‘Penn & Teller: Bullshit’ is a weekly American tv show hosted by comedy duo Penn Jilette and Teller.
The show revolves around exposing fraud and popular common public belief. It’s sort of like MythBusters but covers a scope well beyond just that of science.
It’s also much more in your face.
Being a cable tv program Penn and Teller: Bullshit contains much more profanity and nudity then your average television show, fortunately it’s mostly tasteless and the duo use both to great effect in ridiculing whatever the shows particular weekly topic might be.
Not usually a viewer of Pen & Teller, I did tune into this weeks episode after learning it was going to be about ‘easy money’ with a particular focus on MLM business opportunities.
Here’s how it went.
Penn and Teller: Bullshit! ‘Easy Money’ focused on three main MLM companies, Pure Romance, ManCave, and Zrii.
Pure Romance is an MLM company that markets ‘sexy products’ for women. Yes, we’re talking about dildos. Erin is the representative consultant from Pure Romance and claims the company is about ‘helping women discover their true potential’… by using vibrators.
Continuing the gender specific theme (not that guys can’t use vibrators, it’s just that Pure Romance market to women only), ManCave is about marketing the stereotypical redneck ‘guy’ image and selling products they might be interested in.
This for the most part means a product inventory of barbeque utensils, various barbecue meats and beer.
Eric is your marketing rep for ManCave. He’s been in the business 5 weeks.
Zrii markets juices with an MLM compensation plan and is the makes up the last of the three companies that feature in the episode.
Your marketing rep for Zrii is Rob Wynkoop who’s been with Zrii for 9 months.
To balance out the three business opportunities showcased, Penn and Teller feature Robert Fitzpatrick from PyramidScheme.org.
Fitzpatrick open by declaring multilevel marketing to be ‘the worst business opportunity out there’. To say Fitzpatrick is a critic of MLM is an understatement. Here’s some more from him;
One of the biggest criticisms of the MLM industry is the association between earning a full time income and the need to recruit. Many believe it’s this common property amongst all MLM companies that, by nature, define them as pyramid schemes.
This particular segment in the show also has footage of your typical sales pitch for the MLM industry, as well as a face to face meeting with a prospect by Zrii rep Rob.
What’s interesting here is the focus on recruitment, rather then the products being sold themselves. As Penn points out, Rob doesn’t even bring a sample of the product to the meeting… it’s all about the recruitment as this is where the real money is in MLM.
The Bottom Line: Unlimited incomes and potential
At the end of the day, this is what it’s all about: profit. In this final segment Penn and Teller explore the profit margins and thus far success generated by the three MLM sales reps featured.
One other important characteristic of the industry is also covered, the balance between an MLM sales rep blaming themselves, the company or the system.
A common used defense of network marketers of their industry is that it’s not the system that fails but rather an individual marketer. Critics on the other hand argue that it’s the industry itself, that it sets you up to fail.
Penn and Teller explore both sides of this argument;
Although Penn and Teller don’t explicitly mention it, twice in the show they seem to refrain themselves from labelling MLM companies as pyramid schemes.
Despite the nature of the show and pyramid references, it seems from a legal perspective the term ‘pyramid scheme’ was a term they had to dance around. Additionally the success of the show hinged on the participation of Zrii, ManCave and Pure Romance, all of which I doubt would have been involved had there been any direct association or mention of pyramid schemes.
Penn and Teller’s expose into the MLM world is quite entertaining to watch. Researching MLM companies and surrounding myself in industry jargon, facts and figures often feels like I’m in another world. I can only imagine then what it feels like for those actively involved in the industry itself.
For that reason alone it’s great to watch a perspective ‘from the outside’ so to speak.
As a final aside, I’ll leave you with the news that the Zrii rep featured in the episode, Rob, apparently left Zrii sometime after filming the episode. It’s unclear why Rob left the company however business didn’t appear to be going that well in the footage from the show so it’s hardly surprising. Nine months with one signup is hardly anything to show for working 12 hour days.
For his next MLM venture Rob appears to have signed up to new MLM company Ximo who market some weight loss wonder drug Ephedra. Maybe Rob will have more luck this time around…