“One of the biggest challenges we face is staying kind with profound disagreement and staying kind when a mechanism has been set up to make money and power out of hate.” — Penn Jillette
Penn Jillette (@pennjillette) is a cultural phenomenon as a solo personality and as half of the world-famous, Emmy Award-winning magic duo and Las Vegas headliners Penn & Teller.
Together since 1975, Penn & Teller’s live show spent years on Broadway and is now the longest-running headliner show in Las Vegas where it plays nightly at The Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino. The pair has been awarded Las Vegas Magicians of the Year an amazing eights times.
As part of Penn & Teller he has appeared on hundreds of shows, from The Simpsons and Friends to Billions. He recently co-wrote an episode of the Emmy-winning Netflix series Black Mirror.
He co-hosted the controversial Showtime series Penn & Teller: Bullshit! which was nominated for thirteen Emmy Awards, won him a Writers Guild award, and was the longest-running show in the history of the network. He currently co-hosts the CW Network hit competition series Penn & Teller: Fool Us! which was nominated for a 2017 Critics’ Choice award.
Penn’s latest book, The New York Times Best Seller Presto! takes an insightful and very humorous look at his recent weight loss journey. His previous book, God No! Signs You Might Be An Atheist and Other Magic Tales, spent six weeks on The New York Times Best Sellers list.
His weekly podcast, Penn’s Sunday School, was the number one downloaded podcast on Apple Podcasts during its debut week, and was named a Best New Comedy Podcast by Apple Podcasts.
On the big screen, Penn produced the critically lauded 2005 documentary The Aristocrats, which features over 100 of the biggest names in comedy telling their versions of the dirtiest joke in history. He produced Tim’s Vermeer, which follows the journey of an eccentric inventor determined to solve one of the art world’s oldest mysteries. The Sony Pictures Classics release was nominated for a BAFTA and was shortlisted for the 2014 Oscars. He has recently completed the documentary Gambler’s Ballad profiling magic legend Johnny Thompson.
Penn & Teller have their very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and triumphantly returned to Broadway recently with Penn & Teller On Broadway, which was the highest-grossing non-musical for the entirety of its run.
You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…
Want to hear an episode with a friend Penn and I share? — Listen to my conversation with Brian Koppelman, co-writer/producer of Rounders, Billions, The Illusionist, and Ocean’s Thirteen. In the episode, we explore how he got started, how he handles rejection, his big breaks, creative process, and much more (stream below or right-click here to download):
SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE
- Connect with Penn Jillette:
Penn & Teller | Penn’s Sunday School | Twitter
- Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette
- God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales by Penn Jillette
- An Honest Liar
- Extrasensory Perception (ESP), Wikipedia
- The Art of Thought Reading by Joseph Dunninger
- Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions by James Randi
- The Trouble with Scientists: How One Psychologist Is Tackling Human Biases in Science, Nautilus
- Fantastically Wrong: The Imaginary Radiation That Shocked Science and Ruined Its ‘Discoverer’, Wired
- Scientific Method, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Confirmation Bias, Catalogue of Bias
- Spidey Sense, Wiktionary
- Second Law of Thermodynamics, NASA
- Is It Possible to Construct a Perpetual Motion Machine? MIT
- Xenu’s Paradox: The Fiction of L. Ron Hubbard and the Making of Scientology, Longreads
- The “Pee Tape” Claim, Explained, Vox
- The Artist’s Way Morning Pages Journal: A Companion Volume to the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
- I Am The Walrus by The Beatles
- Waking Up with Sam Harris Meditation App
- Only a Hobo by Bob Dylan
- Massachusetts Is Going to Eliminate Most Rotaries, Boston Magazine
- Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, Wikipedia
- Delorean Time Machine: Headhouse Square, OCF Realty
- Atheism and Agnosticism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Libertarianism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Penn Jillette’s Finale on Celebrity Apprentice
- The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman by Timothy Ferriss
- Marlon Brando Horror Speech, Apocalypse Now
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac
- How Contrast Bath Therapy Works, Verywell Health
- Dualism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Aboard NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet’, Rochester Institute of Technology
- The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting by James Clear
- What Nine Days of Fasting Does to Your Body and Brain, Esquire
- Farro: An Ancient And Complicated Grain Worth Figuring Out, NPR
- Eat for Life: The Breakthrough Nutrient-Rich Program for Longevity, Disease Reversal, and Sustained Weight Loss by Joel Fuhrman M.D.
- First Bite: How We Learn to Eat by Bee Wilson
- The Human Microbiome: Why Our Microbes Could Be Key to Our Health, The Guardian
- NUMB3RS, IMDb
- “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard P. Feynman
- Las Palmas Theatre, Hollywood
- The Carnival Ten In One, Doc’s Midway Cookhouse
- Absolutely Sweet Marie by Bob Dylan
- Tim’s Vermeer
- Texas de Brazil
- The Creator of Godwin’s Law Explains Why Some Nazi Comparisons Don’t Break His Famous Internet Rule, The Washington Post
- Pundits Share How to Avoid Political Food Fights This Thanksgiving, The Hill
- How does Penn know our mutual friend Brian Koppelman, and what do they share in common? [08:10]
- Who is James Randi, and how did he come to be such an influence on Penn? [10:57]
- What can we do to guard against deceit by becoming more skeptical without becoming more cynical? [18:09]
- Joking that journaling is “one way to teach yourself that you don’t remember things properly,” what got Penn to start keeping a journal at age 30, and how does he use journaling today? After 34 years, how does he benefit from the time he puts into the almost-daily practice? [24:37]
- Confessing he has a visual memory so weak that it’s been “studied by people,” how does Penn compensate for this in his professional life? Does it give him a unique edge? [37:36]
- What does the content of Penn’s dreams look or feel like? [43:14]
- What led to Penn’s period of homeless wandering in his youth, how long did it last, and how did it differ from what we might think of as “homeless” in the modern context? [48:14]
- What constituted Penn’s street performance that earned him “several grand a week” during this homeless period, how did he manage to consistently get a crowd of 300-500 people to watch him perform, and why is his distinctive voice a direct result of these performances? [52:30]
- How did this period shape the way Penn sees the world today? What did it teach him about trusting other people and deescalating hostility? [58:43]
- How young hippie hobo Penn defused a potentially violent confrontation with a pair of macho truckers in a Corn Belt diner using only his quick wits and a cold, sticky milkshake. [1:03:15]
- Penn has never partaken of drugs or alcohol, which is a claim not many can make. To what does he credit this abstinence? [1:09:31]
- How did Penn lose 0.9 pounds a day for four months under the direction of former NASA scientist Ray Cronise? [1:14:14]
- What weight loss (and an illegal trip on NASA’s “Vomit Comet”) did to change Penn’s atheistic perspective on mind-body duality. [1:22:36]
- What Penn’s — some would say extreme — version of intermittent fasting looks like. [1:27:31]
- What did Ray Cronise mean when he said “You can’t outrun your mouth” while forbidding Penn to exercise during the four-month weight-loss regimen — and do I agree with this? (As an aside, it was determined that performing nightly 90-minute Penn & Teller shows burns a lot of calories, effectively nullifying Ray’s no-exercise rule.) [1:33:30]
- Penn shares what he took away from lucky interactions with legendary theoretical physicist Richard Feynman and his fellow Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann. [1:38:24]
- Why Richard Feynman (and possibly Bob Dylan) would pass Tim Jenison’s data points test. (Would you?) [1:48:14]
- With so many projects from which to choose at any given time, how did Penn decide to put time into making the (in my opinion, excellent and very worth your while) documentary Tim’s Vermeer? What’s it about, and what were the obstacles faced along the way in trying to get it made? [1:50:58]
- What be on Penn’s billboard? [1:59:25]
- Parting thoughts, a seemingly impossible thought experiment, and Penn’s hope that we can stay kind to one another with profound disagreement in these divisive times. [2:00:55]
- Brian Koppelman
- Bob Dylan
- Salman Rushdie
- Christopher Hitchens
- James Randi
- Johnny Carson
- Joseph Dunninger
- Raymond Teller
- Harry Houdini
- L. Ron Hubbard
- Donald Trump
- Julia Cameron
- Reid Hoffman
- Josh Waitzkin
- Bobby Fischer
- Lawrence O’Donnell
- Valda R. Jillette
- Samuel H. Jillette
- Renee French
- Sam Harris
- Glenn Alai
- Mike Moschen
- Lou Ferrigno
- Winston Churchill
- Joe Rogan
- Lenny Bruce
- Jimi Hendrix
- Ray Cronise
- Marlon Brando
- Jack Kerouac
- Joel Fuhrman
- Michael Jordan
- Michael Klaper
- Richard Feynman
- Samuel Beckett
- George Romero
- Debbie Harry
- Lou Reed
- Crispin Glover
- Murray Gell-Mann
- David Letterman
- Pablo Picasso
- Tim Jenison
- Johannes Vermeer
- Jesse Dylan
- Mike Godwin
- Adolf Hitler
- Frank Luntz
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Nelson Mandela
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Barack Obama
- Miles Davis
- Kenny G
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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11 Replies to “Penn Jillette on Magic, Losing 100+ Pounds, and Weaponizing Kindness (#405)”
I was laying in bed unable to sleep while watching the snowcats grooming the mountain when I thought how great it would be to do some runs with Tim. We have a Chalet less than five minutes from the chairlifts and a spare living area if you ever find yourself up in Washington state.
My favourite episode yet perhaps. Interesting, actionable & considered. Fantastic interviewing skills.
Great episode Tim. Penn is brilliant! This is right up there with the Jamie Foxx interview! One comment though..I believe Kreskin was on the Carson show 88 times. One of Johnny’s favorites. Maybe he was thinking of Uri Geller?
Penn’s laugh is amazing and infectious. Kudos on the entertaining interview.
Great read and my first for your Blog!
I’m 57 now, workout most days doing HIIT and intermittent fast as well!…for the last 3 years In fact! Age for me has nothing to do with my continued desire to stay healthy. It’s just a way of life.
I know health was an interest for you Tim. I was one of the people you called up on a regular basis all those years ago when you had BRAINQUIKEN 😉 you may remember me, my company was called Bytomic, in the UK. You remember we were a Martial Arts Gear company Must have been around 2001-2002? So how did I put this all together and connect you to it all? I have a funny story.
I only found out Tim when one day, maybe around 2006 or 7 I was waiting for a flight to Las Vegas in London and I thought, “I know I need a good book to read for the flight”. So I was browsing in the book shop there, and me being me I was looking at the business section when I picked up a book called ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’.
I opened it and read the intro and your story…and I nearly dropped the book there and then! BRAINQUIKEN!! I sold that! I bought that! From you? Lol…yes it must have been. What a surprise I had.
I remember speaking with you quite a few time’s, and we did sell it quite successfully. I even spoke to someone recently who I told the story to and he told me he still had the bottle for Bodyquiken!!
I’ve been interviewed on a few Podcasts in the direct response Niche recently and I tell the story. People love it.
Anyway, I hope you’re well brother! Maybe catch up one day and talk old days!
Best David Lowe.
What an incredible episode! I’ve loved so many and I think I love this one even more. There are so many laughs and also a dense web of fantastic, important ideas to think about and learn about – more, much more. What a gift!
nice info Brave
Consider interviewing Tom Brady (painful request – I’m a Jets fan). Why? In the podcast “Sports Wars” about the Brady-Manning rivalry (season 12, episode 3), the narrator claims Brady was SLEEPING a half hour before his first super bowl! This reminds me of that Brazillian jui-jitsu master who sleeps before all of his matches because he’s in such a relaxed state (name escapes me). It strikes me there must be something unique about Brady. I mean, aside from his astonishing success in the NFL.
I loved the part about how Penn is a natural genius at deescalating violence. Even though I thought the weight-loss approach was bizarre, I enjoyed listening to it and how he whole-heartedly experimented on himself. Also fascinating to hear how he thinks the weight loss has changed his personality for the better!
Interesting episode with some good resources too, thanks!
Did I miss it, what application does Penn use for journaling? How does he keep the records going back so many years, surely he would lose them without it being cloud based?