Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Penn Jillette: The magician-comedian-writer's secrets revealed!

From via 3QuarksDaily

Penn Jillette's place in show business is less as a magician or comedian than as a thinker. A very deep thinker. Consider The Aristocrats, the 2005 documentary he made with his friend Paul Provenza. The movie emerged out of a series of late-night discussions between Jillette and Provenza, in which the pair would sit in restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip, gulping decaffeinated coffee and discussing (to borrow Jillette's phrase) "the most pretentious shit possible." For example? "We talk an awful lot about whether you have to stop at libertarianism or go on to anarchocapitalism," Jillette said the other day. Luckily, Jillette and Provenza steered themselves away from anarchocapitalism (Death to Aristocrats?) and toward the science of dirty jokes. Out popped The Aristocrats, which had a small theatrical release but ignited a cultural interest in filth. (The new DVD hovers near the top of the sales charts.) If The Aristocrats was a celebration of bawdy free expression and the vanishing art of joke-telling, it was also a celebration of Penn Jillette's peculiar worldview—something like the academic art known as radical deconstruction.

Jillette would make for an odd academic. Standing 6 foot 6 inches, wearing his hair in a ponytail, he looks like a man who spends a great deal of his time in a bowling alley. His formal education after high school consists of a stint at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. Yet his snarling stage persona, which is like a sideshow hustler crossed with an insult comic, hides a surprisingly inquisitive mind. The magic act he has performed for two decades with Teller, his mute sidekick, is a comic deconstruction of the magic show. Penn and Teller have billed their act as the "magic show for people who hate magic." No adult, they said, believes that a magician could levitate or pass cards through the palms of his hand—to pretend otherwise is an insult to the audience. So Penn and Teller explain how they perform all their tricks, trusting that the audience will appreciate their consummate skill. They still play six nights a week at the Rio in Las Vegas, and, as Jillette has been known to say about the show, "The question we want you to ask yourself is not how we do these tricks but why we do them."

Bryan Curtis

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