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Now He Uses It, Now He Doesn't

April 19, 2001

Penn Jillette, master of magic, is a real techno freak and early adopter. He tends to 'buy everything when it first comes out and use it for a few minutes.'

Penn Jillette is the taller, vocal half of the Penn & Teller act that's sort-of-magic, sort-of-comedy and sort-of-psychotic-episode. He's also a total technology freak.

Born in 1955 in Greenfield, Mass., Jillette juggled on New Jersey boardwalks after graduating from high school and attending the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Clown College. He met Teller, the shorter, largely silent fellow who so often appears to be facing imminent death on stage, in 1974. They've been performing as Penn & Teller since 1981, becoming iconic figures in the process.

Jillette lives in Las Vegas, as does Teller. The big guy lives in a house called the Slammer. He's single and has no children.

Note, dear reader, that Jillette is somewhat profane, so what follows is not a technically correct transcript of the interview. To get a better handle on what was said, insert random scatological terms every three words or so. He tolerated our barrage of questions via his cell phone on the way to the dentist.

COMPUTER: I have six desktops at home. It's a bunch of Dells, a couple of Hewlett-Packards, whatever was fastest at the time I bought it. I always want to get something that's faster. My guest rooms and stuff all have desktops. But this year, the Toshiba laptop is my major machine.

Q: And all this is networked?

Don't insult me!

Q: Ooookay. And I assume you have a high-speed connection to the outside world, such as DSL?

I can't actually get DSL or cable. What I have is Starband, which is rocking for me. And this afternoon, I'm getting the new Sprint wireless PC card, which will let me use the Toshiba laptop wherever I am, like Starbucks.

Q: Do you maintain this setup yourself?

The woman who does all my computer stuff puts all this in for me. I don't really know anything about technology and computers. I'm more like a guy who loves Van Halen and doesn't play guitar. I'm the ultimate end user.

HAND-HELD COMPUTER: I don't have one. I had a Rex, and I had a Palm VII. I did my time working on Graffiti and got to be pretty good at it, but these things are still just too slow. I tend to buy everything when it first comes out and use it for a few minutes.

Q: How do you keep track of your life?

I have human beings on my staff. Like they just called me up and gave your number to me. And I have the new Nokia phone that will store 200 numbers. So I have phone numbers and e-mail addresses for all my friends and family with me on the Nokia. "The new Nokia, it'll fit up your . . ." Make sure I get credit for that.

Q: I'll make certain that it's in quotes.

And I use the Toshiba for that kind of thing too, because it's so small. My computers have been getting smaller for five years.

Q: What's your favorite tech toy?

The Web and the computer are everything. I like traveling with a DVD in the computer, which I first noticed on the airplane when our crew was not watching the in-flight movie but watching a DVD of hard-core porno like real men should.

Q: Anything else?

I guess my favorite things are the noise-canceling headphones. They get better and better. I have two pair from Sony. One is so small some people don't notice you have them on. So people in the seat next to me try to talk to me. And if you want to talk to me you have to be the right sex. Otherwise just shut up. Teller has the Bose headphones, and they're big enough that the guy in the seat next to you can see them. I'm getting a pair of those.

HOME THEATER/SOUND SYSTEM: I have a brand-new Runco TV with a really nice screen. The whole setup is in a special room. It's all acoustic tile in there with a stage for a rock 'n' roll band, and you can actually record in there.

Q: And audio?

It's THX sound. I used to run the high-end stuff, but that requires too much effort. So now I just run really top-of-the-line consumer stuff. I can't tell the difference. And I have a 50-CD changer in the truck.

Q: That seems like a lot of music.

You never know what kind of mood you're going to be in.

HOW TECH HAS CHANGED YOUR LIFE: The idea that technology is just little toys that white people use is insulting. Technology is clean water. Technology is the lack of violence in our lives. Technology is what makes us human.

Q: So what's your favorite technology?

I'd have to say whatever lowered infant mortality from 500 per 1,000 to 8 per 1,000. Right after that is my laptop.

Q: Tell me why that is.

I receive about 200 e-mails a day. And that is my day. My friends and family are online. So my life as cheap carny trash traveling around is all based on the computer.


--As told to DAVE WILSON

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