Penn Jillette

Photo by Nubar Alexanian Photo by Nubar Alexanian

On this date in 1955, Penn Jillette was born in Greenfield, Mass. After high school, he attended Ringling Brother's Clown College for a year in 1973. In 1975, he first worked with silent magician Teller (his legal name) as part of an act called The Asparagus Valley Cultural society. The two have been collaborating ever since as Penn & Teller, and are widely known as magicians who also do comedy and skepticism. They gained critical acclaim for their off-Broadway show in 1985, and have since had two Broadway runs, the first in 1987, and toured the country extensively throughout the 1990s. Since 2001, they have had a long-term gig at the Rio in Las Vegas. Penn has been outspoken about many of his views, including atheism and political views such as libertarianism, for much of his career. Teller traditionally stays mute during their magic acts. Since 2003, the duo have been hosting a documentary TV show on Showtime called “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!” On this show, Teller continues to not talk, while Penn provides commentary. The stated aim of this show is to debunk myths and share the truth with the public, often through a combination of interviews, narration and other documentary techniques. The hosts of the show present a skeptical viewpoint on every subject covered. Some topics covered are especially relevant to religion and freethought, for example, the episodes “Creationism” (2003), “The Bible: Fact or Fiction?” (2004), and “Holier Than Thou” (2005), which criticizes Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. In their stage shows, the duo debunk supernaturalism, as well as explaining some of their magic tricks. Penn & Teller were presented with the Freedom From Religion Foundation's Emperor Has No Clothes Award by mail in 2003, for their “plain speaking” on the shortcomings of religion.

“Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.”

—Penn Jillette, “There Is No God,” NPR's "This I Believe" series, Nov. 21, 2005

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

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