My Husband's Fabulous One-Trick Stage Career With Penn and Teller
It was a magical night. They told us how they did all the tricks except this one.
I am currently recapping episodes of the Celebrity Apprentice because I am a Clay Aiken fan, but there is only one member of the current cast that I've actually met - that brilliant, hilariously funny blowhard that Clay accused of being "condescending", Penn Jillette. One little corner of my cold, cold heart was a little sad to see Penn go this week - in the current cast, I can think of five people I'd have happily jettisoned instead - so I am offering up this anecdote in a little tribute to the huge guy with one red fingernail.
About sixteen years ago, my husband and I decided it was time to raise a family - but before we did that, we wanted to have one last round of grownup fun before settling down to diapers, two a.m. feedings, very special hugs and all the other hallmarks of child-friendly bliss. We headed off for Las Vegas, and in an effort to spend our time doing more memorable activities than gambling, we decided to take in a few shows. My husband wanted to see Penn and Teller's magic act.
What happened next is really my husband's story more than mine, so I while I am usually the family writer, I will allow him to tell his story in his own words. I... may have tinkered with the spelling and grammar a bit. I also may have added an editorial comment or two.
The Time we met Penn and Teller by Mr. Recapper's Delight
(Aw, isn't he the sweetest thing? That's... not really our name, you know.)
Back in the summer of 1997, before we had kids, we decided to go spend a week in Las Vegas. We saw the lights. We ate buffets. We gambled a little. We saw George Carlin.
(George Carlin was my idea. Penn and Teller ended up being better, and besides, Carlin didn't leave us with wonderful anecdotes.)
No need to watch Lance Burton's magic show at our casino, Penn and Teller were just down the street! As we were standing in line to get our tickets, a nice couple came up to us and offered to sell us their pair of front row seats. Their kids had come into town, and they wanted to get a group of seats together, so we got a pair of prime seats for the show. I can’t tell you why, but I am always getting picked for audience participation parts. Whether I am in the middle of the packed crowed at a new year’s improv show, or sitting arms crossed looking at the ground trying to project “don’t pick me” at the walrus show at Sea World. I get chosen far more than my fair share. Always have, probably always will.
(I think it's your beard, George.)
Lucky for me, Mrs. RCD had talked me into packing a nice suit and tie,
(I told you so! I told you so! Hey, when a guy with a beard like THAT dresses up to please his wife, he just screams "Pay attention to me!)
so I dressed up, hoping to spend some time on stage with Penn and Teller. Sure enough about halfway though the show, Penn asked me if I would help him with a card trick.
( Penn had been explaining how he did every card trick all night. We did not realize this was going to be different.)
Penn will complete the trick while Teller is holding his breath, suspended and locked in the airtight water tank of death. I walked up on stage and I was immediately disoriented. This was the first time I had been onstage for a BIG show, and the lights were so bright I couldn't see the audience. I was standing next to a giant that towered a full foot over my head.
(I actually ran into Penn at Caeser's Palace shortly before the show. I think he may be the most massive human being I have ever physically encountered in my life.)
A single fingernail on Penn's ring finger was painted red and that was distracting me, too.
Penn fanned out the deck and told me to pick a card. He gave me a marker and told me to write my name on it without showing him the card. I was so star struck that I had to write my first name in two lines on the Jack of Diamonds.
(Well, I am the family writer, and I'm also the one who had been onstage before. They do not call me up for these things. I do not have a distinctive beard.)
He then gave me the deck and told me to shuffle it. I somehow managed to do this without making a mess and dropping the cards. Lucky for me I played a lot of cards in college, and was able to shuffle the cards in the air without a table.
(Hey, he plays a mean game of pinochle.)
In the mean time Teller was becoming more agitated in the water tank as we keep going, but I didn't notice because I had this giant with one red fingernail telling me with his big booming stage voice to give him back the deck so he can find my card.
( I noticed. Teller was flailing like a fish on the line, or a celebrity in Trump's Board Room.)
He proceeded to do some fancy magician card work, and then he pulled out a card and said "Is this your card?"
"No it isn't, it is the 3 of Clubs." Teller by now was thrashing very energetically in the water tank, and I finally noticed.
(The crowd was just roaring with laughter.)
Penn told me that we'd better find the card, before Teller drowns.
(Find the card, George! I don't want to be married to the man who killed Teller!)
He asked, a little concerned, "What color was it?"
I had already forgotten; after all, I put my name on it. I stammered a bit, remembered, and said "Red!"
He counted off three cards: "R - E - D. Is this your Card?" he asked, holding up a 10 of Hearts.
"No, that isn't it" I responded.
"What suit was it?" he asked.
"Diamonds" I answered, as Teller's thrashings began to lose strength.
"D - I - A - M - O -N - D - S" he said with growing panic, counting out a card for each letter, revealing the Queen of Spades.
"No, that isn't it either!" I said.
He told me, "Quick! Take this key and unlock Teller before he dies!" The key was on a key ring with a big plastic nameplate attached that said "TELLER". I went over to the water cage where Teller was now floating limply with his back to the audience. I tried to undo the lock,
,(looking visibly agitated; the audience was just doubled over with laughter)
but the key didn't fit. Penn said "Come ON he's DYING in there!" I tried again to work the lock as Tellers body aimlessly drifts around to face the audience.
(At this point, a 300 hundred pound man who is six feet, seven inches tall is bellowing at my hapless husband with the crazy beard in front of a huge crowd of wildly entertained people.)
"Is that your Card?" Penn asked. In Teller's scuba mask was the Jack of Diamonds... with my name on it. Written sloppily on two lines.
Penn thanked me for my help and gave me the key ring to keep. After the show was over, Penn and Teller...
(who obviously wasn't dead)
...went to the exit, and shook hands and said a good word to everyone that had come to the show (several hundred). As we were exiting, Penn told me I had done a great job, and they both autographed the nameplate on Teller's key ring. One of them...
...put R.I.P. in front of his autograph, but neither was particularly legible.
(Let's just say that Penn would not have won any Celebrity Apprentice tasks based on his handwriting.)
For a long time I kept the key ring hanging from the apex of the ceiling above the fireplace, ready to tell my tale to anyone who asked why it was hanging there.
And no, I didn't have the presence of mind to take any pictures. Yes, I am an idiot. We misplaced the key ring in our last move, but I will describe it: It was a long white rectangle that had the name "Teller" engraved on it. To this day, I have no earthly idea how Teller managed to hold his breath for the full ten or so minutes they did this trick; he appeared to be under water the entire time. George found a youtube of Penn and Teller performing this trick on John Cleese, so you can get an idea of what they did.