How Penn Jillette Prepares for a Show

Magician and Entertainer
"Same way Kennedy prepared for his debates: with a blow job and a cup of coffee," jokes the magician.
  • Transcript


Question: How do you prepare before a show?

Penn Jillette:
Same way Kennedy prepared for his debates: with a blow job and a cup of coffee. No. Teller and I have done so many shows, we were figuring the other day that - I think it's possible Teller and I certainly together, we've done more shows together on stage—more hours of shows on stage—than I believe anyone alive. I think if we keep going another 10 or 20 years, which we certainly hope to, it will be more than anyone ever has.

Individually we've spent a lot of time on stage, so because of that, you know, I went on stage the night my child was born, one of them. One of them was born when I had vacation. I went on stage the night my mom died. I went on stage the night my dad died. I went on stage the night my sister died. I've gone on stage when I've pulled IVs out of my arm, left the hospital, gone on stage, gone back, went back on morphine. I have done shows during horrible, emotional breakups. I've done shows when exhausted and after you've been through... however many shows you've done, 20,000, you know, tens of thousands of shows, maybe more than that, you no longer prepare.

We would be backstage off-Broadway—we shared a backstage area with he gentleman who were doing the Steppenwolf Show, you know, and wonderful, wonderful actors. I mean, fabulous actors. Tremendous. I mean, much better actors than us. I mean, we're not even actors. We shared the backstage area, and the great thing was that they would be there 45 minutes before the show meditating and going, you know, "Red, leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather," and working with their whole instrument, you know, everything prepared. And Teller and I would be just finishing up tying our ties, while reading, and walk on stage directly in the middle of a conversation we'd be having about a movie we saw on TV last night. No preparation whatsoever and it's just because... well I like to think it's just because we had done so many more shows than they had.  But you might also think it's because they're better than we are. I think either answer could be... you could make an argument for.

Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman