Magician Penn Jillette Worked With Trump - 'However Bad You Think He Is, He's Worse'

Election '16

Famous magician, television personality and, in the tradition of Harry Houdini, conspiracy theory debunker Penn Jillette was interviewed by Reason TV’s Nick Gillespie while on a promotional tour of Jillette’s book Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales. The book is a memoir of sorts, told through the experience of intense dieting. He covers some of this election cycle in the book and Gillespie wanted to ask him about his experiences with Donald Trump, the two having worked together on the Donald-hosted Celebrity Apprentice, not once but for two seasons. Jillette and Donald had a falling out, purportedly over a statement that Jillette made saying that Donald Trump’s hair “looked exactly like cotton candy made with piss.”

Jillette: I mean, we're co-workers on a television show. He's not seeing if he's going to hire me. He has no job. The places he could hire me—the casinos that he has that have showrooms—he put into bankruptcy. He no longer owns them. So, he can't hire me, plus I have a job, so that's all completely fake, right? But during the time, it's not Stockholm syndrome, it's actor's playhouse. It's an improvisational, five week improvisational show in which you've decided that he is the boss and you are the employee, and you do that.

It’s an important distinction that most people casually paying attention to television realize. Donald Trump wasn’t a boss of much of anything on the show where he “fired” people. Jillette explained all of that to say that the reported “cotton candy and piss” hair statement wasn’t the beginning of the end of the Donald v. Penn Jillette good-times train—no, it was something a bit more Donald Trumpy.

There was a time when they asked me while I was still on the show if Donald Trump ran for president, if I’d support him, and I said absolutely not. And I believe, and this may be the most damning thing you'll hear me say about Trump, I believe I liked him more than anyone else who was on that show. During that time I said I would not support him for president. Now, I get a call instantly. Instantly! From the powers that be—not Trump himself—saying, "No, no, no. You must support him as president." They say "It's going to come down to you and Trace [Adkins], and he's going to want to know that you both support him for president."

And I said, "Well, I don't." And they said, "Well, you have to because he's trying to—he's looking at the big picture here." And I go, "We're on a television show."

Whether this story is mostly apocryphal or not, it is 100 percent believable knowing what we know about the man with the little hands. Mr. Gillespie asks for a final analysis of what would bother Jillette about an unlikely Trump presidency.

Not going for a joke and just trying as hard as I can to tell the truth… I think he doesn't really have strong convictions and sense of right and wrong. He's not really, really smart. He's not stupid, you know. He's not a dumb guy, but he's not smart like presidents are smart. We make jokes—everybody's makes jokes except me about George W. Bush not being smart. He's smart. He just is. Obama's smarter? Probably, sure. Obama's smarter than Clinton? Probably. Almost certainly. But they're up here, you know, and if we're talking about it. You're wherever you are, but you're not smarter than Obama, you know. None of us are. Even the smart guys you know aren't there. And Trump isn't one of those people. He's not someone who when you're having a conversation with him—I probably listened to him talk for, I don't want to exaggerate, but probably eight or nine hours. A monologue of Trump. And I can't think of one thing he said that I went, "Oh yeah!”

It is important to remember that being born into wealth and propped up by celebrity does not mean you are a smart person—something many Trump supporters do not realize as they equate his superficial successes with some kind of inherent intelligence. Penn Jillette is a very vocal libertarian and that means he does not agree with either the Republican Party platform or the Democratic Party platform. His final anecdote is telling.

My friends start talking about Trump, and I say, “However bad you think he is, he's worse! I mean, you don't have the intelligence or the imagination." This is a story that is so important to me, you know Al Franken. I worked with [Franken] on Saturday Night Live. And we weren't "friends" friends, but I was over at his house a couple of times. I probably knew him personally a little better than I know you. I mean, we're acquaintances but never, never talked for hours. And when Al Franken was running for the Senate, he wrote me an email and said, "Would you support me and would you do a few little things for me to be Senator?" And I wrote back and said, "You know, Al. I liked working with you. You're a good guy, but I disagree with a lot. I'm a libertarian. I can't in good conscience support you. I really don't want you to win. As much as I like you, I disagree." And he wrote back and said, "Well, it's good that you are a libertarian because your ideas will never be tested. But thanks a lot, and hope we cross paths again."

And since then, I've bumped into him, "Hello! How are you?"

When Donald Trump was running, I was asked—I believe the first person that asked was Lawrence O'Donnell, who asked me—"You were around Trump? What do you think of his…?" And I said, "You know, I kind of liked him. I thought he was good in the show. I think he has a lot of skill sets for the show, and I think he's a good person to some level. I mean, he's not my favorite person to hang out…But I do not want him to be president. I do not agree with him on everything. I believe he's wrong on everything." Almost precisely what I sent to Al Franken. And his reaction was to start tweeting out how my magic show was awful.

Precisely. Also, I’m not a huge Penn Jillette fan or anything, but magic shows seem to be his forte.

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