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September 16, 2014

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Penn & Teller working on TV project, and how Barbra Streisand was thrown by needles trick

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Jeff Gale & Jeff Crawford / Courtesy

Penn & Teller

Penn & Teller Launch slideshow »

Friday's Penn & Teller performance was atypical even by their own skewed standards.

P&T put on a truncated performance tailored for the audience invited to the Vegas Magazine party celebrating the latest issue of the publication, the cover of which the duo graces (photos by Jeff Gale and writing by the Johnny). P&T performed a short series of tricks dating to their first Las Vegas appearance at Bally’s in January 1993. This set included Teller’s thread-and-needles bit (where he swallows a handful of needles and pulls them from his stomach with a long thread) and Penn’s masterful fire-eating routine.

During the appearance, Penn spilled the information that the duo are recording a pilot for a show to replace “Bullsh*t,” which aired on Showtime from 2003-2010. This was the series in which the duo traversed the great urban and rural landscape aggressively debunking paranormal beliefs, urban myths, pop-culture fads and other cultural misconceptions. Alien abduction, ESP, The Bible, 12-step programs and alternative medicine were all targeted by P&T’s suspicion-laced road show.

A film crew was in town over the weekend, taking over Penn & Teller Theater at the Rio on Sunday, to produce a pilot episode for the as-yet-untitled show (it will not be called “Bullsh*t.”) Neither member of the famed comedy-illusion team were particularly eager to talk about the project away from the stage, however.

“It’s sort of … about all I can tell you is it’s related to ‘Bullsh*t’ in that it’s a skeptical show,” Teller said. “It’s a different style, though. There are some similarities in format, but it’ll be a breezier show.”

The show is to be set in Vegas.

“I doubt we’ll be shooting in different locations,” Teller said. “It’s just a pilot at this point.”

Penn said the pilot would be delivered “really soon,” and added, “We’re looking at a series that would start in the summer, and that’s really quick in showbiz terms. But it’s going to be Penn & Teller, yeah. That’s all we know how to do.”

Penn’s run as a cast member of “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice” begins March 3 on NBC. He’s been openly (and, we expect, privately) critical of the rules of the show, in that there seem to be no rules other than the contestants participate in staged and pointless competitions and then sit through Donald Trump’s blustering monologues. But it is a handy way for Penn to raise money for his Las Vegas charity Opportunity Village, and I would bet he is a prominent figure through most of the upcoming season. Just a hunch.

The night also served as a means to announce the duo's contract extension, adding six years to their current agreement to perform at the Rio. If they perform through that extension, it would be an 18-year run. Caesars Palace and Rio President Gary Selesner said from the stage that the 18-year tenure would be a record among Vegas entertainers performing at one hotel, but upon further review, that seems not right. Frank Marino starred in "Evening at La Cage" at the Riviera for 25 years. Whatever the case, it's a hell of a long run, and Penn & Teller continue to work on three new acts at any given time to update what is already one of the city's most inspired shows.

And that needles trick has something of a history beyond the days of Bally’s, a yarn that involves Barbra Streisand.

“She is fascinated by magic, in that way that people love it and hate it,” Teller said during the interview for Vegas Magazine. “I did a show once in some Hollywood mogul’s summer house, and I did the needles. Afterward, she asked how it works. So I went backstage and got the 6-foot string of needles and handed it to her and said, ‘Work it out.’ ”

Too bad cameras were not around for that moment, which was so very Penn & Teller.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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