Interview with Penn & Teller: Guess Which One We Talked To? Patrick Slevin November 2, 2009 Interviews Wow, a Colorado boy, 6, just floated away on a balloon. What? An experimental helium balloon flew off with a kid. Six years old, flying away in a balloon like that. Shit, that’s weird. It’s up on CNN right now. Why are you telling me that stuff? I don’t know, I’m sorry Just trying to bum my shit? Yesterday, Lou Albano too. Lou Albano and no one mentioned Steve Ferguson, one of the founders of NRBQ and a nutty guitar player. He died the same day. For those of us who know Captain Lou through NRBQ, it was a bad day for NRBQ. I’m sorry, but all this work that you do. Is it a little overwhelming or are you just used to it by now? I’ve always liked working. I’m always amazed at people that get into show business kind of to get out of it. All I ever wanted from the time when I was a child was to do stuff that people will listen to. I just wanted to be a writer. I’m from a stupid little factory town in Western Massachusetts and I promised myself when I was 13 years old, if I ever got the chance to do anything that I would take it. It was very hard for me when someone says, Sony says, ‘We want you to put your thoughts into a video camera four times a week,’ I think about how desperately I would’ve wanted that as a child and it’s very hard to say no. I do carve out usually about three hours a day, maybe a little more to be with my children. You know, I have toddlers. And the rest of the time I work. I’m very happy with that. Before I had toddlers, there wasn’t that carved out time, it was just I worked. If you gave me a choice to do anything I wanted—if you said I could do anything I want to do—it’d be to sit down with Teller and talk about what we’d liked to see on stage, which is all we do. We talk about how other stuff sucks and how we don’t want to do that. One of us will go see a show and go, ‘It sucked!’ And we’ll go, ‘Well, what sucked about it?’ Then we’ll talk about that and then go ‘What if we did this instead?’ and then we’ll go ‘Oh, let’s do that.’ When anybody makes any comment about our show negatively, and I’m not being snotty, I always tell them ‘When you when you do your show, that’s a mistake you won’t make.’ Alfred Hitchcock said ‘Don’t see great movies and say “I’m going to do that,” see bad movies and say, “at least I won’t do that.”’ That’s all we did—Teller and I—when we first started out. We’d go see shows and would pick at everything we hated about it and say ‘Well, let’s not do that.’ Magic always talks down to the audience, ‘Here’s a quarter, now it’s gone, you’re a jerk, now it’s back, you’re an idiot, the show’s over.’ That’s the way Jerry Seinfeld described all magic. When we first were working on our show, we said ‘Magic is drawing battle lines between us and them and that is wrong.’ We’re supposed to be on the same side, you’ve got to treat the audience with respect. From that idea came everything we’re doing. The first question we asked ourselves was if it was insulting to the audience in any way. I don’t want to ever be insulted when I go to a show. I don’t want to be pandered to, I don’t want to be talked down to, I don’t want to have things explained to me that I already get, and I don’t want someone to gloat. So when you’re going to do tricks that fool people, but you’re not going to gloat, that’s a really interesting intellectual problem and that’s one that I have not gotten sick of confronting for 35 years. But you don’t mind insulting some people on the show [Bullshit]? Well, if you want to talk seriously, I will about that. We try to do ‘asshole, motherfucker, cocksucker, cuntpickle,’ but in my mind that’s not an insult. I try to do comedy words like ‘motherfucker’ and ‘shut the fuck up’ and I also try to attack brutally the ideas, but you would not with the exception of guys who are on our side and it’s good natured, you don’t usually hear us—there are a few exceptions, making fun of haircuts, suits, the way people talk, what they’re doing, maybe a gag about he’s overfeeding his fish, but not a gag of look at this fucking nerd, unless of course he’s on our side and then there’s a camaraderie with that. We’re very careful on Bullshit because our motto for Bullshit is fair and very very biased. What we believe is that our point of view should be made very clear and that there will be no ambushing. Everybody on the show knows they’re on the show and wants to be on the show, no taking it out of context. We always say to ourselves we’re not doing Borat, and we’re not doing Michael Moore. I try to check and make sure that if I had a different position, I would go on the show. The truth of the matter is if there were a Christian Bullshit and they want to me on as an atheist and they were going to say ‘then there’s this stupid fuckwad’ and I was going to have a chance to speak my position as clearly as I could, and then they were going to come back and go ‘what a fucking asshole’ and then they’d do a bit that demonstrated how I was wrong, I would do that show. And the proof is that is there was this show about Nostradamus that was done for one of the jive history things, and they were doing a bit on him and it was positive for Nostradamus. They called us up and asked if we would appear on it, and we said, ‘If our position is made clear, yes.’ We did a very strong anti-Nostradamus position in the middle of a pro- Nostradamus show. I was very happy with it, and I just figured, ‘Okay, I’d go on Bullshit, I’d go on the Christian version of Bullshit’ And indeed, there’s a very strong atheist thing that I did a video where I talk about I’d be in favor of proselytizing. I’d just got a note from the Campus Crusade for Christ that wanted to use my atheist video as part of their recruiting for Christianity and I said, ‘Yes.’ So I think that shows you, for me at least, turnabout is fair play. Do you think people identify a little too much with their ideas as a society? That the fact that you attacked my idea, means that you attacked me. I don’t know, I kind of already spoke to this with the difference between evil and wrong. I try to keep that so separate. You know there’s those compliments you get that really mean something. There’s people that talk to me after the show, and say with a handshake, ‘I know you’re a really strong atheist, and I am a Christian, but I like the passion, clarity and honesty behind your ideas and really enjoy everything you do.’ Man! What that fuck do you want more out of a human being than that? The astonishing thing is in doing Bullshit, we have found that with very minor exceptions the religious people, we attack are very magnanimous and understanding. The worst people we have dealt with have been chiropractors and 9/11 truthers. They’re the ones that seem to identify very, very strongly. Chiropractors, maybe because we’re talking about money. And 9/11 truthers, I think because they agree with us on many other things, but those were the ones that were unpleasant. We did a whole show on the Bible and the letters from Christians were pretty much, ‘I disagree, but,’ and you can’t ask for more than that. I think people do identify with their beliefs too much and that’s something that I try to argue against and act differently. Penn & Teller will be performing a charity event for the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation on Nov. 12 at the Gramercy Theatre. Bullshit is currently in reruns on Showtime and is available on DVD up to Season 6. And if you ever get to Vegas, they’re there too. pennandteller.com Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.