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Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette is a cultural phenomenon as a solo personality and as half of the world-famous Emmy Award-winning magic duo Penn & Teller. In the mid-'80s, Penn & Teller went[…]

Penn says his tolerance for crazy people “is I think as high a tolerance as you’re ever going to find.”

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

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

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

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

But it is misunderstood and I think that...rn I mean, my appearance is misunderstood. That wasn't your question. Yourrn question was is he misunderstood. There's something I see done with rnHoward Stern. I want on Howard Stern, I've done dozens and dozens, maybern hundreds of hours with Howard Stern. I'm not a big Howard Stern rnlistener but if you listen to Howard Stern everyday, you develop a deep rncontext for who Howard Stern is, what's important to him, what's rnimportant to Robin, what his morality is, what his relationships are, rnwhat his heart is. And I'm not talking about listening for a week, I'm rntalking about listening to Howard Stern for months.

And I'm not rntalking about, you know, a dozen hours over a month. I'm talking about rnhundreds of hours, you know. You get to know Howard Stern and when he rnsays something it's automatically in a very deep and very big context. rnAnd when someone who hates Howard Stern—there are plenty of them—pull rnsomething out of context, even if you get the context, even if they playrn you 15 minutes before and after you're really missing the context. And Irn think—and I don't listen to Glenn Beck very much, so I don't know—but Irn think with someone like Glenn Beck if you listen everyday you rnunderstand that the rage is also tempered by the outrageous things are rntempered with a certain kind of humanity and certain kinds of other rnthings.

Now I disagree with him on a lot of things but I'm just rnsaying that there's a full person there and I think what we often forgetrn when we're reading media, you know, you pick up a paper and read "this rnis what Obama said," that you forget that there is not the context of rnthe quote but the context of the public figure. And I think that with rnAbbie Hoffman when you'd read something about revolution and the violentrn overthrow of the United States government, unless you'd seen all the rnpranks and the playfulness and the fun, and the sexiness, all kind of rnrolled in you couldn't possibly understand. You're also not supposed to rnbecause these are all grownups and Howard Stern knows he'll be taken outrn of context. Abbie Hoffman knew that. Glenn Beck knew that. So they do rnhave a reasonability.

But for me once you listen to somebody a rnlot on radio or on TV you develop a relationship with them that's not rnentirely different from "I got this crackpot uncle and he said this rnthing about how guns should be carried by deer so that they can defend rnthemselves." And you kind of laugh about it and everybody you're talkingrn to knows that crazy uncle and they know what he does at Christmas time.rn You know, and they know that at Thanksgiving he was dancing in a hula rnskirt and they know all this stuff. And they also know that when their rncar broke down at three in the morning that was the uncle that showed rnup.

They know all those things. And I think that with public rnfigures they're not supposed to be given that much leeway but I still rndo. I still read something Howard Stern said and even if it's directly rncontrary to something I believe I never think, "Well Howard's evil." Yourn know, because I know he's not evil. I know he's a good guy and even rnwhen Glenn Beck says stuff that's reprehensible I say, "I sat in a room rnwith Glenn. He's not trying to kill people. He's not hurting children. rnHe's just thinking and sometimes he's thinking half-assed." I do think rnhe's sometimes taken out of context but I think that's also part of his rnjob and it's okay.

Recorded on June 8, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman