Fast-talking magic man Penn Jillette tries his hand at novel writing.
Thu Jul 1 2004
As the speaking half of the magic duo Penn & Teller, Penn Jillette has plenty to say. The ardent libertarian and atheist can ramble intelligently on just about any topic. He's written three best-selling books with the unimonikered Teller but is now striking out on his own with Sock, a bizarre novel about a police officer tracking down a serial killer—as told through the googly eyes of the cop's sock monkey.
As the speaking half of the magic duo Penn & Teller, Penn Jillette has plenty to say. The ardent libertarian and atheist can ramble intelligently on just about any topic. He's written three best-selling books with the unimonikered Teller but is now striking out on his own with Sock, a bizarre novel about a police officer tracking down a serial killer—as told through the googly eyes of the cop's sock monkey. When he's not writing, Jillette performs with his partner of nearly 30 years in a nightly Vegas act; the pair's Showtime series Bullshit!, which exposes the fakery behind subjects like ESP and alien abduction, is currently in its second season. Jillette, 49, phoned from Vegas at a relatively early morning hour, assuring us sarcastically, "Lance Burton is still asleep."
Um, I've got some disturbing news for you. According to Amazon.com, people who bought your book also bought a DVD called Walt Disney Treasures.
Walt Disney Treasures? [Laughs] Wow! I'll have to fire off an e-mail to Jeff [Bezos, Amazon CEO] and see if he's fucking with me! 'Cause you know Jeff has the power to do that.
Tell me about the exact moment inspiration struck and you knew you wanted to write a book narrated by a sock monkey.
I was forced! There was a book on sock monkeys where a bunch of authors were asked to write a short story. What I wrote became the first chapter of Sock. I was very happy with it. Then my friend Nell Scovell, who created [the TV series] Sabrina the Teenage Witch, read it and said, "This is the best voice you've ever had. This has gotta be a whole novel." Once I started writing it, it became clear that I had some way with a stupid sock monkey.
In the book, you write, "What's the difference between God and a sock monkey? There is a sock monkey." You do realize that you can now never run for President?
Well, I can run for President, provided I can create a time machine. In 1800, [atheism] would have gone over fine. Right now, people would vote for a Muslim before they'd vote for an atheist. It's so weird that these [modern] theists, these cranks—whatever you want to call them—are so antiscience, yet so willing to reap the benefits. They're so willing to give everything to God, but they're not willing to suffer polio. George Bush said something like, "Life is created by God. It's not for man to manipulate." Which is interesting, because, if it were up to God, no one in his cabinet would be alive. God wants us dead! Put us out in the wild and the life span of a human being is, like, 24. Half the kids die in childbirth. That's the weird thing with Bush: As long as we're not using fetal material, everything else is "natural." What are you talking about!?! Your hair isn't natural, you retarded motherfucker! This isn't the way God wanted you to look. God wants you in the fucking grave!
Is it true that you drive a bright-pink Ford Bronco you call "Pink Death"?
I gave away Pink Death. It was about ten years old. When I went to buy a new car, I had to find the biggest car, because I'm six foot six. I walked into the dealership and said, "Listen. I'm very content with my penis size. I don't need a car that goes fast or looks fancy. Give me a car that I fit in, and money is no object." They sat me in these $140,000 fucking cars that I couldn't fit in. Then somebody told me that I should go look at a Mini Cooper. It turns out Minis are engineered for people who are six foot six, whereas every other car is made for six foot four. I bought three of them. And all my cars are, yes, stripper inner-labia pink.
Why the pink fetish?
I believe that once you're over 6'5", you owe it to the world to be a little effeminate. Just to take the edge off. If you're gonna come in and take up a whole door, you need to have a little effeminate side, so it's not, "Oh, a yeti just walked into my office."
What do you make of new-school magicians, like David Blaine?
Blaine did this huge thing: He was the first magician in the world to be passable looking. Every other magician that has existed in the world has been a troll. Penn & Teller, Houdini—that little Budapest fireplug, ugly motherfucker. Socially, magic is the thing unattractive people take up. I think it's because you need to have a certain separation from society to turn your life towards deception. You have to feel like an outsider.
Do you ever worry that Teller is one day gonna cap your ass because he wants more lines?
Turn like the tiger to Roy? [Laughs] You know, it's been 30 years, man. Teller is essentially the director of the show. The Groundlings [comedy troupe] in L.A. used to do a parody of us where one guy came out playing me [Makes grumbling and barking noises]—the usual stern impersonation of me, while Teller just stood there. Then they showed us backstage, with Penn standing there totally quiet and Teller saying, [Yelling] "Here's what I want you to do. Go out there..." That's absolutely true. For Sock, Teller is writing the New York Times book review. So he has a chance to get back at me if he wants.
Sock is out (St. Martin's Press, $12.95).
Buy Sock on Amazon.com | Buy it on BN.com