Everybody’s favorite celebrity-atheist-libertarian-ponytailed-rich guy is ready. He’s miked up. He’s facing the TV camera.
But the props. Where are the props?
Ah, there they are. Ten boxes marked “Human Blood” get wheeled in. Mr. Ponytail props an elbow on top. Tee hee, giggles the small crowd. The interview commences.
“It’s easy,” says Penn Jillette, the talking half of the headlining magical smart aleck duo Penn & Teller. “I find it fun, and you help a lot of people.”
Jillette is pitching charity work, but not the kind you’ve got to be rich for. He’s donating blood, which he does every year at this time.
Apparently, not enough people do that. Especially right about now, the holiday season, the season of giving and loving thy neighbor.
It’s bad enough that the blood donation rate in Las Vegas is a third of what it tends to be nationally, laments the press guy for United Blood Services. Throw in the holidays, and you get a population that already doesn’t donate much going about their busy lives, forgetting to donate at all. Blood donations always drop around the holidays.
Jillette doesn’t like that. So, he got involved in this event, the kickoff of the annual 13 Bloody Days of Christmas.
To get folks energized, Jillette has thrown in two free tickets to the duo’s show for anyone who donates at United Blood Services between now and the end of the year. It’s the eighth year Penn & Teller have been doing it.
Jillette says giving blood is a super cool form of charity. Doesn’t require money, doesn’t require political spin or any sort of work on the part of the donor. You don’t need to check out that the charitable organization is going to put your donation to good use. It kind of goes without saying that donated blood will, indeed, be put to good use.
“With blood,” Jillette says, “there’s really no way it can be done badly.”
It is gently pointed out that Jillette is supposed to be a selfish atheist libertarian, and don’t those kind of people generally not give a darn about the rest of humanity?
Well, he says, that’s not how it works.
“I believe strongly that as an atheist and libertarian, it’s my responsibility to do this,” he says. “No one else is going to. We have to help each other.”
(It’s around this time that Darren Hankel, the Blood Services spokesman, hands over a press release that says the Penn & Teller promotion has drawn in more than 23,000 units of blood over the years.)
But, Jillette is asked, you’re a rich guy. Why aren’t you at home, just, you know, being rich? Why go out of your way to do something like this when clearly you don’t need to?
Because, he says: Most of what we — we humans — do is ambiguous. It is neither good nor bad. It just exists.
But this? Giving a piece of yourself and getting nothing in return but a little knowledge that you have helped a total stranger?
“This is just good.”
And so he sits down, pops in a couple of ear buds, and gets the needle.
Which is when the little guy gets noticed.
“You know,” says Raymond Teller, who had been sitting right there the whole time, being quiet, just kind of watching things and not getting involved. “A lot of rich guys do good.”
Teller talks in a near whisper. He says he has found himself writing checks to total strangers, donating money to Wikipedia just for the heck of it. Why not? he says. He’s clearly got the resources.
He tells a story he heard the other day.
There’s a certain Strip headliner he won’t name.
“This guy is rich,” he says.
Mr. Rich Guy goes around bragging that he tricked the clerk at a convenience store out of the money for a Slurpee. Mr. Headlining Moneybags is proud of this, even thinks it’s funny.
It is clear that Teller is not just angry about this story, he is disappointed, and he is baffled.
Some people are jerks, he says, and some people aren’t. When you are rich, when you’ve got in abundance what other people are so desperately in need of, he says, it’s so easy to help other people it’s ridiculous.
Why a person would choose not to help when it is clearly so easy, he says, makes no sense.
Contact reporter Richard Lake at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0307.