Penn Jillette isn’t one to shy from controversy. In his new book, “Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday,” the highly opinionated, talkative half of the long-running magic duo Penn & Teller takes on atheism, racism and the plight of the underclass.
But perhaps his most shocking personal view is about Donald Trump. Jillette likes him, mostly for the real estate mogul’s determination to be himself.
“It’s an important part of our culture,” Jillette said over a cup of hot tea in West Hollywood one recent afternoon. “We need some sort of rich guy. Bill Gates is not willing to do it. He wants to go cure malaria. Steve Jobs wouldn’t play rich guy. He wouldn’t even dress rich guy. I think having Donald Trump jump into that role with his dynasty and his children is a pretty great thing for our culture.”
The magician may be known primarily as a Las Vegas performer, but lately he’s had a high-profile reality TV run on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice.” Both shows are naturally part of his new book but are not always discussed in glowing terms, particularly the “Apprentice” experience: “It’s venal people clawing at stupid, soulless [stuff] in front of the modern-day Scrooge McDuck in order to stay famous.”
He also describes an excruciating “heart to heart” conversation with costar Clay Aiken that caused him to want to jump out of a window. Despite these views, Jillette was asked to return for another season, the “All-Star” edition of the show, which will air in March.
Jillette was on his way back to his home in Las Vegas after taking a lengthy break from his live show to film “Celebrity Apprentice” and promote his book. He later told Twitter followers that this is the longest he and Teller have ever gone without performing together in their 35-year history. But his second stint on “Celebrity Apprentice” gave him time with Trump during the host’s notorious preelection hysteria.
Though Jillette calls Trump’s election night tweets — in which the multimillionaire called for people to march on Washington — “distasteful,” he’s never been one to turn from friendships because of unpopular political views. He counts Glenn Beck, Ron Jeremy and the late Christopher Hitchens as friends. And for his upcoming appearance on the all-star “Celebrity Apprentice,” Jillette counts a new extreme personality among his list of people he admires: Gary Busey.
“If anybody remembers ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ in 20 years, all they will remember is Gary Busey,” Jillette says. “It’s the defining craziness. … If Donald Trump is Ed Sullivan, then Gary Busey is the Beatles. … He’s just kind of pure in a way that Ed Wood is pure. He’s removed all the filters.”
Jillette, known for revealing magician’s secrets, exposes one from “Dancing With the Stars,” which suggests competitors are being pushed to the limit. As he writes in his book, “They have to pretend it’s hard work. It isn’t.”
Jillette is easier on “Celebrity Apprentice.” In a weird way, he says, “ ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ is more honest in that creepy kind of way that the guy who admits he’s racist is more honest.
“I don’t watch the show, but in talking to my wife and the other contestants, I learned that there’s no disingenuous editing,” he adds. “They do make decisions, but the story they tell in ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ seems to me to be a completely valid story.”