With a seemingly never-ending amount of bullshit in the world, leave it to the masters of illusion and comedy, boisterous Penn Jillette and silent Raymond Teller, to take a closer look at the bullshit quotient in everything from organic food, orgasms and the Vatican in their Showtime series, "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" As the seventh season of the series launches tonight, Jillette chatted with our Jim Halterman about whether he still gets shocked at what the show uncovers, if becoming a parent has changed his view of the world and about his "Dancing With The Stars" experience.
Jim Halterman: There seems to be an endless amount of bullshit out there. Is that a good or bad thing for you?
Penn Jillette: It's not if you're a citizen of Planet Earth but it's a good thing in doing a Showtime of that name.
JH: You have some fun in the season opener with the over-the-top reactions that fans of magician David Blaine often have for the simplest feats. Are you a fan of Blaine and his work?
PJ: The thing is [Blaine] was supposed to be in that episode which is why we were doing that but then he had a scheduling problem and he couldn't get out for it. We've known David before he was �David Blaine' and we've always been friends. Ya know I don't like to throw around the word �friend' because a friend is someone you've spent hundreds of hours with and all the time I spent with David was about 10-15 hours and I've enjoyed him. He's a great guy.
JH: Does anything shock you anymore? I personally didn't know there is actually a female ejaculator out there but the "Orgasms" episode educated me.
PJ: You didn't that? You haven't gone on the web much, then, or the right places on the Web. In order to make it a good show there has to be something on there that surprises us. Star Price, the director/producer/writer, along with the producers come up with 20-30 subjects and then sort of narrow them down to ten or thirteen or whatever the year happens to be. Then, the researchers go and do the real work. Even subjects that I thought I knew a lot, by the time we get the research information we are always shocked. There's always stuff that we find out. You get a sense when you've been skeptics as long as Teller and I have been, you get a sense of what kind of bullshit is out there but it doesn't mean you know the specifics and it's always mind blowing. The organic food show that's coming up has stuff in it that about our food and I had no idea; we try to keep that in every single show.
JH: Weren't you going to do a show on Scientology at one point?
PJ: Once again we've been scooped. If people who are believers think there might be a conspiracy between "Mythbusters," "South Park" and "Bullshit," they're right [laughs]. We called Trey [Parker] and Matt [Stone] and we talked to the "Mythbusters" boys and we're very big fans of those two shows. Trey and Matt had Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist that they were working with, and they decided to do the ultimate Scientology show and we just got out of their way. The other thing about Scientology and our show, "Bullshit," it is preaching to the converted. It always is. The people who come to see our show are, for the most part, skeptics to begin with and while they may disagree with a particular thing here or there, they are pretty skeptical. We're not really going after the people who are believers so with that in mind we try to give substance and at least have a little bit of surprise for our audiences. I don't think there's anybody that's ever watched "Bullshit" that believes anything about Scientology. It was a little bit better suited to Matt and Trey because they're going to do a more burlesque, more purely comedy show and it seemed better suited for their style.
JH: You and Teller have been together since the late 70s. What's the key to the act's longevity?
PJ: I believe that most teams that get together and then fall apart spectacularly - and the two I think about are Lennon/McCartney and Martin/Lewis � they fell in love. They were essentially having a love affair and then doing shows as a part of that and as soon as they don't get along, it's heartbreaking. Teller and I started Penn & Teller not based on affection but based on respect and there's a huge difference. We didn't' really want to sit around, going out to dinner and chatting. We wanted to work on a show and because of that when we don't get along and there are tensions; it's no big deal. What the fuck do you care if you go into work and the guy next to you is in a pissy mood? It doesn't mean much to you whereas somebody that you're really affectionate towards is a big deal. It fucks up your day. So Teller and I have, over 35 years, become very good friends and we're certainly best friends. When our parents died, we went to each other and so on. But, the day-to-day stuff, we're trying to put a show together. We're not trying to hang out.
JH: Did becoming a father change your perspective on the world?
PJ: It hasn't changed me philosophically or politically at all but it does change how deeply I can relax and get out of my mind. I used to leave working on the show and really just think about working on the show and now I have my work sessions with Teller, finish them up every day and go and see my children for a couple hours. Those hours that I spend every day with my children I don't think about the show and I've found it's made a different kind of refreshment in my life.
JH: Have you always painted your middle fingernail on your left hand the same color?
PJ: Yes, always the same color, Jelly Apple Red by Essie and since I was 17, it's a little thing to, at first, to annoy and ridicule my Mom but now it's more of a remembrance.
JH: You have such a distinct voice, especially on Comedy Central.
PJ: That's been years and years ago. They were so wonderful. One of the best jobs I've ever gotten. When they finally moved on � you know, they hired me for six months and kept me on for years so to complain would be wrong - they bought out everything so you'll still hear me on there occasionally. Besides just being a wonderful job, it also made me better in the show because I had to deliver jokes that I can write and work in my style and that's the best thing you can do as a talker.
JH: Las Vegas has been good to Penn & Teller since you've performed there for years. What do you like about it?
PJ: I really, really, really deeply don't care where I am. I've never had a drink in my life. I don't go out. I don't do anything. I'm with my children, I leave and I do the show so it doesn't matter where I am. So when I drive to work I park in the back of the casino. I don't walk through the casino. I don't see anything except our audience. It was the same on Broadway in that way. I believe when vaudeville was in place and when burlesque was in place, there were really big regional differences between places in the United States of America. Playing Mississippi was different than playing Michigan but that's no longer true. There's a homogeneous quality to it now and many, many people bemoan it but I think it's great. Everybody in the United States eventually comes to Vegas and it's almost the same as going on tour except we go home.
JH: Do you wish you'd gone further in "Dancing With The Stars?" than being the first male dancer eliminated?
PJ: I went far enough. I was the biggest person to have ever been on "Dancing With The Stars." The basketball guy who was on there was 6'6" and a half and I'm 6'7". I was the biggest and I don't know if I was literally the heaviest but I'm up there and for the men in my group I was also the oldest so I think I went really, really far. It was a blast, too. To be put in an air-conditioned room with a beautiful woman. I get so disgusted when people said it was hard work. I just didn't notice that part. There are people that actually have jobs in this country. Those people work hard. There's no one in show business that works hard compared to a regular person including James Brown.
"Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" airs every Thursday at 10/9c on Showtime.