and guess what? The crowd was exactly the same as in New York – literally the same people in some cases. That was the big punchline, the joyful discovery that we loved being down there. “
During that first gig, P&T opened for The temptations, they then returned regularly to headline the plaza. One winter, 1987 Plaza Run coincided with the shooting of their only cinematic performance to date, the ultra-black comedy Penn & Teller Get Killed, in which the legendary. Directed by Arthur Penn (Bonnie & Clyde).
Fischman followed suit in the mid-1990s Bally’s Las Vegas and, unsurprisingly, he took the team with him and introduced P&T in this town. In 2001 they moved to the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino where they stay to this day and around 40 weeks a year in the Penn & Teller Theater.
Even after taking root in the Nevada desert, P&T always made a point of returning to Atlantic City whenever their schedule permitted. They stepped at the Claridge when it was a casino (it’s now a no-gambling hotel) and more recently at Casears Atlantic City and Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City. It was at the Claridge that the team first performed their bullet catching role at AyCee, which Jillette – expecting to produce another season of the popular CW spell series Penn & Teller: Fool Us – was proudly voted the greatest stage ever by Trick her fellow magicians.