Bryan Curtis in Slate:
Penn Jillette’s place in show business is less as a magician or comedian than as a thinker. A very deep thinker. Consider The Aristocrats, the 2005 documentary he made with his friend Paul Provenza. The movie emerged out of a series of late-night discussions between Jillette and Provenza, in which the pair would sit in restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip, gulping decaffeinated coffee and discussing (to borrow Jillette’s phrase) “the most pretentious shit possible.” For example? “We talk an awful lot about whether you have to stop at libertarianism or go on to anarchocapitalism,” Jillette said the other day. Luckily, Jillette and Provenza steered themselves away from anarchocapitalism (Death to Aristocrats?) and toward the science of dirty jokes. Out popped The Aristocrats, which had a small theatrical release but ignited a cultural interest in filth. (The new DVD hovers near the top of the Amazon.com sales charts.) If The Aristocrats was a celebration of bawdy free expression and the vanishing art of joke-telling, it was also a celebration of Penn Jillette’s peculiar worldview—something like the academic art known as radical deconstruction.
Jillette would make for an odd academic. Standing 6 foot 6 inches, wearing his hair in a ponytail, he looks like a man who spends a great deal of his time in a bowling alley.