Bring Your Questions For Penn Jillette


Penn Jillette is a magician, comedian, actor, producer and, generally, a curator of interesting and intelligent things. But he is best known as the self-described “larger, louder” half of Penn & Teller, a stage show that Penn and his magician partner Teller have put on since 1975. It currently plays at the Rio in Vegas. I saw it there not long ago, and it was phenomenal.

The pair also has a weekly Showtime series called Penn & Teller: Bulls–t, which aims “to aggressively shoot down whack-jobs and fuzzy thinkers, no matter where they originate.” It has gleaned 11 Emmy nominations. Here’s a clip from the show about nuclear energy; you will find that Jillette’s take on the topic almost fully intersects with ours. (Caution: the language in the clip isn’t remotely safe for work.)

Jillette also created and produced the documentary The Aristocrats (website also N.S.F.W.), in which more than 100 comics tell their variations of the same dirty joke.

Jillette is a graduate of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. He and Teller have jointly won an Obie and an Emmy award, and both serve as visiting scholars at M.I.T.

You can read Jillette’s daily rants on his Penn Says video blog, where he explains, among other things, why he named his kids Moxie CrimeFighter and Zolten Penn.

Jillette has agreed to answer your questions (yes, you can ask about his red fingernail), so fire away in the comments section below. As with past Q&A’s we’ll post his answers here in a few days.

Addendum: Jillette answers your questions here.


How have you seen people balance religion-based beliefs and science? While I was at MIT, I met biologists that did research on topics dealing with evolution who literally believe the story of human creation (Adam and Eve). I couldn't reconcile this. Have you seen similar examples? How have you seen people reconcile these types of differences?


What's your goal in life? Is it to maximize personal happiness? Is it fame? Is it to make a difference (whatever that means)?


What one thing about the Average Joe/Jane has you most confused? For me, it's how so few people save for retirement (well, actually it's save for anything). Would love to hear what you're seeing.


I'm collecting a scrapbook of short notes of "general encouragement and/or advice" for my little boy. I've had family members, friends, and people whose work we find interesting contribute to the scrapbook (including Steven Levitt). If you could offer a short note of encouragement and/or advice to a young child, what would you say/write? Thank you.

Caca Fuego

Is there a source of morality beyond feelings, or is that all just bullsh*t?


Jason, we know Penn read "Freakonomics" because he mentioned it in his video blog on Crackle.

Penn, lately, have you seen a magic effect you couldn't figure out? Can you still be wowed by an act? Have you seen the BBC mystery series "Jonathan Creek"?


a wise man once said: if a cynic believes in God, he does not believe that he believes; and if a cynic does not believe in God, he does not believe he doesn't believe- my question is: if Jesus came back down and walked on water, would you worship Him or cry Bullshizzle?


I listened to every episode of the Penn Jillette Radio show (that you did with Michael Goudeau). You would often talk about the downsides of too much government and that the people and the marketplace should be allowed to work themselves out, because the people were smart enough to make their own decisions.

In the light of the current economic situation, do you still believe this? Do you still believe that the general public is smart enough to government themselves? And if you do, have you been to a shopping mall lately?


Are you an atheist because it makes sense or because it makes more sense than the alternatives, and do you think the majority of atheists are so because it makes sense or because it makes sense relative to "nonsensical" alternatives?

pete shaw

My question has three short parts.

1.) Do you prefer Las Vegas to NYC?

2.) I really miss your back pager for PC Computing. Any chance for a monthly column somewhere?

3.) Did you ever get a chance to meet Uma Thurman?


In the interests of honesty and non-b6t, shouldn't you be revealing your biases when you do your "exposes"? After all, you are clearly espousing a libertarian point-of-view that hasn't worked in all the failed states that have tried it. I enjoy your show, but there are times when your advocacy is so over-the-top as to be offputting.


Hey this is great - I got Freakonomics schwag for suggesing that Dubner see you in Vegas and try to get one or both of you to do a Q&A!!!
I saw my only Penn & Teller performance in NJ, oh, about 8 years ago and thought it was outstanding how at the end you ran up to the entrance to sign autographs and meet the fans. My signed cap is an honored relic in my home office. Enough fawning.
My question - Are there subjects that are off limits (likely imposed by legal I would guess) for your BS investigations?


The Bullsh*t episode on recycling is by far my favorite. I feel like if we aired that for Congress or for the American public during halftime of the Superbowl, we could put an end to the deadweight loss caused by the scam of recycling. I remember in high school there was a volunteer group advocating separate bins for paper, and then seeing the janitors after school dump the contents of the "recylcing" bins into the same dumpster as the cafeteria food scraps! How frustrating is it knowing what you know from the show, but most of your points falling on deaf ears?

Karaoke Kevin

What does Teller's voice sound like?


You frequently interact with audiences, and have done so for an extended period of time. Have you noticed trends in "audience psychology" (for lack of a better term) -- linked to political and/or cultural events? For instance, were audiences more skeptical as the case for the Iraq war came to light? What impact have the economic and financial crises had?


What was your very first magic show like and what tricks did you perform?


One of your "Penn Says" videos told the story of a guy who delivered a Bible to you after a show. In it, you expressed a pro-proselytization stance not often espoused by other atheists. How do you feel about Christians using the video as encouragement to proselytize? How do atheists tend to react to that message, considering that if Christians or people of other faiths took you at your word, it would mean more evangelism?

Also, since no one else has taken the bait yet, what's with the red nail?

the Gooch

Who do you think would win a fight between a 50-ft tall man-eating flower and a 50-ft tall flower-eating man?
Explain your reasoning.

Bruce F

In the 1970s at the L.A. Renaissance Faire, some loud obnoxious magician swiped my watch right off my wrist. He had me pound my chest like Tarzan as a diversion.

Was that you?

Caliban Darklock

Looking at the state of the magic community today, what do you believe poses the greatest challenge for magic as an art form over the next ten years - and how could the community and individual magicians most successfully address that challenge?