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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Penn Jillette: "God No!" | Talks at Google

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>> 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.

The Description of Penn Jillette: "God No!" | Talks at Google