Authors@Google: Penn Jillette

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 01.12.2011

>> Female Presenter: Hi. I'm Julie Wiskirchen from the authors at Google
team here in Santa Monica. And today I'm very excited to
welcome Penn Jillette.
>> Female Presenter: You probably know Penn as the more vocal half of the magic
duo Penn and Teller. They have a long running Vegas show
and they also host the TV show, "Penn and Teller: Bullshit!". He co-produced and co-directed
the film "The Aristocrats", has appeared in numerous film and TV shows,
including Dancing with the Stars and is author of six
books. And today he's here to talk about the latest which
is called "God No!: Signs You May Already be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales". So
please welcome me in welcoming Penn Jillette.
>> Penn: Thank you. I was very excited to be at one of these
Google shindigs. Can you all hear me okay with the
microphone being so low, set for a low person? The book is
called "God No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales"
It's laid out in my version of the ten commandments which
is the ten suggestions. And I wrote the book. The basic
reason I wrote the book was because Glenn Beck told me
to.[laughter] I get a lot of heat a huge amount of heat. I don't
know if any of you watch Paul Provenza, my partner on Aristocrats, Paul Provenza.
There's a show called the Green Room. And I was on there
with two of my heroes -- Martin Mull and Tommy Smothers. And Tommy
Smothers tore me into an asshole for ever going on the
Glenn Beck show. He thought that--. He's completely--. He's 100 percent right that when you go
on a show that you disagree with philosophically, you're
giving that show your name. You're giving them your
brand. You're giving them your support in a certain
sense. So that I shouldn't go on anything to do with
Glenn Beck or FOX News anywhere. That argument is
completely 100 percent valid. The other argument, the
other side, I believe, is also completely valid. Which is
if you only go on shows with people who agree with you,
who's going to go on Glenn Beck and say the simple
sentence, "there is no God?" Who is going to sit with Glenn
Beck and when he says Penn did you go to Ringling Brothers
clown college?" And I say, "yes, Glenn, and you're a
Mormon so we're both wearing funny underwear but for
different reasons." [laughter] Glenn was always pleasant. Polite. I only went on like four
times I guess. And one of the things I said to Tommy
Smothers was, is there anything I ever said on Glenn Beck that was wrong, that you
believe I was lying, that you don't agree with me? He said, "no, no, no, -- that's not
the point." If Hitler had a talk show and I said, "yes, I'd go
on and I'd try to tell the truth." So Glenn Beck and I
have maintained this slight friendship. You know, e-mail
friendship. Gmail friendship. [laughter] Where we write back and
forth, you know, not every day and send pictures of our cats.
But we do write probably every four or five weeks, back and
forth. And he was working on this, one of these
rallies to destroy America that he was involved with.
And he was putting together the ten commandments. And he
made this argument, which I thought was really counterproductive for a theist to make. The
argument he was making was that the ten commandments were
so built into our morality, so important culturally
and in our hearts that you didn't even have to believe
in religion in order to have these ten commandments. Now,
that's the argument essentially that Sam Harris makes
in his -- the moral -- what's the other word of Sam Harris'
new book -- yeah. Moral Landscape. The Moral Landscape. That's
the exact argument he makes. It's the argument Dawkins makes all the time
and it's the argument that atheists make forever about
morality that morality exists outside of religion. You can
be moral without religion. It's an argument that you
can very rarely get a religious person to accept, and
yet, here is Glenn Beck making that argument as though
it were a religious argument. And he called upon me
to write my ten commandments to show -- because I'm the
only atheist Glenn Beck knows [laughter] To write my ten
commandments. And turns out they don't actually overlap,
because the first three commandments Judeo-Christian commandments are pretty much "I am God, suck
up to me". And those aren't very important to the atheist.
But some of the other ones like "thou shalt not kill" I think that
atheists can get behind maybe even more than the
religious people who have kind of "thou shalt not kill
somebody God doesn't want you to". They have kind of
another thing around there. And I'm also not very down
with the coveting thing because I believe what you do
inside your head doesn't matter very much. It's the way
you act towards other people, what you actually do.
And fantasies and thought experiments that are immoral
are fine as long as action ends up being moral. So,
after I wrote these for Glenn Beck, I decided it would be
a good book. And I laid out my ten suggestions as I was
told to write by Glenn Beck and then filled it with
stories -- some of which have to do directly with religion
and living an atheist life -- and some of which deal with
me trying to get laid at a gay bathhouse and dropping my
cock in a blow-dryer. [laughter] And which some of the reviewers
who are reviewing this in a very serious theological way
have had a lot of trouble finding out what the parable of
the cock in the blow-dryer really means to atheists. But
then again Christ was cryptic, too, now wasn't he? [laughter] There's a
reason that my cock being dropped into a blow-dryer is
important to this book. The subtitle of it is Signs You
May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales". And it opens with --
the only thing I'm going to read to you from this. I'm just going to take questions because
you're people I want to talk to. Otherwise I would just read from the book.
But I'm going to read just the first page, because it kind
of sums up what I mean by signs you may already be an
atheist. I don't know why am I reading this. I can go
off the top of my head because I wrote it. But you may already
be an atheist. If God, however you perceive him,
her, it, told you to kill your child, told you however God
communicates with you to kill your child, would you do
it? If your answer is no, in my booklet, you're an atheist.
There's doubt in your mind. Love and morality are
more important to you than your faith. If your answer is
yes, please reconsider. And one of the things I hit upon
in this book a lot is that, even people who claim
-- I mean I guess I'll quote one of my closest friends,
Rob Pike, who is a scientist here at Google. Not here on
this particular campus, but maybe on one of those.
And Rob Pike once said to me he was so much of an
atheist he didn't really believe that other people believed
in God [laughter] And he did not say that as a joke.
And there's another book out by Andy Thomson called
"Why We Do Believe in God". Then there's a parentheses and S
afterwards. "Why Do We Believe in Gods". And one of the
points he makes is the point -- I think it's very
important -- about the Abraham example in the front of
the book, which is people who believe in God live their
lives as though there was no God. They live their life
with no consideration for divine intervention and no
consideration that God's going to help them. There's a
cliché which is not true. There are no atheists in fox
holes. And I would argue that there's nothing but
atheists in fox holes. If you really believe that God
was watching over your every move. If you really believe
there was an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent being that
watched every sparrow fall and counted every grain of
sand, then why wouldn't you walk through the battlefield
going "hidey hidey-ho. And I'm over here". [laughter] And know that
God would make the bullets go right around you the way
they did in Pulp Fiction. If God can save John Travolta, he
can sure as fuck save you, right? [laughter] Every time you stop at
a stop sign, you're saying, "well, you know, I'm not sure God is
going to pick the exact time of my death, so I better
look both ways before I go through here." And I just
think there are a lot of people who just say they believe
in God kind of as a knee jerk reaction to a society that
kind of says that's a good thing. And I was writing this
book to kind of say that, "maybe they could reconsider.
Atheists are growing very, very quickly in this country,
but not quickly enough for my taste." And there are a
lot of books written about atheism by really smart people.
You've got Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, [inaudible], Ali . And this as I said is a book written
by a really stupid atheist. Just to give you an
idea that not only smart people, but stupid people as well,
can be atheists. I'm just going to open it up to
questions on anything. You want to ask about the book.
About bull shit, about anything we've done. I'm here.
This is the last interview of my day. So I'm very happy
to answer questions off subject. Sir?
>> Male #1: What's the difference between an atheist and an
>> Penn: Well, you know an agnostic is a word that I believe
from reading the Thomas Huxley biography that came out a little while ago. Agnostic is a
word that was developed as a weasel word. Thomas Huxley
was Darwin's pit bull. When Darwin wrote his book, "On the
Origin of Species" and changed the world. Probably the
most important scientific breakthrough. His wife,
Darwin's wife, didn't want him going out and arguing
these points. And Darwin also was not a confrontational man. So they kind of sent Thomas Huxley out.
And somebody, maybe Darwin's wife is major culprit.
Maybe Darwin himself. Maybe Huxley. Didn't want
to use the word atheist. So Huxley took the word agnostic,
meaning "don't know," and kind of threw it out there
as that's what he was. He was agnostic. So he wouldn't
scare people away with the atheism and can maybe
slide in his message of evolution. My view of that after,
you know, 150 years of using the weasel word agnostic,
is that it still doesn't answer the question. If I ask
you, "is there a God." An epistemological question,
"is there a God". And more specifically, can you know there is a God. The answer, "no,
you can't know there is a God." Or "I don't know" is a perfectly
acceptable answer. That is agnosticism; it answers the epistemological question. But
if you're asked, "do you believe in God?" That's an
entirely different question. And I think, especially
from talking to evangelicals, especially from talking
to Mormons, born again Christians, especially
the religious people in our culture in the United States,
doesn't really hold up for all religions, but for
the Judeo Christian, --what was called by a wonderful
science fiction writer the Mediterranean death cults-- those
particular religions, belief is considered to be active. You can't passively
believe. You actively believe. And that is a basic
Judeo Christian idea that belief is active. And
from that point of view, I feel very strongly that,
if you don't know, you don't believe. It's not saying that
you will not believe. It's not saying that any evidence
that comes along wouldn't change your mind instantly.
It's not even saying that you don't go back and
forth and five minutes ago I believed, right now I don't.
Five minutes from now I will. But the question, "do you
believe in God?" Does not seem it can be answered with,
"I don't know," unless you claim not to have a sense
of self and not have a sense of what you, yourself, belief.
So I believe if you answer the question, "do you
believe in God?" with "I don't know," you're really saying
"no." You're really saying "no, I don't believe
in God." So I've been trying not to use the word agnostic
except for very specific epistemological arguments. But
for theological arguments, saying "listen you've
got to be atheist or theist. And more important than
that, do you live your life as though there were God or
as though there weren't a God? Do you live your life as
though you're going for just reward or punishment. Or do
you live your life as though there was some sort of good and pleasing and loving things
you could do without worrying about what's going to
happen to you after life. So I kind of dismiss the whole
idea of agnostic and go right to atheist. It's -- I just
don't think it's a dirty word. I think it's a sexy word
even though it's a little hard to spell with the I and E
in there. We can learn. [laughter] We can look it up. Yes?
>> Penn: [inaudible] There was a horrible nightmare there.
>> Penn: Well, good. You got all organized out there with your
>> Male #2: Hi. The first two pages of the book that I glanced
through before the thing, you mention many times, like five or six times at least, that
you never used alcohol, you've never used drugs. And the Bull Shit! show, you make the
same assertion in other places. Why does it matter?
>>Penn: Yeah, I don't know; I don't know why it matters. I end up saying
that all the time because it's so unexpected and people
just expect it if you're in show business and you look
like me and you're enormous and you're my age and you
have my hair and you have my job, people just assume I'm
a heavy duty drug user. And Trey Parker considers it to
be my biggest flaw that I'm not. [laughter] And in
order to make Trey Parker happy, when he's always
complaining that I'm never high and things would be much more
interesting high, when I went to the dentist and knew I
was going to get some heavy dental surgery and knew they
were going to give me stuff that would really fuck me
up, I invited Trey Parker over that afternoon. So the
only person who had hung out with me high is Trey Parker and
we made a little pact that whenever I get serious dental
work done and they're gonna put me under and liquid Valium, Trey is going to be there because
we meet on this Trey Parker level. [laughter] You know,
I think it only matters because I graduated from high school
in 1973 in a rural high school -- Greenfield, Massachusetts,
a dead factory town -- and every single student that
I knew in my classes was tripping and on heroin and
drunk all the time. And the reason I, one of the major reasons
I did not go to college is I wanted to get away
from people who were on drugs. I was so sick of being around
people who were stoned and so sick of being around
people who were drunk by the time I hit 17, that I get
in the habit of repeating it all the time just so people
after the show don't ask me to go get high. I will say, politically, I'm
in favor of all of that being completely legal. The fact we
lock up people for what they put in their own body is an
atrocity. The amount of people we put in jail -- not
only the horrible inhumane act that is, but also, on a
much less important level, the amount of people we spend
to lock up people who are just putting stuff in their own body is awful. But I mention
it too much and maybe because my mom and dad were teetotalers. My grandparents were teetotalers.
And there may be certain kind of family pride
in that. And also I tend to--. Things that make me different from other people,
I tend to push and celebrate like other people to do
that. If you watch everything I do, that particular point
comes up really often. Not as much as I say mother
fucker, but it comes up pretty often. It's just true.
>> Female #1: Hi, I have two questions if I have a chance to get to
both of them. And they're totally unrelated. So the
first is about Sam Harris. You mention the Moral Landscape. I
happen to be ironically reading the End of Faith last year when I
was in Jerusalem and I was there just as a tourist, you know.
>>Penn: [laughs] As opposed to a pilgrim or terrorist [laughter].
>> Female #1: I was also there for work though. But what I found most
interesting about that book, and if you're familiar with
it you'll know what I'm talking about, is that Sam Harris
kind of makes the point that World War III will effective be caused by the fighting between
the Christians, the Muslims and the Jews and I was kind of wondering whether or not you
agreed with that perspective that he has.
>>Penn: You know, all the stuff that comes out that's
depressing, all the World War III, end of the world stuff,
I always go back to thinking about my dad in 1971, you
know. What the world must have seemed like then when
students were shot at Kent State. When our president
was, regardless of what your politics are or what you
thought of Nixon or the Nixon administration, he had lost his mind. With all
the Nixon jokes aside, the President of the United States
had gone crazy. He was going to step down. We'd gone
off the gold standard. The UN was out of its mind.
Vietnam was going to go on forever. And that time that
my dad had to deal with when he was my age, really seems
like the end of the world. And I am -- I think a -- I
can't defend this, but in my heart I'm a real optimist.
Everything seems really good to me. I think it might be
part of being raised by a mom and dad -- my dad didn't
get the memo that dads were supposed to do conditional
love and moms unconditional love. I just had a mom and
dad and sister that loved me completely and supported me and I have
always had good friends. So things have gone pretty well. So
maybe that distorts your point of view. I know about all
that apocalyptic stuff. I've talked with Christopher Hitchens who will just say all your optimism
can be shot down with one word -- Nigeria -- you know. It's full of
Muslims. It's going to go nuclear and it's the end of
the world starting right there. Boom. And Christopher
Hitchens. Whenever you're in a disagreement with
Christopher Hitchens, it's like having a traffic accident with a police officer. You know who's
wrong. [laughter] Anything I argue with Hitchens on, I believe
I'm wrong. And Hitchens is, with his view of politics,
he kind of thinks that same thing. I also know that it feels
to me like what we're seeing with religious extremists
also feels desperate to me and is dangerous and is horrible
and the deaths that are coming. It does feel desperate.
It feels like since 9/11, this is just what I'm
feeling. I have no basis for this. I want to separate
that. This is in the realm of poetry not the realm of
fact. It seemed before 9/11, atheists were really strident and aggressive
and loud and unpleasant and religious people were kind
of like more laid back. When you watch TV, that's the way
they looked in their little boxes. It was atheists kind
of banging their fists and yelling and the religious
people kind of being sedate. And since 9/11 not just because
of 911, it seems we're seeing another thing happening.
We're seeing a lot of smiling, gentle atheists and a lot
of absolutely panicked religious people. So I think one
of the reasons that everything feels so scary right now is
that the number of atheists is going through the roof
and is going through the roof in a very, very different
way. It's not going through the roof that there are atheist
socialism. It's not going through the roof in the Ayn
Rand thing. It's just going through the roof of a lot
of people caring about the world we have now and caring about
each other and going through it. So I read that Sam Harris stuff and
he makes really good points and he's probably right but I
just don't feel it. I don't think that the wars are
going to be centered that way. I think that people are
getting more and more disgusted with just this top-down
kind of thinking . And I think that everything, you know,
everything that's changing. And a huge part of that is
the Internet. And a huge part of that is making information available to so many people. I
think it's really hard in a world that has the Internet
and Google to keep people in these cloistered environments
where they have to keep that raw hate going. Now,
suicide bombers are all well-educated, all really
nice guys, all really wealthy. It's not the poor uneducated
people. And the people that flew the planes on 9/11
all had access to computers. And that argues against
the whole thing, but I still have this hopeful thing
in my heart that I think things are just getting better
and I think we haven't even started to see what the kind
of communication that's happened with the Internet, what Google
is going to do. I just think it's so much bigger than
the Gutenberg press and the Gutenberg press invented the
United States of America. That's the idea that's based on
that kind of information being shared. And I'm just waiting for the
country, for the politics, that's truly and honestly
based on Google. And I mean that Google as the brand
name and also Google as the generic term for search
engine, because you don't want me to use it that way
because then your brand name goes away and you're all fucked.
>> Female #1: My second question is about the irony of the Church
of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and how that Pastafanarianism, or
however you pronounce it, is growing to a point where it
becomes kind of ridiculous because it is, in and of itself,
a religion even though it's supposed to be not having a
>> Penn: You know, there's nothing --. When a joke goes too far,
you know, there's the expression it's really funny till
someone loses an eye and then it's hysterical. [laughter] I think
that's absolutely true. When you have the flying
spaghetti monster elevated and used in those court cases,
it's really terrific. I mean, if, it really does,
those absurdest things really do test the laws and test
what we really want to do. I mean, there was, what I was
hoping for with the SubGenius. The SubGenius was around in the 70s. I don't
know if anybody remembers Bob Dobbs. But I was a
SubGenius from the beginning along with Mark Mothersbaugh, all those cats,
late 70s, early 80s cats. And I was really hoping that
that would do with the flying spaghetti monster had done.
But that was much more, that was--. Bob Dobbs was a
religious/ anti-religious idea that was done by artists.
And I believe the flying spaghetti monster is
anti-religious idea that's done essentially by scientists.
And therefore, flying spaghetti monster is a much better
tool to argue. And that argument is important. I mean,
I've been talking to Andy Thomson who wrote this great
book Why We Believe in God. And he's a forensic shrink.
He talks to people who do horrendous stuff. And one of
the things we were talking about along these lines of 'even
people who say they believe in God don't believe'. It's
very interesting that in this country in our legal system, we
have guilty, we have not guilty, and we have not guilty
by reason of insanity. We do not have any sort of plea
for "God told me to." And if you go to the Bible belts,
the absolutely Bible belts, with a judge who's an
absolute believer, with an all fundamentalist Christian
jury and you go in front of that jury and your client
says that she was told by God to kill her family, like the
Yates case, she was told that. You don't get anybody in the press or
anywhere saying, "we better look into this and see if God
told her to". [laughter] "We'd better check". I mean, that's a laugh line and yet when
you read the Bible, it happens over and over again. And
religious people have this sense that they believe
absolutely in the literal interpretation of the Bible and
all that is absolutely true, but has no application whatsoever to our time now. And just the fact
that going in to a court case and saying, "God speaks
to you and you hear voices," you know? Exactly like seeing
the burning bush. Exactly like it's described in the Bible.
Is laying down the foundation for an insanity
defense. It's weird that our court system that has "in God
we trust" on the money and wants to put the ten commandments
on the wall, completely, completely ignores the possibility
that there is God in our lives.
>> Male #3: Hi Penn. I just want to say one thing real fast before a
question. I've seen you a couple of times and every time
you have this -- you're very good at stopping the
hysteria and going, "the kids are all right; stop worrying about everybody". And I
appreciate the fact; you are a very prominent voice for that point of view. My question
is actually -- I'm going to move a little bit
away. You spent a fair amount of time in England recently
doing Fool Us, which of course I would have never seen being in the United
States. I've only heard rumors. >>Penn: No, no, there's all sorts of commercials
on now so you can see it >> Male #3: So my question is how
do you feel that the audiences, both in terms of, if you
want to talk about the theist/atheist split, because I know there's a big difference between
the U.S. and England, but also as a magician. How do you feel the audiences
are different across the pond than your native Vegas?
>> Penn: It used to be true and I think -- when I say used to
be before me I believe it was true in my lifetime. I've
been on the road with Penn and Teller for about 35 years and I
believe when we started out. And this is very hard
because there's no control group. You know, we've also
gotten more successful. Other things change as well.
But it felt like -- and maybe this was all an illusion,
but it felt like in the first ten years of touring that
where we went mattered. It felt like you could feel
something when you did a show in Toronto as opposed to
doing a show in Houston. It felt like when you were
doing jokes and standing out there, there was a different
reaction. 15 years ago, I could still feel a reaction --
New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco,
LA -- when we would do jokes that were anti-religious, we
would get polite applause. In the Bible belt when we
played, the first joke we did that was anti-religious, it
would stop the show with applause with screaming. It was
so positive to that. It threw off the timing of our show
because in the Bible belt, I believe, every atheist in town had come out to see Penn and
Teller [laughter] It was 100 percent. And also they were so sick of being
surrounded by this that even the slightest little. Our
live show was a magic show. There are two references
to atheism in a 90 minute show. It doesn't really deal with
it very much. Just a couple little places [snaps fingers]
here and there, but those places would explode. And then over
the past five years, I've noticed that less so, too. There's
a homogeneity of audiences. Used to be that
Vegas was very different than New York. Now it's not. And
now, because we have a very successful show called Penn
and Teller: Fool Us in London in UK -- it's very successful.
I would say that almost half of our Vegas audiences are
now from the UK. It's just this crazy weird demographic
with the economy in Vegas being terrible. It being
the time of year when people from the UK take vacations
and us being very popular over there. And I think
the whole idea -- we did a show 18 years ago over in
London. We did live shows. We did TV shows over there.
And I felt there was a real difference in the audience
there. I just felt reserve quality, a slightly more
intellectual quality, a pride in intellectual quality.
Like, I think that they didn't get more jokes than the Americans.
They want to let you know they got more jokes than
the Americans. And now, I don't feel that at all.
I think that things are moving so quickly in terms
of communication. We have a show that's in England
and can't be seen outside of the UK. And when
I mention that show in front of American audiences, ten percent
of the American audiences have seen it. That wouldn't
be true ten years ago. And you know, none of us especially
in this room, none of us have any idea what's
really happening with copyright. Not only do we not
know the legality, we don't even know the morality.
I've talked with people who've really thought about this.
Not as much as you've talked to people who've thought
about this. But how you deal with a show that's
in London, produced for UK audiences, being seen over
the web in the USA. It's a very complicated issue on who
that hurts, who the gate keepers are, and whether it's right
to go around them or not. I don't even have an opinion
on that. But it has made this homogeneity that I think
is wonderful. I think it should be eventually harder to
kill people when we feel like it's one world. And one
world is not going to come from religion and one world
is not going to come from politics, but one world is inevitable
with technology.
>> Male #4: Is it all surreal to have starred in Hackers where
they're talking about 14.4 modems [Penn laughs] and then 15 years later
be standing in Google where you're upstairs from a gigantic server farm,
literally standing in the Gibson.
>> Penn: [laughing] It is. It was goofy. It was goofy to be in Hackers.
And they asked me to do that part not because I was the
biggest box office act they could get, but because I've
always been an early-adopter and always been a big fan
and I buy things as soon as they come out. You know, I
tried to get an invitation to Google plus as quickly as I
can but it takes me three weeks after other people. What
the fuck is up with that? You fuckers. Why aren't I on
that fucking list when I've early-adopted everything
you cock-suckers have put out. [laughter] Then I have to go to some
college student in Memphis to have her give me an
invitation to your fucking thing. Fuck you all in the neck. [laughter]
But I've always been an early adopter. And I remember
saying, oh, this is so embarrassing. In 1988 or 89, I was
having supper with Rob Pike who was then at Bell Labs and
is now here. And I said to Rob Pike, "oh, deer." I said
to Rob Pike, I just finished backing up a book that I had
written and I'd written it on my computer. And I said
afterwards, "you know? I think my computer does pretty
much everything I'd ever want it to do." And Rob said,
"shut up, you stupid fucker". That compelling argument
"shut up you stupid fucker" is exactly why I keep being
an early adopter. It's really wonderful. What up there?
>>Female #2: He has a question. [laughter]
>>Penn: [inaudible] He has a question. How do we do that?.
>>Female #2: Go ahead on the VC. [inaudible]
>>Penn: I've seen the greatest minds of my generation.
>> Male #5: Yeah, we're not on mute.
>> Male #6: Put the volume up.
>>Male #7: Just ask you a question Adam. >> Male #8: yeah, ask it
>> Male # 9: You could write it. [laughter]
>> Male #10: So, I want to ask a question, but I don't know if you
can hear me or not.
>> Penn: I can hear you. Go, go, go.
>> Male #10: All right. Cool. I guess my name is Adam and first
of all I want to say I'm glad you share my taste for
shirt color. Secondly, my biggest hobby for the past 20
years has been magic. And I'm just wondering if there's
a correlation being a magician and being an atheist. I'm
sure you know many magicians throughout your career. Do
you notice people who have and interest or an affinity for magic have a predilection
for atheism?
>> Penn: I've tried so hard to make that argument. "Discoverie
of Witchcraft" is the first magic book. And it comes out
of the 16th century. I forgot the date. 1500 some time.
And it is a book that's really heavy. It's a book that
separates the idea of magic supernatural from the idea of
conjuring, prestidigitation, doing tricks. Since that book, there has been
a very strong movement in magic towards skepticism. Then
you get to Houdini and Houdini is an escape artist for
the first half of his career using most amazing catch
phrase for it. An American man born in Budapest, a Jew
at a time of immigrants. "I defy the jails of the world
to hold me". Pretty heavy expression. Uses that and
becomes very famous. Uses that and then his mom dies and
he's appalled by the spiritualists claiming to hear from
the dead. Spiritualists who would take his mom, he wife the rabbi who never learned English
and send a message to him from the beyond grave with a cross at
the top that said Dear Harry and Harry wasn't his name.
His name was Ehrich Weiss. His mother never called him
Harry, but he would get these messages from beyond the
grave. And he changes his whole career. There's not
another superstar of his level that changed the
intellectual idea of his career halfway through. And
when I say of his level, it really is for the 20th century
all you've got left is Elvis and Houdini. I mean those are the
two battling it out for Most Famous Entertainer. I mean, Jolson, the Beatles and Madonna have
lost. It's down to Houdini and Elvis. And I've tried really hard
to make Houdini into an atheist. I've read everything.
And he was certainly a hard core skeptic. He was
certainly very skeptical and maybe a non-believer completely
of life after death. But I believe he was religious.
You can call him a skeptic. I don't think you can
call him an atheist. And this battle, this battle between
magicians who think that magicians should be skeptical,
should be atheist, should deal with this is inside the
proscenium. Now we lie; out in the real world, we tell the
truth. There's a lot of people on that side. You've got
Amazing Randi. You've got Banachek. The whole J-ref nonreligious
magician people. Jamy Ian Swiss. Mike Close. Eric Mead
made. You know, the really great magicians in that kind. Then you have the other magicians
who were around during Houdini's time and continue to be around
today who really believe. And I have had conversations
with David Blaine and he actually believes this. He does
not want to use the word trick. And he believes that the
purpose of magic is to add mystery to the real world.
He would like to, on purpose, muddy the information that's
out there, using tricks and not saying they're tricks,
so that people blur that whole idea. Our point of view is
very strongly, we're all working on the mysteries.
There's so much confusion out there anyway that using
lies and cheating in order to confuse people about
reality seems to me to be morally wrong. But David Blaine
and Criss Angel, if you want to call them magicians.
Uri Geller and Kreskin, although I think if you call them magicians they will
sue you. But from my point of view, possibly magicians.
John Edwards. People who use tricks in order to
confuse us about reality. So I'd love to say that, being
a magician led to skepticism. And it does lead
to a conversation and an obsession with how information
is transferred and how to control that information
and how to distort that information. And some people
use that very much for "here's a way to tell a better
truth." And some people use that to "I want to fuck
people up and confuse and mystify." And I've had discussions
with those people. I've talked to David Blaine
and Criss Angel for hours and hours and hours and they still stick
with you know I want to tell people I've done a card
trick here but now I've got super underwater powers.
Okay. And then there's people like Derren Brown probably
the greatest magician in the UK and in some ways greatest
magician period. Derren Brown is wonderful who started
out leaning way towards David Blaine. And if you're
following Derren Brown's career now in the past four
years, he's pretty much over to as close to the point of
view of Penn and Teller as you could want. And one of the
reasons is that my partner, Teller, is in e-mail
conversations with him every day and that discussion
between Teller and Derren Brown has gotten Derren Brown
to put on a book most recently that is completely on the
side of skepticism. So I want to claim that all
magicians are atheists. I want to claim that magic
automatically leads you down the road to skepticism, but
that's not true.
>>Female #2: Any other questions on the VC.
>> Male #10: Thank you.
>>Penn: Oh, thank you. I forgot that you were there.
>>Male #10: I forget sometimes too.
>> Penn: Yes. I was pointing to you. Just say it. I'll repeat it.
>> Female #3: [inaudible]
>> Penn: She said, considering what you named your children, what names
did you reject? [laughter] My children's names. My daughter is 6
year old. Her name is Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette. [applause] And
my son is five years old and his name is Zolton Penn
Jillette. Now, the middle name being my first name. I
don't think is too wacky. His first name being Zolton.
That's my wife's maiden name. And her father had five
daughters. They all changed their name when they
married. So the only Zolton he has in his grandchildren
is my son's first name. Which I hope gets more scratch out of my father-in-law.
[laughter] So that's all perfectly motivated. The name Moxie for my
daughter. Moxie is a great, great brand name. Moxie is a
soda. It's called in New England a tonic developed in
Maine in the late 19th century and and Coca-Cola took
their whole template from Moxie. And Moxie is a drink
that if you were not served it by your parents as a
child, you cannot drink it, because it's horrendous cough
syrup. But if you're served it by your parents, it
brings all these memories of home. So I happen to love
Moxie. And Moxie is an interesting word. Because Moxie,
as far as I know, starts as a brand name and then goes
into a generic name with a different meaning because of
the advertising in Moxie and it means gumption. It means
guts. It means balls. Try to use a great name for a
girl. Moxie. The middle name CrimeFighter is something
I take a lot of heat for. If anybody saw me on CNN
Piers Morgan thing. He jumps all in with how this is
child abuse that my daughter's middle name is CrimeFighter . And the reason for that
is not me. The reason for that is my wife. My wife does not have
a middle name. For instance, Harry S Truman if you're
writing it correctly. Check this out on Google. The S
doesn't have a period after it. Because S was his middle
name. S. No word at all. I'll get it. It's okay. And my wife didn't
have a middle name. So my wife was carrying on backstage
saying middle names are fucking bull shit. We don't
need a middle name. I don't have a middle name. We're not gonna have a middle
name. I said Moxie Jillette is really nice. She
said fuck it I don't want a middle name. I go just put
anything in there. And our piano player, Mike Jones, is backstage with us. And
Mike Jones just finished reading my novel that I wrote before this called Sock and
in it one of the characters says "just call me CrimeFighter". And Jonesy says why don't
you give her middle name Crime Fighter. And I went, "Ha-ha-ha-ha".
My wife said you want a middle name? You got it. It's Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette.
[laughter] And now I've got to defend it against dipshits on
CNN. But it does have one upside which is, when she gets
her driver's license and when she is pulled over although
I know -- you're all guys. You're working on cars that
drive themselves. And it's going to be in Nevada
first and I'm pushing hard for it to be in Nevada first.
And when you really have cars that drive themselves and
they really work and you want someone to try them out
in Nevada, let's all make a solemn promise we will not make the
same mistake we did with Google fucking plus [laughter] and we will
all call our dear friend in Nevada, Penn Jillette, and say
do you want your car to drive itself. And you have a lot
of money and you don't mind dying, so why don't you buy
one right now and get it right now. And I'll go, "Hidey hidey-ho" and I'll love
you all again and the Google plus gaffe will all be
forgotten. [laughter] But if she is driving her car, when she's
pulled over and notice I say when not if, when she's
pulled over and the police officer is going to give her a
ticket. She'll be able to pull out her license or I
guess her Android. Pull out her device. Show her
driver's license and say, "you know officer, we're on the
same side. My middle name is CrimeFighter." And maybe
she'll get a pass. Now, that's a story I tell as a joke.
But my wife who's a little bit of a weasel. She was
pulled over speeding in, with the children in the
car, in Vegas. When Moxie was 2 years old. And she
was pulled over and the officer is writing out the
ticket and my wife said, "you know, my husband is Penn
Jillette. You know his daughter? You know about his daughter? And the police
officer said, "yeah, she has kind of a funny name." She
said, "yes she does. Her name is Moxie CrimeFighter and
she's on your side, officer". [laughter] And he went, "okay. Just go
on." [laughter] So the name CrimeFighter is a middle name has
already saved us 120 bucks. [laughter] Now the real question you
asked was what names did we reject? We rejected a name
for my son, also suggested by Jonesy, Mike Jones, our
wonderful jazz pianist. He also suggested this name
for a boy and I wanted to use my father-in-law's surname
for his first name. So I rejected this. But man is it a
good name. If any of you are naming boys right now,
please consider this. He wanted me to name him Curly
Howard Jillette. [laughter] First name, Curly. Second name, Howard;
last name, Jillette. And for those of you who are too
ignorant, Curly Howard is one of the Three Stooges. Curly Howard is perhaps the greatest
philosopher. I mean his real name Jerome Horwitz, worked on the name Curly Howard,
is perhaps one of the biggest heroes in American history.
And I loved Curly Howard 'last name here', Curly
Howard because if he turns out to be a tight ass, mother fucker, kind of
a dick, he can just go by C. Howard Jillette and that's fine.
He can just say, "call me Howard; call me Howey."
It's fine. But if he turns out to be mother fucker, rock
and roller who knows how to go [screaming] [laughter]
Then he can be called Curly. So I offer that up to you. We are having
no more children. They sliced my dick. It doesn't
work anymore. I'm not going to have any more children. So
somebody let me know if you're having a child, name him
Curly Howard Blank. Also, great name for a girl. [laughter]
Curly Howard does not have to be a boy's name. Curly is a pretty
boss name for a girl. So that's it.
>> Male #11: Never going to top that. But since technology and
magic are becoming indistinguishable, have you been
incorporating more technology into your magic over the
>> Penn: That's exactly wrong. Because of Google, and before
that because of magazine shows and TV. Now there are
wonderful stories of technology and magic working. I
mean, the first use -- some of the first uses of ether
were in a magic show sawing women in half. The first
movies were done as part of magic shows. Robert-Houdin was sent to fight an uprising in Africa with
white man's magic. And used an electromagnet to show he
had powers strongest person in the village would go over
and lift -- what's called the Light-Heavy chest. Lift
the chest easily and then he would say, with his powers,
"you are now weaker than a woman." He was then unable to
lift the box because the whole stage is electromagnet. Run the whole thing through. That showed the
power of the English, sorry the French, was greater
than the power of the native tribes, indigenous witch
doctors. And then he would also run electrical shock
through the handle and slam the guy back. So there's a
long tradition. Even braille was used early to
give psychic readers a way to look at notes without the
blindfold you can hand braille messages to them. Early braille
messages have been used by magicians. They've always
been tied to technology. Unfortunately for magicians,
everybody knows the cutting edge of technology now.
People really, one of the things that Google and other
technology companies have done, is really given technology
to the masses. I mean, people get things instantly with
the exception of my Google plus account. [laughter] As far as I can
see that's the one mistake Google has made. [laughter] You get
stuff instantly. So people have a really good sense of
what technology can do. Even if stuff is impossible. They have a really good feeling for the trajectory.
So anything that you're going to do that's going
to be rapid calculation. It's going to be knowing huge
amounts of information. People can figure out how to
do that. Anything with small movement, people can figure out
how to do that. All the magic acts working, I'm going to be
lying a little bit on this, so I'm going to be more careful. In our 5
and a half hours of new material that we've done in
Vegas -- Penn and Teller new material -- in that entire 5 and a
half hours, done over the past 12 years, there is one
thing that uses technology later than 1940. One thing.
The vast majority of things use technology that's right
around the time of theater lights. And probably half of it
is all technology that predates even that. Technology that would go back to the 16th,
17th century. That is not only true for us, it's also true
-- I have to go through the whole thing. It's also true
for David Copperfield. He's using two things that were
probably within the past 30 years. I don't mean -- I
mean, just the technology. Not the other stuff. There's
a lot of original stuff there. Lance Burton, nothing
in the past 40 years. Criss Angel, nothing. [laughter]
It's really fascinating, because the psychology of fooling
people -- you have to stay away from things that are
beautiful. That's the most important job in developing
a magic trick. If I'm doing a magic trick for you,
and the solution to how it's done is beautiful, and
the solution to how it's done is smart, and the solution
to how it's done fills you with joy, I will not fool you.
The aha experience -- the discovery of something;
the learning something -- that beautiful aha that rushes over you is so heavily
desired in people that in magic you have to stop people
from looking for it. So if I have a trick here
that has a really clever use of a 45 degree angle
mirror that's reflecting this and you think it's
here it's actually there and you're looking through
and you can describe that by going, "it's a mirror
like this." And what you think of that it's this
wonderful aha feeling, that won't fool any of you. Because
one of you will think of it. One of you will love
it. And you will whisper to the person next to you'"It's
at 45 degrees". . And they will go and that beautiful meme will spread through the
whole audience and no one is fooled. So it's gone. So you have to make
sure that the way you're doing things is as ugly as possible.
You have to make sure it's gaffer's tape. It's a half
told lie I hear. It's stealing something from your pocket. And it's about 20 different
things that you can't whisper to somebody. And you
have to make sure that, if you were to tell somebody -- we
end our show with what I think is a fabulous magic
trick. It's the bullet catch. And it's a trick that's killed
14 people on stage. It's the most dangerous trick in
show business. And we believe that our method is
safe or we wouldn't do it. And we don't ever claim that
what we do is dangerous, because I believe that doing
things that are really dangerous on stage is an immoral
act. If you're coming to the show to see me get hurt,
fuck you. I don't want to see you in the audience. We
are there to celebrate life. To celebrate cleverness. If
you're looking for a real accident, go see NASCAR,
you douche bag. We're not going to get hurt. If you're
waiting for that, be disappointed. We do this trick that
is a celebration of life where bullets are signed by people from
the audience. No plants. People from the audience who really know guns. And they're shot across
the stage. And I ostensibly catch them on my teeth.
Teller ostensibly catches a bullet in his teeth. And it goes through
glass. It's a way good trick. Way good trick. And it fools
people a lot. And the reason it fools people is -- and
I won't test you on this--, but the reason it fools
people is the way we're doing it is so messy and so ugly
that you don't care. If I started to explain to you in detail
the way we did that trick, you would lose interest.
And there's no moment in it. There's not one moment in
it that any of you would go, "oh, yeah -- I get it!" Because
it's all these little, tiny, eeny-meeny, really,
really that all build up and you kind of thought this. And it's all these
smaller lie that conceals the bigger lie. You know when
you're putting a hoop around something, you want
to show there's no threads and there's no wires and you put
a hoop around it. Well, that's a very big lie to put a hoop around it. So you put a
hole in the hoop that goes over the wire and your little lie the hole in the hoop
that no one worries about conceals the big lie how this
thing is floating. Now that's just one example. If
you want the bullet catch, it's ten of those things. And
I would also, the way you keep magic secret. Jim Steinmeyer
great writer on magic, has said that in magic we're
guarding a safe that's empty. There are no real secrets
in magic. The way that you conceal it is make it ugly and
uninteresting. I offer this challenge on radio many
times. And I'll offer it here. Because this room -- the
stakes get very, very high. And I won't tell you what the
magic trick is because that would be violating a trust of
a friend of mine. But there is a magic trick that I
consider to be one of the greatest magic tricks done in
modern times. It's not done by us. It's done by
somebody else. And it is impossible. And I will
guarantee that more than half of you have seen it. Not
live, but you've seen it. And two thirds of you have
heard about it. Really good trick. And people will come up
to me all the time and say, "how does blank do that
trick?" How did he do that trick?" So you know that it's
a man. Since there are only four women in magic and most
of them are in China, I'm not giving you much. And I say
to those people, "he has a patent on how that trick is
done. It is in the patent office. And the patent is
about 100-page patent that explains in detail how
everything is done." And this is exactly what I say on
the radio. You can all go to Google. You can all look up "patent office". You can all look
up "magic tricks". You can go through those that are patented and you can find your
favorite trick and then you can go and start to read
it. Start at the abstract and you can start reading that
120 pages. And you will find out in as much detail as
I know how that trick is done. I mean, absolutely your
dream come true. You'll find out how it's done. And then
I finish on the radio by saying, "once you've found
that and you've read the whole thing and you've understood
it and feel good about the answer, just get in touch with me and tell
me you've done it." And I've done that on the Howard Stern show. I've done that on
Opie and Anthony. I have done that on many, many, big national shows and no
one has ever come back to me. Now, I've had five or six
people showing off saying, "oh, yeah, yeah, yeah -- I
figured out the trick you were talking about. I found
the patent. I read a little bit of it." That's not
good enough. You have to be able to feel like you could
build it from reading that. So what mostly conceals
magic is not that we can have technology that's ahead of
what anybody else has. Because in the 18th century, the
19th century, it was possible for wealthy magicians to
get their hands on technology that the masses didn't
have. Now in the 21st century, two magicians from Vegas,
regardless of their success, are not going to be able to
get their hands on technology that everybody in this room
doesn't know about. And you people in this room are
working not on keeping that to yourself, but getting the
information out there. And getting the information out
there is the beautiful thing you're doing in the world.
It may lead to world peace. And while you're doing that,
you're fucking up magicians and I'm fine with both of
those things.
>> Female Presenter: We just have time for one last question.
>>Penn: She's got it. She's already starting.
>> Female Presenter: Wait for the mic. And then Penn is going to sign some
>> Penn: Okay.
>> Female #4: I'm leaving for Vegas in five minutes. Besides your
own, what other -- beside your own show what other magic
show do you like in Vegas? And what's your favorite place for dinner?
>> Penn: Be very careful. And notice what is glaring in its
omission from what I say. Because the magic shows that I
don't mention as shows you should go to are shows you should not go to, but I will
not warn you against them.
>> Penn: You should go see Mac King. Mac King is the greatest
comedy magician alive. He does an afternoon show at
Harrah's. I underline the fact -- you can remember him as macking
But it's Mac, M-a-c-k-i-n-g. You won't see big ads for it. It's not a big deal. It's
an afternoon show. Every day except Sunday and Monday at 1 and
3. It's like 8 bucks to get in. You can get a free ticket
with a drink or something. But it's the best comedy
magic show in Vegas. Absolutely see it. No reservations
at all. And the place to eat is one of the two 5-star
Thai restaurants. I mean, even better than the
Thai food out here. [laughter] Serious. Is called Lotus
of Siam. And Lotus of Siam is not on the strip. It's in an industrial
mall about two miles off the strip. And the industrial
mall has a Salvation Army clothing store. A sex
swing club. And Lotus of Siam so I'm thinking that's a
whole evening for you..
>> Penn: But Lotus of Siam is as good as any restaurant
anywhere in the world. And it's in the dirty industrial
shopping mall in Las Vegas. Go there. Don't be a pussy.
Say, "bring me food." Don't order off the menu; just get what you want. Lotus
of Siam, Mac King and you'll be happy. And also you can
come see our show and that will be nice, too. And then
there are no other magic shows in Vegas that you need to
>> Penn: I'll sign some books.