If Penn & Teller had a third name on their act, it might be Michael Goudeau, the creative partner and producer of the podcast, Penn's Sunday School, and the winner of ten Emmy nominations for producing and writing on the Penn & Teller Showtime TV series Bullshit!. He's also the most successful juggler in Las Vegas history and a committed promoter of science and reason. He also is the proud owner of a patent for novelty covers for barbecue grills. He hosted Johnny Monsarrat for this interview at his Las Vegas home.
Michael Goudeau: It really is the core of my career… What inspired me,
really? Just hearing people laughing. I discovered it, I guess, probably in
6th grade as odd as that seems. There was a storytelling contest in my
school and I told a story, people laughed, and that was it; I thought "This
is great, I love this!"
Michael Goudeau: I became hooked on people laughing, and it was "detrimental" to my career – I wanted to be a forest ranger. So I'm either the worst forest ranger in the world or one of the funniest jugglers, somewhere in
between those two.
RDF: You wanted to be a forest ranger? Where does that come from?
Michael Goudeau: When I was 14 years old, I lived outside of San Francisco, and I asked my mom, "Can I ride my bike to Yosemite?" That was about 200 miles from my house, and my mom said, "Yeah, I guess." I don't know how my mom and my friend's mom agreed to this, but they did. So my mom gave me 50 bucks and said, "Ride your bike to Yosemite and when you run out of money, ride home."
Michael Goudeau: That was at least two and a half days of riding; we'd ride
we got to Yosemite, we stayed at a rock climber's camp. There were no cars; we would just walk in, pitch a tent, and stay there for as long as our 50
bucks would hold out, which was quite a long time because Yosemite was one of the earliest places where they had a 5 cent deposit for aluminum cans.
frozen pie and survive the day! We'd rock climb, swim, and all that kind of
stuff for the whole summer. I think at that time I got addicted to Yosemite
and I thought, "I will be a forest ranger. I will ride around on a horse,
check people's wilderness permits, and give nature speeches." I really
thought I could make the speeches interesting and funny… but I guess I
never did it.
RDF: You were voted "Class Clown" at Clown College and you've also been a teacher. What exactly gets taught at Clown College and how do you fit into
those little cars?
Michael Goudeau: Like all magic tricks, it is as unpleasant as you can
imagine. We take the seats out of the car and then we all crawl in there.
There's not a trick to it; it is just the willingness to be squished in
there with 20 other people. That's the whole thing. When we were in Clown
College we used to take the clown car and drive over to the ice cream
parlor. We'd drive two miles, pull up and 18 of us would get out of a Datsun
Michael Goudeau: When I went to Clown College, they had a gag writing class, that consisted of an instructor who said, "You know what you need? You need a beginning, middle and an end." That's not helpful at all! We knew that part about gags, but how do you write them? How do I come up with those jokes? And so after I graduated, I worked in the circus
and teach gag writing?" When I got there, I really wanted to just teach
gags, to figure out what it was that made something funny. So I just came up with a theory about how to write it and I went into class the next day and
told the class the way I thought was the best way of writing jokes and it
went wild! People wrote 3 or 4 gags an hour.
RDF: And what was the big secret?
Michael Goudeau: Comedy is the sound of assumptions breaking. But of course it's a little more complicated than just that…
RDF: You're also known as a prominent atheist, libertarian, and skeptic… You wrote on all 80 episodes of Bullshit! (and were executive producer of all
Michael Goudeau: We would come out with a list of ideas for possible
episodes, we'd send that to Showtime, Showtime would pick their favorite
then they'd send it back to us and we'd talk about what our take was on
those things, what the perspective would be, and then our production company would go out and start interviewing people. They'd assemble what they thought were the best parts of the interviews and they'd send it back to usand then we'd write an overlay for it, basically.
RDF: What was your favorite episode?
Michael Goudeau: Most people love the bottled water episode. I think the
reason why so many people like it is because everybody knows bottled water is bullshit. You might remember the episode: a waiter has a hose in the back of a restaurant and he gleefully fills some fancy looking bottles. He serves it saying, "This is water from the Amazon and it has a spider in it" and people's reactions were, "Oh, wow! This is so much better than the glacial water we just drank!" They were all water from the same hose.
RDF: Was there a notable stunt that you thought would work but didn't?
Michael Goudeau: There were a lot of things that didn't work, but there were
also some that our crew did that were fantastic. There was one where our
crew put snails on people's faces and told them it was a beauty product…
And if you think about it, it's a horrible thing! Who would agree to that?
But people did it and the testimonials, wow they'd say that they felt so
much better, that their skin felt great. It was something. When we
finished that episode I said "You know we should invest in snails, right?
Because this is going to go wild." Now people actually do it! You can go to
some expensive salons and they will put snails on your face… and it was
entirely made up in a Bullshit! episode.
RDF: You have a patent on a cover for a barbecue grill? What's the deal with
Michael Goudeau: I make comedy barbecue covers! I was sitting in my
mother-in-law's Jacuzzi one night. Her barbecue was far back, pushed into
the bushes, and had a black, plain cover on it, but in the light it looked
like a rhinoceros. I pointed it out to my wife. "Look! It's a rhinoceros!"
And she laughed. Then I thought, "Well, there's no reason why your barbecue couldn't be something crazy like a rhinoceros". Now I make cows, UFOs, and mustard bottles. So you don't have to put a black cover on your barbecue.
RDF: You're also the author of Extreme pancakes: 23 Pancake Masterpieces Worth Waking Up For. What is the deal with that?
Michael Goudeau: Being a juggler for a living means I've got too much free
time. My kids were little and I wanted to find something entertaining for
them so I started experimenting with pancake mix. One day I tried to make
the letter "J" (my son's name is Joey) and the next day I tried something
more complicated, playing with shapes, and I also discovered that if you put
the pancake batter to a ketchup bottle then you have more control of it.
There are some tricks to it too, like if you want to make a smiley face you
do the eyes and mouth first, wait for a minute, and add the rest of the
batter and when you flip it over the first parts you drew will be darker.
Michael Goudeau: Then the pancakes started getting more elaborate, like a
pancake Christmas tree, a train: anything you can think of. So for a couple
of years I worked on it for fun. One day I spoke with a book publisher about
it maybe being a book. She advised me to start a blog and see if there was
any interest in it. And that's how The Pancake Project began. Somehow actor Felicia Day stumbled upon the blog and tweeted about it. It jumped from two visitors a month to over 40,000 a week for a few months. The publisher said,
RDF: You're a comedian and a juggler. It seems like so many comedians are drawn to atheism, not all of them of course, but do you think there is a
thing there where comedians study life and somehow that affects their views?
Michael Goudeau: It could be the fact that they spend so much time thinking
about what makes something what it is. In comedy you're always looking for
the essence of the truth, and that probably leads you down a path that you
can't get out of. The good comedians are the people that expose the real
nature of things or the real nature of themselves, not so much just making
fun of everything.
RDF: How was growing up for you? Did your family practice any religion? Was becoming an atheist hard?
Michael Goudeau: It wasn't really hard for me. My mother was raised in the
Catholic Church and went to Catholic schools as a girl. The people at the
schools were terrible to her. She decided she didn't want her children to
experience anything like that, so we were never made to go to church. We
synagogue with my best friend — but it was just for the food, really.
RDF: What's your theory on where the atheist community is going and the best way for us to grow into a mainstream movement?
Michael Goudeau: It's just going to happen. I don't think there's any way to
stop it. The Internet is knowledge. It offers that knowledge to anybody and
it doesn't take much research to discover, "Well, this seems more right than
these other things I was taught." So I don't think we have to worry about
RDF: You're also the producer of Penn's
Michael Goudeau: It's pretty much like having dinner with Penn. We sit and
chat and we discuss a variety of topics. We've been friends for a very long
time so the conversation flows without any problem.
RDF: Anything else you'd like to add?
Michael Goudeau: Can I do a shameless plug? If you have a corporate client and he's looking for someone for a trade show, you can contact me on my personal website, www.mikegoudeau.com. I do trade shows and an after-dinner show as well. You can also find Michael Goudeau's projects at www.bbqzoo.com, thepancakeproject.blogspot.com, and every Sunday as co-host of Penn's Sunday School.
Written By: RDFRS