Poor Charlie Sheen, advised that he is "the most polished performer ... a shining example," was struck dumb by the tribute. "I'm not sure how to take that," he said when trapped again later with a gag about Vietnam vets having to look after animals in the jungle. "On the chin," advised Dennis Pennis.
The dice were loaded against even the less dull-witted. Although Pennis the character is American (with an accent that slips under stress), his script team are English, and they unfairly pepper his interrogations with slangy Anglicisms. Jim Carrey had not previously come across someone called Jimmy Riddle. Michael Douglas was none too sure what Pennis meant by his "tackle". The erstwhile alcoholic Drew Barrymore, of course, had never heard of her English namesake Michael, who also enjoys the occasional stiff one.
The obstacle facing Pennis's act is the law of diminishing returns. There are only so many times you can fire off questions to Cindy Crawford about strange pets before your name gets around town. Cindy's rictus froze, while Demi Moore was similarly stunned when asked whether, if it were tastefully done, she'd ever consider doing a movie with her clothes on. Bull's-eye.
A mock report from a Hollywood gossip show warned of Pennis's "anti-celebrity activity". The item may actually have been a mere spoof, but, next time, the PRs of Tinsel Town will see him coming and get out their blackballs. Courtney Love had definitely heard of "this obnoxious guy from England". At the opening of Planet Hollywood, where he skewered most of his victims, he beckoned David Hasselhoff over and asked, "There's a lot of complicated text in Baywatch: is it important that the actresses have good mammaries?" A reporter on the patch next to Pennis promptly leaned into shot and told him he was screwing it up for everyone else.
And there could be something in that - the next time the BBC requests a formal interview with, say, Warren Beatty ("Warren, you're not seen in public very often: is it fair to say Beatty is privatised?"), he may dimly recall the corporation logo wrapped round Pennis's microphone and politely decline. Certainly, a wounded Steve Martin excluded Britain from a promotional tour after a brutal Pennising.
When he's not performing the valuable public service of insulting celebrities, Pennis tends to lose his way. In one item used to pad the show out to half an hour, he fronted an ad for a fraudulent exercise accessory. In another, he played a vulpine lawyer of the kind he may one day need himself. The real moth, you suspect, is Pennis himself, sentenced to a short life of frenetic nocturnal activity.