Penn & Teller, the Moon Hoax, and Me (Part I)

By Phil Plait | February 1, 2007 9:36 pm

I met Penn and Teller a few years back at one of James Randi’s The Amaz!ng Meetings. They were mobbed at the meeting, of course, and I hardly had a chance to introduce myself, so it was with some surprise that I got an email from Penn’s group asking me if I’d like to appear on their Showtime series… the name of which would break my own rules to post. On his radio show, Penn calls it "Bulls Hit", so I’ll go with that.

I taped the segment with some crew members in a hotel room, but P&T weren’t there (nuts). They did have The Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich, and I got to see it, hold it, and have my image forever saved with it.

Anyway, we did the segment, and when the show came out I was pretty pleased. With a lot of interviews I do, the producers want to be "fair", and give "both sides" balance, but that’s crap: when one side is right and the other very very wrong, the media do a disservice to try to be balanced.

Penn and Teller did this the right way.

I just found out someone put that brief segment on YouTube. So if you haven’t seen it, here you go. WARNING (and I mean it): This clip contains very bad language. A lot of it. And rude gestures. And one short gag that will probably offend a lot of Christians. And some phenomenal dumbosity. And Penn swears a lot. A lot.

But it’s really really funny.

And I can stand still for a long time. Standing at an eyepiece for hours gives you a lot of practice.

Astute readers may have noticed that this entry is labeled "Part I". There will be at least one more part coming… soon. Be patient. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

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Comments (61)

  1. Did Rene ever get around to sweeping his chimey?

  2. I forget, did they use that holey bible in another show?

  3. CR

    Ha, ha ha, ha! That was rude, silly, and absolutely BRILLIANT!
    As for the “chimey” sweep, maybe Rene’d had a little too much “water” to drink out of that vodka bottle. Oops. I mean Vodka bottle, with a capital V.

  4. Or get a new bottle of cheap vodka?

    Damn glad to see you’re still moving up in the world and fighting the good fight, Phil, even if I haven’t been around for quite some time.

  5. Lauren

    That was fantastic. It was SO funny! I’m looking forward to part 2. I think Rene needs to get a new hobby. By the way, that’s some amazing standing still skills.

  6. CR

    By the way, the Easter Bunny’s rude gesture attempt had me in stitches!

  7. KingNor

    I’ve been listening to Penn on my iPod. What a guy!

    I agree with lauren, you make standing still look easy.

  8. RPink

    Wow, I remember that clip. It was on my favourites before I stumbled onto your blog, in fact.

    I haven’t seen part II, though. I will most definitely like to see that when you get around to posting. Funny thing about this clip is that now, I am starting to see prop “C”s on all sorts of objects these days. 😉

  9. Rowsdower

    The whole thing was hilarious. Thank you for some good fun.

  10. HI. Been ‘lurking’ for a while, finally decided to comment.

    I saw some of the P&T ‘bovine manure’ episodes when I had ‘free’ Showtime, so I knew what to expect from the language. This, unfortunately, was not one of them.
    However, it brought up a few things about Rene that weren’t in the National Geographic Channel’s ‘Moon Hoax’ debunking. (Which, BTW, I have not only watched, but saved to DVD via my DVR).
    I think my favorite segment in the NGC show was his demonstrating how a glove in a vacuum couldn’t be used to hold anything, or press the ‘tiny’ camera button. Of course, what did he use? A cheap rubber glove, of course.
    He’s hilarious – along with some of the others on the show(s)… but he thinks he’s serious.

    J/P=?

  11. csrster

    Hilarious. I like their “the answer is Watergate” point, although I’ve
    always felt that the answer is the Kremlin. The first moon landing was front page news in the Soviet Union. If it was faked, don’t ya think the Russkies would have noticed?

  12. Laguna2

    Great Link…

    “Sorry
    We at Showtime Online express our apologies; however, these pages are intended for access only from within the United States.”

  13. ab

    What do you think of Penn and Teller’s opinion on Global Warming? You have mentioned that you do believe in it, and I wonder what you think of their denial.

  14. Firebird

    That was great! I’ll giggle the rest of the day.

    A pity with that link though…

  15. AG

    I’m gonna stop hyperventilating in a minute now, right? Priceless, esp. after I spent half the week deleting moon-hoax nonsense from my comments queue. Can’t wait for the next segment.

  16. Markus Mencke

    Wonderfully done
    And for the bad language – in this case, it seems absolutley appropriate.
    What else could you call the “arguments” of these people?

  17. I loved this as well and second everyone above here.

    I did want to add it’s nice to see you ‘coming out’. I mean, showing your face in the vidcasts and this thing: it really adds to the blog, which I’ve never enjoyed so much since I began reading about a year ago.

    Keep up the good work, Phil!

  18. RPM

    What do you think of Penn and Teller’s opinion on Global Warming?

    I’m bothered that some of their shows come out like adverts for Cato talking points — they’re anti-environmentalist show is an attack at causeheads not the actual issues, the recycling show focuses on the monetary costs of recycling too much relative to than the environmental impact (and ignores some commonly recycled items).

  19. Grand Lunar

    Classic ending: the photo of the astronauts after the speech by Nixon; smiling and happy! Love it!

    Indeed, if I were in a can no larger than the back seat of a station wagon for a week, having to use plastic bags for a toilet, I’d just want to lay down for a day and forget everyone else. I mean, who wouldn’t?

    I wonder what Part 2 will be like….

  20. Ruth

    I watched some others too, the Bible one had me cracking up!

  21. A Word of Warning to All!!

    Don’t eat your breakfast while watching the video.

    I now have cheerios and milk all ofver my computer desk.:)

  22. MKR

    The unwaving flag prop in that stage scene was a nice touch. 😛

  23. RPM said just what I wanted to say about the recycling show. Money is, after all, a human invention, but we can’t invent ourselves another planet if we use this one up.

  24. Knowledge Pilgrim

    What I don’t understand about these Moon hoaxers is what exactly they think is faked in the long line of engineering tasks that it took to land on the Moon and return? Is it just landing on the Moon? Is it the trip to the Moon? Is it getting into earth orbit?

    I am willing to bet dollars to donuts that by far the most difficult engineering was required in getting a 360+ foot tall building (the Saturn 5 rocket) the first inch off the ground and then to keep it going into orbit in one piece. This of course could have been watched in person at the time by anyone who wanted to drive to Florida to see it.

  25. gopher65

    For some reason I couldn’t get this movie to fully load in IE7. It only loaded about 3/5 of the way, then stopped. I tried going to YouTube directly, and the same thing happened. Tried restarting, nada. It works in Firefox though.

  26. Illucian

    Fabulous job, Phil! I don’t get Showtime, so thanks much for the link.

  27. Just so we’re clear, Rene lives in Scottsburg, IN. Scottsburg is so near the Southern border of IN, that we should really call it part of KY. Yes, how about we do that? If we can’t move Rene out of the state, can we move the border just a bit?

    To regain some dignity, I will take a moment to highlight some IN contributions to the space program.

    Purdue graduate astronauts:

    Neil Armstrong ’55 — First man to walk on the moon. Missions: 1966, ’69
    John E. Blaha ’66 — Missions: 1989, ’89, ’91, ’93, ’96, ’97
    Roy D. Bridges Jr. ’66 — Missions: 1985; became director of Kennedy Space Center, 1997.
    Mark Brown ’73 — Valparaiso native. Missions: 1989, ’91
    John J. Casper ’67 — Missions: 1990, ’93, ’94, ’96
    Eugene Cernan ’56 — Last man to walk on moon; Missions: 1966, ’69, ’72
    Roger B. Chaffee ’57 — Killed in Apollo 1 fire with Gus Grissom in 1967 during testing on the ground. Missions: Never made it to space
    Richard O. Covey ’69 — Pilot of first mission after Challenger accident. Missions: 1985, ’88, ’90, ’93
    Andrew J. Feustel — Purdue ’91; awaiting first space flight assignment.
    Guy S. Gardner ’70 — Missions: 1988, ’90
    Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom ’50 — The Mitchell, Ind., native was the second American to fly in space but was killed in the Apollo 1 fire in 1967. Missions: 1961,’65
    Gregory Harbaugh ’78 — Was on first docking mission with Mir. Missions: 1991, ’93, ’95, ’97
    Michael J. McCulley ’70 — Missions: 1989
    Gary E. Payton ’72 — As a payload specialist, he is not considered a “career astronaut” by NASA. Missions: 1985
    Mark L. Polansky ’78 — Member of mission to work on international space station. Missions: 2001
    Jerry Ross ’72 — Holds record for most spacewalk time. Missions: 1985, ’88, ’91, ’93, ’95, ’98, 2002
    Loren J. Shriver ’68 — Missions: 1985, ’90, ’92
    Janice E. Voss’75 –Missions: 1993, ’95, ’97, ’97, 2000
    Charles D. Walker ’71 — Born and raised in Bedford, Ind. First civilian in space. As a payload specialist, he is not considered a “career astronaut” by NASA. Missions: 1984, ’85, ’85
    Mary Ellen Weber ’84 — Missions: 1995, 2000
    Donald Williams ’64 — Flew 330 Vietnam missions. Missions: 1985, ’89
    David Wolf ’78

    Perhaps in light of the many contributions of IN to the space program, a nut job like Rene is required to help maintain cosmic balance. :)

    -OEJ, Proud Hoosier

  28. MarshallDog

    I’d like to comment on the cheese sandwich, if I may. If you ask me, it looks like Rita Heyworth. Then again, I might be biased, because I love Shawshank Redemption probably more than certain people love Jesus.

  29. Geoff

    Well I can’t stand for a long time but I can’t sit still and watch Rene without laughing either.

  30. The Tarrkid

    Scottsburg? That’s like 15 miles from me! (We’re not all nutjobs down here in Southern Indiana, I swear! Of course, I’m a transplant from Massachusetts, so what do I know?)

    But my favorite part was, with 1:50 remaining, the “They went to the moon to take pictures of — NYYEAH — the moon!” bit.

    That one little — noise — whatever — sums it up perfectly.

  31. Thanks for sharing, BAB!

  32. Serenitude

    Brilliant!! I haven’t seen anything that funny in ages!

    As for the bad language, nothing I haven’t been tempted to use in the CT forum 😉 LOL

  33. RPM:

    I disagree that their recycling show “focuses on the monetary costs of recycling too much relative to than the environmental impact” because they DID discuss the purported “environmental impact” in multiple ways. They established that recycling is just another MANUFACTURING process that produces inferior products at greater cost and with potentially GREATER environmental impact. Landfilling is cheap, effective, and safe. We shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Meanwhile, recycling plastic and paper (which are what they targetted) is labour-intensive and far less efficient than just making new products from new materials. The fact that is costs more is just a reflection of that.

  34. gopher65

    The Tarrkid said:

    “But my favorite part was, with 1:50 remaining, the “They went to the moon to take pictures of — NYYEAH — the moon!” bit.

    That one little — noise — whatever — sums it up perfectly. ”

    hehe yeah, that cracked me up too:). Nyyeaaah!

  35. Bryan D.

    Ha, I’ve seen that clip dozens of times, and it never gets old. :)

  36. Astrogirl

    Thanks for the clip, Phil! You made lunchtime frakkin’ hilarious!

  37. Gary Ansorge

    Blake:Inventing ourselves another planet is EXACTLY what building space colonies is all about. Granted, that will do little for the vast majority of humans left on planet earth, at least not directly, but the ability to access the full resources of this solar system will aleviate the developmental pressure on the local ecosystem as we move energy capture to space based systems, acquisition and refinement of building materials to space, even the growing and processing of food/protein to space and their subsequent transfer to earth based populations.

    I really enjoy P&T. Glad they involved you in their show, Phil.

    The X files were a very entertaining series that really showed how far we can stretch credulity about conspiricies. How come the bad guys always knew what the good guys were up to, but not vice versa?

    I wonder how many moon hoax folk also believe earth is “obviously” flat?

    There’s an old saying about keeping secrets which is applicable to conspiricies. A secret can only be kept by two people, if one of them is DEAD.

    GAry 7

  38. Cindy

    Well, you can count my dad as one of those who would have needed to be shut up as he worked on the landing radar and rendezvous radar for the lunar module. In fact, my dad has a copy of the original proposal from RCA- Grunman for the lunar module. I’m sure my dad could talk this guy’s ear off about all the nitty gritty details of all the engineering he did for the Apollo project.

    I usually add that to my debunking comments.

    Phil, you’re only a few years older than me, so don’t tell me at UVA you had to guide the telescope by hand! Or did you hone your standing still skills from being an amateur?

  39. Ausrick

    I don’t have access to Showtime so I don’t watch Penn and Teller’s show regularly, what was the reference behind the prop man drilling a hole through the Bible related to?

    I have to say that I really don’t like having this Rene guy associated with my state, there are already enough misconceptions out there as it is. Although I suppose statistically speaking 50% of people need to be below average intellegence, right?

    Coming from Rene’s point of view though, he probably figures if he does any serious investigations, like asking NASA or any legitimate authority on the matter for technical documents that would easily validate that we went there, that they would just “lie” to him and “fabricate” the story anyways, so why even bother. Instead he’ll use 2nd and 3rd generation reprints to examine rather than going back to negatives or looking at a larger sampling of pictures. His ignorance isn’t so much the problem (though it can account for his lack of critical thinking skills) as that he committed the ultimate crime of bad science, he is assuming his frame of reference “Conspiracy and hoax” is the only possible outcome and so is interpreting all evidence from that perspective. I think Phil would tell you a good researcher needs to throw out preconsceived conclusions and follow the truth wherever it goes. This seems to be where Rene, and Hoagland and others go wrong.

    What’s really going to be sad is when the actual astronauts that were there pass on. When you lose a generation of eye witnesses is when the people who deny the event’s authenticity really can crawl out of the woodwork.

    Good work Phil, you conducted yourself well, kept a positive attitude, and instead of attacking Rene on irrelevent matters, you focused simply on the evidence and the appropriate model of reality it represented.

    Just a moon-hoax side note, I overheard a store-clerk once saying that she thought it was a hoax because the space shuttle can only go about 400mi above the earth’s surface, and the moon was farther than that distance, and the rockets that came before the space shuttle were older technology than the space shuttle, so therefore “logically” those rockets could never make it as far as the moon. All I can say is “wow, there aren’t any preconsceived notions or assumptions embedded in that logic are there?”

  40. Phil: What is even more funny are the ‘associated’ videos at Youtube to this particular Penn and Teller video of yours (which is hilarious, thanks!).

  41. Ausrick, I knew Penn would handle making fun of Rene, so I was able to focus on the actual content. :-)

    Cindy, remember the 26″ refractor at McCormick Observatory at UVa? I had to guide that one night while taking plates (yes, plates) of M77. BORING. PLus yeah, I stand a lot with my own ‘scope.

  42. Ausrick: “what was the reference behind the prop man drilling a hole through the Bible related to?” – the “holy” bible

  43. Ausrick

    Oh! I get it! Thanks Astrogeek. I feel so dense that it wasn’t so obvious to me before!

  44. Gerrsun

    ” And one short gag that will probably offend a lot of Christians. ”

    Nah. A few maybe, some even but most? Not likely.

    And of the ones that did get offended, I doubt they’d issue a death sentence on Penn and Teller.

    Besides that was one of those cheap Gideon’s you get in hotel rooms. Probably requires you to put a quarter in it to get to Revelations.

  45. Bryan D.

    Ausrick Wrote:

    “Just a moon-hoax side note, I overheard a store-clerk once saying that she thought it was a hoax because the space shuttle can only go about 400mi above the earth’s surface, and the moon was farther than that distance, and the rockets that came before the space shuttle were older technology than the space shuttle, so therefore “logically” those rockets could never make it as far as the moon.”

    One wonders if this person believes we sent probes to Mars, Venus and beyond with the same rockets that are older then the Shuttle as well. :)

  46. BradC

    That’s the book of Revelation, not RevelationS, by the way. Common error.

    And if the gag was simply a play on words about the “Holey Bible”, then that’s one thing.

    On the other hand, if it was more like “the Bible is as full of holes as this crackpot moon faking theory”, then that’s another thing altogether.

  47. Geroge

    So, what does Penn really think? Very funny, albeit, he doesn’t have to take the phrase “the pen is mighty than the sword” quite so serious; a PG version would be great, too.

  48. CR

    Hey, I just realized we can use Rene’s own logic against him!
    He calimed that one of the ultimate proofs for him that the landings were faked was the attitude the astronauts seemed to exhibit when Nixon spoke to them… he feels they looked dejected, sad, as though caught in a lie.

    Well, near the end of the clip (I’ll have to watch it again to find the exact time code), when someone asks Rene if we went to the moon, Rene laughs, then trails off, looks dejected and says “Yeah, we went to the moon.”

    Proof that he actually believes we went (he just said so), and feels guilty about trying to convince other that we didn’t (the dejected look on his face, as though caught in a lie).

    So there!

    OK, I realize he was probably just being sarcastic in his own mind regarding his comment, and the look on his face was probably more of disgust than dejection, but if HB’s can twist stuff, then why not give them a taste of their own medecine?

  49. CR

    calimed = claimed
    Stupid typo.

  50. CR

    Just re-watched the clip… his comment occurs around 6:28, and I was slightly incorrect about what was said.
    Someone off-camera asks “So, is this the moon?”
    Rene laughs, then trails off, and frowning, says “Sure, it is.”
    Unlike a HB, I just corrected myself by finding the facts! (And what I said before about catching him in his own logic trap still applies. :-) )

  51. snarkophilus

    The best part was when they asked the props man if props were labelled, and he responded with completely unnecessary profanity. Well, not completely unnecessary. It was hilarious.

    The next best part was the BA saying, “they went to the moon to take pictures… nyeh eh eh… of the moon!” Beautiful!

  52. I have to agree wiith you, Phil, guidng the 26″ is boring.

    On the other hand, guiding the CTIO 4-meter is a joy!

  53. Helena Constantine

    I see from Google that the term ‘Moon Hoax’ has largely been transfered to the idea that the Moon landings were faked, but properly it applies to the circulation-boosting efforts fo the New York Sun in 1835 to claim that large telescopes had discovered life on the Moon:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Moon_Hoax

    This later nonsense should be called the Moon Landing Hoax by way of distinction

  54. Hmm, I had seen this episode back when they had almost all of them on Google video (I think they’ve been removed) and didn’t make the connection that the BA was the guy who could stand a really long time.

  55. Hi Phil

    Penn & Teller were very nice to Rene, gave him enough rope and he hung himself as surely as if they’d stuck him on a gallows – what a kook!

    Religion needs bucketloads of scepticism too – the Bible really is full of holes – but I really didn’t get the connection to the Moon Landing Hoax. Would be nice to see them do a BullSh*t episode on peddlers of Apocalyptic prophecies and their conspicuous successes (or lack there of.)

  56. Stuart

    For some reason, I got the impression that the prop guy was drilling a hole in the bible to use it as a stand for the flag that kept falling down…

  57. Well, I think I know *now* what part II is about. Man, I envy you…

  58. Irishman

    Much of Rene’s problem is his assumption that since he can’t figure out how some technological challenge could be overcome, the Moon Landings must have been hoaxed. Nevermind that he often misunderstands the nature of the problem and doesn’t allow that thousands of trained engineers working for a decade can’t be more innovative than him.

    The glove box is a typical example. He demonstrates the problem by making a cheap vacuum box and uses commercial rubber gloves to demonstrate the ballooning affect on the gloves. Well, yeah, that’s real. But then he stops thinking critically and just jumps to “it couldn’t be done”. But the engineers working at NASA and contractors didn’t stop thinking creatively, they identified the problem and then started working on solutions. Solutions such as constant volume joints and pressure restraint layers to reduce the effect of ballooning. Using the lowest pressure differential they could work out. Etc. Rene just gives up at identifying the first problem.

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