Penn Jillette On Here’s The Thing

Here’s The Thing – Penn Jillette’s Marathon Life in Magic

I’m curious. Everybody’s got a story and I want to hear it. I’ll posit your story is your life’s work, how can you convey your experiences such that a listener will get the gist of who you are, where you’re coming from, what you’re about.

Back before David Letterman turned late night into a comedy program, Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett interviewed people. They didn’t have to come prepared with a funny story, they just had to answer the questions, they just had to be real, they just had to be themselves.

And this is the underbelly of the podcast revolution. Human beings are long-winded, they’ve got a lot to say, and the truth is we want to hear it. How did you get here? Are you happy? What’s the truth behind that rumor? These questions are all answered in podcasts, and right now the man doing the best job as inquisitor is Alec Baldwin.

Who knew? Short-fused actor turns out to be an intellectual, who can banter with the best of them. That’s right, asking questions is not enough, you’ve got to parse the answers, know when to go deeper. And when you’ve got a guest who’s willing, the results are stunning.

I’m not a huge fan of magic, or juggling. But I love Penn & Teller. Because they know the whole thing is a ruse, that there is no magic, that there is no channeling. They’re a constant warning to raise your level of perception, to realize this world is full of hokum and once you become a victim, you’re hopeless. And Penn goes into this, when he found out Kreskin was faking it, he became completely disillusioned. But, if it’s presented on stage, if people go home knowing you didn’t saw that woman in half and you didn’t read anybody’s mind, he’s comfortable with that.

What is Penn’s career based on?

Juggling. Takes six years to be good. That’s why the teen phenoms come and go. There’s no there there, they’ve never done the work.

And after practicing, the work Penn Jillette did was street-performing.

But not like everybody else. He wore a three thousand dollar watch, a multi-thousand dollar suit. Because his goal was to get you to put a twenty in the hat, not a quarter. Penn defined his goals and knew how to get there. And knew if you were just like everybody else, you had no chance.

What else did Penn possess?

An incredible line of b.s. That’s how you succeed in the world. Through conversation. You have to know how to open the door and then put your foot in it and keep it open, a skill most don’t have, never mind work on. “Pay attention to my stuff!” is not banter, and it doesn’t work. Penn got the drama critic of the “Philadelphia Inquirer” to come to his magic show by not only going to see him, but demonstrating his wares live, to the point the critic was intrigued. Professionals are all jaded, they’re suckers for something new and good, and only that.

And, Penn was willing to stand up for himself. That’s the difference between baby boomers and millennials. Question authority, speak truth to power, the boomers were taught by their heroes, to let their freak flags fly and be themselves. Whereas millennials are all about fitting in. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t work in a cubicle farm, busy praising everybody else’s work and eating lunch together and being nice. Winners are unique loners, like Penn. He can only be himself. And this is what draws people to him. He told the “Inquirer” critic his review was crap, that he misunderstood the show. The “Inquirer” critic then asked Penn for an interview and the right to re-review the show.

Not that every authority figure is amenable. But life is long and hard, and if you’re busy sucking up you might make it to the top of the corporation, but you’ll never make it to the top of the art heap.

At least not before. In today’s me-too world, that’s what people expect. And then “Book of Mormon” and “Hamilton” blow everybody away and clean up all the money.

As for music… If you’ve read an interesting interview with one of today’s stars you probably think the Top Ten is fantastic. But you can’t even say that, you’re castigated for being a naysayer if you decry what’s popular and laugh at what’s unpopular, like jazz and classical, whose proponents believe they got screwed instead of seeing times changed and to win today…you’ve got to be Dudamel, a man of the people who’s a great performer with his own mind.

We’re looking for individuals. Who are probably gonna make it long after they started. Overnight success is about old men propping you up, you’re just a figurehead.

But everybody says not to take a risk, to make it bite-sized, to make it palatable.

But that’s not what they do in podcasts.

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