Penn Jillette: When Letterman invited Penn & Teller on his show, he told them to be as shocking to him as they could
He says what they did made Letterman recoil in anger and disgust. But his revulsion was short-lived
Editor’s Note: Penn Jillette, a writer, television host and frequent guest on a wide range of shows, is half of the Emmy Award-winning magic act duo Penn & Teller. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
David Letterman is the best there ever was or ever will be at what he does.
He’s talented, but “talent” is the word the rest of us use to shrug off our laziness. Dave works hard, but “work” is the word the rest of us use to excuse our lack of bravery. Dave is talented and hard-working but he is also brave.
After Penn & Teller’s first appearance on his show, Letterman himself took us aside and told us privately to hit him as hard as we could in our next appearance. He asked us to be as mean to him as possible and not to let him know in advance what we were going to do.
Teller got an idea. We called the producer and told him our idea. The producer said it was too mean, we couldn’t do it. We asked him to tell Dave that. The producer called back right away and said that Dave wouldn’t hear the idea, he just wanted us to do it.
We dropped hundreds of live cockroaches all over David Letterman. He freaked. He lost his s—. When we went to commercial, Dave swore at us and pushed us away from him. He wouldn’t even look at us. He didn’t say goodnight to us.
But he called the next day to thank us and tell us we had done exactly what he had wanted. He said it was great TV and he welcomed us back any time.
You won’t ever find better than that.