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CBB Exclusive: Penn and Emily Jillette on Moxie CrimeFighter, Zolten, and their unconditional love

06/13/2007 at 07:00 AM ET

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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I love CBB on

What a great interview- thanks to the Jillette family for sharing.

Moxie and Zolton are cuties and I always love hearing things about this family.

preesi on

1/ I love the fact that hes an Atheist and is clean living and moral and loves deeply.

2/ I dont like when he says he was a “mistake”.
I NEVER think that word is appropriate. I prefer the word “Surprise”…

TwinMom on

Why would anyone name their kid “Moxie Crimefighter”? That poor child will be hating their name someday.

Penn explained why…

Lola on

What an amazing interview! He seems like such a fantastic parent, and the last bit of the interview when he spoke of his relationship with this parents and his relationship with his children I got a lump in my throat! How tender!

sandi on

What a neat family. I always thought he was so strange, but that must be a lot of what’s for show. Sounds like he was raised with an incredible set of parents, and is now raising his own children with tremendous love. Very cool to read.

sandy on

Isn’t it great to see a family that actually makes being HAPPY their priority? I love seeing that! Its a nice little lesson for all of us, take life slower and not so serious!

Hilda on

No matter how trendy and unique the names are that celebrities choose for their babies, there is no need for wacky names just as Crimefighter. I haven’t seen one celebrity baby that is not cute. They are all cute, my fave being Sean Preston. There’s unique and then there’s UNIQUE. Just imagine when they start school.

Natalee on

What an awesome family. Sounds like Penn and Emily are wonderful, loving parents. The kids are so cute, and I actually like their unique names!!

kristen on

what a great interview! Penn and Emily have a gorgeous family. I love love love Moxie and Zolten’s names ;) I gave my own kids unique names and I’m so glad I did.

Penn writes so well, so sweet! I would love to take my kids on a playdate with their family ;)

Olivia on

I really enjoy listening to Penn Jillette – when we had Free FM here (NJ), his show was one of the highlights. He is intelligent, well informed, very interesting, and obviously loves his kids very much. I’m curious to see if there will be a backlash about him describing his kids as a “freak” or a “weasel”, ala Angelina. Just for the record, I think that people TOTALLY overreacted to her choice (& the interviewers’) choice of words.

S on

I’m a Penn & Teller fan and have been to see their live show twice. My husband’s even more of a fan and has been for years and years (he especially loves the B.S. show). This was a cool interview to read. The last question/answer made me teary. We should all hope for more of such parental care and familial responsibility in the world, as future generations would benefit greatly.

Steph on

Thanks for such a great interview.

I never knew much about Penn Jillette, so I had no idea how smart, funny and loving he is with his family. It was great to read his views on parenting, inspiring really.

And the name Moxie, it’s growing on me! An American word meaning old fashioned spunk and energy, seems to fit her to a T!

Dorann on

Actually, here in Hungary we don’t use the names Zolten(his name, and I haven’t seen Dracula yet), Zoltin(as it’s also written on babynames.com) or Zolton(what the first comment, I love CBB’s one says-misstyping maybe-), there’s only Zoltan(pronounced Zoltán whose nickname is “Zoli”). So Zolten can come here if this special name thing pulls them back only, I’ll babysit with pleasure. LOL

BTW does his wife has hungarian descents?(it’ not written on IMDb)

Jenny on

Thanks for the great interview! I’ve been a fan of Penn & Teller since I saw their touring show at National Theater in DC back in ’87. I’ve been to see them in Vegas as well. I loved Teller’s book about his parents. It seems like both he and Penn had great relationships with their parents, and both had older parents. As an older parent myself I am glad to hear positive stories. I know Penn & Teller don’t hang out a lot offstage, but I am curious if Teller acts as an “uncle” at all.

Callen on

Dont mean to offend anyone! But I really dont like the word “Athiest” I mean couldn’t there have been another name. I mean…it sounds kinda satanish!

Hey, okay whatever.

He can name his kids whatever he wants! I love it when folks step outside the box.

I gave my kids kind of old fashion names still popular but old fashion(Ella, James). I loved it.

Ginger on

I concur with Mr. Penn 100% with regards to having unique names. They are the spice of life, and frankly I too felt sorry for Jennys and Mikes in my generation. Thus, my husband and I chose *unique* names and take NOTHING personally.

Caitlin on

Fun interview! It’s really nice to have a public figure acknowledge that he’s an atheist AND to point out that one can be both moral and atheistic. I’m always surprised by the shock and horror that I get in response to such an admission. I can’t figure out if people are so taken aback because “atheist” has some negative connotation that I don’t get or if the thought of not believing in god is really just that terrible to people.

…Ummm, so anyway, enjoyed the interview. And I’m even coming around about the kids’ names. But, as America’s oldest living “Caitlin,” I feel the need to point out that one should never count on a name not getting really trendy. My mom still twitches with the desire to shout “mine was first!” when she meets twenty-year-old Caitlins.

Lilybett on

From the Greek ‘a’ -meaning without and ‘theos’ -meaning god. How does Atheist sound satanic?

I hate to be the voice of reason here- but an absense of belief in any and all gods does not equate to satanic beliefs. Worship of Satan would constitute a belief in a deity – which goes against atheism.

Christianity invented/believe Satan exists as the antithesis of God or as a fallen angel of God, not athiests.

Lauren on

That was a really nice interview. Both kids are adorable, especially Moxie, and you can tell he really loves them. That said, his and Emily’s outlook on naming their children leaves a great deal to be desired, in my opinion. If Emily thinks middle names are stupid, that’s her opinion. However, just because you think middle names are stupid doesn’t mean you treat naming your child as a joke. Why not just give her no middle name? Personally, I think naming giving your child the middle name “Crimefighter” so she can tell a police officer pulling her over that she’s on his side is stupid, so to teach their own.
And really, there are countless names out there that are unique, but still tasteful. I personally don’t know of any Edens, Suris, or Kingstons. You can easily give your child an interesting name and still be tasteful about it.

Bella on

I usually try not to be judgemental but I can’t help but say that I think they have given their children, particularly the older child, yes unique, but absolutely ridiculous names. But each to their own, it’s just my opinion. They seem to be a happy family and I wish them all the best. And gosh, Zolten sounds like a very forward child with 12 words already!

SweetPea on

I love his kids names! How cool to have such a unique name when most kids have the same names over and over! I feel sorry for those kids. I also don’t get what the fuss over what he named his children is. He NAMED them, HE raises them, not anyone else. It’s their choice. My philosophy on names is If you are raising them, then you can pick the name, If you aren’t, then zip it.

For you guys that think being an Aethist or being referred to an as Aethist is wrong, GET OVER IT! It’s NONE of your business for one, and for two, they really are called Aethist (I am NOT one, but my Father is…does that make him Satanic? No).

I think Penn is a great guy, and I love that his family and him have a clean life. You don’t find that in many stars these days.

Staci on

preesi you are right about the word mistake but shame on you for saying what said in your first part of your comment – that was iggnorant more Christians live immoral and disgusting lifestyles then Athiests. Shame on you.
Is there kids name really Moxie Crimestopper? That is cruel :} poor kid I hope kids don’t make fun of him.

tigra on

with parents like that i think Moxie will have a sense of humour and love her middle name.

Callen on

HEY HEY HEY! I NEVER SAID BEING AN ATHIEST IS WRONG. DONT GET IT TWISTED! I said that the word just gave me a negative vibe. that is all. I am not trying to judge anyone. I could care less what people believe in, it has nothing to do with me or my life. Got it! Okay.

Althea on

I got to know these people through CBB posts and Zolten’s birth announcement,but that was just about it until today.

This is an amazing interview.

Way to go CBB!

I am particularly touched by how he describes his relatonship with his parents and his children. Something tells me he’s a great father =]

And btw, I never minded their daughter’s name. I don’t see why others should..?

Carol on

When I first heard of Moxie’s name, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, she’ll hate her name when she’s older’. But you know what? I don’t feel that way anymore. I really believe that Penn and his wife will help Moxie through whatever tough times she may have in school with regards to her name, if there are any. They are stable, loving parents and I really believe Moxie will grow up to love her name and she will love that she is unique in that way. And, I have no doubt she’ll also be able to defend herself, at least verbally.

Michelle on

I am just happy to see that she has a babyhawk. That is AWESOME!

CK on

what is wrong with this man and his wife? moxie is a nice name, but her middle name, “crimefighter?” he explained that “its a joke” because his wife thinks middle names are stupid. that is just horrible to play a joke on any child….especially your own. why give your children middle names if you think they’re stupid?

Sarah Hart on

I have so much respect for Penn Jillette, his wife and family. I truely beleive he should be our President, but he probably would not apply for that job. He probably wouldn’t enjoy it. Penn is so smart, and a great person. He’s probably such a great person because he had great parents. Hey, Maybe Mox or Z will be President one day. (Beautiful names by the way!)

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