NEW YORK — The array of shameless quacks and generally delusional true believers are such easy targets for Penn&Teller that it can feel like they’re shooting guppies in a barrel with a missile launcher.
But it sure is fun.
The best part: They’ll probably never run out of charlatans to roast.
When you build your kingdom on lies and misconceptions, “you’re safe for all eternity. I believe that’s in the Bible,” Penn Jillette intones with a knowing smile over lunch with Teller in Manhattan’s Theater District.
Their Showtime series (the title of which is too off-colour for family news) specializes in debunking conventional wisdom and some widely held beliefs, and it returns for a seventh season at 10 p.m. EDT Thursday with an episode titled Orgasms. (In Canada it airs on Movie Central at 10 p.m. PDT and The Movie Network at 11 p.m. EDT)
The man-mountain Penn and diminutive, mute Teller focus on the people from whom the sexually dysfunctional should not seek help.
One is a self-styled sex expert whose therapy sessions are really group sex lessons.
Among their other targets this year: the Vatican, organic farming, astrology and taxes (“which will be a big one,” Penn promises).
Penn says their best shows have “a good combination of new information, a good moral stance, and also some funny jokes. And you constantly go with those three: There’s the gravity of it, there’s the information and there’s how funny it is. And those three things are hard to keep in perfect balance.”
One of their best is a segment they once did on bottled water and how it’s generally no better than what almost every American can get from the tap.
Take away the jokes and the snarkiness, Penn&Teller’s series often would do 60 Minutes proud — even though it’s more mockumentary than documentary.
“I think we are fair and very biased,” Penn says. “And I think that’s the way coverage should be. We don’t take people out of context. We don’t do Borat stuff. We don’t do Michael Moore stuff. We try to let people represent what they really mean.”
“CNN and Fox don’t pretend to be balanced, and they’re not. And they shouldn’t be. They have points of view. And I think our show, you know very well what our point of view is, and therefore you can learn from it.”
The duo say the vast majority of people on their show don’t feel they have been misrepresented, and while there have been grumblings about lawsuits, they’ve never been sued.
“I believe that our legal staff is amazingly wonderful,” Penn says.
Their TV show differs from their live act. As Penn puts it: “We’ve always been pro-science, we’ve always been skeptics, we’ve always been atheists and we’ve always been libertarians. But that’s not explicit in our live show at all. . . . Our live show is predominantly a magic show.”
So their TV show barely acknowledges the magic for which they’re famous and is “mostly political and intellectual,” he notes.
Where does the desire come from to expose the fakes, the con men?
“Well, there’s the Constitution,” says Teller, who, as fans know, does talk when he’s not his performing self (although he apparently talks a lot less than his partner offstage, too).