Penn Jillette still appreciates the magic of the new.
"Currently, we are learning how to dress up a cow to look like an elephant," said Jillette, half of the long-running magic and comedy duo Penn & Teller. "We don't know anything about cows, but we're learning. We're just doing it.
"I never thought I'd be on national television wielding a mop with Lou Ferrigno (on 'Celebrity Apprentice'), either, but I was happy to do it."
The trick with the cow is still in preparation; sadly, it will not be on Penn & Teller's performance list tonight at Harrah's Tahoe their first appearance in northern Nevada in three years.
"We don't have the cow quite ready, but we do have a trick called 'Helium,' which is brand-new and we're real proud of it," Jillette said. "Teller escapes from a sealed trash bag full of helium with an audience member onstage. It's wicked hard."
The act also will include "a transformation of an audience member, which is startling," Jillette said. "It's called 'cowboy,' and it's the best thing we've ever done. Better yet is that nobody's ever done it. It's completely without precedent. I never believe those lists that there are only so many basic tricks or so many plots. There's always something new, and we look for it."
The two (Teller being the diminutive partner who never speaks onstage) have been at their craft since 1975. They're under long-term contract with the Rio in Las Vegas, but it allows them enough time off to delve into other pursuits, such as Jillette's participation in "Celebrity Apprentice" earlier this year.
"You spend weeks with Clay Aiken and see how you like it!" Jillette joked. "But seriously, it was a better experience for me than anybody else on the show. I've done creepier stuff than that. The other contestants kept considering it hard work, but it wasn't hard work. It was just long hours."
Jillette said the hardest part for him was not having time to read.
"Drop into a rehearsal sometime and you'll see Teller running around arranging lights and sets, and you'll see me sitting on the side with my iPad."
He was caught reading on set "and was accused of being a goldbricker," Jillette said. "It was like being in high school. I would do things quickly and not have anything to fill the time there were times when I have absolutely nothing to do, and I hate that."
He avoided gossiping with castmates, Jillette said.
"I never said anything bad about anybody. You have to pay me a lot of money to get me to yell, and then it would be about a moral or political issue."
Jillette came away with respect for Donald Trump. "Say what you want about him, but there's a saying that a genius is a man who is most like himself," Jillette said. "He has a sense of himself and sticks to that, and I admire that."
The busy Jillette also has written a follow-up to his book "God No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales." This one, out in November, is called "Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday."
And on Jillette's iPad now? He recommends Christopher Hitchens' "Arguably" and Salman Rushdie's "Joseph Anton," the author's account of living under a fatwa and an alias he assumed in tribute to Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. (9 p.m.; $85.50; Ticketmaster.com).
Autumn has arrived
The Village at Squaw Valley goes Bavarian on Saturday for its 11th Oktoberfest, complete with brat- wurst toss.
The Resort at Squaw Creek has its second annual Harvest Festival next Friday through Oct. 14, with bluegrass music, hayrides, pumpkin painting and even pumpkin bowling.
The eighth Tahoe City Harvest Festival is scheduled Oct. 6-20, with a scarecrow sprint and stroll, zombie pub crawl and a gatekeeper's ghost walk.
And Incline Village's Trails of Treats and Terror, geared especially for children, rates each stop according to "fear factor." It will happen Oct. 25. (GoTahoeNorth.com)
Zoppé Family Circus:
The full Eldorado Reno Great Italian Festival is Oct. 6-7 and but the casino has joined with Reno's Artown to bring in an extra attraction this year: the Zoppé Family Circus, which starts performances Thursday.
Set up under a tent on the Eldorado parking lot, the circus is in the Old World Italian tradition, performed with a narrative central story with acrobatics, equestrian showmanship, clowning and canine antics.
This circus has a rich history, starting with a fable- like love that began when a French street performer named Napoline Zoppé met an equestrian ballerina in Budapest, defied her father's disapproval and eloped with her to Venice, where they founded the circus.
The circus since has been featured in film ("The Greatest Show on Earth") and toured extensively, and is run by Napoline's great-great grandson, Giovanni. (7 p.m. Thursday, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 5, 11 a.m., 4 p.m., and 7 p.m. Oct. 6; 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Oct. 7; $19.95, $24.95 or $11.95 for ages 12 and younger: 800-648-5966 or eldoradoreno.com.
Out and about:
Arena pop-rock arrives Sunday at Jackson Rancheria with songs like "Hold On Loosely," "Rockin' Into the Night" and "Fantasy Girl" performed by their originators, 38 Special. Still headed by co-founders Donnie Van Zant and Don Barnes, 38 Special is recognized as one of the most durable and reliable touring bands. (6 p.m.; $20 cardholders, $40 non-cardholders; JacksonCasino.com)
The Nevada Opera, unlike much bigger operas in larger urban areas, is still alive and will diverge from the standard repertoire this weekend with an excursion to Broadway. "Sweeney Todd" brings Metropolitan Opera baritone Gary Simpson in the title role to the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. At 7:30 tonight and 2 p.m. Sunday. ($28, $43, $58, $78; 775-686-6600 or pioneercenter.com)
The Silver Legacy in Reno offers a doubleheader this weekend with two very different tones. Joe Walsh, on tour in part to promote his solo summer release "Analog Man," performs tonight (8 p.m.; $79.50, $89.50); and Jeff Foxworthy, who bolsters his popularity with clean standup, arrives Saturday for two shows (6:30 and 9:30 p.m.; $55, $75; 800-687-8733 or silverlegacy.com).