WHY HAVE MENDACIOUS MAGICIANS Penn and Teller, who have been performing—and eating—together almost daily for 17 years, suddenly served up a book about food? "Because we're trying to remedy a very sad situation," says Teller, 54, a former high school Latin teacher who offstage actually speaks. "At a very early age, your parents tell you that squishing peas into mashed potatoes is not art. But, after all, you spend two or three hours a day at the table, so why shouldn't you have fun there?"
Wildly inappropriate fun has been Penn and Teller's mission since they first met backstage in Northampton, Mass., in 1974 when Penn Jillette was juggling plumber's plungers and Teller was reciting quirky poetry and posing in front of a theater as a blind man selling pencils. This latest effort from the best-selling authors of Penn & Teller's Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends (1989) is "geared to going out to restaurants," says Penn, 37. "Table magic was popular in the '20s, '30s and '40s, but it was all stuff for professionals that often involved concealing things in tuxedos, so we had to make up new tricks that the average person could do and wow their friends with."
Penn and Teller spent a year developing their food tricks. Then they turned Penn's Times Square apartment into a test kitchen and invited friends over to try out the tricks themselves. Why? "We had to," explains Penn. "No one we know will let us try our tricks on them. They just tell us to shut up and eat our food."