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Penn Jillette---stand up comic/magician & stand up bassist

george costanza

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The tall, loquacious member of the magic act Penn & Teller has apparently been an amateur on electric bass guitar for 20 years ("...never seriously, never practicing, just enough to jam with friends in rock bands...").

After a Las Vegas show a couple of years ago, during which he stood in for Dick Smothers in a Smothers Bros. sketch, he became enamored of the acoustic upright.

"From the first time I touched the upright it just felt right! I loved how the sound went right through me, the physical connection," he says. "My ears weren't very good on the electric but on the upright the sound seemed to go right into me & I could feel when I had the right notes."


After a period of lessons from bassist Morrie Loudon & a year of weekly at-home jam sesions ("I was the rich guy with all the equipment so even though I was the weakest player, people would come."), Jillette now does a 45 minute set with jazz pianist Mike Jones 6 nights a week before every Penn & Teller show.


Penn plays down his onstage appearance, wearing a hat & coat & standing in shadow.

"I'm a very recognizable, big guy but people don't notice me---they just don't expect the bass player in the warm-up act to be the show-off magician from the main act."

He also plays down his abilities but not his love for music.

"It's very humbling to play with Mike Jones. He's an unbelievable player & it's good for me because he knows exactly the level I'm at---if I get lost he instantly adjusts to cover.

All this devastating music just pours over me; I think I'm in the greatest position possible."

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I knew I liked that guy but could never put my finger on why. The tongue in cheek paid hacker-for-hire article in Wired a few years back was hilarious. Now I find out he plays bass. Now how cool is that. I wonder if Bernie Mac really plays too?



Famous Musical Quotes: "I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve" - Xavier Cugat

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It never ceases to amaze me, how many goofballs there are who are, outside of their onstage persona, very intelligent, articulate, insightful people.


It was said of Gracie Allen decades ago. She was smart enough to play dumb. While Penn Gillette is not playing dumb, he is smart enough to play the uncaring, charmer. Similar to the charlatan who plays evangelist, but he only takes as much money as you're willing to spend on a ticket. ;)


Great to see how enthusiastic he is about learning bass. Not like the many celebrities who would have you think they're master players with a few lessons and some jam sessions under their belt.

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I saw them live in Atlantic City a few years ago, and he found an excuse to play bass guitar a little during the performance. He and Teller went to the back of the theatre to sign autographs and answer questions afterwards, which was a nice treat.


Penn contacted me last year when he was looking for a cheap upright bass for a magic trick in development-- don't know if he has started to do it in his act.

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  • 1 year later...

I ressuscitated this ancient thread, 'cuz I just got back from a few days in Sin City (or was it Cincinnatti? No, Sin City), and caught the Penn & Teller show at the Rio.


I was struck by how well Penn plays, as well as how he downplays his role during the "warmup." Hat, dark glasses, hair undone . . . pretty damn incognito.


I'm also struck by how he must just love to play, 'cuz there's no other reason for him to be out there.


BTW, Teller plays vibes in the current show. As far as I could tell, he was actually playin' them.


Oh, and Mike Jones is pretty phenomenal.

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you guys should hear Morrie Loudon, the guy who taught him! the guys a MONSTER! plays at the Bellagio, but he is leaving for NY soon. He plays a duo with Mike Eckroth, whom i do a lot of projects with.. both those guys are on fire... i always loved Penn & Teller.. have not had a chance to catch the show. I just gigged right across the street from the Rio tonight.

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Ou est Monsieur Bumpcity?


Bump played a gig at Penn's home in Las Vegas for the big fellah's birthday. Maybe I'll do a search and find the thread. Our illustrious B-Naz is caught on video at this fiesta stylin' some mad lids.


Helluva magician that guy. Bass, too? Good for him!



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Penn is indeed the renaissance man. He's also had supporting actor roles in a few films, including that one that a very young Angelina Jolie did with whatzisname (who played Robin in the last couple of Batfilms)... (serious senility creeping in here)... which I think was called "Hackers" and IIRC, Penn was the assistant to the antagonist (villian) moniroting the "big corporate computer".


Whatever. The man is multi-talented. 20 years of "amateur" bass playing? I saw some of that on one of his shows... this "amateur" should be invited to our Forum.

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