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Podcasts are radio at its finest. As such, they should be lauded and enjoyed, and most importantly shared. I am an official podcast connoisseur, a title I bequeathed upon myself as I have listened to literally - a word that I have, for figuratively the first time ever, used correctly here - thousands of episodes of podcasts. These shows come in such varied flavors that anyone can find something to like. While we continue many of my own personal favorite shows, this is about exploring new shows as much as sharing old ones. From the dreadfully popular to the freaky basement recordings of strangers, welcome to Podcap. This week we visit with Penn’s Sunday School, for the episode “Live From Boston: A Balls Grabbing Good Time,” released January 26, 2014.
What denomination is this service?Penn Jillette is the voice of the magic duo Penn & Teller. Actually, it’s Teller who is the magician. Penn is, by his own admission, more of a carnival barker for the two. Now on Adam Carolla’s podcasting network, Carolla Digital, Penn dispenses with his filthy and perverted beliefs. With his friends and fellow libertines Michael Goudeau, Matt Donnelly, and Dustin Knouse, Penn entertains with a litany of anecdotes, behind the scenes revelations, and things that drive the group mad. It’s part political commentary, a modicum of religious discussion, and a whole shitload of sexual perversions.
It’s Not Even Tuesday, What’s Up With The Monkey?Penn’s Sunday School doesn’t have the laundry list of inside jokes that most podcasts do, but instead relies on the personality quirks of the hosts. The show’s longest running gag is what’s referred to as “Monkey Tuesday.” This harkens way back to Penn Radio on Free FM, where Penn and Michael Goudeau would take calls and questions about an array of primates. Whenever someone says the phrase, “Monkey Tuesday,” the theme song has to be played. It’s a fast paced jazzy piano diddy with horribly wrong monkey screeching noises interspersed within. Composed by Mike Jones, the bandleader for Penn & Teller, it’s the most distinctive aspect of the show.
Penn himself deflects praise by heaping it upon others. It’s one of his charming attributes, and is responsible for him being respected in the entertainment business. He’s a man who loves the art of entertaining, and shares his feelings with everyone. So he spends much of the time lauding his cohosts, or explaining how Teller is the one who studied magic for years and is incredible with his hands. In the end he ends up being the most engaging person in the room because he can’t be anything else, despite monumental attempts otherwise.
The PodcapPenn’s Sunday School is not typically a live show, but this one was recorded in Boston with an audience, but without Michael Goudeau. Aside from allowing an audience to see the show, the dynamic doesn’t change in the slightest. Well, a few great moments with audience questions and comments do pop up now and then. In general, this is an average episode of the show that starts with what would be a scandalous story to many, but is de rigeur for Penn.
Penn discusses his desire to warm up his very cold hands - we seem to still be trapped in dangerous, evil, global warming disproving, polar vortices here in the Northeast United States - utilizing the warmest parts of those around him. Not feeling it proper to ask a woman, he gets a giggling man to agree. But the man is surprised when Penn actually goes to cup his balls for warmth. Later in the podcast an audience member gets into a discussion with Penn on why he paints his pinky nail (for his mother), and then you just have to understand that the conversation on the show is organic. Maybe not natural, given most of the topics.
Next up the gang talks with a woman who is part of the Free State Project, which she explains is an initiative to get twenty thousand people to move to a selected state and try to make it a more “liberty free place.” Right now they’ve selected New Hampshire, with some having already moved, and nearly fifteen thousand committed to joining. it’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure how much effective change they’ll bring about.
We get into a little political discussion in this episode, starting with the legalization of drugs. Penn talks about being the only non-smoker to appear on the cover of High Times. He says he’s never done any drugs, but is still an advocate for their legality. When the folks at the magazine ask him to hold a bag of marijuana for the photo shoot, Penn explains that while he’s an advocate for legalized pot it is in fact still illegal. The show then turns to Pork Fest, which is like Burning Man...but not? I’m all about a festival celebrating the wonders of fatty, unctuous, pork.
One of my favorite anecdotes shared in this episode is about Bitcoin. Someone long ago gave Penn a card with a link to some Bitcoins on it, but he filed it away in a junk drawer. Not in a neglectful way, just in a “I don’t really get what this is, although it seems interesting” kind of way. Years later when a Bitcoin is worth a lot of money, Penn’s wife finds the card and discovers the link to where the Bitcoin has expired. Being the tenacious woman she is, she gets in touch with the guy who gave Penn the original Bitcoin and the man agrees to sell a few for a very reasonable price. It’s a lesson in never letting something new you don’t understand slip through the cracks, and also how you should never fuck with a man’s wife when money is on the line. She will grab hold like Chomper sicking balls.
Like all Sunday School episodes the talking points vacillate between irreverent stances on being a bit effeminate when you’re larger than 6’2” and serious exploration of the clean water issue in Virginia. Penn is a libertarian, and proudly so, but he’s also very realistic about who he is. He never claims to do anything that he doesn’t actually do. So while he may make a political or social statement with his podcast, if he’s too afraid to act on something he’ll say so. It’s refreshing for someone to be so bare with his beliefs and feelings, when so many talking heads in politics are there simply for the paycheck and sound bite.
Penn’s Sunday School is one of the most interesting casual discussion podcasts out there, especially concerning the everyday world of politics. It’s not anywhere near a political show, but is at its best when Penn begins preaching the love of his beliefs.