AKA Raymond Joseph Teller
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA
Race or Ethnicity: White
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: The nonspeaking half of Penn and Teller
He was born Raymond Joseph Teller, but even when he was teaching high school, he asked students to call him Teller, never Mr. Teller. He has legally changed his name to just plain Teller, and holds a US passport issued without listing a first name.
He is the silent half of Penn and Teller, and the most famous professional mute since Harpo Marx. He began performing illusions of magic when he was five, after sending for a magic kit he had seen advertised on Howdy Doody. Magic was his hobby all through high school and college, but then he settled down with what seemed to be a responsible career as a high school teacher.
At the age of 27 Teller taught his last class, quitting to perform illusions on street corners, at renaissance fairs, and anywhere else there was a little money to be made. He gradually stopped speaking on stage when he noticed that the less he spoke, the more the audience seemed to pay attention.
Early in his career, Teller teamed with a musician, Wier Chrisemer, billing themselves as The Ottmar Scheckt Society for the Preservation of Weird and Disgusting Music. Teller and Penn met in 1975, and the act became a trio renamed the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society. Chrisemer played the synthesizer, Teller performed illusions, and Penn juggled, but their schtick had no outrageous edge because Chrisemer was devoutly Christian, the son of a Lutheran minister, and vetoed anything too risqué. Not surprisingly, Penn and Teller became a duo, the better to shock, offend, and entertain.
Penn & Teller first caught national attention in 1985, with a special on PBS. They appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1986, and debuted on Broadway in 1987. When they first appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, the host told them during a commercial break to surprise him with something, anything, on their next appearance -- the wilder the better. It was Teller's idea to bring hundreds of cockroaches and release them on Letterman's desk.
In their act, Teller usually has the more difficult assignment. He wears a straightjacket, hangs upside-down over a bed of nails, is run over by an 18-wheel truck, has knives driven through his hands, is immersed in an enormous water tank, and swings over bear traps on a trapeze. On their series Bullshit!, they have debunked psychics, paranormal frauds, cults, mainstream religion, and the war on drugs. Penn, of course, does virtually all the talking.
When working as an actor, Teller sometimes speaks. He spoke on an episode of Dharma & Greg, and shouted "Yes!" when a competitor fell while filming an episode of Fear Factor. Teller also spoke but did not sing in the movie musical The Fantasticks, and he had several lines of dialogue in their 1989 movie, Penn & Teller Get Killed.
Father: Joseph Teller, Jr. (hobo/poet, d. 23-Jul-2004 heart failure)
Mother: Irene B. Derrickson (painter, b. 22-May-1908, d. 29-Sep-2004)
High School: Central High School, Philadelphia, PA
University: Amherst College (1969)
Teacher: Lawrence High School, Lawrenceville, NJ
Russian Ancestry Paternal
Jewish Ancestry Paternal
Penn & Teller: Bullshit! Silent Co-Host (2003-)
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder (23-Feb-2009) · Himself
Flow: For Love of Water (20-Jan-2008) · Himself
The Aristocrats (Jan-2005) · Himself
The Fantasticks (22-Sep-2000)
Fantasia 2000 (17-Dec-1999) · Himself
Car 54, Where Are You? (28-Jan-1994)
Penn & Teller Get Killed (14-Sep-1989)
Long Gone (23-May-1987)
My Chauffeur (24-Jan-1986) · Abdul
Author of books:
Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends (1989, magic, with Penn Jillette)
Penn & Teller's How to Play with Your Food (1992, magic, with Penn Jillette)
Penn & Teller's How to Play in Traffic (1997, magic, with Penn Jillette)
When I'm Dead All This Will Be Yours (2000, biography of Joe Teller)
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