Penn Jillette

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Penn Jillette
Penn Jillete.jpg
Penn Jillette at an appearance in Toronto Ontario, on November 2, 2013
Born Penn Fraser Jillette
(1955-03-05) March 5, 1955 (age 60)
Greenfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Residence Las Vegas, Nevada
Nationality American
Occupation Magician, illusionist, writer, actor, inventor, juggler, comedian, musician
Years active 1974–present
Known for Half of the comedy magic duo known as Penn & Teller
Height 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m)[1]
Political party
Libertarian Party
Religion None
Penn and

Penn Fraser Jillette (born March 5, 1955) is an American magician, juggler, comedian, musician, inventor, actor, and best-selling author known for his work with fellow magician Teller in the team Penn & Teller. He is also known for his advocacy of atheism, scientific skepticism, libertarianism and free-market capitalism.

Early life[edit]

Jillette was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts. His mother, Valda R. Jillette (née Parks; 1909–2000),[2] was a secretary, and his father, Samuel Herbert Jillette (1912–1999),[2] worked at Greenfield's Franklin County Jail.[3][4][5] Penn became an atheist in his early teens after reading the Bible and was subsequently asked to leave the church after asking questions in a youth group that also made skeptics of his peers.[6] Jillette became disenchanted with traditional illusionist acts that presented the craft as authentic magic, such as The Amazing Kreskin on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. At age eighteen, he saw a show by illusionist James Randi, and became enamored of his approach to magic that openly acknowledged deception as entertainment rather than a mysterious supernatural power. Jillette regularly acknowledges Randi as the one person on the planet he loves the most besides members of his family.[7]

Jillette worked with high school classmate Michael Moschen in developing and performing a juggling act during the years immediately following their 1973 graduation.[5] In 1974, Jillette graduated from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College.[8] That same year, he was introduced to Teller by Weir Chrisemer, a mutual friend.[9] The three then formed a three-person act called Asparagus Valley Cultural Society which played in Amherst and San Francisco.[5] In 1981, he and Teller teamed up as Penn & Teller, and went on to do a successful Off Broadway and later Broadway theatre show called "Penn & Teller" that toured nationally.[5]


In 1994 Jillette purchased a house in Las Vegas and dubbed it "The Slammer".[10] It has been featured in dozens of television shows and articles and was designed by his friend Colin Summers. He currently records music there, and previously conducted his radio show at the studio inside "The Slammer".[11][12]

While the off-Broadway hit was running, in 1988 Jillette was in a speed mariachi power trio called Bongos, Bass and Bob. He played bass; bongos were by Dean J. Seal; and guitar was by Rob "Bob" Elk (Running Elk). The latter two became the a capella comedy duo Mr. Elk and Mr. Seal after the band broke up due to Penn's movie commitments. They recorded an album with Kramer at Noise New York called Never Mind the Sex Pistols, Here's Bongos Bass and Bob (What on Earth Were They Thinking?). It was released to almost no notice outside of a mention in Spin Magazine, but was immortalized with a claymation video of the single, "Oral Hygiene".

Jillette was a contributor to the now-defunct PC/Computing magazine, having a regular back-section column between 1990 and 1994. He and the magazine parted ways over a dispute with a new editor[who?][citation needed]. Jillette felt the new editor was trying to tell him how to write his column and what topics he should be covering. Jillette asserts that he is unsure if he was fired or if he actually quit.[citation needed]

Jillette was the primary voice announcer for the U.S.-based cable network Comedy Central in the 1990s.[13][14]

Starting in 1996, he had a recurring role on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch as Drell, the head of the Witches' Council. He and Teller both appeared in the pilot with Debbie Harry as the third member of the Council. The show was created by Jillette's friend Nell Scovell.

Penn and Teller appear as comedians Rebo and Zooty in the 5th season episode of Babylon 5, "The Day of the Dead", written by Neil Gaiman.

For a brief time in 1997, Jillette wrote bi-weekly dispatches for the search engine Each column ended with a pithy comment identifying which of the Penn & Teller duo he was. (For example: "Penn Jillette is the half of Penn & Teller that's detained at airports.") Jillette made a habit of linking many words in his online column to wacky sites that generally had nothing to do with the actual words. The columns are no longer available on the current site, but have been republished with permission at[15]

Starting in 2003, Jillette, along with Teller, began producing and hosting the show Penn & Teller: Bullshit! on Showtime. In the show, the two analyze cultural phenomena, debunk myths, criticize people and aspects of society they deem "bullshit".

In 2005 with actor Paul Provenza, Jillette co-produced and co-directed The Aristocrats, a documentary film tracing the life of an obscene joke known as "The Aristocrats". It principally consists of a variety of comedians telling their own versions of the joke.

From January 3, 2006 to March 2, 2007, Jillette hosted, along with fellow atheist, skeptic, and juggler Michael Goudeau, a live, hour-long radio talk show broadcast on Free FM. The show, Penn Radio, broadcast from his Vintage Nudes Studio in his Las Vegas home. The most notable recurring segment of the show was "Monkey Tuesday" and later "The Pull of the Weasel". On March 2, 2007, Jillette announced that he would no longer be doing his radio show. He stated that he is a "show biz wimp" and decided to stop doing the show so he could spend more time with his children.

During the 2006–07 television season, Jillette hosted the prime-time game show Identity on NBC-TV.

In 2008, Jillette was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars, paired with professional dancer Kym Johnson. He was the first celebrity to be eliminated. A reference to his large feet as a sign of another large body part was bleeped in the West Coast airing.[citation needed]

In 2009, Jillette did a spoken guest appearance on a song by Pakistani rapper Adil Omar. The song, "Spookshow", was produced by DJ Solo of Soul Assassins. The lyrics condemn religious extremism and encourage skepticism. It is set to be featured on a compilation album by Thick Syrup Records alongside artists like Matt Cameron of Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Half Japanese and more.[citation needed]

During 2010-2011, Jillette did a bi-weekly show on Revision3 called Penn Point.[16]

On August 16, 2011 Jillette's book God, No! Signs You May Already Be An Atheist and Other Magical Tales was released and made the New York Times Best Sellers in its first week of publication.[citation needed]

An avid upright bassist, Penn frequently accompanies jazz pianist Mike Jones, who opens for the magician's Las Vegas show.[17]

Jillette was one of the contestants on The Celebrity Apprentice season 5, beginning on February 19, 2012. He was fired from the show by Donald Trump during the Week 11 episode. Also on February 19, 2012, along with Michael Goudeau, he started the podcast Penn's Sunday School.

In 2013, he returned for the All-Star Celebrity Apprentice season, where he successfully made his way to the finale, raising a total of $663,655 for the charity of his choice, Opportunity Village.[18] On April 5, 2013 Penn and Teller were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the live performance category. Their star, the 2,494th awarded, is near the star dedicated to Harry Houdini.[19] The following day they were recognized by the Magic Castle with the "Magicians of the Year" award.[19]

Business ventures[edit]


In July 1999, Jillette was granted U.S. Patent 5,920,923 for the "Jill-Jet", a hot-tub jet specially angled for a woman's pleasure. He has credited Debbie Harry of Blondie for suggesting the idea, as the two of them were once in a hot-tub and Harry made a remark about changing the jets for a woman's pleasure. Jillette liked the idea enough to pursue a patent application at the USPTO under the patent title "Hydro-therapeutic stimulator".[20]

The abstract of the patent explains that a "discharge nozzle is located within the tub and connected to the outlet, mounted to the seat so that the discharged water from the circulation pump automatically aligns with and is directed to stimulation points (e.g., the clitoris) of the female user when the female user sits in the seat." An article in the June 2006 issue of Playboy shed additional light on the invention. Originally, it was to be called the "ClitJet"; however, he stated that "Jill-Jet" was more suitable because it included his name in the title.

On the Penn Radio show, telling the listeners about the photo shoot for the Playboy article, Jillette mentioned that he has a Jill-Jet installed in a tub in his house, and that several of his female friends and friends' female spouses enjoy it a lot, but he is not aware of any other installations of a water jet in such a configuration anywhere else.

Vintage Nudes Studio[edit]

Jillette created a private recording studio in his Las Vegas home.[21] The addition, designed by Outside The Lines Studio and built by Crisci Custom Builders between October 2003 and June 2004 as part of his Las Vegas home,[22] was named Vintage Nudes Studios by Jillette for playing cards that he had collected. The cards are displayed in the interior design in a manner which is meaningful to magicians.[23] The studio was home to Free FM's Penn Radio show, and is currently the home of the Penn's Sunday School stream and podcast.[21][24]

Personal life[edit]

While Jillette claims to have never used recreational drugs or alcohol,[25] he is an advocate of the legalization of all drugs and discontinuing the War on Drugs.

Jillette is an atheist, libertarian (he has stated that he may consider himself to be an anarcho-capitalist),[26] and skeptic, as well as an adherent to Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, as stated on his Penn Says podcast. Jillette is a Fellow at the libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, and has stated that he "always" votes Libertarian.[27] In January 2007, Jillette took the "Blasphemy Challenge" offered by the Rational Response Squad and publicly denied the existence of a holy spirit.[28] His cars' license plates read "atheist", "nogod", and "godless".[29] "Strangely enough, they wouldn't give me 'Infidel,'" he says.[29]

In 2005 he wrote and read an essay for National Public Radio claiming that he was "beyond atheism. Atheism is not believing in God ... I believe there is no God."[30] His atheism, he has explained, has informed every aspect of his life and thoughts, and as such is as crucial to him as theistic beliefs are to the devout. Jillette welcomes and even encourages open discussion, debate, and proselytizing on the issue of God's existence, believing that the issue is too important for opinions about it to remain private. Jillette does not, however, dismiss all who do believe in God: A 2008 edition of his Penn Says podcast expresses his appreciation for a fan who brought him the gift of a pocket Gideon Bible after a performance because he realized that this individual sincerely cared enough about him to try to help him.[31]

Jillette has stated that there is not enough information to make an informed decision on global warming, and that it is an emotion versus logic issue.[32]

He endorsed Gary Johnson for U.S. President in 2012.[33][34][35]

Jillette is a collector and connoisseur of song poems.[36]

Red fingernail[edit]

Speculation arises from Jillette's red fingernail on his left hand. From a FAQ from Penn & Teller's official website, there are three common answers:

  1. It means he once shot a man for asking personal questions.
  2. When Jillette first began performing, his mother told him to get a manicure because people would be looking at his hands. In response to this, he had all of his nails painted red as a joke. The one remaining red fingernail is in memory of his mother.[37]
  3. It's just cool and can also sometimes provide excellent misdirection.[9]

In several posts on Twitter in direct response to questions about his red fingernail, Penn states "People are asking about my fingernail. Wear my Dad's ring and my Mom's nail polish. Just for remembrance and respect."[38] The color he uses is Jelly Apple Red (#054) by Essie.[37][39] Jillette told Skepticality in 2012 that he was considering changing the meaning of the red nail polish, telling his daughter it is for her.[7] During his appearance on the Chopped Tournament of Stars (2014), he effectively told the story of his mother suggesting he get a manicure for the reasons stated above, and said that he kept it in respect for her.




Music videos[edit]


  • Captain Howdy, a band which consisted of Jillette and Mark Kramer, released:
    • The best Song Ever Written (single, 1993)
    • Tattoo of Blood (album, 1994)
    • Money Feeds My Music Machine (album, 1997)
  • Bongos, Bass and Bob, a band which consisted of Jillette, Rob Elk and Dean J. Seal, released:
    • Never Mind the Sex Pistols, Here's Bongos Bass and Bob! (What on Earth Were They Thinking?) (album, 1988)
  • Spookshow by Adil Omar
  • The Horse You Rode In On by Pigface

Books by Jillette[edit]


  • "Penn Radio" (January 2006 - March 2007), radioshow that was also podcasted
  • "Penn Says" (January 2008 - April 2010), videolog on
  • "Penn Point" (started May 2010, last update October 2011), videolog on
  • "Penn's Sunday School" (February 2012 – present) at


  1. ^ Roth, Mark. 3 March 2006, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Male Hollywood stars don't stand as tall as we imagine". Accessed September 8, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Social Security Death Index [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2011. Original data: Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File. Social Security Administration.
  3. ^ Kelly, Kevin (December 7, 1986). "What you see, what you get". Boston Globe. Retrieved September 2, 2011. 
  4. ^[dead link]
  5. ^ a b c d Trillin, Calvin (May 15, 1989). "A couple of Eccentric Guys". The New Yorker. 
  6. ^ Shaffer, R (December 2012). "Morality, Religion and Bullsh*t: An Interview with Penn Jillette". Humanist Network News. 
  7. ^ a b Derek Colanduno (November 27, 2012). "Jill-Jet: And The Magical Tale of Penn". (Podcast). Skepticality. Retrieved June 8, 2014. 
  8. ^ Curtis, Bryan (February 4, 2006). "Penn Jillette: The magician-comedian-writer's secrets revealed!". Slate. Retrieved June 29, 2007. 
  9. ^ a b Ferrel, Anne "Nita" (March 27, 2003). "Frequently Asked Questions About the Bad Boys of Magic...". Retrieved October 12, 2007. 
  10. ^ Tschorn, Adam (April 22, 2004). "Welcome to the Slammer". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 18, 2012. 
  11. ^ "The Slammer". Outside The Lines Studio. Retrieved October 12, 2007. 
  12. ^ della Cava, Marco R. (October 29, 2004). "This is the manic magic house that Penn built". USA Today. Retrieved April 16, 2008. 
  13. ^ "Identity: Penn Jillette". NBC. Retrieved June 25, 2008. 
  14. ^ "Penn Jillette: Full Biography". Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved June 25, 2008. 
  15. ^ ""Penn's Columns" (index)". Retrieved October 12, 2007. 
  16. ^ "Penn Point". Revision3. 
  17. ^ Malone, Andrew (December 2002). "Penn Jillette's Bass Magic". JazzTimes. Retrieved November 13, 2011. 
  18. ^ "Penn Jillette finishes second but spins a lot of magic on ‘All-Star Celebrity Apprentice’". Las Vegas Sun. May 19, 2013. Retrieved September 6, 2014. 
  19. ^ a b "Magicians Penn & Teller Get Star On Walk Of Fame". CBS Los Angeles. April 5, 2013. Retrieved April 7, 2013. 
  20. ^ Jillette, Penn (July 13, 1999). ""Hydro-therapeutic stimulator" (U.S. Patent 5,920,923)". USPTO Patent Full Text and Image Database. United States Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved October 12, 2007. 
  21. ^ a b "Penn Jillette Detailed Biography". Retrieved August 4, 2008. 
  22. ^ "The Slammer: Vintage Nudes Studio". Outside The Lines. February 21, 2009. Retrieved December 9, 2009. 
  23. ^ The table in the studio from which "Vintage Nude Studios" gets its name
  24. ^ "Outside The Lines Studio | Gallery.php?image=20040118". February 21, 2009. Retrieved April 14, 2012. 
  25. ^ Penn And Teller's "Bullshit!" - War On Drugs – (23:52)
  26. ^ a b Steigerwald, Bill (May 24, 2003). "Dear graduates: Work for freedom". Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Retrieved March 27, 2007. 
  27. ^ Who's Getting Your Vote?, Reason
  28. ^ "Penn's Blasphemy". Retrieved July 15, 2008. 
  29. ^ a b Wang, K.S. (June 1, 2009). "Celebrity Drive: Penn Jillette, Magician, Comedian, Host, Author". Motor Trend. Retrieved July 1, 2009. 
  30. ^ This I Believe: There Is No God. November 21, 2005.
  31. ^ natecalaway (February 28, 2009). "The Gift of A Bible". YouTube. Retrieved April 14, 2012. 
  32. ^ PTBSonShowtime (June 1, 2008). "Penn & Teller Discuss The Being Green Episode". YouTube. Retrieved April 14, 2012. 
  33. ^ Penn Jillett's Twitter feed Twitter
  34. ^ Penn Jillette’s 2012 pick: Gary Johnson
  35. ^ Penn Jillette speaks out on the role of government Fox News Channel: Sean Hannity
  36. ^ NERDIST Podcast Episode 130: Penn & Teller; Penn discusses his involvement along with Tom Ardolino of NRBQ & Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo with collecting song poems (starting at 05:53 in the podcast).
  37. ^ a b pennsays. "Painting My Fingernail". YouTube. Retrieved April 14, 2012. [dead link]
  38. ^ Twitter / pennjillette: People are asking about my
  39. ^ "Watch Penn Says, Painting My Fingernail, Episode 45 Online Free". Crackle. Retrieved April 14, 2012. 
  40. ^ IMDB: Mucha Lucha: The Return of El Maléfico
  41. ^ Bruno, Mike (February 19, 2008). "'Dancing With the Stars' Announces Lineup". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 19, 2008. 
  42. ^ "'America's Next Top Model', 'Penn & Teller: Fool Us' + 'Masters of Illusion' Renewed by the CW for New Seasons". November 17, 2014. 
  43. ^ "Celebrity Wife Swap". 
  44. ^ "Info page on Penn Jillette's Street Cred". Retrieved December 5, 2014. 

External links[edit]