You’ve probably never heard the voice of one of the world’s most famous magicians: Raymond Teller. Known as simply “Teller” on stage, he’s performed as the silent half of the duo Penn and Teller for more than 45 years. But why doesn’t he speak?
In an interview with Google in 2018, Teller explained that as a child, he detested most “patter.” This refers to the words or scripting that accompany a magic trick. He found it redundant to say something like “I’m holding a red ball” when the audience could simply figure that out by themselves. Said Teller, “I thought it would be interesting to drop patter, so people would have to put together what they were looking at on their own.”
Likewise, Teller explained that the most convincing lie is the one you tell yourself. Forcing the audience to put the story together in their head also, according to Teller, makes the magic more convincing.
Has Teller Always Been Silent?
While he certainly spoke on stage in his very early career, by the time he met Penn in 1974, Teller was already performing silently. Ironically, in Teller’s own words, he finds it far more compelling to communicate via action and music than words.
Does Penn Also Remain Silent?
No. Penn is, in fact, quite boisterous, and their on-stage characters are the result of years of intentional decision-making. As Teller says, most magic is bad theatre. But Penn and Teller do what most duos fall short of–they establish two totally different characters on stage. Penn is tall, loud, and boisterous. Offstage, Penn is shamelessly vocal about his beliefs, like his steadfast atheism. Meanwhile, Teller is shorter (he wears shoes with special platforms just to be taller on stage next to Penn), silent, and mischievous. While most magic duos blur together, Penn and Teller are clearly different, which helps the audience remember who they are.
Is it Helpful to Be Silent On Stage?
Any magician who has performed with another magician can tell you that it’s a logistical nightmare. It’s hard enough to navigate a magician and an audience member–having two people with a microphone can be catastrophic. Teller’s silence, while not strictly necessary, makes it easier for the audience to follow what’s going on.
What Are Teller’s Famous Silent Magic Tricks?
While Penn and Teller have introduced well over 100 tricks into the magic cannon, Teller is known for two silent routines: Silverfish and Shadows. Both are performed silently, without any musical accompaniment. Teller even achieved one of the only successful lawsuits in magic history, protecting Shadows from a copycat magician.
Can Teller Talk in Real Life?
Yes, and he does so quite liberally. For example, Penn and Teller do meet and greets after every show, and he drops the veneer once he’s off stage. Additionally, you can find numerous interviews on youtube and podcasts where Teller speaks. His silence is a theatrical technique, nothing more. You can see (or, more accurately, hear) him speak in this video.
Are There Other Silent Magicians?
There are plenty of magicians who perform silent acts to music. But no one besides Teller has had the discipline to remain silent on stage for nearly half a century. It helps, of course, that Teller has Penn to do the talking–he doesn’t need to come up with a lifetime of silent acts. Still, Teller stands out as a totally unique figure in magic. At this point, anyone trying to remain silent without a clear sense of character and intentionality would be accused of blatant copying.