LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 22: Penn Jillette (L) and Teller of the comedy/magic team Penn & Teller perform during the 2016 NHL Awards at The Joint inside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on June 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller (Cobb, October 10) loves Donald Trump, the entertainer. Trump the president? ‘Venal, empty, shameless fool’

Originally posted Friday, October 4, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Penn Jillette, who was on “Celebrity Apprentice” twice in 2012 and 2013, had a front-row view of  Donald Trump in his element.

And he liked him as an entertainer. 

“If Trump had stayed in entertainment instead of politics, I’d love him. I find people with no filter fascinating,” said Jillette in a recent interview to promote his first Penn & Teller magic show in Atlanta in 20 years at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre Thursday, October 10. (Tickets are available here.) 

But Jillette, a Libertarian, was appalled that Trump decided to run for office. He did not support him. 

“I thought I was being hyperbolic when I said he was a venal, empty, shameless fool,” Jillette said. “Now that he’s president, he is even worse than I thought. That seems almost supernatural to me.” 

Jillette said Trump is truly in a league of his own when it comes to lack of empathy and pure self-centeredness. 

“I lived on the streets of America for two years homeless,” Jillette said. “I spent a lot of time in biker clubhouses and with criminals. There are things with Trump I’ve never encountered before: his total lack of shame. No guilt whatsoever. He can lie and not be embarrassed by anything. I’ve never met anyone like that.”

And he finds it strange that Trump is incapable of making a traditional joke. Sure, he can be funny, he said. But it’s more from a perspective of being a bully, by being sarcastic, Jillette said. 

“I’ve never seen him laugh in kindness,” he said. “It’s the laugh of a cruel child.”

Americans, he said, have embraced weirdos before like Tiny Tim or Andy Kaufman. But to have one become president? “Nutty,” he said.

Another Jillette-esque insight: “We see things about humanity that we can’t see in a fully integrated person. Its like studying people with split brains or epilepsy or those who had a major brain injury. You learn from people way off the bell curve.”

Their show is not political and Trump does not come up. Rather, the show is heavy on concepts and ideals, often of the Libertarian bent. Jillette is well read. Over 45 minutes, he cited the problem-solving axiom Occam’s Razor (giving preference to the simpler of two competing theories), quoted jazz artist Thelonious Monk (“A genius is most like himself”) and raved about Bob Dylan, his most inspiring musician. 

He and his colleague Teller have made a career out of being magicians who aren’t like other magicians. 

Their act eschews pretty girl props, ridiculous outfits and grandiose music, choosing often to mock those strictures instead. They are also direct with the audience about doing mind and visual tricks. They are clear: this is not supernatural “magic.” 

“I believe the nobility of magic lies in the honesty,” Jillette said. “There are others who take a different point of view. He’s a friend of mine but I disagree strongly with David Blaine. He thinks the purpose of magic is for people to leave believing things you know aren’t true. I find that appalling.”

They enjoy having a home for their antics at the Rio Hotel and Casino since 2001, the longest-running show in Las Vegas. They only hit the road maybe 10 times a year since they do 250 shows a year in Vegas. They also have hosted the CW show “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” for several years where they try to figure out other magician’s tricks. 

And at age 64, five years since he began a strict vegan diet, Jillette has lost and kept 110 pounds off. So he said he feels more creative and healthy than ever.

“We are writing more and faster and more aggressively and crazier than we have our whole lives,” Jillette said. “I’ve always been perplexed by those who get into show business to get out of it. They are happy with a certain amount of success and play golf. All I ever want to do is come up with ideas and put them on stage.”

He said he used to not believe the brain and body were one, especially when he was overweight and ate a standard burger/pizza/hot dog diet. 

Once he lost the weight on the new diet, he realized that he was happier and his mind was clearer.

“Changing your physical self,” he said, “will change your mental self.”

IN CONCERT

Penn & Teller

8 p.m. Thursday, October 10, 2019

$38-$78 before fees

Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta 

www.ticketmaster.com

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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