Updated August 14, 2018 - 5:13 pm
The oft-outspoken Penn Jillette is never one to mince his words.
He’s also rarely reckless.
“I was careful,” Jillette said today in a text message, while standing by his published assertion that tapes do exist of Donald Trump using racially insensitive language during tapings of “Celebrity Apprentice.” Jillette’s comments were tucked into a lengthy interview in Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture and entertainment website.
Interviewer David Marchese pointedly asked Jillette, who was twice a contestant on the NBC series, if producer Mark Burnett has tapes of President Trump saying “damaging” things as the show was filmed.
“Yeah, I was in the room,” Jillette answers. As Marchese followed up with, “You’ve heard him say …” Jillette cuts him off with, “Oh, yeah.” Jillette refused to delve deeper into the specifics of Trump’s comments.
“If Donald Trump had not become president, I would tell you all the stories. But the stakes are now high and I am an unreliable narrator. What I do, as much as anything, is I’m a storyteller. And storytellers are liars,” Jillette says. “So I can emotionally tell you things that happened racially, sexually, and that showed stupidity and lack of compassion when I was in the room with Donald Trump and I guarantee you that I will get details wrong. “
Jillette indicated he had not yet read the published profile. But he said he did not care to elaborate, qualify or edit any of it.
“I’ve been told it’s clear,” he said.
The issue of Trump’s reputed recorded comments has dominated entertainment and political coverage this week. Former “Apprentice” star contestant and ex-White House aide has just released her new book, “Unhinged: An Insider Account of the Trump White House,” while claiming such recordings exist. Trump has posted on his Twitter feed that Burnett has told him there are no such recordings, and he didn’t use any offensive language.
Penn & Teller return to the stage at the Rio on Saturday after a 2 1/2-month layoff so Teller could undergo back surgery.
Jillette’s latest claims against Trump are the latest chapter in an ongoing saga between the headlining comic/magician and the man currently occupying the Oval Office.
Jillette finished seventh in his first appearance on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2012, as Arsenio Hall won the competition. Jillette was invited back in the spring of 2013 for “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice,” competing with such contestants as Trace Adkins, Joan Rivers, Lil Jon, Lisa Rinna, Piers Morgan and Gary Busey.”
Competing to raise money for Las Vegas charity Opportunity Village, Jillette battled to the finals against Adkins, with whom he forged a friendship. Trump awarded Adkins (playing on behalf of the American Red Cross) the championship, though Jillette raised more money for his charity during the competition. It seemed, for that reason, Jillette was the favorite to win the $1 million top prize.
As a backdrop to the TV show, Jillette had earlier rankled Trump by making fun of the then-TV host in the 2012 book “Every Day is an Atheist’s Holiday, saying, “We’ve chosen to make this whackjob, with the cotton candy piss hair and the birther (expletive), into someone we want to please.”
That comment was in a lengthy screed in which Jillette peeled back his first experience on the show. He wrote that show was largely unpleasant, but was at least an honest representation of the staged competition: “It’s venal people clawing at stupid, soulless (expletive) in front of the modern-day Scrooge McDuck in order to stay famous.”
Before the debut of “All-Star Celebrity Apprentice,” Jillette sent Trump a note apologizing and explaining the comments. The issue seemed to be put aside as Jillette returned to the show, until Trump abruptly awarded Adkins the championship in the season finale.
Suspicions that Trump was exacting revenge on Jillette were borne out when Trump homed in on Jillette in 2015. The barrage seemingly came out of nowhere, during Penn & Teller’s run on Broadway, with Trump tweeting: “I hear @PennJillette show on Broadway is terrible. Not surprised, boring guy (Penn). Without the Apprentice, show would have died long ago.”
Trump followed up with, “I loved firing goofball atheist Penn @PennJillette on The Apprentice. He never had a chance. Wrote letter to me begging for forgiveness.”
Jillette just smirked at those posts, saying at the time, “I’ve always liked Trump for having no filter. I’m embarrassed to say I even like this. He’s never seen our show, and I think that matters.”