CES 2008 Exclusive: CrunchGear interviews Penn Jillette about Crackle.com, Mormons, and his choices in technology

penn1.jpgPenn Jillette, the long-haired half of Penn & Teller, is a quiet, sincere, restrained man. He’s known for his controversial thoughts on all manner of things, from politics to religion to the colorblind. Sony has launched a new video site called Crackle and has Jillette as a featured video blogger. The idea is that Jillette will “live blog” his life with the four HD camcorders Sony has provided him with, and he’ll post these clips, unedited, to the site. he’s got a handful up now, which you can check out at Penn Says, and his goal is four a week. We hope he can make it.

After Sony’s announcement, where Penn swallowed a bean and then worked it into his nasal passages and then expunged it via his right eye socket (really), talked about Mormons and their “magical underwear”, and having sex with a nun while a prominent Democratic presidential nominee wathces, we were allowed a couple of minutes to sit with Penn and Crackle’s Senior VP of marketing, Jonathan Shambroom. They were gracious and friendly, and totally NSFW. He started by trashing that other site. It was awesome.


Matt: Thanks for meeting with us lowly bloggers, we appreciate it.

Penn: Yah, thanks for talking to me. Which blog is yours again?

Matt: CrunchGear, the gadget arm of TechCrunch.

Penn: OK, you’re not the one with “gadget” in the title, good! F*** those guys, they keep sending me all kinds of emails, something-gadget. I hate them. Glad you’re not them.

Matt: No, we’re not them. I like your show Bullshi*t though, especially the Bible episode. It’s maybe my favorite episode of anything on cable ever.

Penn: Oh, thanks for that. Thanks a lot, that’s very nice of you.

Matt: So do you guys have a pitch, or can we just ask our questions?

Jonathan: Nope, whatever you want to do, go for it.

Devin: Awesome!

Matt: Yah, that’s maybe not a good thing to say to guys like us. We’ll start talking about things like “2 Girls, 1 Cup” or something.

Penn: “2 Girls, 1 Cup” is nothing, man.

Matt: Have you seen it? I’ve got a copy on my iPod if not.

Penn: I’ve seen it, man. I’m an old carnie, I’ve seen worse in real life. If you really want to watch a video that’ll give you nightmares, google “One Got Fat.”

Jonathan: One gut fat? Like, gut?

Penn: Got. Like became. “One Got Fat”. It was produced by the US Government and they showed it to grade school kids. Watch it and think about that. The stuff I do is tame.

Matt: I’m writing that down. Thanks for that.

Penn: You’re very welcome.

Matt: By the way, just a warning, the guy coming in after us is a Mormon.

Devin: Yeah, we were making fun of Mormons with him and he mentioned he’s from Utah and we were like, “Um, are you Mormon?” And he is.

Penn: Really!? Great. Thanks. You know, I have friends who’ve f*cked just about everything, catholics, jews, muslims, you name it. But none of them have ever f*cked a Mormon girl. Ex-Mormons, sure, but no Mormons. What is that?

Matt: They’re afraid of going to Hell if they take off their magical underwear.

Penn: I guess so, or something. Why just them? It’s like you’ve got to f*ck your friends just to make sure they’re not Mormon.

Matt [to Devin]: You heard the man, drop trou and let’s see if you’re Mormon. Penn, you want to watch?

Devin: Well they did say we could do anything.

Penn: You think I won’t call your bluff, but you’re mistaken. Let’s see you guys go for it.

Devin: OK, I’m gonna blog it.

[for context, Penn had been riffing on Mormonism in his live performance, and we were making fun with the Mormon guy behind us, not at his expense.]

Matt: If it’s OK, then let’s start with the technical stuff. Sony’s given you a few cameras, four you said, to record your thoughts. After you’re done with the video, do you have help editing it? Do you give it to someone to clean up or anything?

Penn: Nope, not at all. It records on to one of those little card thingies–

Jonathan: A Memory Stick

Penn: Yah, a Memory Stick. So I put it into my computer and just upload it to the site. That’s it. They add a header and a tail at the end, and I think the legal guys look at it for a minute so they can pull things when I say I’m going to f*ck a nun with Hilary Clinton watching, but otherwise, it’s just me.

Matt: Cool, so it’s “raw” as they say. What format is it going to be shown in? I’m guessing Flash streaming?

Jonathan: Yah, it’ll be — it’s in Flash now. We’re launching with content today, which went live just a few minutes ago.

Matt: Ok, another question, more off topic: Is Teller jealous?

Penn: Is he jealous? Not really. I mean, he’s directing Macbeth right now, which he’s always wanted to do. He’s doing it at the Jersey Theater, and then in DC. He’s doing a supernatural, horror-film take on it, which he’s wanted to do since he was eleven. I’d love to be doing that, but I’m doing this instead. So he’s not jealous of this any more than I am of that. We all do our things and that’s that.

Matt: Well that’s awesome, I saw a vampire-themed version in Olympia years ago that was actually really good.

Penn: Vampires? Wow, I haven’t heard of that one, but I’m sure Teller has, he’s an expert at this stuff.

Matt: When will the video of today’s announcement be available on the Web?

Jonathan: Hopefully later today. This week for sure.

Matt: So you’ve got these cameras, are you going to have one backstage, or does that violate some sort of “Magician’s Code” or something?

Penn: There is no “Magician’s Code.” The code magicians live by is the same as the code you live by and I live by: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. [Yes, he quoted it verbatim, and didn’t miss a thing. Rad.] I mean, I could tell you how Criss Angel does half of his tricks but you already know, you go on YouTube.

Anyway, I’ll have the camera, so I can show what I want and not show what I want. It’ll be backstage.

Matt: Well, we’re here at CES. Have you been on the floor yet?

Penn: No, I’m like in that one Beatles movie: I’ve been in a car, a room, a room, a car, a room, a car, a room, a room, a room, a room. I haven’t set foot on carpet not owned by Sony in awhile.

Devin: That might become a pattern.

Matt: Well who has?

Penn: Right. I might check it out. I don’t know.

Matt: Well, that kills my “what have you seen at CES that you like” question, doesn’t it?

Penn: Yah, I guess so. What about you? What have you seen?

Matt: A couple neat phones, but the best thing is the saddle thing from last night.

Devin: Yes! The saddles!

Jonathan: What thing?

[At this point I pulled my camera out and showed them this photo which I offered without comment yesterday.]

Matt: We think it’s some sort of game controller. I hope they are, anyway.

Penn: Those are great! We have to find those!

Jonathan: What do they do?

Devin: Show them the video, dude!

Matt: We took this last night as we were leaving.

[Please, watch the video below. We’re still not sure what they’re for.]

Penn: That’s great. I don’t know what it is, but that’s great. Wow.

Matt: CES, man. So then, here’s one: What cell phone do you carry?

Penn: Oh, a Treo. This one here. It’s purple.

Matt: That appears to be a 755p, from Sprint.

Penn: I dunno, it’s purple. That’s how I select my electronics.

Matt: Great, that’s just perfect.


Penn: I also have an 80GB iPod and like 3 or 4 Apple TVs at home. I love that thing.

Matt: Me too.

Penn: I’ve got a touch, and I guess it’s a flash-memory thing, but they’re only 16GB. That’s not nearly enough.

Matt: See, that’s the thing: there are two different inds of iPod owners. I have a Touch and it’s fine for me. But you want control over your music and have it all with you all the time. I just fill it up and use it as a soundtrack.

Penn: I guess, I mean, I have a half-terabyte of music at home — all legally purchased, no limewire or anything — and they give me an iPod that’s 80GB and want me to use it. How can I possibly do that? What if I want to listen to Tiny Tim and follow it up with Gladys? I can’t unless I anticipate and load them on there.

Matt: Give it time, it’ll all catch up capacity-wise. We’ve just been given the signal that our time’s up, thanks for doing this with us.

Penn: No thanks, you guys are all right.

Matt: I have a story about Mormon underwear that would blow your mind, but we don’t have enough time. I can try to send it to you over email.

Penn: I don’t email much, but you’re tempting me. I really want to know what the story is with that. I might just let you if my curiosity gets the best of me.

Matt: It has to do with a wedding night and you won’t believe me, but it’s all true.

Penn: I don’t believe you at all. I’ve heard all kinds of stuff about that, and if it’s all true, then it sounds better than “One Got Fat”, so I have to hear it. I don’t email much, but I might have to just because you liked the Bible is Bullshi*t episode. Dammit.