Yes, it’s true, Penn Jillette has a short story featured in Black Mirror season 4. But just a warning: This post has major spoilers for the finale episode of Season 4, called Black Museum, so don’t read on until you’ve seen the episode. At the very end of Black Museum, we see a note in the credits indicating that part of the script was based on Penn Jillette’s “Pain Addict.” Back in May, we learned that a short story by Penn was going to be included in Season 4. Now we finally know which episode and exactly why that story was included. What is this story and how is it related to Black Mirror? Can you buy the short story? Read on for more details. Major spoilers are beginning now.
On Penn’s Sunday School podcast in May, he revealed that a Black Mirror episode would be based on one of his short stories. He had lunch with creator Charlie Brooker and they were talking about ideas. Penn told him about the time he was sick in a Spanish hospital in 1981 and the language barrier delayed his getting a proper diagnosis. He said in his podcast: I was postulating a future where you could put a gizmo on your head and feel someone else’s pain. So there would be doctors whose whole job it was to feel pain and say ‘His left arm is broken. That’s not actually appendicitis, that’s a cancer thing.’ They felt every pain. Like prizefighters and childbirth and child cancer. And this guy gets addicted to it and starts beating people to feel their pain… I wrote this story. It was the first story I wrote when I got a computer. When we did Penn and Teller’s first book, we had short stories in it. I submitted this and the editor said ‘That’s too dark.’ I’ve been trying to find a place for this story, which I thought was really good. I tried to write a comic book and they said no. I pitched it as a movie and they said no. So I told Charlie Brooker all of this and he said ‘Oh, pain addict. That’s good.'”
Two years later, Brooker still hadn’t forgotten about the idea. He called Penn about it, and Penn sent him the short story. And once you see Black Museum, you’ll realize that a big part of the episode was based completely on Penn’s short story. All those years he was told it was too dark, and it turns out the short story was really just waiting for the perfect fit. Penn said in the podcast that he wanted to play the part of Rolo, but the production was already too far along for him. (Interestingly, the device is also similar to the machine that Karl Pilkington posited during The Ricky Gervais Show.)
If you’re wondering how you can buy Penn Jillette’s Pain Addict, we unfortunately have some bad news for you. Penn’s Pain Addict story was never published, so you can’t purchase the original version. At least, you can’t purchase it as of the time of publication. Maybe this will change at some point after Black Mirror is released. It would be great if Penn would release a self-published version of his short story.