“How do you think I’m going to die?” asks Penn Jillette, “the larger and louder half” of Penn & Teller, at the start of ‘Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales’, a book that is every bit as mesmerizing and captivating as the duo’s live show.
In fact, Presto! reveals the greatest disappearing act of Penn’s 40-plus-year career. Not “The Vanishing African Spotted Pygmy Elephant Act,” in which make the duo make a cow dressed like an elephant go poof. This is the trick by which the 61-year-old, who once topped the scales at over 300 pounds, lost one-third of his body weight in a five-month span.
Penn details his diet regimen as laid out by Ray Cronise, a former NASA scientist and entrepreneur who pushes an extremely restricted plant-based diet (essentially, veganism but with little-to-no added salt, sugar, oil, and fat). Like Penn’s old “fat fuck” body (his term), Presto! contains multitudes—it’s less a diet memoir than a wide-ranging meditation on contemporary American culture and politics, including the 2016 election.
It’s also Penn at his very best. Even as he is discussing the life-threatening health conditions that led him to his new eating plan, he’s never a page or two away from commenting on how Hillary Clinton is the absolute worst nominee for president…except for Donald Trump, with whom Penn appeared for two seasons on Celebrity Apprentice. “Eating pizza is voting for Hillary,” Penn writes (he means that as an insult), while Donald Trump’s hair resembles “cotton candy made from piss” (the billionaire’s personality is even more off-putting, says Penn). Presto! is filled with anecdotes not just about weight loss but about the loss of loved ones, hosannas to the friends and artists who have inspired Penn over the years, and a tender-yet-barbed condemnation of what he calls “the Standard American Diet,” or SAD.
Reason’s Nick Gillespie recently sat down with Penn Jillette backstage at Vegas’ Rio casino, where Penn & Teller have been in residence for years. The conversation ranged from the 2016 election to what it’s like to eat only potatoes for two weeks straight to why Bob Dylan—”he’s a freak, not a cheerleader”—is Penn’s artistic hero.
About 45 minutes.
Produced by Meredith Bragg. Cameras by Jim Epstein, Austin Bragg, and Justin Monticello.
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