Penn & Teller: Bullshit!

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
They can smell it from miles away.

You'll notice more obscenity than we usually use. That's not just because it's on Showtime, and we want to get some attention. It's also a legal matter. If one calls people liars and quacks, one can be sued and lose a lot of one's money. But "motherfuckers" and "assholes" is pretty safe. If we said it was all scams, we could also be in trouble. But BULLSHIT, oddly, is safe.So forgive all the bullshit language. We're trying to talk about the truth without spending the rest of our lives in court because of litigious motherfuckers!
Penn Jillette

Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, or P&T:B.S!, is a Showtime program hosted by comedians and stage magicians Penn Jillette and Teller. In the footsteps of great men like Harry Houdini and The Amazing James Randi they go about debunking popular misconceptions, exposing liars (Motherfuckers) and faulty science (Bullshit).

They do this by interviewing proponents of different views in the field they are debunking, adding facetious and mocking voice-overs to whichever side they disagree with and introducing the people who make money from it as assholes. As well, they occasionally throw in some decidedly unscientific experiments, or point out official policies, rules, and methodologies of various organizations that blow holes in what those organizations preach. Both Penn and Teller are radical libertarians and they never fail to use the show to advocate their viewpoint, however they freely admit their own personal bias and insist that the viewer is to make their own decision based on the information presented.

Some illustrative subjects the pair have tackled and their stances:

  • The Bible -- Their position can best be summed up by their closing line "the characters and events depicted in the damn Bible are fictitious. Any similarity to actual persons living or dead, is purely coincidental". They also say the Bible is a terrible source for morality.
  • Gun Control -- Everyone needs the right to have guns to put fear into criminals, the logic being if there is a chance everyone is armed, more people will think twice before mugging someone. Everyone should also be allowed to keep guns in case the government turns evil and the people need to perform an armed uprising. They also claim that gun laws are very ineffective at preventing criminals from just buying guns from the black market.
  • PETA -- PETA is evil, more than happy to kill humans for the goal of animal rights (by supporting terrorist organizations) and flagrant hypocrites on a number of key issues.
  • Recycling -- Recycling is wasteful, based on incorrect research, and, on the grand scale, worse for the environment than dumping in modern land fills. They make an exception for recycling aluminum, for which recycling is actually cheaper than refining from raw materials, but note that since it is profitable, private companies are willing to sort through unsorted bulk trash for aluminum cans, making government-funded recycling programs unnecessary.
  • Wal-Mart -- Wal-Mart are just the natural product of capitalism and actually do a lot of good for their employees and are helping the poor all over America, making them unfair targets for all the Wal-Mart hate.
  • War on Drugs -- It's a waste of resources, trying to halt the private use of substances that are no more destructive than alcohol or tobacco, and in a few cases, more helpful.
  • ESP -- All people who claim to have psychic powers are fakers and charlatans who are after your attention or your money. Whether the 'psychics' themselves believe in said powers is irrelevant.

This short list gives you an idea of what sort of subjects they go after: they don't just target the obvious liars and faulty sciences. They target the ones that most people believe and expose just why people benefit from you believing them. While injecting dick jokes and making fun of all involved. And even admitted, in the Recycling episode, it was something they, and many other people on their staff, believed in. "Everybody got a gris-gris." The NASA episode likewise opens with P&T reading some of their hate mail, and agreeing to call Bullshit on something they hold dear.

As the careers of Houdini and the Amazing Randi demonstrate, stage magicians are some of the best people in the world to expose fake miracles and phony paranormal events; they know how it's done. Furthermore, being familiar with illusions and people's perceptions thereof, magicians are also well-suited to deal with things like UFO sightings and psychic photographs. This does not make them experts in most of what they debunk however, and a lot of episodes they just expound their opinions as loudly as possible while occasionally calling on an actual expert - notably a tactic they criticize others for. The most notable case was their episode on secondhand smoke - when it was discovered that they used data compiled by Steve Milloy (an "expert" with significant ties to Big Tobacco), the skeptic community (who are very hostile to Milloy) heavily criticized the duo, forcing them to apologize.

The final show was slated to be The Bullshit of "Bullshit!" where they point out their own inaccuracies, criticisms and probably end on some call for us all to be more critical in our thinking from now on. However, the show was cancelled before this came to fruition.

The show went eight seasons, and their format paid off - not one successful lawsuit.

Tropes used in Penn & Teller: Bullshit! include:
  • Acrofatic: The "Obesity" episode — which focused on addressing common misconceptions about fat people — held a "Fat Guy Olympics" (with one skinny guy). Most of the fat guys outperformed the skinny guy.
    • Although the "fat" guys were all obese according to the B M I, only one of them was actually what most would consider fat (and he was the slowest in the group). Even the "skinny" guy was technically overweight, despite not showing a speck of visible fat or muscle tone. Part of the point was that the BMI wasn't ever intended to measure obesity, let alone overall fitness, and as such does a miserable job of predicting either, despite healthcare insurers using BMI to set premiums.
  • A-Cup Angst: Discouraged in the "Sex, Sex, Sex" episode, which argues against breast enhancement.
  • Affably Evil: Rodney Coronado comes across as this during the PETA episode, despite the nature of his crimes. When called by the show, his response is friendly and polite. See also Your Approval Fills Me with Shame.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: "Holier Than Thou" is devoted to these, offering less-than-stellar interpretations of some revered public figures. Specifically:
    • They argue that Mother Teresa was a corrupt, social-climbing media darling who cared more about courting politicians and furthering her own "spiritual journey" than about improving the lives of the poor, and that she was not above using shady business practices to keep her charities profitable.
    • The Dalai Lama is just the ousted dictator of an oppressive, Third World theocracy who wants to exploit his position as a "spiritual leader" to regain his lost wealth and power. At heart, he's Not So Different from the oppressive Chinese authorities that he claims to be against.
    • Mahatma Gandhi was a wise, but flawed, political leader who did much to improve the lives of his fellow Indians, but also openly despised the native Black population of South Africa (where he began his career as an attorney), though his racism wouldn't have been seen as objectionable in the 1940s.
  • American Dream: Flavor 1 is addressed in the Immigration episode.
  • Anal Probing: When Alien Abductions were covered on the show, they covered a sex toy with silver spray paint to show to people who claim to have been abducted. Upon seeing the sex toy, many claimed they were probed with a similar device. They actually made a game out of this where they paused the tape before one female abductee disclosed where in her body the aliens had inserted a probe and encouraged viewers at home to guess what part of the body it was. The correct answer was her nose.
  • Angry Black Man: Featured in the Reparations episode
  • Animal Wrongs Group: The focus of the PETA episode.
  • Author Appeal: The entire purpose of the series
  • Author Tract too. The Bible episode even straight-out called Bullshit an evangelical show.
    • Arguably the most obvious tract show was the Wal-Mart show, where Penn used his own hometown as an example of a town that went down the crapper because (or possibly despite) they refused to allow a Wal-Mart to be built there.
  • Author's Saving Throw: Penn's (and occasionally Teller's) use of profanity instead of straight out accusations of corruption and lies is meant to protect them against lawsuits. As weird as it may sound, it is safer to call someone a 'motherfucker' (which expresses an opinion, and thus is protected by Freedom of Speech) than a 'liar'. Though, since they gave away the "code" during the first episode, they still have to be a little careful.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Deconstructed in the "Sex, Sex, Sex" episode, where they argue against penis enhancement.
  • Brand Names Are Better: A regular target of the show. Bottled water and organic foods are but two examples. More generally, they also mock the "expensive is better" mindset that allows merchants to charge for unproven therapies like weight loss pills and toxin flushes.
    • They lampshade their own 'brand' in the "Fountain of Youth" episode (showing how, for example Estee Lauder cosmetics have huge markups over almost identical Clinique products); "We can't complain too much, you aren't watching Paul & Teddy's Bullshit!."
  • Buxom Is Better: Deconstructed in the "Sex, Sex, Sex" episode, where they argue against breast enhancement.
  • Catch Phrase: "And then there's this asshole." Usually used to introduce someone whose position won't be supported. Except in one episode that was actually about rectums, where Penn uses it to introduce a picture of his, and explains that when people, especially men, get to be a certain age, colon cancer is a very real health risk, so get it checked.
    • Played with in the NASA episode. "NASA wants to travel the 35 million miles to Mars. Are they out of their fucking minds? We've heard from politicians, tourists and space-camp counselors, and they're all so enthusiastic." Cut to man in full flight suit. "And then there's this as---tronaut!"
    • At one point during a segment about hair removal via waxing, they used the catchphrase to lead into a video clip of a man getting his... well... getting waxed. Penn ecstatically asserted that multiple seasons of the show and every single use of the catch phrase was simply meant to be a leadin to that one joke.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: See the page quotation.
  • Cool Old Guy: Norman freaking Borlaug.
    • Also, James "The Amazing!" Randi.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Many, though they're just as likely to mock people with anti-corporate sentiment (see the Wal-Mart and "environmental hysteria" episodes).
  • Country Matters: In an episode on profanity, even the people speaking out against censorship hesitated to say "cunt". Penn himself, although he won't use it as often as similar words, will occasionally use it, including once in reference to Mother Teresa's convent.
  • Cultural Cringe: The anti-fast food people from the Fast Food episode literally cannot stop talking about how fat and stupid they think their fellow Americans are.
  • Darker and Edgier: Episodes about subjects like the death penalty have an understandably darker tone than episodes about subjects like pseudoscience.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Penn Jillette, at least in this show.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Discussed and encouraged in the Abstinence episode.
  • Drugs Are Bad: In the War on Drugs episode, they do agree with this, but they disagree with the tactics used by the government in dealing with it and the misinformation they spread in programs with this message.
  • Edutainment Show
  • Everything's Worse with Bees: In one episode, Penn goes off on a tangent about the phrase "opening a can of worms", since if you actually do that, you get some worms, but its not very annoying or troublesome. A better phrase would be "you shouldn't open that can of bees", because when you do, you get BEES!!!!.
  • Expensive Glass of Crap: Basically the plot to the bottled water and the best episodes.
  • Fan Service: Half of the episodes are loaded to the brink with full-frontal female nudity. And quite a few have fully naked men as well.
  • For Science!: With some subjects it will be pointed out how difficult it would be for some causal relationships to be conclusively proven. For example The "Penn & Teller Centre For Extremely Bad Ideas" have allegedly put five rapists into a rented house next to an all girl college... The results of this study have been suppressed by the US Department of Reason; "Did we mention there's no good science on either side of this debate?"
  • Gay Aesop: Part of the Family Values and Boy Scouts episodes and the lesbian segment of the "Nukes, Hybrids, and Lesbians" episode.
  • Godwin's Law: Invoked Trope -- they compared the leader of PETA giving an emotional speech to footage of Adolf Hitler doing the same. The very next line was "Cheap shot? Hell yeah! It's beneath us." Then they rolled the footage from PETA's own "Holocaust On Your Plate" campaign (which consists of footage of chicken farms played next to holocaust pictures).
    • They also used it in the World Peace episode where he said "Hitler called himself a socialist" (although that case was justified, since the claim was that Socialism was a good route to world peace.).
    • Two failures in the lawn episode. A man who makes sure people's lawns are in local compliance suggested calling him a Grass Nazi, which they refused to do. The wife of a man who was jailed for not being in compliance compared it to how a concentration camp operates, which the hosts immediately mocked.
  • Green Aesop: Deconstructed in the Environmental Hysteria, Recycling and "Being Green" episodes and the Hybrid segment of "Nukes, Hybrids, and Lesbians."
  • Hypocrisy Nod: The most blatant in the "Lawns" episode when, complaining about the pesticides people use and the fact that lawns are unnatural, they recreate The Summation of the "Organic Farming" episode and show themselves split-screen making opposite statements about pesticides and natural agriculture. They then quickly point out that food is necessary and lawns aren't.
    • Another was when they were discussing Gandhi's racist comments, they pointed out they were made the same year Birth of a Nation came out.
  • Hypocritical Humor: They do this seemingly every other show, sometimes with a little subtlety but more often by flat-out saying something like "The real Bullshit here is us."
    • In "The Best", which is primarily about the futility of pursuing needless luxury (something which the illusionist duo are surrounded by much of the time in Vegas, mind you), they kick the episode off by flaunting awards and declaring "We're the best!" only to have Robin Leach (who, As You Know, was the host of a descriptively-titled show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous back in the day) come on and declare that "'The best' is bullshit."
  • Idiot of the Week
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: deconstructed as used by the Moral Guardians in the Video Games episode. To counter the claim that violent games desensitize children to violence and that realistic games teach children how to use weapons, they test it by giving a nine year old boy who plays violent games very frequently an AR-15 at a shooting range. He holds the gun incorrectly, misses the (oversized) target, isn't prepared for the recoil, doesn't want to shoot more afterward when asked, and cries from the experience
  • Immigrant Patriotism: Addressed in the Immigration episode.
  • Ironic Echo: Penn often starts a clip of someone by saying something like "at least there (is/is not) (Fill in the blank)" and of course the person in the clip starts what he's saying with exactly the opposite of what Penn was saying, usually followed by an obscenity from Penn.
  • An Immigrant's Tale: Also addressed in the Immigration episode.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Deconstructed in the Orgasms episode
  • The Internet Is for Porn: Joked about but also addressed seriously in the War On Porn episode.
  • It's Fake Fur, It's Fine: No. No, it's not. In the episode on PETA, they make it clear that they have nothing but contempt for this trope, and consider it to be hypocrisy in its purest form. They point out while interviewing a PETA spokesman that he's wearing a fake leather belt, shoes and watchband, thus propagating the fashion even though his outfit didn't directly murder any animals.
  • Lopsided Dichotomy: Used in the college episode in response to a college rally organizer who told a counter-protestor to move away from the crowd.

There's 300 of them, and 1 of us, and he's worried about their safety? He's either a pussy, or he thinks he recognizes Erin from Drunken Master 2.

  • Manufacturing Victims: The show has an episode on 12-steppers, where they argue that the method is nothing more than brainwashing and religious indoctrination. It doesn't help at all against alcoholism, and at worst it gets people more hooked on the alcohol itself as well as getting hooked on the AA movement.
    • Also done in the episode on multi-level marketing, where they say that anyone who tries to make a living doing it is nothing but a victim of the multi-level marketing companies, due to the minimal or nonexistent profit margins.
  • Missing Episode: Purchasers of the Season 7 DVD set were likely surprised to discover small text that read: "Does not include The Vatican episode." The description for the episode has also disappeared from Showtime's official episode guide. No official reason has been given for the Discontinuity, which would seem to point to Executive Meddling. Odds are the only reason the warning appeared on the DVD set was that recent seasons of Bullshit! include references to all the topics covered that season in the opening credits of each episode.
    • Ironically, the episode was largely about the Vatican's various censorship attempts.
  • Mood Whiplash: At the end of an occasional show, the mood will suddenly change from bright and bubbly to downright depressing. A perfect example comes from their episode on video games, where the discussion turns to the violence in football and how people need to get their priorities straight. Then they apologize for cutting off the ending of a clip they had shown earlier of a nine year old boy and violent video game player who had just shot a gun for the first time (it wasn't specified, but he may have held it wrong and hurt himself). The ending clip shows him sobbing silently on his mother's shoulder, while the voice-over apologizes, "Sorry, Harrison." Sob.
    • Likewise is the episode on "Old People". It goes from showing humorous clips about old people's sex lives, driving, and how they smell to talking about "death with dignity"/"assisted suicide". Penn and Teller don't even bother mocking either side, which tells you how complex the controversy really is.
      • The Dolphins episode has one of the most scathing endings about the dolphin-assisted birthing practitioner. Penn even says "That's the end of serious", while lounging on a chair in a Hawaiian shirt, when condemning the person behind the idea; "It turned out she hadn't yet done any physical harm so we let her slide. But you know, we shouldn't have."
      • The Cheerleading episode swings between making jokes about P&T being dirty old men perving at cheerleaders, and meeting cheerleaders who have been paralysed by accidents while competing.
  • Moral Guardians: The target in several episodes such as the College, Violent Video Games, War on Porn, and Vatican episodes.
  • Nostalgia Ain't Like It Used to Be / Nostalgia Filter: Deconstructed in the "Good Ol' Days" episode.
  • Only One Name: Teller. He was originally named Raymond Joseph Teller, but legally changed his name to just "Teller".'
  • Only Sane Man: In the War on Drugs episode, after listening to the arguments of its supporters, Penn claims, "Is everyone fucking high but us?"
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: The reason P&T refer to people they disagree with as "assholes" is because calling them liars or con-artists would be considered slander, which could get them sued. "Asshole" is a statement of opinion, meaning it's much safer.
    • Lampshaded in the Multi-Level Marketing episode, where their lawyers told them they would be in trouble if they called these companies pyramid schemes, since it constitutes accusing them of a crime. In the middle of their rant on this restriction, the attending lawyer broke in with "Hey, I'm the one that's gonna have to defend you assholes!"
    • The episode "Numbers" had Penn refer to the M&Ms used in one demonstration as "N&Ns" since their lawyers wouldn't allow it, either. He lampshades this, too.
  • Petite Pride: Supported in the "Sex, Sex, Sex" episode which argues against breast enhancement.
  • Pixellation: Used on the episode "War on Porn" for some images of hardcore porn (bodily fluids, penetration, etc.) since Showtime wouldn't allow it to be shown compared to the soft core variety as is typical (breasts). Also used to obscure the face of the young daughter of an Internet porn star couple to protect her privacy and "innocence".
    • Also used in the Orgasms episode to censor a woman's ejaculate. Showtime doesn't allow bodily fluids, but they didn't mention it in that episode.
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: Addressed in the College, Reparations, and Sensitivity Training episodes.
  • The Promised Land: The United States is portrayed as such in the Immigration episode.
  • Rape Is Love: Deconstructed in the "War on Porn" episode. One of the women attacking the sex industry actually tries to use this as an argument, suggesting that porn will make men think that rape doesn't really hurt women and that it's OK. Penn's response?

"Rapists fucking know they're hurting their victims. Hurting is the fucking idea, fucking isn't the fucking idea! You're trying to take away our porn by telling us that rapists are sensitive lovers who are simply misled by fiction?! No! No! No! No! Rapists are violent criminals who must be stopped."

    • Possibly a Did Not Do the Research moment as many rapists actually convince themselves that their victims enjoyed it.
    • Many rapists don't care whether or not they hurt their victims, they just see them as objects for them to act upon and are looking for the easiest way to get away with it. See: Date Rape or rape where the victim is asleep.
  • Running Gag:
  • Sarcasm Failure: The "Soda Tax" referenced in the fast food episode places extra government taxes on the purchase of sodas. Sodas are made using HFCS. The main incentive to use HFCS is the low price due to government corn subsidies. In other words, from Penn's point of view, the government is solving a problem they created with misspent taxpayer money by taking more taxpayer money. They found the concept so asinine they couldn't develop a proper visual aid.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Penn, quite frequently.
  • Satire
  • Self-Deprecation: In the pet episode, Penn mentions that for all the craziness people spend on their pets, he himself indulges pretty substantially on personal appeals. Furthermore, the Grand Finale of Bullshit was intended to be "The Bullshit of Bullshit", where they point out where they screwed up or were hugely biased.
    • In the War On Porn Episode, "Our argument is bullshit too. Correlation is not causation. It could easily be just a coincidence. So in the absence of evidence, who are you going to go with? The killjoys, or us? We have pictures of people fucking, and they don't!"
    • In general they love to call it "a bullshit show", even aside from the name, and to be incredulous that anyone with sense would want to be on it.
  • Sinister Minister: The Vatican and "Holier Than Thou" episodes
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: One of the women in the Gun Control episode, who argues against it because women tend to be physically weaker than men and need other means of defending themselves.
  • Special Guest: In the "Apocalypse 2012" episode, while discussing the idea that a brown dwarf star will destroy the world in 2012, they cut to Penn & Teller going up to Gary Coleman and asking if he's planning on destroying the world in 2012. He says yes.
  • Strawman Political: Pretty much anyone they disagree with, regardless of political affiliation. If nothing else, at least they're equal-opportunity in that regard...
    • Strawman political in that special case where they just find someone who actually has beliefs that are that extreme, not in the sense of a fictional character.
    • Penn claims that they don't ambush people with false pretenses, or take them out of context with tricky Michael Moore editing, though we sort of have to take their word for it.
      • Well, except for Penn's admission (in an ubiquitous voice over) that the commentary was Michael Moore style. And one occasion pointing out they they had utilized Michael Moore editing (in a Lampshade).
    • Penn has summed up the tone of their show with the phrase "Fair, and extremely biased" several times during the show and NUMEROUS times outside of it. "Fair" in that they allow people to express their opinions/ideas fully without dicking about in the editing; "biased" in that they then steamroll over them with their own side without a chance for rebuttal or explanation. Which, as is often claimed, seems a little less than fair..
      • Not to mention that they engage in a bit of creative omission when it benefits their case. For example, they discuss unionization in the Wal-Mart episode pointing out how the unions see it as a big payday - but fail to mention that the two times North American unions were successful in getting recognized, Wal-Mart closed the unionized units, which was ruled to be against the law both in the US and Canada.
  • Take That: And how!
  • The Talk: Focus of the Abstinence episode
  • Talking to the Dead: The very first episode took aim at psychics who claim to be able to communicate with dead loved ones.

Penn: (at a set dressed as Harry Houdini's grave, to the headstone) Harry! Can you believe it? The same bullshit you so thoroughly debunked almost a century ago is continuing! And even enjoying a resurgence! (to camera) See? Anyone can talk to the dead! Getting an answer, that's the hard part.
Teller: (as Houdini, his face poking through the foam layer front of the headstone) Bullshit!

  • Three-Way Sex / A Threesome Is Manly: In the War on Porn episode, one of the critics of the sex industry makes the claim that this kind of sex is torture and one of the things that desensitizes men to rape.
  • Title Drop: Used Once an Episode in the opening. Penn describes the topic of the day, ending with "(subject of tonight's show) is bullshit!"
  • This Is Sparta: From the end of the episode "Eat This!" which debunked fad diets and the supposed "danger" of genetically modified food:

Penn: Unless you and yours are starving, then you need to SHUT! THE FUCK! UP!

  • Urban Legends: The source of a few debunkings.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Addressed in the Video Games episode.
  • Visual Pun: Often used as a way of Getting Crap Past the Radar - for instance, talking about multi-level marketing in front of a giant pyramid (asking their lawyer why they can't use "that word," no less), or alternative medicine in front of a flock of ducks.
  • The Voiceless: Teller, in keeping with P&T's original act. Depending on the episode, it's either played straight, or subverted. Teller never speaks in such a way where you can see his lips move, but if you've seen every episode, you have a pretty good idea of what the guy sounds like. Some notable subversions:
    • The cold open of the very first episode. See Talking to the Dead above.
    • In the P.E.T.A. episode, wherein Penn brands Teller's ass with the show's eponymous obscenity. Appropriately, he screams in

Teller: Mother fucker!
Penn: Hey, cool, Dave! He can talk!

    • In "Holier Than Thou", Teller is holding up a sign with Mother Teresa's birth name, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, for Penn to read. Penn has quite a few problems trying to pronounce her name, so Teller lifts the board up so it covers his mouth, and says it for him, without a problem.
    • The Apocalypse episode features a brief skit where Penn plays a sleazy used car salesman doing a commercial and Teller plays his mascot. Teller spends the entire sequence dressed as the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, unintelligibly screeching and hooting at the camera.
  • You Fail Logic Forever: Frequently done by the supporters of the topics they attack. For example in the 'War Against Porn' episode they call out anti-porn campaigners for drawing solid conclusions from their own speculation and mostly appealing to adverse consequences; "STOP THE FUCKIN' TAPE! She doesn't have any studies? So Gail is just making shit up."
    • Penn & Teller are frequent offenders as well, though they do sometimes lampshade it. For example, when arguing against socialism, they point out that Hitler was a socialist. That's absolutely true; this is an oversimplification, but Italian and German fascism embraced socialism and rejected both communism and capitalism. Hitler Ate Sugar, too.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Penn Jillette's response to Rodney Coronado's polite tone. "Cool dude, likes us, likes our show... too bad he's a fuckin' arsonist."