Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette
Penn Jillette

Penn Jillette - after the Penn & Teller show at the Rio in Las Vegas, Nevada, May 23, 2007.
Born Penn Fraser Jillette
March 5, 1955 (1955-03-05) (age 56)
Greenfield, Massachusetts, U.S.
Residence Las Vegas, Nevada
Nationality American
Occupation Magician, illusionist, writer, actor, inventor
Years active 1974–present
Known for Half of the comedy magic duo known as Penn & Teller
Height 6 ft 6.5 in (1.99 m) [1]
Political party Libertarian Party
Religion None
Penn and

Penn Fraser Jillette (born March 5, 1955) is an American magician, comedian, illusionist, juggler, bassist and a best-selling author known for his work with fellow illusionist Teller in the team Penn & Teller, and advocacy of atheism, libertarian philosophy, free-market economics, and scientific skepticism.


Early life

Jillette was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts. His mother, Valda R. Jillette (née Parks) (November 8, 1909—January 1, 2000)[2], was a secretary, and his father, Samuel H. Jillette (March 14, 1912—February 14, 1999)[2], worked at Greenfield's Franklin County Jail.[3][4][5] 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.

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.[6] That same year, he was introduced to Teller by Weir Chrisimer, a mutual friend.[7] The three then formed a three-person act called Asparagus Valley Cultural Society which played in Amherst, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California.[5] In 1981, he and Teller teamed up as Penn & Teller, and went on to do a successful on- and Off Broadway show called "Penn & Teller" that toured nationally.[5]

Career and showtime

In 1994[8] Jillette purchased a home in Las Vegas and dubbed it "The Slammer". 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".[9][10]

Jillette was also a regular contributor to the now-defunct PC/Computing magazine in the early 1990s, having a regular back section column between 1990 and 1994. True to form, the columns were often as much about Uma Thurman as actual PC computing issues. Jillette and PC Computing parted ways over a dispute with a new editor. 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.

Jillette was the primary voice announcer for the U.S.-based cable network Comedy Central in the 1990s.[11][12]

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.

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[13]

Starting in 2003, Jillette, along with his partner Teller, began producing and hosting the show Penn & Teller: Bullshit! 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 (2005), a documentary film tracing the life of a dirty joke known as "The Aristocrats".

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 the radio station brand known as Free FM. The show, Penn Radio, broadcast from his Vintage Nudes Studio in Jillette's 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, on Free FM, 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 kids Zolten Penn Jillette and Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette.

During the 2006–07 television season, Jillette hosted the prime time game show "Identity" on NBC-TV. As of now,[when?] NBC states on its website that it plans for "Identity" to return to its prime time schedule soon, although a firm premiere date for the show's second season has not been announced.

In 2008, Jillette was a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. 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 was titled "Spookshow" and 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]

On May 24, 2010, Jillette began a daily show on Revision3 called Penn Point.[14]

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.

An avid upright bassist, Penn frequently accompanies jazz pianist Mike Jones, who opens for the magician's Las Vegas show.[15]


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 patent application at the USPTO under the patent title "Hydro-therapeutic stimulator".[16] 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 (i.e., 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 at "The Slammer", and that several of his female friends and friends' spouses enjoy it a lot, but he is not aware of any other installations of a water jet in such a configuration anywhere else.

Personal life

He occasionally notes with irony that he lives and works in Las Vegas, but he does not gamble (though he did lend his name to a book on how to cheat at poker).[citation needed]

He has never used recreational drugs or alcohol. He is, however, an advocate of the legalization of all drugs and discontinuing the War on Drugs.[17]

Jillette is married to Emily Zolten and has a daughter Moxie CrimeFighter and a son Zolten Penn.

Jillette is an atheist, libertarian (he has stated that he may consider himself to be an Anarcho-capitalist),[18] 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.[19] In January 2007, Jillette took the "Blasphemy Challenge" offered by the Rational Response Squad and publicly denied the existence of a holy spirit.[20] His cars' license plates read "atheist", "nogod", and "godless".[21] "Strangely enough, they wouldn't give me 'Infidel,'" he says.[21]

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."[22] 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.[23]

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.[24] However, he has later accepted anthropogenic factors as a likely component in the current warming as well as the imperative to act on it, but clarified that his reluctance to make a complete judgment is related to the political side of the debate.[25]

Red fingernail

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 honor of his mother.[26]
  3. It's just cool and can also sometimes provide excellent misdirection.[7]

On the episode of Penn Radio broadcast on November 29, 2006, Jillette related the real story behind his red fingernail. It began as a joke with his mother. When he was 18 years old, his mother advised him to keep his hands looking nice, since he then was working as a magician and his audience would be looking at his hands. Jillette colored the single nail red and showed it to his mother. He has continued to paint that single nail to the present. The color he uses is Jelly Apple Red (#054) by Essie.[27][26]




  • Miami Vice
    • "Prodigal Son" (1985) TV episode ... Jimmy Borges
  • Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
    • "Illusions of Grandeur" (1 episode, 1994) ... Romick
  • VR 5
    • "Pilot" (1 episode, 1995) ... Mr.Orwell Kravitz
  • Friends
    • "The One With the Cuffs" (1 episode, 1997) ... Encyclopedia Salesman
  • The Drew Carey Show
    • "See Drew Run" (1997) TV episode ... Archibald Fenn
    • "Drew Meets Lawyers" (1995) TV episode ... Archibald Fenn
  • Sabrina The Teenage Witch
    • "First Kiss" (1997) TV episode .... Drell
    • "Jenny's Non-Dream" (1997) TV episode ... Drell
    • "Terrible Things" (1996) TV episode ... Drell
    • "Pilot" (1996) TV episode ... Drell
  • Babylon 5
  • Penn & Teller's Sin City Spectacular 1998–99
  • "Hollywood Squares" (1999–2004) regular
  • The Simpsons
  • Dharma & Greg (2001)
  • The West Wing
  • Penn & Teller: Bullshit! (2003 - 2010)
  • The Moxy Show (original voice of Flea; later replaced by an unidentified actor in some episodes)
  • Identity (premiered in December 2006); returned on March 16, 2008 on NBC and will air for seven weeks every Friday at 8 p.m. ET.[18]
  • Real Time with Bill Maher (2006) TV episode ... himself
  • Dancing with the Stars (2008) ... himself[28]
  • Numb3rs
    • "Magic Show" (2008) TV episode ... himself
  • "Glenn Beck" (Fox News)
  • Handy Manny
    • "Halloween/Squeeze's Magic Show" (2008) TV episode ... Magic Marty
  • Penn & Teller Go Public (1985) TV program produced by Community Television of Southern California and aired on Public Television stations.
  • The Defenders
    • "Whitten v. Fenlee" (2010) TV episode ... Ruben Charters
  • Fetch with Ruff Ruffman
    • "You Can't Teach an Orange Dog New Tricks" (2009) TV episode...Himself
  • Penn & Teller: Fool Us (2010-)
  • Real Time with Bill Maher (October 14th 2011) TV episode ... himself
  • Penn & Teller Tell a Lie (2011-)

Music videos


  • "The Horse You Rode In On" by Pigface
  • "Spookshow" by Adil Omar

Books by Jillette

  • Jillette, Penn (2011). God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1451610369. 
  • Jillette, Penn (2004). Sock. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. ISBN 0-312-32805-2. 
  • Jillette, Penn (2005). How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker: The Wisdom of Dickie Richard. New York: St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 0-312-36068-1. 
  • Jillette, Penn (1989). Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends. New York: Villard. ISBN 0-394-75351-8. 
  • Jillette, Penn and Teller (1992). Penn and Teller's How to Play with Your Food. New York: Villard. ISBN 0-679-74311-1. 
  • Jillette, Penn and Teller (1997). Penn and Teller's How to Play In Traffic. Berkley Trade. ISBN 1-57297-293-9. 


  1. ^ "Biography for Penn Jillette". IMDb. 
  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 (7 December 1986). "What you see, what you get". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  4. ^[dead link]
  5. ^ a b c d Trillin, Calvin (May 15, 1989). "A couple of Eccentric Guys". The New Yorker. 
  6. ^ Curtis, Bryan (February 4, 2006). "Penn Jillette: The magician-comedian-writer's secrets revealed!". Slate. Retrieved 2007-06-29. 
  7. ^ a b Ferrel, Anne "Nita" (March 27, 2003). "Frequently Asked Questions About the Bad Boys of Magic...". Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  8. ^ Tschorn, Adam (April 22, 2004). ["" "Welcome to the Slammer"]. Los Angeles Times. "". Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  9. ^ "The Slammer". Outside The Lines Studio. Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  10. ^ della Cava, Marco R. (October 29, 2004). "This is the manic magic house that Penn built". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  11. ^ "Identity: Penn Jillette". NBC. Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  12. ^ "Penn Jillette: Full Biography". Retrieved 2008-06-25. 
  13. ^ ""Penn's Columns" (index)". Retrieved 2007-10-12. 
  14. ^ "Penn Point". Revision3. 
  15. ^ Malone, Andrew (December 2002). "Penn Jillette's Bass Magic". JazzTimes. Retrieved 13 November 2011. 
  16. ^ 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 2007-10-12. 
  17. ^ Bullshit! Season 2 Episode 4: "War On Drugs" - (3:50)
  18. ^ a b Steigerwald, Bill (2003-05-24). "Dear graduates: Work for freedom". Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Retrieved 2007-03-27. 
  19. ^ Who's Getting Your Vote?, Reason
  20. ^ "Penn's Blasphemy". Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  21. ^ a b Wang, K.S. (2009-06-01). "Celebrity Drive: Penn Jillette, Magician, Comedian, Host, Author". Motor Trend. Retrieved 2009-07-01. 
  22. ^ This I Believe: There Is No God. November 21, 2005.
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^ a b
  27. ^
  28. ^ Bruno, Mike (February 19, 2008). "'Dancing With the Stars' Announces Lineup". Entertainment Weekly.,,20178686,00.html. Retrieved 2008-02-19. 

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