“Penn & Teller Tell a Lie” is magic duo’s latest TV trick

By Stacey Harrison

Master magicians Penn & Teller just spent eight seasons debunking crazy conspiracy theories and misconceptions on their hit show Bull@#$%. Now, the duo is ready to do some lying of their own.

In Penn & Teller Tell a Lie — which debuts at 10 tonight on Discovery Channel — viewers will be treated to a collection of science-based, Ripley’s Believe It or Not-type stories, one of which will be untrue. Or, as the laconic Teller (who speaks freely during interviews, but rarely on camera) puts it, “It’s unbelievable truths, and one believable lie.”

Can you believe, for instance, that it’s possible to use bacon as a blowtorch? Or that you could hang a Mustang by using only human hair? If you like those, just wait till you hear the one about the restaurant that serves helium-filled desserts that float.

The stories are presented in Penn & Teller’s signature aggressively comic style — which Penn says will be illustrated by “smashing a lot of glass and blowing s@#% up” — all in the name of championing what they believe is a healthy sense of doubt for the viewer.

“The idea of skepticism and critical thinking is the [basis of the] formation of Penn & Teller,” Penn says. “The idea of doing magic without insulting people, the idea of discussing truth while lying is an obsession of ours. … It’s kind of like the next step from [our previous show] Bull@#$%, which was to pick a subject and rip it apart. This is saying you do that work on your own.”

Their method of spreading skepticism has included revealing the secrets behind the tricks they perform, a move which has infuriated many of their fellow magicians in the past. But it fits in perfectly with how they see magic, and how they view life.

“Critical thinking is really, really fun,” Penn says. “It’s really nice to share the real universe with other people. I think it’s the reason human beings are alive, is for knowledge. It’s certainly not a goal of our show or our career, it’s our reason for living. … The quest for knowledge is fundamental. It’s as fundamental as love, beauty and truth.”

Photo: © Discovery Communications. Credit: Rahoul Ghose