Bullshit’s Penn Jillette, the talkative half of Penn & Teller, and his wife, Emily Zolten Jillette, talk to us exclusively, answering our questions on parenthood and their two children — Moxie CrimeFighter, 2, and Zolten Penn, 13 months next week. Penn tells us about the children’s personalities and their names, while Emily shares her favorite baby-related products.
Photos for use exclusively on the Celebrity Baby Blog, Inc. granted exclusively and specifically by Penn and Emily Jillette.
What have you been up to lately, professionally?
I’m very happy to say "more of the same." The TV stuff comes and goes, but it’s always the live show that matters. We’re booked at the Rio though 2010 — but, I’m hoping to keep working long after I should have retired. I won’t quit at the right time.
How do you manage so many projects at once and still make time for family life? How do you try to incorporate the kids into the shows?
Well, we used the kids for one big hit on The View, [click for video] but that was the exception, not the rule. I don’t want them to do much else until they can want to do it, and I don’t know if they’ll want to do it. I like doing lots of different things, but I have my radio studio in my home and a lot of what I do is writing, so I can run downstairs and see the kids all the time. Also, a lot of what I do is thinking, and I can do that with a child or two in my lap.
Happy to Zolten, and happy (early) to Moxie! What’s it like having two under the age of two? Was the one-year age difference easier or more difficult than you imagined?
Well, I have no idea what it’s like to have kids further apart. I never noticed kids until I had them. They didn’t exist. I wasn’t close to my friends’ kids, I didn’t really even pay attention. I didn’t even notice kids at our show. Now I do, they’re everywhere and I love them all. I guess everything is easier and better than I thought.
What baby gear or equipment can you not live without?
Penn: EZ is in charge of this stuff. We’re very traditional in that way. Maybe even beyond traditional, to reactionary. I do what I’m told in child care and I use the tools I’m given. There sure is cool shit though, the diaper Genie is amazing and some of the designs on the strollers are like NASA, really great.
Emily: My list includes such clothing brands as Target, Janie and Jack, True Religion, The Children’s Place and Harajuku Lovers. Our stroller is the Sit and Stand LX. I also love my new Baby Hawk mei tai.
What are the kids’ personalities like? How are they different and how are they similar? What are they into right now? Is Zolten walking? Any other big milestones to report?
I thought Mox was the happiest child on earth until I met Z. Z is very easy going. Mox is a little more of a weasel, maybe and Z is more straight-forward. It’s great to have people that you’ve decided to love without thinking about it. Z is walking like a freak and he has about 12 words, which is more than Moxie had at that age. Mox can now say anything. We can talk to her and it’s great. Z is very focused. Very. He’s watching everything.
Will you teach your kids how to juggle? How to eat fire?
If they want, sure. Juggling is easy. Fire eating, they’ll have to really convince me that they’ll be responsible.
You wrote an essay for the book ‘Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion’ ($12.20 at Amazon) Why did you feel compelled to contribute and why is it important for secular parents to identify themselves as secular publicly?
Well, they edited my essay in that book in a way that didn’t thrill me, it isn’t really what I wrote. There is still a stigma attached to being Atheist. While we’ve seen the damage that religion causes, some people are still in the closet about not being superstitious. It feels important for me to not deny that I’m pro-science, but I don’t require others to do it.
When you chose the names ‘Moxie CrimeFighter’ and ‘Zolten’ did you and Emily ever anticipate that people would have such a strong reaction? Do you ever take that reaction personally? And what is the official story behind their names?
People haven’t taken it very strongly. I heard (but didn’t see) that there were a couple blogs saying nasty stuff, but that’s mostly from people who don’t like that we do a TV show that is pro-science, so they’re looking for something. I have never had a drink in my life, I’ve never done any drugs, I have a very happy home life — what is there to attack?
Oh, how about my kids’ names.
I think it’s pretty cruel to give a kid a name that others are going to have. I think it’s very important to have a unique name within any group you’re likely to be in. It’s more friendly to go to school being the only "Penn" then to have to be called by your full name, "Mike Jones" or whatever. I always felt sorry for the Mikes and Bobs. There’s just so many, how do you know when they’re talking to you?
I love the name Moxie, I love that’s it’s a purely American word, and those are rare, and I love that it stands for old fashioned spunk and energy. EZ pushed for her middle name, "CrimeFighter" because EZ doesn’t have a middle name and thinks middle names are stupid. So, it’s just a joke. When she gets pulled over by the police she can show her license and say, ‘We’re on the same side, officer, my middle name is CrimeFighter.’
Z’s name is special enough unless he moves to Hungary, where it’s a very common name. But "Z" seems to be what he’s called and maybe that’ll stick. Zolten is EZ’s maiden name and I like the respect that shows for her family, and I like that his name Zolten Jillette, is the two families together.
Do you feel that becoming a father after the age of 50 gives you a unique perspective on parenting? If so, why? If not, do you ever wish you’d had children earlier?
There was no choice. I wouldn’t consider having children until I had the perfect partner. I met her, and started having kids right away. My Mom was 45 when I was born. I have a sister 23 years older than me (same parents, no other siblings), I was a mistake.
I loved having older parents. There was a patience and understanding that my friends’ parents seemed to lack. I loved my Mom and Dad so much. So very much. They seemed to know what mattered. Of course, they never got to see Mox and Z or even EZ and that breaks my heart every day. But as big as that is, that’s the only downside.
You’ve been outspoken about the profound impact your parents’ death had on your own life, and have called your relationship with them ‘perfect.’ What aspects of their parenting style, if any, do you try to emulate with Moxie and Zolten?
That’s funny, I wrote the above without seeing this. Their love was unconditional. They didn’t have any big problems of their own. I know that Moms are supposed to love unconditionally and dads are supposed to love conditionally. Well, my Dad never got that memo. They both loved me completely from before the day I was born. They got to see my success but that didn’t make them love me more, because there was no more.
I thought I understood how much they loved me, but I didn’t until I felt the love I have for Mox and Z. Hey, all I have for them is complete love and they’ll have that forever. Everything else is up in the air.