Glenn Beck Is a Nut—But I Like Him

Question: You've appeared a few times on the Glenn Beck show. \r\nWhat do you think of him?

Penn Jillette: He's a nut. I\r\n mean, he's a deep, deep nut. On a one-on-one level I like him. My \r\ntolerance for crazy people is I think high a tolerance as you're ever \r\ngoing to find. I love being around David Allen Coe. I would have loved \r\nto hang out with Tiny Tim. I can listen to Sun Ra on a tape-recording \r\nrant. I have... it's not patience, it's love for people who are... live \r\noutside the law. And Glenn Beck is that. I mean, I compare Glenn Beck \r\nmostly to Abbie Hoffman, you know. When I was a child I would read \r\n"Woodstock Nation" and "Steal This Book." And I didn't really agree with\r\n very much of any of it because it was essentially socialist and \r\ncollectivist and didn't really ring true for me. But I loved the way he \r\ndid it. I loved the outrageous poetry of it and I loved that my \r\narguments with my dad about it where my dad thought he was a dangerous \r\nnut. And I thought he was a fun nut.

And my arguments about Glenn\r\n Beck are exactly the same as I used to have with my dad about Abbie \r\nHoffman. I'm so upset that someone else compared him to Abbie Hoffman \r\npublicly before I did because I've been telling all my friends. Liberals\r\n do misunderstand it. They... liberals think the medium is the message \r\nand I believe is the message is the message and I had Tommy Smothers \r\ntear me apart for going on Glenn Beck, and he was right. Tommy Smothers \r\nwas 100 percent right. He said that by going on I gave some credence and\r\n support to some very bad ideas. I think it's exactly right.

Tommy\r\n Smothers is a hero of mine. I think he's completely right to bust me on\r\n that and I think I'm also completely right to say, "But you should go \r\non shows that you don't agree and tell the truth as you see it." I think\r\n that's also completely right. He said to me—did not say this to me on \r\nair but he said to me off air—"If Hitler had a talk show you would go on\r\n it." And I answered, "Yes and I'd try to tell the truth." And I think \r\nthat's - when I went on Glenn Beck I argue with him about gay rights. I \r\nargue with him about Mormonism. I agree with Glenn Beck on a few things,\r\n those aren't the things I talked about when I went on the show. I went \r\non in order to argue.

But it is misunderstood and I think that...\r\n I mean, my appearance is misunderstood. That wasn't your question. Your\r\n question was is he misunderstood. There's something I see done with \r\nHoward Stern. I want on Howard Stern, I've done dozens and dozens, maybe\r\n hundreds of hours with Howard Stern. I'm not a big Howard Stern \r\nlistener but if you listen to Howard Stern everyday, you develop a deep \r\ncontext for who Howard Stern is, what's important to him, what's \r\nimportant to Robin, what his morality is, what his relationships are, \r\nwhat his heart is. And I'm not talking about listening for a week, I'm \r\ntalking about listening to Howard Stern for months.

And I'm not \r\ntalking about, you know, a dozen hours over a month. I'm talking about \r\nhundreds of hours, you know. You get to know Howard Stern and when he \r\nsays something it's automatically in a very deep and very big context. \r\nAnd when someone who hates Howard Stern—there are plenty of them—pull \r\nsomething out of context, even if you get the context, even if they play\r\n you 15 minutes before and after you're really missing the context. And I\r\n think—and I don't listen to Glenn Beck very much, so I don't know—but I\r\n think with someone like Glenn Beck if you listen everyday you \r\nunderstand that the rage is also tempered by the outrageous things are \r\ntempered with a certain kind of humanity and certain kinds of other \r\nthings.

Now I disagree with him on a lot of things but I'm just \r\nsaying that there's a full person there and I think what we often forget\r\n when we're reading media, you know, you pick up a paper and read "this \r\nis what Obama said," that you forget that there is not the context of \r\nthe quote but the context of the public figure. And I think that with \r\nAbbie Hoffman when you'd read something about revolution and the violent\r\n overthrow of the United States government, unless you'd seen all the \r\npranks and the playfulness and the fun, and the sexiness, all kind of \r\nrolled in you couldn't possibly understand. You're also not supposed to \r\nbecause these are all grownups and Howard Stern knows he'll be taken out\r\n of context. Abbie Hoffman knew that. Glenn Beck knew that. So they do \r\nhave a reasonability.

But for me once you listen to somebody a \r\nlot on radio or on TV you develop a relationship with them that's not \r\nentirely different from "I got this crackpot uncle and he said this \r\nthing about how guns should be carried by deer so that they can defend \r\nthemselves." And you kind of laugh about it and everybody you're talking\r\n to knows that crazy uncle and they know what he does at Christmas time.\r\n You know, and they know that at Thanksgiving he was dancing in a hula \r\nskirt and they know all this stuff. And they also know that when their \r\ncar broke down at three in the morning that was the uncle that showed \r\nup.

They know all those things. And I think that with public \r\nfigures they're not supposed to be given that much leeway but I still \r\ndo. I still read something Howard Stern said and even if it's directly \r\ncontrary to something I believe I never think, "Well Howard's evil." You\r\n know, because I know he's not evil. I know he's a good guy and even \r\nwhen Glenn Beck says stuff that's reprehensible I say, "I sat in a room \r\nwith Glenn. He's not trying to kill people. He's not hurting children. \r\nHe's just thinking and sometimes he's thinking half-assed." I do think \r\nhe's sometimes taken out of context but I think that's also part of his \r\njob and it's okay.

Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

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