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Early Life and Career (1955–2003)
Jillette, the larger, talkative half of Penn & Teller, was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts. He became disenchanted with traditional illusionist acts that presented the craft as authentic magic, such as The Amazing Kreskin on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. At age eighteen, he saw a show by illusionist James Randi, and became enamored of his approach to magic that openly acknowledged deception as entertainment rather than a mysterious supernatural power. Jillette regularly acknowledges Randi as the one person on the planet he loves the most besides members of his family.
Jillette worked with Greenfield, Massachusetts, high school classmate Michael Moschen in developing and performing a juggling act during the years immediately following their 1973 graduation. In 1974 Jillette graduated from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. That same year, he was introduced to Teller by Weir Chrisimer, a mutual friend. The three then formed a three-person act called Asparagus Valley Cultural Society which played in Amherst, Massachusetts and San Francisco, California. In 1981, he and Teller teamed up as Penn & Teller, and went on to do a famous off-Broadway show.
Jillette has been in several high profile relationships including dating Robin Quivers from The Howard Stern Show, as well as Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry.
Starting in 1980, Jillette purchased a home in Las Vegas and dubbed it "The Slammer". It has been featured in dozens of television shows and articles and was designed by his friend Colin Summers. He currently records music there, and previously conducted his radio show at the studio inside "The Slammer".
Jillette was also a regular contributor to the now-defunct PC/Computing magazine in the early 1990s, having a regular back section column between 1990 and 1994. True to form, the columns were often as much about Uma Thurman as actual PC computing issues. Jillette and PC Computing parted ways over a dispute with a new editor. Jillette felt the new editor was trying to tell him how to write his column and what topics he should be covering. Jillette is unsure if he was fired or if he actually quit.
Jillette was the primary voice announcer for the U.S. based cable network Comedy Central in the 1990s. This was mentioned on an episode of The Colbert Report airing November 1, 2006, on which he was interviewed.
For a brief time in 1997, Jillette wrote bi-weekly dispatches for the now defunct search engine Excite.com. Each column ended with a pithy comment identifying which of the Penn & Teller duo he was. (For example: "Penn Jillette is the half of Penn & Teller that's detained at airports.") Jillette made a habit of linking many words in his online column to wacky sites that generally had nothing to do with the actual words. The columns are no longer available on the current Excite.com site, but have been republished with permission at PennAndTeller.com.
Starting in 1999, he had a recurring role on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch (TV series) as Drell, the head of the witches council. He and Teller both appeared in the pilot with Debbie Harry (all were the witches council). The show was created by Jillette's friend Nell Scovell.
Starting in 2003, Jillette, along with his partner Teller, produces and hosts Penn & Teller: Bullshit!. In the show, the two analyze cultural phenomena, debunk myths, criticize people and aspects of society they deem "Bullshit," and generally have fun—with a bit of magic and topless women thrown in.
In 2005 with actor Paul Provenza, Jillette co-produced and co-directed the The Aristocrats (2005), a documentary film tracing the life of a dirty joke known as "The Aristocrats".
Jillette married television producer Emily Zolten during an impromptu ceremony at a Las Vegas wedding chapel on November 23, 2004. On the Adam Carolla radio show he alluded to living a polyamorous lifestyle during this time. Their first child, daughter Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette, was born on June 3, 2005, and their son, Zolten Penn Jillette, on May 22, 2006. On a January 2006 episode of the radio show Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, Jillette explained that his wife suggested they use "CrimeFighter" because she herself does not have a middle name, people do not generally know other people's middle names, and they might as well "have some fun with it".
He occasionally notes with irony that he lives and works in Las Vegas, but he does not gamble (though he did lend his name to a book on how to cheat at poker) and has never used alcohol or recreational drugs. He is, however, an advocate of the legalization of all drugs and discontinuing the War on Drugs.
Jillette can play the bass guitar as well as the double bass, and has performed on stage in his Vegas act.
Jillette is an outspoken atheist, libertarian (he has recently stated that he may consider himself to be an Anarcho-capitalist), and skeptic. Jillette is a Fellow at the libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute. In January 2007, Jillette took the "Blasphemy Challenge" offered by the Rational Response Squad and publicly denied the existence of a holy spirit. One of his car license plates reads "DOG ON" ("NO GOD" backwards).
From January 3, 2006, to March 2, 2007, Jillette hosted (along with fellow atheist, skeptic, and juggler Michael Goudeau) a live, hour-long radio talk show broadcast on the radio station brand known as Free FM. The show, Penn Radio, broadcast from Jillette's Las Vegas home, The Slammer, from his Vintage Nudes Studio. The most notable recurring segment of the show was "Monkey Tuesday" and later "The Pull of The Weasel". On March 2, 2007, Jillette, on Free FM, announced that he would no longer be doing his radio show. He stated that he is a "show biz wimp" and decided to stop doing the show so he could spend more time with his kids Zolten and Moxie. He made very clear that he was not fired.
During the 2006-07 television season, Jillette hosted the prime time game show "Identity" on NBC-TV. As of now, NBC states on its website that it plans for "Identity" to return to its prime time schedule soon (possibly in the spring or summer of 2008), although a firm premiere date for the show's second season has not been announced.
Penn recently became a contestant on the 2008 edition of Dancing with the Stars. He was the first male celebrity to become eliminated. A reference to his large feet as a sign of another large body part was bleeped in the West Coast airing.
Penn currently offers rants and musings in his podcast "Penn Says" on Crackle.com.
Jillette has collaborated with Martin Atkins and his industrial band, Pigface. During one of the early episodes of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, he can be seen wearing a Pigface tuque.
Jillette has collaborated with avant-garde musicians The Residents and appeared on a double album on their label titled Ralph Records 10th Anniversary Radio Special, where he was apparently locked in a motel room for one week with nothing but Ralph Records (The Residents, Tuxedomoon, MX-80 Sound, Fred Firth, Snakefinger), some food, and a microphone. He also played the part of the narrator for the band's Mole Show tour (available on bootleg) and penned the liner notes for Eyesore: A Stab at The Residents, a tribute CD issued by Vaccination Records.
Jillette's own band is called The Captain Howdy. He was also a member of Bongos, Bass, and Bob, in which he played bass guitar. Jillette is also the owner of the entire catalog of the band Half Japanese, headed by Jad Fair. He is featured in the Half Japanese documentary The Band That Would Be King. Jillette and fellow Clown College alumnus Steven Banks collaborated in writing Love Tapes –- a romantic comedy stage show written for and starring friend Dean Cameron which premiered February 2005 at Sacred Fools Theater in Hollywood. As part of the preshow entertainment for his current Las Vegas show, Jillette plays the double bass with pianist Mike Jones.
- The Aristocrats (2005)
- Michael Moore Hates America (2004)
- Fantasia 2000 (2000)
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
- Toy Story (1995)
- Hackers (1995)
- Car 54, Where Are You? (1994)
- Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989)
- Gandahar (1988)
- Tough Guys Don't Dance (1987)
- My Chauffeur (1986)
- Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
- The Drew Carey Show
- Sabrina The Teenage Witch
- Babylon 5
- Dharma & Greg 2001
- Miami Vice
- The West Wing
- Bullshit! (2003 - current)
- The Moxy Show (Voice of Flea, who later became a title character in 1998. Flea's voice was replaced by an unknown actor in some episodes.)
- Identity (premiered in December 2006) Returned on March 16 on NBC and will air for seven weeks every Friday at 8 p.m. ET.
- Real Time with Bill Maher (2006) TV Episode .... Himself
- Dancing with the Stars (2008) .... Himself
Books by Jillette
- Jillette, Penn (2004). Sock. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin. ISBN 0312328052.
- Jillette, Penn (2005). How to cheat your friends at poker: The wisdom of Dickie Richard. New York: St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 0312360681.
- Jillette, Penn (1989). Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends. New York: Villard. ISBN 0394753518.
- Jillette, Penn and Teller (1992). Penn and Teller's How to Play with Your Food. New York: Villard. ISBN 0679743111.
- Jillette, Penn and Teller (1997). Penn and Teller's How to Play In Traffic. Berkley Trade. ISBN 1572972939.