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It's sad but true; although I was definitely aware of the duo Penn & Teller by name, my first real exposure to the magical funny men was when Penn Jillette bravely decided to join the cast of Dancing With the Stars. And way too many jokes about his "enormous" feet later--which as a fellow overly tall individual made my eyes routinely roll-- Penn was kicked off the series and free to return to his real gig of being the talking half of the famous two-some (alongside Raymond Teller) who have performed together for more than three decades.
Aside from their Las Vegas home base at the Penn & Teller Theatre at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, recently I discovered one of their many other ventures with the DVD release of the complete sixth season of their award-winning and frequently Emmy nominated Showtime series, Penn & Teller: B.S.! (or Penn & Teller: Bullshit! depending on your preference).
However, they're leaving the magic back in Vegas as they offer an extremely graphic, no-holds barred and highly entertaining show which prides itself on being as politically incorrect as it can be... and then some. Needless to say, Bill Maher has nothing on these guys and Teller doesn't even say a word-- but filling the episodes with odd B.S. experiments involving using fake doctors or professionals to host faux sensitivity training workshops where men must try on bras or new age healing sessions involving a plunger definitely provides some food for shocking thought.
With a juvenile inclination towards incessant gratuitous nudity involving topless subservient women who cheerlead, feed the men nuts (hmm, ironic!) and snuggle as an extension of the Las Vegas lifestyle and a first episode dealing completely with the war on adult entertainment, it's safe to say, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the series.
However, throughout the eleven episodes, I realized that even when I disagreed with Penn's assertions or felt that some of their arguments seemed a bit fuzzy on the logic-- other than being consistently entertained by Penn's over-abundance of f-bombs and curse happy narration-- the one thing it never failed to do was garner a genuine reaction to process what I'd just seen and think about it in a new light.
Having served as lecturers at Oxford University and the Smithsonian Institute as well as appearing as Visiting Scholars at M.I.T., it's amazing to watch the precision they apply to comedy and magic work in tandem with building what they assume will be a fail-proof syllogism of if "a," then "b," then "c" with of course "c" being bullshit. Furthermore, the two hosts and their talented WGA award-winning and Emmy nominated writing staff consistently impress with a variety of topics and unusual approaches.
While a few of the episodes don't shed too much new light on topics with which we're more than familiar and are more genuinely amusing than enlightening such as one wherein the guys debunk childhood myths in "Stranger Danger"-- a majority of the episodes in this 2-disc and roughly four hours and thirty minute long set admirably fluctuate between frightening us and finding the funny all at the same time.
In the slim-packaged set, Penn & Teller weigh in on everything from people who worship dolphins so much that they want to deliver a baby in the ocean (with the absence of doctors and the presence of sharks) as well as introduce us to a wide array of wackos who live in the southwest and host extremely expensive workshops and classes to get in touch with your inner dolphin or undergo "eco-anxiety therapy" because of the tremendous guilt we all feel in our efforts to go green.
Yet more than just providing silly gags in a show that jumps way past "R" and directly into "NC-17 territory" from the start-- the two startle us by taking a moving stance in an episode on NASA in which former astronauts and those who knew firsthand of the dangers regarding the Challenger and Columbia including the reasons those missions ended in tragedy jolt viewers out of the initial giggle-instinct Penn's usual narration takes.
And-- similar to the heaping spoons full of smiley sugar we're served in Comedy Central style "fake news" programs like The Colbert Report and The Daily Show With Jon Stewart (though this makes those shows seem downright wholesome and 60 Minutes like), Penn & Teller's B.S.! is all the better for refusing to just dish up the easy laughs in situations that essentially make you want to do the opposite.
For, in between some of the mad stunts and goofy interviewees, we're hit with some serious truths we definitely could call beyond inconvenient in the episode that one of my "green heroes" Al Gore definitely doesn't want you to see in "Being Green." And this continues on in the unlikeliest of places as well as the men's revelation about some of the UN's (ahem) less than peaceful actions overseas. Moreover, throughout the course of the multiple Emmy nominated and award-winning Showtime original series, their program has not only led to enormous controversy and serious threats but more importantly (and for the positive)-- they've helped further honor that First Amendment Award they received eight years ago by never passing up an opportunity to go for freedom of speech whether or not we want to hear it.
And it's a curious issue to use the phrase "speech" since-- while Penn is always highly vocal throughout, relishing in every opportunity to season the dialogue with as many f-bombs as he can squeeze into the episode's less than thirty minute running time-- the fascinating Teller never says a damn word. It's in this effect that on the surface, they immediately resemble a classic comedy team like Laurel and Hardy with some definite homage to the duos that came before them as Teller for example made me first recall Harpo and then Buster Keaton but they're decidedly of this particular era given their interests and all the naked women.
However, between B.S. and Dancing With the Stars, I'm still no closer to understanding quite what the two men do in their sold-out popular appearances in Vegas although I'm assuming it's a combination of topless girls, magic tricks, and Penn's twisted love of language. Yet, while I think they should leave the series' cheesy introductions back in the '60s variety show format where they belong (and ditto for the nonsensical nudity), ultimately they've turned me into a fan. Or, to honor their choice phrase-- not just a fan but as Penn joked--possibly only the fourth or fifth woman to enjoy watching their series... even if I learned that my adopted home state of Arizona provides them with enough crazy new agers to fuel an entire spin-off.