You'll notice more obscenity than we usually use. That's not just because it's on Showtime, and we want to get some attention. It's also a legal matter. If one calls people liars and quacks, one can be sued and lose a lot of one's money. But "motherfuckers" and "assholes" is pretty safe. If we said it was all scams, we could also be in trouble. But BULLSHIT, oddly, is safe. So forgive all the bullshit language. We're trying to talk about the truth without spending the rest of our lives in court because of litigious motherfuckers!
~ Penn Jillette
The Showtime original Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (or P&T:B.S!), hosted by comedians and stage magicians Penn Jillette and Teller, follows in the footsteps of great men like Harry Houdini and The Amazing James Randi: the pair debunks popular misconceptions and exposes both liars ("motherfuckers") and faulty science ("bullshit").To do this, P & T interview proponents of different views in the fields they debunk, then add facetious voice-overs that mock whichever side they disagree with and introduce the people who make money from it as "assholes". They occasionally throw in some non-scientific experiments and point out official policies, rules, and methodologies of various organizations that point out the hypocrisy of said organizations. Since both Penn and Teller identify as libertarians, they never fail to use the show to advocate their viewpoint — but they admit their bias and insist that the viewer should make up their own mind based on the information presented.The pair tackled a wide variety of subjects (and offered their stances on said subjects) in the show's run, such as:
Gun Control: Everyone needs the right to have guns to put fear into criminals; if everyone can potentially have a gun on them, more people will think twice before they attempt to mug someone. Everyone should also have the right to keep guns in case the people need to perform an armed uprising against their government. They also claim that current gun control laws do nothing to prevent the sale of guns from the black market — in other words, if the goal is to minimize gun ownership, those laws are actually not doing a very good job of it.
PETA: PETA will kill humans to further the cause of animal rights (as the group supports terrorist organizations) and has proven itself hypocritical on a number of key issues. Just to cite one example, one of the high-ranking PETA members, Mary Beth Sweeten, takes medicine for her diabetes — medicine discovered through animal testing, a practice that PETA is supposedly against.
Recycling: Recycling wastes more resources than it saves, and on the grand scale, it harms the environment more than landfills. P & T make exception for the recycling of aluminum (as companies can recycle aluminum far cheaper than they can refine aluminum from raw materials), but note that since private companies can profit from such recycling, they will sort through unsorted bulk trash for aluminum cans, which makes government-funded recycling programs unnecessary. Almost every plausible reason to recycle is thoroughly deconstructed, until the only reason left is "it feels good".
Wal-Mart: Walmart has become the end result of a capitalist market; they do a lot of good for their employees and help the poor all over America, which makes them unfair targets for the hate Wal-Mart stores receive.
War on Drugs: While they agree that the youth needs to be educated of the dangers of drug use, they strongly disagree with the government's approach of the situation and the little (if any) success they've had. They focus mostly on marijuana, that has been proven to be nowhere as dangerous as legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco and has several medical benefits.
ESP: Anyone who claims to have psychic powers doesn't have such powers and only wants attention or money; their belief in their self-professed "powers" doesn't mean a damn thing.
This short list gives you an idea of the subjects P & T go after: they target the liars and faulty sciences that most people believe in, then expose why people benefit from those misguided beliefs (and make fun of everyone in the process). The duo even admitted in the "Recycling" episode that they, and many other people on their staff, believed in recycling (in Penn's own words, "Everybody got a gris-gris"note a voodoo good-luck charm). The "NASA" episode opened with P & T reading some of their hate mail before they agreed to call "bullshit" on something they cherished.As the careers of Houdini and the Amazing Randi demonstrate, stage magicians — who know how illusions and "magic" work — can easily expose fake miracles and phony paranormal events better than anyone else. Since they have a familiarity with illusions and the perceptions thereof (particularly in the usage of misdirection to control people's attention), magicians can also deal with things like UFO sightings and psychic photographs without too much issue. These qualities do not make P & T experts in most of what they debunk, however, and the pair often expound their opinions as loudly as possible while they call on an actual expert to help debunk their subject (a tactic they have criticized others for). In the "Secondhand Smoke" episode, when the pair discovered that they used data compiled by an "expert" with significant ties to Big Tobacco, the skeptic community criticized the show and forced them to apologize.Penn & Teller wanted to put on The Bullshit of "Bullshit!"as the final episode; it would have pointed out their own inaccuracies, presented criticisms of the show, and probably have ended on a call for better critical thinking from everyone. Showtime cancelled Bullshit! after eight seasons before this episode could come to fruition, though.The "lawyer-friendly" format as laid out in the page-topping quote paid off in the end: nobody ever managed to successfully sue Penn & Teller over the show.
Penn & Teller: Bullshit! contains examples of the following tropes:
Acrofatic: The "Obesity" episode — which focused on addressing common misconceptions about fat people — held a "Fat Guy Olympics" (with one skinny guy). Most of the fat guys outperformed the skinny guy.
Although the "fat" guys were all obese according to the BMI, only one of them was actually what most would consider fat (and he was the slowest in the group). Even the "skinny" guy was technically overweight, despite not showing a speck of visible fat or muscle tone. Part of the point was that the BMI wasn't ever intended to measure obesity, let alone overall fitness, and as such does a miserable job of predicting either, despite healthcare insurers using BMI to set premiums.
A-Cup Angst: Discouraged in the "Sex, Sex, Sex" episode, which argues against breast enhancement.
They argue that Mother Teresa was a corrupt, social-climbing media darling who cared more about courting politicians and furthering her own "spiritual journey" than about improving the lives of the poor (which she actually did very little of), and that she was not above using shady business practices to keep her charities profitable.
The Dalai Lama is just the ousted dictator of an oppressive Third World theocracy who wants to exploit his position as a "spiritual leader" to regain his lost wealth and power. At heart, he's Not So Different from the oppressive Chinese authorities that he claims to be against.
Anal Probing: When Alien Abductions were covered on the show, they covered a sex toy with silver spray paint to show to people who claim to have been abducted. Upon seeing the sex toy, many claimed they were probed with a similar device. They actually made a game out of this where they paused the tape before one female abductee disclosed where in her body the aliens had inserted a probe and encouraged viewers at home to guess what part of the body it was. The correct answer was her nose.
And I Must Scream: Penn describing botched executions in Death Penalty. Specifically, how pre-lethal-injection anesthetics don't always work.
Author Tract too. The Bible episode even straight-out called Bullshit an evangelical show.
Arguably the most obvious tract show was the Wal-Mart show, where Penn used his own hometown as an example of a town that went down the crapper because (or possibly in spite) of the fact that they refused to allow a Wal-Mart to be built there.
Badass Preacher: Father Henry in Death Inc. Yes, a priest on Penn & Teller's side.
Berserk Button: Penn quits snarking and gets legitimately pissed whenever he sees what he sees as those who are making money exploiting the pain and suffering of people, as seen in the episodes "Astrology" and "Talking to the Dead".
Bigger Is Better in Bed: Deconstructed in the "Sex, Sex, Sex" episode, where they argue against penis enhancement. Not because it isn't necessary, but because the non-surgical methods flat-out don't work. Renowned hung Ron Jeremy states that size and quality sex are not related.
Blatant Lies: Gleefully invoked with "Elvis didn't do no drugs!" and quickly exploited whenever an interviewee is caught in one.
Brand Names Are Better: A regular target of the show. Bottled water and organic foods are but two examples. More generally, they also mock the "expensive is better" mindset that allows merchants to charge for unproven therapies like weight loss pills and toxin flushes.
They lampshade their own 'brand' in the "Fountain of Youth" episode (showing how, for example Estee Lauder cosmetics have huge markups over almost identical Clinique products); "We can't complain too much, you aren't watching Paul & Teddy's Bullshit!."
Breather Episode: The Dolphins episode, as lampshaded repeatedly. They consider the concept so ludicrous that they half-ass the entire episode.
Penn: If dolphins have come up with anything like shelled pistachios, they're as intelligent as us. That's our argument. I told you, we're slackin' tonight.
Butt Monkey: Things conspire against Teller quite often.
Buxom Is Better: Deconstructed in the "Sex, Sex, Sex" episode, where they argue against breast enhancement.
Played with in the NASA episode. "NASA wants to travel the 35 million miles to Mars. Are they out of their fucking minds? We've heard from politicians, tourists and space-camp counselors, and they're all so enthusiastic." Cut to man in full flight suit. "And then there's this as—-tronaut!"
Subverted Catchphrase: At the end of the episode on colon cleansing, the 'asshole' being introduced was a literal one, or at least a photo from a colonoscopy. Penn's as a matter of fact. He was wanting to show that the best way to promote colon health was to get regular checkups after a certain age, and was basically saying 'see, I even do it myself'.
There's another point where they start with this and then proceed to insult the person a little while after that, only for him to say that he agrees with what he's saying. Penn then apologized.
There's also "Fuck you in the neck!"
And the way Penn starts nearly every episode: "Hi! I'm Penn and this is my partner, Teller!"
And every so often, you'll also get: "[ludicrous premise or idea] my achin' ass!"
Caustic Critic: Penn is vicious, he is brutal, he has absolutely no mercy or regard for those he sees as wrong. It helps that they consist of crazies, fundamentalists and those who are actually dangerous.
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Many, though they're just as likely to mock people with anti-corporate sentiments (see the Wal-Mart and "environmental hysteria" episodes).
Country Matters: In an episode on profanity, even the people speaking out against censorship hesitated to say "cunt". Penn himself, although he won't use it as often as similar words, will occasionally use it, including once in reference to Mother Teresa's convent.
Creator Provincialism: Lampshaded; "Scouring the globe" to find ghosts involves visiting California, Virginia and Texas. As Penn says, "we barely even left our own time zone".
Cultural Cringe: The anti-fast food people from the Fast Food episode literally cannot stop talking about how fat and stupid they think their fellow Americans are.
Darker and Edgier: Episodes about subjects like the death penalty have an understandably darker tone than episodes about subjects like pseudoscience.
Drugs Are Bad: In the War on Drugs episode, they do agree with this, but they disagree with the tactics used by the government in dealing with it and the misinformation they spread in programs with this message.
Due to the Dead: The so-called-doctor who tells a widow "luckily he died" —regarding his deceased husband, a nice man but not entirely supportive of her career — made a very tasteless joke but is far from the worst individual depicted on the show.
Enemy Mine: Straight-up defied in "Holier Than Thou", when they call the Dalai Lama's somewhat shady background to the audience's attentionnote He was part of the wealthy ruling priest class in Tibet (which was an oppressive Third World theocracy before the Chinese took over), and he has been involved in several attempts to win Tibetan independence through violent means with CIA backing and remind them that the simple fact that he hates China doesn't necessarily make him a good person.
Penn: The lesser of two evils is still evil. And the enemy of my enemy is not my friend.
Everything's Worse with Bees: In one episode, Penn goes off on a tangent about the phrase "opening a can of worms", since if you actually do that, you get some worms, but its not very annoying or troublesome. A better phrase would be "you shouldn't open that can of bees", because when you do, you get BEES!!!!.
Fan Disservice: A man showed his formerly circumcised penis in the "Circumcision" episode (he got its foreskin restored).
Fanservice: Half of the episodes are loaded to the brink with full-frontal female nudity. And quite a few have fully naked men as well.
For Science!: With some subjects it will be pointed out how difficult it would be for some causal relationships to be conclusively proven. For example The "Penn & Teller Centre For Incredibly Bad Ideas" have allegedly put five rapists into a rented house next to an all girl college... The results of this study have been suppressed by the US Department of Reason: "Did we mention there's no good science on either side of this debate?"
Fun with Acronyms: Patti Strand from The National Animals Interest Alliance calls PETA People for Extortion, Terror and Abuse.
Gay Aesop: Part of the Family Values and Boy Scouts episodes and the lesbian segment of the "Nukes, Hybrids, and Lesbians" episode.
Genre Savvy: In the Astrology episode, one of the psychology students given a "personality test" in which everyone got the same answer repeatedly tried to question the professor about the testing system ("There's that fucking girl again with another fucking question!") and is delighted when it's confirmed what the camera crew was really for. Turns out she's a fan.
Global Warming: Comes up in "Environmental Hysteria" and "Being Green". Penn says the theory of man-made global warming might be true, but expresses some cynicism about it ("Al Gore must be right. He won the Oscar. That's a science prize, isn't it?")
Godwin's Law: Invoked-they compared the leader of PETA giving an emotional speech to footage of Adolf Hitler doing the same. The very next line was "Cheap shot? Hell yeah! It's beneath us." Then they rolled the footage from PETA's own "Holocaust On Your Plate" campaign (which consists of footage of chicken farms played next to holocaust pictures).
They also used it in the World Peace episode where he said "Hitler called himself a socialist" (although that case was justified, since the claim was that Socialism was a good route to world peace).
Two failures in the lawn episode. A man who makes sure people's lawns are in local compliance suggested calling him a Grass Nazi, which they refused to do. The wife of a man who was jailed for not being in compliance compared it to how a concentration camp operates, which the hosts immediately mocked.
In the hair episode, they subjected candidates for a secretarial position against interviewers with atrocious hair problems to see how people would react. One of the interviewers, "Harry," looked like Hitler in a suit via the hairstyle and subtle references to Nazi German (e.g. "Our sales are going up!!" says Harry while doing the Nazi Salute.)
They also used Hitler's doctor creating the lethal injection to argue against the death penalty.
Green Aesop: Deconstructed in the Environmental Hysteria, Recycling and "Being Green" episodes and the Hybrid segment of "Nukes, Hybrids, and Lesbians." Penn & Teller find most of what people do in these campaigns to be self-serving, self-defeating, or completely ineffectual. They also tend to mock people in these movements, painting them as Know-Nothing Know-It-All alarmists.
Hard Work Hardly Works: Invoked in the "Exercise" episode. While they say that exercising and taking care of yourself is something that you should absolutely do, you shouldn't expect to look like a body builder or a fitness model, as their bodies are genetically predisposed to looking that way. Not to mention, for most of them it's literally their job to take care of themselves.
Hypocrisy Nod: The most blatant in the "Lawns" episode when, complaining about the pesticides people use and the fact that lawns are unnatural, they recreate The Summation of the "Organic Farming" episode and show themselves split-screen making opposite statements about pesticides and natural agriculture. They then quickly point out that food is necessary and lawns aren't.
In another episode, when discussing Gandhi's racist comments about Africans, they point out they were made the same year that Birth of a Nation came out, and caution their American audience about being aware of the racism in their own country's past before criticizing a major public figure in another country.
Hypocritical Humor: They do this seemingly every other show, sometimes with a little subtlety but more often by flat-out saying something like "The real Bullshit here is us."
In "The Best", which is primarily about the futility of pursuing needless luxury (something which the illusionist duo are surrounded by much of the time in Vegas, mind you), they kick the episode off by flaunting awards and declaring "We're the best!" only to have Robin Leach (who, As You Know, was the host of a descriptively-titled show called Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous back in the day) come on and declare that "'The best' is bullshit."
I Know Mortal Kombat: Deconstructed as used by the Moral Guardians in the Video Games episode. To counter the claim that violent games desensitize children to violence and that realistic games teach children how to use weapons, they test it by giving a nine year old boy who plays violent games very frequently an AR-15 at a shooting range. He holds the gun incorrectly, misses the (oversized) target, isn't prepared for the recoil, doesn't want to shoot more afterward when asked, and cries from the experience.
Also in the "Big Brother" episode. The only test subject who continued to monitor suspected terrorism when porn stars were going at it in the next house was from Kenya.
Ironic Echo: Penn often starts a clip of someone by saying something like "at least there (is/is not) (Fill in the blank)" and of course the person in the clip starts what he's saying with exactly the opposite of what Penn was saying, usually followed by an obscenity from Penn.
Insane Troll Logic: Seen in the "War on Porn" episode, where an anti-pornography activist tries to argue that all pornography is just a gateway drug for child pornography, and that men who enjoy porn will inevitably turn out to be pedophiles.
Insistent Terminology: Every time they cut to Kate in the Environmental Hysteria episode they make a point of mentioning that she is a prominent member and chosen spokesperson for the Rainforest Action Network. After a while Penn explains that this is because she was so unprepared and apparently clueless about her own group's stance that it comes off like they're just picking on a random person.
There's another one in the Exercise vs. Genetics episode; when referring to fitness trainer Clark Bartram:
Conservative talking head: Remember, there's also the other worry that you have no patriotism-sort of, you're soulless, you don't believe in anything, or you don't think there's anything unique or exceptional about your culture. That's the feeling I get when I go to Europe. Most Europeans, I think, don't believe in a transcendence, a spiritual element to life. Penn: Europe is soulless? No spiritual element? Fuck me with a freedom fry! Maybe there is something good about Europe!
It's Fake Fur, It's Fine: No. No, it's not. In the episode on PETA, they make it clear that they have nothing but contempt for this trope, and consider it to be hypocrisy in its purest form. They point out while interviewing a PETA spokesman that he's wearing a fake leather belt, shoes and watchband, thus propagating the fashion even though his outfit didn't directly murder any animals.note They weren't even sure if the leather was fake or not, they were just giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Logical Fallacies: Frequently used by the supporters of the topics they attack. For example in the 'War Against Porn' episode they call out anti-porn campaigners for drawing solid conclusions from their own speculations and mostly appealing to adverse consequences; "STOP THE FUCKIN' TAPE! She doesn't have any studies? So Gail is just making shit up."
There's 300 of them, and 1 of us, and he's worried about their safety? He's either a pussy, or he thinks he recognizes Erin from Drunken Master 2.
Manufacturing Victims: The show has an episode on 12-steppers, where they argue that the method is nothing more than brainwashing and religious indoctrination. It doesn't help at all against alcoholism, and at worst it can get people hooked on the AA movement.
Also done in the episode on multi-level marketing, where they say that anyone who tries to make a living doing it is nothing but a victim of the multi-level marketing companies, due to the minimal or nonexistent profit margins.
Mayan Doomsday: The episode "The Apocalypse" was dedicated to debunking this trope.
Merchandise-Driven: The real goal of many bullshitters is to sell derivative stuff on the side.
Mood Whiplash: At the end of an occasional show, the mood will suddenly change from bright and bubbly to downright depressing. A perfect example comes from their episode on video games, where the discussion turns to the violence in football and how people need to get their priorities straight. Then they apologize for cutting off the ending of a clip they had shown earlier of a nine year old boy and violent video game player who had just shot a gun for the first time (it wasn't specified, but he may have held it wrong and hurt himself). The ending clip shows him sobbing silently on his mother's shoulder, while the voice-over apologizes, "Sorry, Harrison." Sob.
Likewise is the episode on "Old People". It goes from showing humorous clips about old people's sex lives, driving, and how they smell to talking about "death with dignity"/"assisted suicide". Penn and Teller don't even bother mocking either side, which tells you how complex the controversy really is.
The Dolphins episode has one of the most scathing endings about the dolphin-assisted birthing practitioner. Penn even says "That's the end of serious", while lounging on a chair in a Hawaiian shirt, after condemning the person behind the idea; "It turned out she hadn't yet done any physical harm so we let her slide. But you know, we shouldn't have."
The Cheerleading episode swings between making jokes about P&T being dirty old men perving at cheerleaders, and meeting cheerleaders who have been paralysed by accidents while competing.
The episode Signs From Heaven is mostly of them poking fun at people for believing some object contains a holy image (Such as a grilled cheese sandwich that supposedly has the image of the Virgin Mary on it). However, one segment of the episode has Penn speaking in a very solemn tone. Said segment is about a girl named Audrey who nearly drowned when she was three and is in a coma. Due to religious statues apparently leaking oil, however, Audrey's family have decided to exploit her condition as a "miracle" and have gone so far as to send Penn not only a sponge soaked in the supposed oil, but also an order form for merchandise. Penn points out that perhaps Audrey's mother should buy a conscience since hers doesn't seem to be working.
Penn in general seems to have an absolute disgust towards people who exploit others emotionally or whatnot for profit. It's not unusual for episodes to suddenly shift from funny and snarky to more serious in tone (often either solemn or genuine anger) whenever this happens.
In general, when talking about someone who has taken a path P&T disapprove of after the death of a child, Penn will stop the mockery for a moment to explain that their hearts go out to these people, and they can't imagine the pain of losing a child.
Moral Guardians: The target in several episodes such as the College, Violent Video Games, War on Porn, and Vatican episodes.
In the episode on Swearing, they take particular issue with a woman guilty of possibly-unintentional hypocrisy. Specifically, instead of cursing or blasphemy, she advocates saying things like santa vaca. Penn explains that santa vaca is Spanish for "holy cow," which is an insulting reference to Hindus (who consider cows sacred). He gets really pissed at the thought that she is so dismissive of religions that aren't her own.
Three fans of Leave It to Beaver met Ken Osmond (who played Eddie Haskell on the show) and told him how much they preferred the world as seen in the 1950s sitcom to the modern world. Notably the three fans were not born when the show was made. Haskell himself was far more critical of the 1950s than they were and thought they were idealising a world that never existed.
Ominous Latin Chanting: Parodied in "The Vatican", where people in robes are chanting in PigLatin. They're actually chanting "The Vatican is bullshit"!
Only One Name: Teller. He was originally named Raymond Joseph Teller, but legally changed his name to just "Teller".'
Only Sane Man: In the War on Drugs episode, after listening to the arguments of its supporters, Penn claims, "Is everyone fucking high but us?"
Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: The reason P&T refer to people they disagree with as "assholes" is because calling them liars or con-artists would be considered slander, which could get them sued. "Asshole" is a statement of opinion, meaning it's much safer.
Lampshaded in the Multi-Level Marketing episode, where their lawyers told them they would be in trouble if they called these companies pyramid schemes, since it constitutes accusing them of a crime. In the middle of their rant on this restriction, the attending lawyer broke in with "Hey, I'm the one that's gonna have to defend you assholes!"
At which point P&T promptly stop arguing.
The episode "Numbers" had Penn refer to the M&Ms used in one demonstration as "N&Ns" since their lawyers wouldn't allow it, either. He lampshades this, too.
Overly Narrow Superlative: In the "Organic Food" episode, they test whether there's a difference in taste between organic and non-organic food.
Pixellation: Used on the episode "War on Porn" for some images of hardcore porn (bodily fluids, penetration, etc.) since Showtime wouldn't allow it to be shown compared to the soft core variety as is typical (breasts). Also used to obscure the face of the young daughter of an Internet porn star couple to protect her privacy and "innocence".
Also used in the Orgasms episode to censor a woman's ejaculate. Showtime doesn't allow bodily fluids, but they didn't mention it in that episode.
Political Correctness Gone Mad: Addressed in the College, Reparations, and Sensitivity Training episodes. They pointed out that a lot of it was actually openly racist and/or sexist material masquerading as "diversity".
The Promised Land: The United States is portrayed as such in the Immigration episode.
Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: From the end of the episode "Eat This!" which debunked fad diets and the supposed "danger" of genetically modified food:
Penn: Unless you and yours are starving, then you need to SHUT! THE FUCK! UP!
Really 700 Years Old: In "Good Ol' Days", Penn claims that he and Teller have been around since at least the Middle Ages, where they were presenting a show called "Billycock!"
Refuge in Audacity: In the opening presentation, Penn remarks that by calling people liars, quacks and scammers one can be sued, but motherfuckers, assholes and bullshit is fair game. Both types of appellations are used anyway.
The Ground Zero episode had "Best People, Best Minds" as a recurring joke that comes up every time the LMDC's decisions are changed or overruled.
Sarcasm Failure: The "Soda Tax" referenced in the fast food episode places extra government taxes on the purchase of sodas. Sodas are made using HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup). The main incentive to use HFCS is the low price due to government corn subsidies. In other words, from Penn's point of view, the government is solving a problem they created with misspent taxpayer money by taking more taxpayer money. They found the concept so asinine they couldn't develop a proper visual aid.
Self-Deprecation: In the pet episode, Penn mentions that for all the craziness people spend on their pets, he himself indulges pretty substantially on personal appeals. Furthermore, the Grand Finale of Bullshit was intended to be "The Bullshit of Bullshit", where they point out where they screwed up or were hugely biased.
In the War On Porn Episode, "Our argument is bullshit too. Correlation is not causation. It could easily be just a coincidence. So in the absence of evidence, who are you going to go with? The killjoys, or us? We have pictures of people fucking, and they don't!"
In general they love to call it "a bullshit show", even aside from the name, and to be incredulous that anyone with sense would want to be on it.
Sexposition: They not only did this regularly, they lampshaded it, pointing out that the only reason for having naked women in this scene was so that you'd sit and listen to a boring explanation of this week's topic.
Sex Sells: Humorously lampshaded often. Penn jumps at the chance to insert gratuitous nudity because it's good for the ratings.
Shown Their Work: Pretty much everything is heavily researched so that the show actually has proof to back up it's claims, rather than just making things up to make the topics featured look bad.
Sincerity Mode: Penn acknowledges that asking the boy in the "Video Games" episode to fire a rifle with no prior training (physical and mental) is unfair, and that the experience will affect him later in life, and he apologizes in voice-over for it.
Also in the "Alternative Medicine" episode when Penn learns that a chiropractor is doing work on little kids and even infants (which Penn points out is very dangerous) he is shocked to the point where he doesn't even break into a rant like usual and admits that he should've just called the police on the guy.
Patrick Geryl: No computers will work after a pole shift. Mega earthquakes bigger than the Richter scale. Hurricanes and the tornadoes. The complete tidal wave that will go over the whole world. More than 99% of all people in the whole world will be dead after this. Penn: Are you serious?! You mean, computers really won't work?!
Small Girl, Big Gun: One of the women in the Gun Control episode, who argues against it because women tend to be physically weaker than men and need other means of defending themselves.
Strawman Political: Pretty much anyone they disagree with, regardless of political affiliation. If nothing else, at least they're equal-opportunity in that regard...
Strawman political in that special case where they just find someone who actually has beliefs that are that extreme, not in the sense of a fictional character.
Penn claims that they don't ambush people with false pretenses, or take them out of context with tricky Michael Moore editing, though we sort of have to take their word for it.
Penn has summed up the tone of their show with the phrase "Fair, and extremely biased" several times during the show and NUMEROUS times outside of it. "Fair" in that they allow people to express their opinions/ideas fully without dicking about in the editing; "biased" in that they then steamroll over them with their own side without a chance for rebuttal or explanation. Which, as is often claimed, seems a little less than fair.
Also "biased" in that they pick and choose the "experts" from each side. For example, using only the extreme minority of climatologists who are skeptical of climate change for "their" side - and completely ignoring the vast majority of climatologists in favor of university protesters for "the other".
Discussed in the Vatican episode. Since they are generally going against the mainstream position, ideas that are generally considered impolite to question, and/or extremely influential groups they feel that this is already their own counter-argument. They don't see any point in taking part of their already only twenty-minute show when the opposition has had centuries to make their arguments.
It's painfully obvious that they cherry-picked representatives on both sides in War on Drugs. They used reasonable people (albeit one with a shady past) on the marijuana legalization side and smug strawmen on the anti-drug side.
Even in that episode, the worst offender was Robert S. Weiner from the Drug Czar's office and House Narcotics Committee, i.e. defending drug policy is his entire job and this is the best he can do.
They sometimes have strawmen on their side, but the context makes them more sympathetic than the opposing side. For example Ted Nugent in the PETA episode is very blunt with his arguments, but he's an entertaining Large Ham about it.
Talking to the Dead: The very first episode took aim at psychics who claim to be able to communicate with dead loved ones.
Penn: (at a set dressed as Harry Houdini's grave, to the headstone) Harry! Can you believe it? The same bullshit you so thoroughly debunked almost a century ago is continuing! And even enjoying a resurgence! (to camera) See? Anyone can talk to the dead! Getting an answer, that's the hard part. Teller: (as Houdini, his face poking through the foam layer front of the headstone) Bullshit!
Three-Way Sex/A Threesome is Manly: In the War on Porn episode, one of the critics of the sex industry makes the claim that this kind of sex is torture and one of the things that desensitizes men to rape.
Title Drop: Used Once an Episode in the opening. Penn describes the topic of the day, ending with "(subject of tonight's show) is bullshit!"
The only episode where this is untrue is the episode on profanity. They instead refer to it as "Humbug" in honor of what used to be a rather profane phrase used by Houdini.
Penn: Where the hell are you people getting your information?! Carl: Thank God for the Internet! Wendy: Thank God for the Internet! Carl: People say, "Oh, you got that on the Internet. That must be conspiracy stuff." No, it's just KNOWLEDGE.
Visual Pun: Often used as a way of Getting Crap Past the Radar - for instance, talking about multi-level marketing in front of a giant pyramid (asking their lawyer why they can't use "that word," no less), or alternative medicine in front of a flock of ducks.
The Voiceless: Teller, in keeping with P&T's original act. Depending on the episode, it's either played straight, or subverted. Teller never speaks in such a way where you can see his lips move, but if you've seen every episode, you have a pretty good idea of what the guy sounds like. Some notable subversions:
In the P.E.T.A. episode, wherein Penn brands Teller's ass with the show's eponymous obscenity. Appropriately, he screams in pain... off-camera.
Teller: Mother fucker! Penn: Hey, cool, Dave! He can talk!
In "Holier Than Thou", Teller is holding up a sign with Mother Teresa's birth name, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, for Penn to read. Penn has quite a few problems trying to pronounce her name, so Teller lifts the board up so it covers his mouth, and says it for him, without a problem.
What Could Have Been: The Grand Finale was supposed to be about show itself and have Penn and Teller calling out all the times they screwed up research or let themselves get too biased. Sadly the idea ended up falling through.