I first saw The Who on TV. I was watching with my parents, and when Pete, Roger, and Keith started smashing their instruments, my family was appalled. We were just barely middle class. My dad was a jail guard and we lived in a nice neat little house that my parents had built with their own hands. I loved music and I had a newspaper route, and I mowed lawns. I was taking drum lessons using a practice pad, and all my money was being saved to buy a used drum set so I could join a rock and roll band. At my rate of earning, it would take me decades to afford Keith Moon's drum set and I didn't understand its destruction on TV. How could Keith do that? How could he have such little respect for music, for the TV show he was fortunate enough to be on, and for me and my family?
My parents didn't like the music or the act, but they still tried to console me. These rich rock stars just didn't understand what money meant to us common folk. Then in a flash everything changed. I started to cry. Right then something happened and I understood The Who. I understood that passion and art could be more important than money. I went from sad and disgusted to exuberant. It was the first time I had ever understood real beauty. I loved The Who. I loved rock and roll. I loved life. It was at that moment I became an artist.
I use Teller's broad definition of art -- "Whatever we do after the chores are done." There's one show business and Bach, Dylan, Ron Jeremy, and the guy at the mall in the Santa suit are all in it. By that definition The Celebrity Apprentice is art, and, for my sins, I am on it.
I've done a lot of TV, but one of my proudest moments in my career was shown this week on The Celebrity Apprentice. I didn't watch it, but I was in it. I don't know how it was edited, but I was there and it was beautiful. The Celebrity Apprentice is all about watching people argue and lie while they covet money and success. Those are the artistic ideas. Donald Trump scowls and passes judgment and we all suck up and rat out to win more time on TV and get money for our charities. The theme song is the O'Jay's "For the Love of Money," used as awkwardly as "Born in the USA" at a political rally. It's not the most likely show to have something beautiful happen, but the Blue Man Group can make beautiful anywhere.
Some of the "tasks" on the show are measured by money, so if you bring in a rich famous person to buy a sandwich for 10 grand, you have a better chance of winning. I've have been a fan and friends with Blue Man Group, since we were all working in NYC. They make my heart soar. They make me proud to work in the arts. They are the best of us. They've also got some money, so I called them, told them I was doing this TV show and did they want to donate some money to charity? They said yes before finding out what charity or how much I wanted because Blue Man Group is like that. They do charity all the time. They really deeply care about people and they do a lot for many charities. They are the best of us.
BMG asked if I wanted them to show up and do something. Oh yes, please. After weeks of sitting on "boardroom" sets pretending to do business, I really wanted something beautiful.
"Can you deliver the money in a fun way?" I asked them.
That was the problem. In the Blue Man world, money doesn't exist. For then Blue Man money means nothing. The values that they've established in their art don't include avarice. The Blue Men donate tons of money out of the blue make-up, but in it, well, they're not above money, but they're beside it. It doesn't exist. They asked me to give them some time to think of something beautiful. A couple days later they sent me a video of them filling a balloon with tens of thousands of dollars in tens and blowing it up with a leaf blower. It was beautiful and it delivered money, without the Blue Men having to respect it. It was so beautiful.
I really wanted to save their appearance and money for "my task" and my charity (Opportunity Village for people with intellectual disabilities, a charity that BMG helps a lot), but I was on Dee Snyder's team and he asked me to help with more money on his watch. I ran the idea by all our team members, the production company, and NBC. Everyone signed off. Blue Man Group would march up, with a loud parade and giant puppets and they would blow up a balloon full of money with leaf blowers and fill the air with 10-dollar bills that the Blue Man wouldn't care about. Whatever our team could gather out of the wind, we would have to score for out team. Teller would join BMG and add 30 grand of his own money, not blown around, but handed politely to our cashier, American Idol, Clay Aiken. Clay takes The Celebrity Apprentice very seriously and plays the game for all it's worth.
We were outside selling our bullshit little jive guide books (the sandwich of this week). I gave the signal, and from blocks away, we could hear the parade. BMG with their giant drums, and confetti canons were changing traffic patterns in NYC. They arrived at the park where we were set up to sell our guidebooks. My business partner for my entire adult life, Teller, was in the parade, firing streamers into the air and dancing. Teller had the eyes of Keith Moon in the Who. I had been sequestered on The Celebrity Apprentice with all the complaining, backstabbing, and phony heart to heart talks, and down the street came joy. Pure joy. Honest human joy personified by Teller and Blue Man Group. I started to cry.
They got to our stand, they exploded the balloon full of money, and suddenly the air over the park in NYC was filled with money. Blue Man Group stayed in character and just enjoyed blowing the money around. Their joy was more important than the money or us winning our game. They were there for art and to help the cause, in that order. We all scrambled to pick up as much money as we could. Paul Sr., and Lou Ferrigno held people back, while Dee, Arsenio, Clay, and I tried to grab all we could. Everyone was ready for the money to explode, but, somehow Clay was surprised and disgusted by the chaos. I was still crying with joy and Clay was crying with pure hate and anger towards me and my blue buddies.
Some of the camera people, the producers, the sound people, and crew ran up after the Blue Men had gone and said they had never been prouder of anything they worked on. Some of them were crying with me with joy. They had remembered why they had gotten into the arts. We had been just a few feet from The Who, while they smashed their instruments for America. They proved that art meant more than money. I'm pretty proud of "Penn & Teller," we've done some pretty groovy stuff, but I was exploding with pride at the beauty of my friends, Blue Man Group.
When we had the first break from the cameras, Clay was gathering evidence to take me down for this in the boardroom. He was angry and detailing the humiliation and the injuries he endured in all the beautiful chaos. When I asked him if he needed medical attention, making sure the cameras weren't on, he screamed, "I need you to shut the fuck up!" It was so easy to shut the fuck up right then. Teller and Blue Man Group work without words and they had said more than I could ever say in defense of art. I drifted away in the NBC van, to my childhood and the moment with The Who when I understood that I needed my life to mean more than "Money, Money, Money, Money."
The "boardroom" didn't matter. Clay low-balled how much money we were able to gather, but I didn't argue. Clay said that the Blue Man Group's money that Clay wanted to go to our TV charity had ended up going to some homeless people. Trump joined him, disgusted by the idea that some of the Blue Man Group's money might have gone to people who needed it instead of the people Donald Trump would get credit for giving it to who needed it. Trying to explain to Donald Trump that beauty and art can be more important than money is like trying to explain to Donald Trump that beauty and art can be more important than money. The "contest" was revealed to be very close (in terms of money, beauty wasn't discussed) and Donald Trump tried to make me say that I regretted what the Blue Man Group had done. Clay tried to get me to say that I should have gotten the Blue Man Group to be more responsible, and by that he meant, give us more money so he could win his game.
It was this episode where Donald Trump understood that he didn't understand me, and feeling misunderstood by Donald Trump and Clay Aiken is its own kind of joy.
I thought about some family at home in a small town watching the Blue Man Group on The Celebrity Apprentice like I watched The Who. I thought about many children being disgusted by all that money being "wasted" on the homeless. And I thought about maybe one child, all of a sudden understanding what art can mean and crying with joy.
As The Who sang, "why don't you all just f-f-f-fade away. Don't try to d-d-d-dig what we all say."
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