Teller’s House


Amongst my personal heroes, for a vast number of reasons , are the brilliant duo of Penn and Teller. There is very little that they have ever done, as a team or individually, that I did not find to be fascinating and wonderful (if you have never seen The Aristocrats, do yourself a favor and see it, but don’t drink anything while you watch it if you value your sinuses. Trust me.).

I was quite amazed to find out that Teller actually has a house. Just seems odd. However, you will be happy to know it sounds very much like the sort of house he SHOULD have.

The following story is reposted from USA Today (god help me)

At home: Teller’s magical Vegas retreat speaks volumes


By Marco R. della Cava, USA TODAY

LAS VEGAS — Drive up to Teller’s compound on the outskirts of town, and you’re immediately greeted by the sound of his voice over the gate intercom.

Which is, of course, surreal.

The one-name magician — he legally changed it ages ago — has been known for three decades as the non-speaking half of Penn & Teller, whose inventive magi-comedy act is rolling into its sixth year at the Rio Hotel and Casino here.

But the mute shtick is just that, a brilliant Harpo Marx-like foil to Penn Jillette’s booming Groucho. Catch Teller at his homestead, however, and behold a chatty, erudite prankster who lives in his own personal romper room.

“Like much of my life, this house is a reflection of everything I wanted back when I was 12,” says Teller, 59. “I love this house because it’s honest. If you see a floor that looks like concrete, that’s because it is concrete. But, ah, on the other hand, nothing is what it seems.”

Did we mention the house has multiple mirrors, hidden doors, screaming tables and one talking bear sculpture who plays card tricks on visitors? Like the man said, it’s a 12-year-old’s dream. Zoom back. A decade ago, Teller spotted a 10-acre rocky outcropping with great views of the Vegas Strip and the mountains and decided this was his Xanadu. What rose on the spot is a squared-off fortress with an exterior of corrugated steel that’s interrupted by expanses of windows.

Inside, the structure is more maze than living space, 4,500 square feet of books, memorabilia, DVDs, as well as a coffin and the odd preserved human skull — macabre touches shared by Teller’s show-mate, Penn, who lives a mile away in his own eclectic mansion.

Teller’s house tour starts in the kitchen, which, like most of the house, is more functional than glamorous. Whimsy rules. Near the dual waffle iron is a plastic red sculpture of a man; he’s pierced by five sharp paring knives.

In the small dining room next door is a bookshelf crammed with Simpsons figurines, not far from a chest-high rendition of Homer Simpson that dances and sings.

The room’s table is even more offbeat. Crafted in glass and steel, it boasts a metallic skeleton at its center. If guests come, just crank on the lever. But be prepared for the accompanying screams as you distend the skeleton on its medieval rack, or, in reverse, the moans.

Teller demonstrates with all the decorum of a kid on Halloween.

“Pretty cool, huh?” he says.

But Teller can quickly turn serious. On the wall is a telling keepsake: an elegantly framed receipt for a cab ride given to comedian Buster Keaton in 1942.

“It says ‘Drunk,’ ” says Teller. “Keaton’s life went downhill fast after he joined a big movie studio operation. The lesson is simple. Never give up your independence.”

And then he’s off. Next stop is an outdoor patio that stars a life-size metal bear. As a guest approaches, the bear growls profuse personalized greetings.

“Smart bear,” says Teller, arching an eyebrow. What’s more, he gave name to the house: The Bear Bones.

Back inside, Teller slips past a pint-sized media room, whose flat-screen television is almost bigger than the couch, and into the library.

Here, industrial lighting that usually does duty on docks is used to illuminate the book spines that line all four walls. There’s no place to sit. Among the many paintings on the walls are some done by his late father. The two busts on display are of his mother and father. There’s also a black raven made from rags, another Joe Teller handiwork.

Teller points to a painting of him done by an artist named Georgia Maher. In it, he looks old and run-down. “It’s my own Dorian Gray portrait,” Teller explains. “Every year, I have Georgia come here and update the painting, and make me look just a little bit worse.”

Before you can ask anything else about this intriguing work, Teller leans a hand against one of hundreds of books on magic and … suddenly the entire bookshelf opens up into his private office.

“Got to have a secret bookcase that opens,” he says.

The office is crammed with papers, a computer and a vibraphone (which he plays on stage). A table and four chairs sit in his “Houdini corner.” Among the memorabilia here are a set of hand restraints and a black cross owned by the late legend, as well as a brick from the hospital where he died. Teller’s prized possession, however, is a letter from Houdini to his brother written after their mother died.

Teller eyes a deck of cards. “Pick it up,” he asks. “Shuffle it, cut it at a card, look at it, then walk over to the bear with it.” Done.

“Hellooooo,” says the bear. “Your card was the nine of spades … no, of clubs.” Correct.

Teller offers a “don’t look at me” shrug and walks off.

“This way,” he says, and heads down a corridor crammed with DVDs, magic tricks and more books.

And then there’s the huge black coffin. He opens the big box. Inside lies a skeleton. “For my 55th birthday I was kidnapped, stuffed in this coffin and taken to a Chinese restaurant,” says Teller. “I actually called my mother from inside it.”

Teller points to the end of the corridor. A window looks out on a range of mountains splashed by the sun. “Before you leave, walk down there and have a look,” he says.

But when obliged, his unwitting subject barely manages to avoid crashing headlong into a … full-length mirror. The door with the window is an illusion, a reflection.

Teller just smiles. It’s the unmistakable grin of a 12-year-old.


1 Comment

  1. Somehow? It seems to fit.

    I had an opportunity one day to be listening to a public radio station when they said they were going to be interviewing Teller on the air. I was glued to the spot for the next two hours. He is intelligent (expected), erudite (also expected), very soft-spoken (anticipated), and very, very funny. I was quite enthralled.

    Also–I’m so very sorry. But…oh, you might hurt me for this. Blame Miss London Spengler. But you’ve been tagged.

    *slinks off*

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