Penn Jillette

On this date in 1955, entertainer Penn Jillette was born in Greenfield, Mass. He embraced atheism as a teen and has been outspoken about it and his libertarian political views. 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 before starting their longtime collaboration as Penn & Teller. They gained critical acclaim for their off-Broadway show in 1985 and have since had two Broadway runs, and toured the country extensively throughout the 1990s.

Teller traditionally stays mute during their magic acts in Las Vegas. The duo started hosting a documentary on Showtime in 2003 called “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!” On the show, Teller continued to not talk while Penn provided commentary. The stated aim was to debunk myths and share the truth with the public, often through a combination of interviews, narration and other documentary techniques.

Their topics often included religion and skepticism, for example, the episodes “Creationism” (2003), “The Bible: Fact or Fiction?” (2004) and “Holier Than Thou” (2005), which criticized Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama. Their recurring TV show “Fool Us” first aired in 2011. In their stage shows, they debunk supernaturalism and explain some of their magic tricks. They were presented with FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award in 2003 in Nevada for their “plain speaking” on the shortcomings of religion.

During the 2006–07 season, Jillette hosted the prime-time game show “Identity” on NBC. In 2008 he was a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars” and was the first celebrity eliminated. He was a contestant in 2012 on “The Celebrity Apprentice” season 5 and was fired by Donald Trump during the Week 11 episode. Also in 2012, along with Michael Goudeau, he started the podcast “Penn’s Sunday School,” still airing as of this writing.

Jillette has published eight books, including the best-selling God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales (2011) and Every Day is an Atheist Holiday!: More Magical Tales from the Author of God, No! (2012). After high blood pressure landed his 6-foot-6 frame in the hospital in 2014, he lost 105 pounds and in 2016 published Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales.

He married film producer Emily Zolten in 2004. They have a daughter, Moxie CrimeFighter, born in 2005, and a son, Zolten Penn, born in 2006.

Freedom From Religion Foundation