Godless in Seattle Penn Jillette says he and Seattleites have at least one thing in common.

OH, THERE ARE so many reasons for Penn Jillette to hate Seattle. Our anticar culture. Our tax-happy city hall. Our disdain for fast food. The very nanny-state ideals the magician rails against on Showtime’s Penn and Teller: Bullshit! And yet: “I’m very comfortable here,” he said backstage at the Paramount Theatre in December.

That’s because, although Jillette is an avowed Libertarian, a vocal critic of President Obama, and a frequent guest on Fox News’ Glenn Beck, when it comes to God, Seattle and Penn walk hand in hand.

“You can argue about what percentage of out-of-the-closet atheists there are in the U.S.A.—some people put it at 15 percent—but Seattle is always knocking on 25, which is astonishing.”

In town from his home in Las Vegas to promote a weekend of Penn and Teller performances at the Paramount, Jillette shrank the theater’s Ernestine Anderson reception room, his hulking six-foot-six, 300-plus-pound frame reducing the space to Lilliputian proportions. The conversation, pocked with bombs from his trademark R-rated vocab, roamed from the TSA’s backscatter scanners (“I don’t give a fuck. My cock isn’t magic”) to Houdini (“He’s been dead for 90 fucking years, and people still know his name”), but the topic of atheism kept popping up like a heathenish bunny from a hat.

The huge shock of the twenty-first century, Jillette explained, is that 9/11 brought more atheists out of the closet. (Other horrific events—the Civil War and Pearl Harbor—he says, led to an uptick in religiosity.) “If you call atheism a religion—which, you know, not collecting stamps is not a hobby—but if you call it a religion, it’s the fastest growing religion in the history of the United States of America.”

In fact, Jillette and Teller, his mute sidekick of 30 years, pitched Bullshit! two weeks after 9/11. “The idea was that we were all supposed to go back to normal. And we did it by pitching a skeptical, atheist show.”

The series, which recently wrapped its eighth season, aims to debunk everything from the Boy Scouts to PETA to the Bible—an intellectual exercise, Jillette says, that’s a natural extension from what he and Teller have infused in their stage act for decades.

The pair often reveals to the audience the secrets behind their tricks. Why? “Magic becomes beautiful after I tell you that the laws of the universe are still completely intact, that all I’ve done is changed the story you tell yourself. I’ve made you lie to yourself.”

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