By Robin Bronk - 02/29/12 12:14 AM EST
A graduate of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, magician, illusionist and comedian Penn Jillette defies labels — and at times physics and good taste — by redefining the genre of magic and inventing his own very distinct niche in comedy. He (along with his partner, Teller) continue to have sold-out runs on Broadway and world tours, star in Emmy-winning television specials and make hundreds of outrageous appearances on everything from “The Late Show With David Letterman” to “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,” “Friends,” “The Simpsons,” “Chelsea Lately” and “Top Chef.”
With an amazing six wins, including Las Vegas Magicians of the Year in 2011, Penn & Teller’s 10-year run at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino makes them one of the longest-running and most-beloved shows in Las Vegas history, outselling every other resident magician on the Strip. Their acclaimed Showtime series, “Penn & Teller: BS!” has been nominated for 13 Emmys and is the longest-running series in the history of the network. The show tackles the fakes and frauds behind such topics as alien abduction, psychics and bottled water.
Along the way, Penn & Teller have written three New York Times best-sellers, hosted their own Emmy-nominated variety show for FX, starred in specials for ABC, NBC and Comedy Central, and produced the critically acclaimed feature-film documentary “The Aristocrats.”
With inclusions in The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, as answers on “Jeopardy!” and “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” their status as cultural icons and the pre-eminent duo in comedy was once again reinforced when Katy Perry personally asked them to co-star in the video for her No. 1 song, “Waking Up in Vegas.”
Jillette is a co-host of the Discovery Channel series, “Penn & Teller Tell a Lie,” and is currently a contestant on NBC’s “Season 5 Celebrity Apprentice.” As an active atheist, he believes in performing his illusionist and magic acts for entertainment’s sake and stresses that his tricks should not be viewed as supernatural. Jillette is also a strong proponent of free-market economics, libertarianism and scientific skepticism.
ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?
PENN JILLETTE: Humanity and compassion. Not killing people in our name. Not getting our people killed. Just stop all that killing. It’s cheaper and easier not to kill people. Stop killing people in our name overseas and stop the death penalty here. It’s cheaper to not kill. If you don’t care about people, please care about money.
RB: If you could give President Obama one piece of advice, what would that be?
PJ: Try to consider if any of our problems can be solved with more freedom instead of less. Politicians always think that more control and more force is the answer. Sometimes, it might be less. Doing nothing is sometimes the best choice.
RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?
PJ: What good things do you think the government should NOT do? What do you trust us to take care of ourselves?
RB: What book would you offer to lend President Obama? Why?
PJ: God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. I think the issue of religion is important and Hitchens was the best of us. Some of my atheist buddies think that Obama is an atheist and lies about it to have that job. Obama says he prays in the White House. Is he a Christian or a liar? I don’t know which makes me sadder.
RB: If you were going to send the president to one place in the United States for one day, where would that be? Why?
PJ: My house, “The Slammer.” I take a mug shot picture of everyone who visits, and I’d like a picture of all his Secret Service guys.
RB: Would you ever consider a political career?
PJ: They were talking about me running for mayor of Vegas, but I already have a job.
Robin Bronk is CEO of The Creative Coalition — the leading national, nonprofit, nonpartisan public advocacy organization of the entertainment industry. Bronk is a frequent speaker on the role of the entertainment industry in public advocacy campaigns and represents The Creative Coalition and its legislative agenda before members of Congress and the White House. She produced the feature film “Poliwood,” airing on Showtime, and edited the recently published book Art & Soul. Bronk pens this weekly column with assistance from Risa Kotek.