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Penn & Teller hit 21 at the Rio, and so do we

Penn & Teller have surpassed 21 years at the Rio. This gives the duo, who have headlined a Vegas hotel-casino, the chance to invoke cards and blackjack into the celebration. They did that backstage this month with a cake decorated with an ace and jack of spades.

Hitting 21 is more than a stroke of luck, of course. Penn & Teller have become the deans of “ampersand acts” in Las Vegas, presenting a hit production dating to their opening at Bally’s in 1993.

Seizing that 21 number, and their return to the stage just after their 21st anniversary on Jan. 5, we offer 21 Facts o’ Fun about Penn & Teller:

21: They spent six years working the Celebrity Room at Bally’s (1993-‘98) and then two years at the Hollywood Theater at the MGM Grand (1999-2000) before opening at the Rio in January 2001.

20: The first Las Vegas shows the duo ever attended were Dean Martin at the Celebrity Room, and “Jubilee,” also at Bally’s. Of Martin, Jillette said, “He destroyed us. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen.” Teller said of “Jubilee,” nearly a decade ago, “What I love about that show is, you plunk down your admission price and you sit back and say, ‘Spend it!’”

19: Jillette has kept the hand-drawn specifications for every item in Martin’s dressing room at Bally’s, which Penn later used when he and Teller opened at that hotel in 1993. One directive reads, “Brush: Bristles up!”

18: Teller’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s final play, “The Tempest,” in April 2014 is the only extended engagement ever presented by a Vegas headliner on the Symphony Park grass at The Smith Center.

17: Over the years, they have appeared several times on “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with David Letterman,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and hosted a 1990 NBC special titled, “Don’t Try This at Home,” with Jillette running over Teller in an 18-wheeler as the centerpiece trick. (Teller survived.)

16: They appeared in the 1989 Run-D.M.C. video for “It’s Tricky,” suggesting that they perform the three-card monte street trick in the clip.

15: Jillette attempted to raze his original, infamous residence on West Wigwam Avenue, The Slammer, with a rented tank. The effort was stalled when the tank sank into the home’s foundation.

14: Jillette displayed an actual human skeleton in a nook outside The Slammer’s master bedroom. He has owned two skeletons (aside from his own, under his skin); the other he gifted to Teller.

13: Teller taught Latin in high school in Trenton, N.J., in the early 1970s.

12: With zero fanfare, Jillette’s idol Bob Dylan has seen the show three times at the Rio.

11: The duo originally debuted as a trio on Aug. 19, 1975, at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. The act was called the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society, with mutual friend Weir Chrisemer as the third member. Chrisemer left show business in 1981, when Penn & Teller launched as a duo.

10: Their first national television appearance was in 1977 on “The Mike Douglas Show.”

9: Teller’s onstage silence predates the Penn & Teller act.

8: Teller does speak, two words, in an act in the current version of the show.

7: One of those acts features a massive map of the U.S., and 372 decks of playing cards Teller has gifted to Penn over the years.

6: The duo has been nominated for 13 Emmy awards (11 for the Showtime series “Penn & Teller: Bulls***!” and one for the FX series “Penn & Teller’s Sin City Spectacular”).

5: They have won just one Emmy, in 1985 for their PBS special, “Penn & Teller: Go Public.”

4: They have performed for British royalty three times, the most recent in 2018 for Prince Charles’ 70th birthday.

3: “Fool Us,” their current hit series on The CW, is television’s longest-running magic show. It first aired in December 2010 in the UK on ITV. The last eight seasons have been taped at the Rio.

2: They have performed more than 12,000 shows over 47 years.

1: They are the longest-running headliners ever to continuously play the same hotel in Las Vegas.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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