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Penn Jillette

aka: Penn Jillette

Comedian - Influenced By Shep

Washington Post - 9-3-2006 Growing up in Greenfield, Mass., near Amherst College, Jillette listened late at night to WOR in New York, an AM powerhouse where the late, legendary storyteller Jean Shepherd spun his improvisations on themes of nonconformism and the power of the individual. Shepherd's legacy in the popular culture is that of a nostalgist; his movie "A Christmas Story," a cable cult classic, leads many to believe he was a sweet Midwestern family man. The truth is that Shepherd was a renegade, a jazz hipster who smashed the conventions of radio and challenged his listeners to open their windows and shout their pain across the city streets. (The 1976 movie "Network" ripped off that "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" scene from Shepherd's real-life, middle-of-the-night, mass shout-a-thons with his audience.) Jillette says he patterns his approach to radio after the work of Shepherd and his other spoken-word hero, the great satirist and parodist Stan Freberg. Jillette considers himself lucky to have seen both his heroes make speeches to college audiences: "Freberg told the students, 'Do not make fun of anything unless you hate it,' and Shepherd said, 'Do not make fun of anything unless you love it.' "They were really and deeply saying the same thing," Jillette contends. "Don't talk about anything unless you care passionately about it. Whereas so much entertainment now consists of people sitting around saying, 'What can we make fun of, what's in the news, what's easy to grab?' "
Links to Further Information:
• Penn and Teller website