• Nolan Schmidt

Political Magic: The Politics of Penn & Teller

This column was originally published in the Seguin Gazette on June 23, 2017.

Last September, I discussed South Park for the first time, and how it has taught libertarianism since its debut in 1997. At one point, I discussed how ReasonTV listed it as one of the “5 Best Libertarian TV Shows Ever." When briefly explaining this, I mentioned another show: Showtime’s Penn & Teller: Bull****. This particular show, which aired from 2003-2010, starred the famous magician duo, Penn and Teller, and while they present the topic of each episode, they remain in their regular performance fashion where Penn does all the discussion and Teller stays in his mime persona while performing several magic tricks and gags in the background. Even though in several episodes where they debunk things like detoxing, the apocalypse, and the link between childhood vaccinations and autism, there are other episodes where they discuss social and political issues, and within the episodes, Penn is not afraid to reveal his strong libertarian views on the issues discussed. When I became a Libertarian four years ago, it was Penn and Teller’s show that Zachary, my friend who introduced me to libertarianism, pointed me to, and after I watched each episode that he suggested, we would discuss it. The episodes I remember that we discussed the most which covered very strong libertarian viewpoints where the episodes based on the War on Drugs, The Death Penalty, and Taxes (which included an interview with Former Congressman Ron Paul). Several other episodes that I watched where based on the War on Porn, Gun Control, Video Games, and Family Values. Even though the series has ended seven years ago and DVD box sets of all eight seasons are available to purchase, fans and viewers of the show were not hesitant to post the more political discussion clips of the show on YouTube. One of the more popular clips features Penn discussing the government regulation of corn crops and creation of high fructose corn syrup while Teller is sitting on the table trying to pull off magic tricks with corn. Another, which has become a meme, features Penn discussing about how self-centered and racist some individuals are when they complain on how countries like ours have too much food, which ends with him saying "unless you and yours are starving, you need to shut the **** up!” Of course, there are many more clips that tackles wealth Redistribution and government regulations. In their personal and private lives, both Penn and Teller have discussed their political beliefs and have strongly been involved with the libertarian movement. Both of them are members and research fellows of the libertarian think-tank, Cato Institute, and Penn himself was the moderator for the Las Vegas Libertarian Debate during last year’s presidential election. They also express their beliefs on social media as well as their famous stage shows. Penn has also appeared in videos for YouTube channels that promote the libertarian viewpoint. Even in his book, “God, No! Signs You May Already Be An Atheist and Other Magical Tales,” Penn discusses more of his libertarian views in several chapters, and at one point, he criticizes Seth MacFarlane (the creator of Family Guy and well known for his strong liberal viewpoints) for calling the Tea Party racists, even though Penn says that he doesn’t support the Tea Party since he “disagree with them on social liberties, our overseas wars, Obama’s birthplace, Sarah Palin, and the conspicuous absence of tea at their rallies.” I would have to say that I am glad that Penn and Teller is still a part of the libertarian movement and promoting libertarianism to this day. Either it be through television, social media, or even at their magic shows, in my opinion, Penn and Teller will be one of the best duos out there doing so.


Last May, I had the chance to meet the duo with two of my friends when they were in San Antonio. All I can say it was an honor meeting these Libertarian celebrities.