In the spirit of Harry Houdini, the legendary illusionist who spent his free time exposing scams, comic magicians Penn &Teller have taken up a similar pastime. With the Showtime series Bulls--t!, the duo touches on a wide array of topics, from circumcision to bottled water to cryptozoology, in an attempt to wipe away the mire of misperception. Because a Q&A with Teller might not be much of a read, TVGuide.com spoke with Penn about Bulls--t!'s third season, which is now out on DVD.
TVGuide.com: Why are you and Teller so bent on debunking things?
Penn Jillette: What we're really doing is celebrating the principles of science. If you believe in this thing that can't be substantiated, then immediately you cut yourself off from the rest of the world, except for those who believe the same thing in their hearts. But if you agree on the scientific method, there's no sort of thing like politics or racism that can get in the way of truth. I mean, if we only agree on what Billboard says, then we'd be stuck trying to defend Strawberry Alarm Clock.
TVGuide.com: It would seem difficult to pitch a show about the scientific method to TV execs.
Jillette: Well, we pitched it in a classically perverse way. We went in saying, "A lot of people watch John Edward and don't agree with him, but they watch the show as a goof. We think we can be that kind of thing to skeptics. What we're going to bring to you is the same passion the nuts have. What you're worried about is that the side that's on the side of truth lacks passion." We guaranteed them that we'd be as passionate and crazy as the nuts, but we'd also be right as much as possible.
TVGuide.com: Tell me the truth do you guys have an agenda before you shoot, and then you basically coming up with a way to support it?
Jillette: Absolutely. It's not like we're just picking things out of a hat, saying, "Let's take George Clooney and find out whether he's full of s--t or not." No, Teller and I read a lot, and we have fabulous researchers. And what we do is start sniffing around. Like I had Patrick Moore, who's an environmentalist and was a founder of Greenpeace, on my radio show the other day, and he was talking about the bulls--t of nuclear power, [contending] that nuclear power is a clean, environmental solution. It's got this bad rap from the hippies, though, so I fired off an e-mail to the research staff and then three or four people did phone calls and interviews. We all then sat together and asked, "Is this a good topic, and what can we do that's funny?"
TVGuide.com: You and Teller have been visiting scholars at MIT and Oxford. After taking a shot at colleges in Season 3, have the invites started thinning out?
Jillette: [Laughs] Well, for the colleges we talked about in Bulls--t! I believe we haven't gotten those invites. Basically, we were just trying to point out that the politically correct has gone a little far and maybe the idea that everybody should go to college is flawed.
TVGuide.com: So will there be a fifth season?
Jillette: Oh, yeah. We're working on it right now.
TVGuide.com: Which subjects would you like to do that you haven't gotten to yet?
Jillette: Well, I really want to do a Penn & Teller: Bulls--t! where we say, "What the f--k are two magicians doing with a television show using the tenets of science?!" Then we'll show my high-school records, and I'll have to take various pop quizzes. We wouldn't want it to be too cutesy or coy, but that's an idea we've thought about.
TVGuide.com: If Tuesdays are the only days your Vegas show is dark, doesn't it make it tough to shoot Bulls--t?
Jillette: On the long days, we go into a studio and work from 10 am to 2 pm. Then I do my radio shows in the afternoon, and then we go over to do our [stage] show from 10 to midnight. It's a long day, but it's entertainment. Just the other day Dennis Miller said to me, "The worst misery in show business is better than the best misery in other jobs." I always get so embarrassed when people in show business talk about how hard they work, because I'm like, "You know there's a chance an emergency-room doctor is going to read this."
TVGuide.com: With so many misperceptions out there, do you guys ever think you could go as many seasons as Gunsmoke?
Jillette: Well, when you build your empire on bulls--t, you're not going to lose your footing.
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