Asparagus Valley Cultural Society
The ensemble was named "in commemoration of the region in Massachusetts where the three creators fell into one another's insidious company" (1), and proved to be the beginnings of one of the most successful partnerships in magic (indeed, "show business") history, "Penn & Teller".
In their words (quoted from the show program for "Asparagus"): "...in 1975...[the three ] saw the possibilities of using musical, vaudevillian, and carnival skills to realize a great range of funny and frightening ideas. They developed a large repertoire of unusual theatrical events, from which, by performance and experimentation, they gradually shaped the present show" (2).
They began touring, "snatched theater dates whenever they could, and kept the pots boiling by performing at county fairs" (3).
Their first extended run, at Theatre 5 of Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre, began in January of 1977. An appearance on the Mike Douglas Show led to other t.v. spots, then it was back on the road touring, including stops in Minneapolis, Atlanta, as well as return visits to Philadelphia, to ever-more enthusiastic audiences.
In 1979, their show "Asparagus, The Amazing Comedy of Theatrical Surprises" began a three year run at the Phoenix Theatre (430 Broadway) in San Francisco's famous North Beach.
It was immediately hailed as "The Funniest Show in San Francisco"--KGO Radio.
"Funny...Delightful...Mysterious...Amazing!"--San Francisco Chronicle
"Zany, Brainy, Hilarious, Marvelous, Mad!"--New West magazine
"A Hellzapoppin' Evening!"--San Francisco Examiner
"Hilarious! Incredible and Unforgettable!"--KGO Radio
"Funny!...Staggeringly Brilliant! The funniest evening to hit San Francisco this year!"--Bay Area Lifestyle
"Funny!...Bushels of laughs! I ate my program in pleasure.--San Mateo Times
A brief review from 1980: "Who would suspect three madmen with collegiate senses of humor to sustain audiences for an entire night, let alone a year and a half. But Penn Jillette, Wier Chrisemer, and Teller are still yukking it up as the Asparagus Valley Cultural Society, a zany, brainy evening of juggling, wierd music, and marvelous magic acts. These goofballs are an insult to our intelligence and an asset to our comunity, keeping vaudeville alive and well at the Phoenix Theater (seemingly indefinitely). Tickets $9.50-$10.50."
The program was as follows:
In the Hall of the Mountain King--Grieg, "Peer Gynt"
The Ball Act
Prelude in C Minor--Bach "Well-Tempered Klavier l"
Uber Den Regenbogen
The Mystery of the Peking Snow Duck*
The Knife Act
East Indian Needles
Three Novelty Bits: 1. Salute to Sports 2. Sharing 3. The Fire Act
Chorale Prelude--Nun komme' der Heiden Heilan--Bach
The Sabre Dance--Khatchaturian
Closing night for "Asparagus" at the Phoenix Theatre was Halloween, 1981.
Afterward, Penn and Teller formed "Buggs and Rudy Discount Productions", and began testing new material. They briefly staged "A Spook Show" they'd written called "Mrs. Lonsberry's Seance of Horror". Not long after that, they began appearing at the L.A. Stage Company Theatre in Hollywood, as "Penn & Teller, The Bad Boys of Magic", and the rest is History.
- Note: the Legendary Peking Snow Duck was actually played by a white rabbit named Ross, and later by one named Spelvin.
[Quotes 1-3 are from "City Theater of San Francisco Magazine", copyright 1980 by Arts and Leisure Publications.]