Mention celebrity magician Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame to anyone, and one of two thoughts will immediately pop into their head. Either 1) “Isn’t that the guy whose magic partner doesn’t speak?” or 2) “He sure does like to talk about religion and politics a lot.” Both thoughts are true, as Jillette has demonstrated time and time again his willingness to speak his mind on all kinds of subjects — be it President Donald Trump, his political affiliation with the Libertarian party, or his atheism.
Yet the outspoken half of the longest-running headlining act in Las Vegas isn’t necessarily driven by these well-known traits. While promoting the fourth season premiere of Penn & Teller: Fool Us he revealed that one of the primary driving forces behind Jillette’s late career isn’t success or argumentation, but his daughter. “Not every night, but maybe three nights a week, a young girl will come up to me after a show with a deck of cards in her hand,” he tells me. “Having daughter who is 12 years old, nothing could fill me with more joy than this.”
Hence why, as Jillette explains below, he and Teller have endeavored to increase the profile of female magicians and performers on this season of Fool Us. Considering who he met during his recent trip to Florida for the high IQ society Mensa’s annual meeting there, however, I couldn’t resist poking the bear at first.
How was your trip to Florida for the Mensa Annual Gathering?
It was good. I had a good time. I have a friend down there and we went fishing together. I posed with Roger Stone to start a fight. Every once in a while you want to get attacked on Twitter, so you stand next to somebody who isn’t too popular, take a picture with them, and all of a sudden everything they’ve done in their life is your fault.
All joking aside, was that your actual intent?
Not at all. It wasn’t done with any cynicism. I bumped into a guy that I don’t agree with on much of anything, and we chatted a little bit. It was very, very pleasant. He asked for a picture, and I wanted a picture, so we took the picture and I posted it if anybody online would be interested, and that was it. It’s very likely that a lot of the people I bump into and have pleasant conversations with wouldn’t agree with me on certain subjects. It’s possible my barista is a white supremacist. I don’t know.
Thanks to shows like Penn & Teller: Bullshit! and others, you’re opinions on politics, religion and other subjects are well known. I suspect, aside from magic, that people often ask you about these things.
We spend a lot of time — I guess because it’s sexy, and it makes us feel like we’re heroes with rage — talking about how whatever the groups we’re in are victimized and attacked. People have talked about the culture of victimization in a way that suggests whoever gets hurt the most wins. It’s just a lie. It’s simply not true. I speak to Christian groups, and they are polite and kind. I speak to Democrats and Republicans who are polite and kind. Roger Stone was polite and kind, even though I am actually on Trump’s enemies list, and Roger Stone is a friend of Trump’s.
We live in a country that is incredible civil, but we go online and pretend it’s not. We’re just pretending, and we all kind of know it. People come up to me and say, “I’m a big fan. I follow your atheist stuff. I’m a born again Christian. I don’t agree with your atheism at all, but I like your passion, you’re really funny, you’re always very polite to people, and I hope you find Jesus Christ in your life, because He’s done a lot for me.” And I’ll answer, “Well, I hope that you, your friends, and loved ones are some day strong enough so that you don’t need Jesus, but I’ll continue searching, and I hope you’ll do the same.” We shake hands and that’s it. I don’t see how that can be considered being a warrior or fighting a good fight. It’s just interacting with people. I wasn’t brought up to think you’re supposed to agree with every person you smile at.
True, but we also don’t want to ignore the realities of victimization.
Of course not!