Penn & Teller Didn't Boycott Us Friday, but They Do Continue to Speak Truth to Power

courtesy of Mesa Arts Center
Penn Jillette and Teller

Penn Jillette and his professional partner, Teller, are two extremely busy guys. (Full disclosure: I worked for their entertainment lawyer in Manhattan a long time ago.)

However boho and edgy they may have once considered themselves, they've been performing their irreverent, scary, funny, audience-friendly comedy and illusions five nights a week, 9 o'clock sharp, in their own theater at Las Vegas' Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino, since 2001. (That's west of the Strip and farther west, past the highway, off Flamingo Road, where you can't just stumble over it.) And that, dear readers, is a regular job.

They fill their time off with such activities as Teller directing Macbeth at the Folger in DC, turnaround tours, and TV projects like Showtime's acclaimed Penn & Teller: Bullshit! series -- on which, by the way, while debunking dozens of myths and frauds, the team has expressed their love of liberty and immigrants and their hatred of assholes, unsubstantiated claims, safety hysteria, ulterior political and financial motives, and encroachment of government on the private lives of its citizens. Oh, and they're atheists, too.

So why were they in Mesa Friday night, May 7?

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As I Jackaloped along last week, P&T weren't able to fit me into their schedule for a phone interview, which is certainly understandable considering the short notice and the fact that they'd already virtually sold out Mesa Arts Center's 1588-seat Ikeda Theater. But had we had the chance to speak, I definitely would have asked them about Arizona's current weird political notoriety and whether they'd considered calling off the show as part of the growing boycott of Arizona events and businesses.

It's one thing to find a new venue for, say, a July conference, and quite another to pull out of an upcoming show for which P&T's company would have had to take a financial hit for theater rental, the operating expenses of their show and its large support team, nonrefundable plane tickets, and refunds of all those paid admissions, which topped out at $72 per. But it would have delivered a message to those 1500 regular people immediately and unequivocally.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's (and actor Danny Glover's!) advice notwithstanding, some out-of-state agencies and other groups (as well as unsung individuals both here and elsewhere) aren't betting on the success of legal challenges to SB1070 before they start turning the financial screws on our state government, often at personal cost, which is what we incur for standing up in unity. On the other hand, the message of Penn & Teller's show couldn't be much more important to us spiritually or politically, in this season of increasing actual and metaphorical heat.

They love the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights and what those documents allow them to do on stage, and they support the protection and free exercise of our rights even when it makes issues as confusing as hell: "Sometimes we're telling you the truth as we see it from the bottoms of our hearts," Jillette mused in a relatively quiet moment, "and sometimes we're lying, cheating swindlers," but "there's nothing a totalitarian government hates more than ambiguity." He advised us to practice the same skepticism he does and let some mysteries be: "It is not your responsibility to explain our tricks to other people."

The show was awesome, of course, and it just flew by. (If I missed any remarks more topical or Arizona-centric in the first few minutes, please post your recollections below, because I was hauling my walker down three flights of stairs after raiding my parking-meter change for the first paid parking I've encountered at MAC in many, many visits, because I had, like an idiot, chosen to make my car payment that day.)

This is a world-class, four-house venue that draws audience from all over the Valley, but apparently when there's a rare municipal festival they hand their lot and garage over to professional mercenaries who don't care what your ultimate destination is. And hey, I'm sure they need the money. But I sure could have used the cascades of coins that Teller began producing shortly after I took my seat. (Although parking attendants don't like coins -- have you noticed that?)

I did wait around afterward to see whether anyone would start a candlelight march to Russell Pearce's home -- he must have one around there somewhere, since Mesa Arts Center is smack in the middle of District 18, which Pearce represents, though I doubt he's in it since the AZ Legislature's adjourned -- but no luck.

If you're traveling, but not to Las Vegas, in the next few months -- or leaving Arizona forever -- here are some upcoming Penn & Teller appearances:

  • May 21: Spirit Mountain Casino, Portland, OR area

  • June 11: River Rock Casino ,Vancouver, BC

  • July 14-18: Hammersmith Apollo (London, England).

  • Nov 9: Paramount Theater, Austin TX (35 Years of BS&Magic lecture/Q&A)

  • Dec 10-12: Paramount Theater, Seattle, WA

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