"If you take medical
advice from a Las Vegas magician, you … deserve to
die," said Penn Jillette, the louder half of Penn
and Teller, at Francis W. Parker School in Chicago on
Friday night. The introduced "magician, author,
auteur, atheist, weight loser and loser" seemed to
want the audience to take the extreme diet detailed in
his latest book, "Presto! How I Made Over 100
Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales," with a
grain of salt. But, as Jillette writes in
"Presto!": "only a grain — salt is
poison, as even this idiot now knows."
"It’s the only book
that people seemed to want me to write," said
Jillette, tall as ever but now much smaller, seated
across from Chicago Humanities Festival associate
artistic director Alison Cuddy. A dive into health and
wellness may be a detour from Jillette’s usual bag of
tricks, but "Presto!" contains as many
Jillette-isms about atheism, libertarianism and
masturbation as ever.
The real-life story that
inspired the book came about when Jillette, who was
nearing 60, had topped 300 pounds and was struggling to
keep his blood pressure at a level that didn’t invite
swift death, shirked his doc’s recommendation of a
stomach sleeve and transformed his health by doing what
he does best: going to extremes.
It all began with potatoes.
Jillette embarked on a
two-week mono-diet, guided by scientist Ray Cronise (Jillette
calls him "CrayRay"). Phase one was eating
just potatoes. Next they added "whole plants,"
or other vegetables.
"It’s kind of like if
you’re listening to nothing but three-chord rock ‘n’
roll at deafening volumes, and you love it because
three-chord rock ‘n’ roll at deafening volumes is
wonderful, and then all of a sudden you decide to turn
it down, and playing there is Miles Davis and
Stravinsky," he said about the palate-cleansing
experience. He talked about a piece of post-potato corn
like it was a dish at Alinea. It was plain corn.
Jillette told the Humanities
Fest audience that he lost an average of 0.9 pounds a
day while getting down to his goal weight of 230 pounds.
That claim elicited a reaction of oohs and aahs.
He claims he now has a diet
mostly free of sugar, salt and fat — the staples of
what he refers to in "Presto!" as the Standard
American Diet, or SAD. Jillette, lover of Bob Dylan,
Lenny Bruce and Jack Kerouac, said, "The people
that I love and respect are not good at
But don’t count Donald
Trump, who Jillette competed to impress twice on
"Celebrity Apprentice," as a member of that
Jillette said he couldn’t
help reacting to Trump’s remarks on the show.
"I rolled my eyes so
loudly in the boardroom that Donald Trump took the habit
of turning to me and saying, ‘That isn’t sexist, is
it Penn?’ To which I would reply, ‘I believe it’s
the textbook definition.’"
The casual conversation with
Cuddy turned to politics.
Jillette was a supporter of
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, whom he credited for
"not running the campaign based on hate and
fear." He said he ultimately was voting for Hillary
Clinton because he lives in a swing state, but still
criticized her shortcomings, specifically calling her
out for being too anti-immigration.
"I think that immigrants
deserve to be here more than I do," he said.
But his post-weight loss self
seemed happy to stick around and spend as much time as
possible with his family. He spoke of a game that asks
what show a music snob would go back in time to see.
Jillette said he would see Dylan in his first appearance
post-winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
"Wait a minute, I was
there!" he said. "All of my dreams have come