- Dana Carvey, Penn Jillette
In January, Penn & Teller celebrate their 20th year headlining in Las Vegas, which makes them “the establishment,” by anyone’s measure. The brilliant comedy-magic team premiered on the Strip in January 1992 at Bally’s, filling every seat in the 1,400-seat Celebrity Room without issuing a single comp. The duo’s tenure here is being celebrated in Vegas (Magazine) in its January issue, on which they grace the cover.
During an interview for that story, Penn Jillette was customarily pointed as he addressed comments that he made in his new book, “Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday!” about Donald Trump and his (Jillette’s) appearance this year on NBC’s “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Jillette finished 7th in Season 5 of the series, won by Arsenio Hall, but was able to raise $300,000 for his chosen charity, Opportunity Village, as Caesars Entertainment contributed a check for $250,000. Jillette is back for another lap with this show, as he also is a cast member on “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice,” which debuts in March.
Jillette is joined by past celebrity contestants LaToya Jackson, Bret Michaels (a previous champion), Claudia Jordan, Gary Busey, Lisa Rinna, Lil Jon, Dee Snider, Dennis Rodman, Brande Roderick, Stephen Baldwin, Trace Adkins, Marilu Henner and Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth.
After two runs with the show, Jillette is fairly well educated about appearing on the celebrity competition series. Allow him to prove such.
“The secret truth of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ is that it isn’t very hard … ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ is easy like junior high is easy. All the arithmetic, the creative writing and the history are super simple, but like junior high, you do that easy work surrounded by people who are full-tilt, hormone-raging bug nutty,” he writes. “Everyone is panicked, desperate, yelling, swearing, attacking, backstabbing, failing to get laid and acting crazy.
“With all this drama, any sane person just wants to do more algebra. ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ is junior high with a better brand of acne cover-up.”
Jillette also flays the role Trump plays in the proceedings.
“No one can tell you the rules of ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ No one. Donald Trump just does what he wants, which is mostly pontificating to people who are sucking up to him, while the network people try to manipulate him into making the highest-rated show they can,” he writes. “… (Poker pro) Annie Duke said to me, ‘It’s a pretend game, about pretend business, where you get pretend fired. (But) Donald Trump couldn’t fire me. I work for Penn & Teller, and he’s never owned any part of us … He can’t fire us from the Rio because he doesn’t own any of Caesars (Entertainment).”
Asked about those comments, Jillette said he was unconcerned about any backlash from Trump, who is either uncommonly thick-skinned or oblivious to such criticism.
“I don’t think people understand what kind of guy Trump is,” Jillette said. “You can (mess) with him. You can say (stuff) about him. I remember Adam Carolla saying to him, ‘How’d you get a haircut like that? Tell the barber, “I (had sex with) your daughter?” I remember Lisa Lampanelli saying, ‘You want to know what Donald Trump is like? He’s kind of like Don King with a worse haircut and no moral compass.” They say that directly to his face, and he’s absolutely fine with it, you know?”
Jillette says it is important to keep his opinions of the show in proper context. He was writing from a specific experience.
“I wanted to write this thing in my book that was specifically about how I felt that one week,” he said. “It’s really about that one week. Going back (for taping of the all-star show), I really enjoyed it. I think I enjoyed it the first year I was on more than anybody who was on. But I believe in just saying what pops into my head. I think he’s OK with it.”
Trump has never seen a Penn & Teller performance at the Rio. His relationship with Jillette is strictly from the TV show.
“You know, there was a funny moment during the press thing we were doing, with 14 of us meeting the press and Trump in front of us, and Trump says, ‘These people have been all the best players, and always when I get trashed in the press, all these people stick up for me.’ And I said, ‘I don’t!’ ” Jillette recalled, laughing. “And Trump says, ‘Except Penn. He doesn’t.’ … I don’t know, maybe I’m reading him completely wrong, and he’ll hate me for it and hold it against me, and he’ll have NBC blackball me, but I don’t think so.”
Is there a risk in making Trump angry? Jillette doesn’t seem to believe so.
“I care what he thinks about me as a person, but not beyond that,” Jillette says. “I don’t want anybody to hate me or think I’m out of line, and he’s the subset of ‘anybody.’ He’s also someone I spent time with, and that moves him up on the tier. Otherwise, no, I don’t particularly care.”