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At home with: Penn Jillette

At “the Slammer,” it’s all about freedom—and real human skeletons

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Photo: Christopher DeVargas

The dwelling is famously known as “the Slammer,” but it’s a deceptive title. Certainly, there are prison-esque, crime-like design elements here: Guests are asked (or required) to pose in front of a height chart as if in a police lineup; the body outline on the kitchen floor is that of Teller gripping a knife (or so Penn says). But the Slammer is not entirely like a real slammer, which strips inhabitants of their physical freedom. (As Penn notes, “slammer” is actually the slang term for the BSL-4 Patient Isolation Suite at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease at Fort Detrick in Maryland, an ideal place to enjoy one’s privacy).

In Penn’s penitentiary, freedom of ideas, adventure and imagination spills throughout the estate’s two interlocked houses.

At home with Penn Jillette

“It’s not exactly up to code,” Penn says at one point during a tour of the home. This is true of most government-enforced codes and any significant moral code many religious folk might embrace. Construction began in 1992, and the comedy/magic team discovered the building in 1994, after Teller spotted the small A-frame in the middle of a 10-acre desert plot on West Wigwam Avenue. Penn recruited his famous architect friend Colin Summers to design the original Slammer, and since then the home has undergone an evolution of sorts. The addition of a kids’ house is the most obvious upgrade, made necessary because Penn couldn’t fully childproof the original house. So, the children of Penn and Emily Jillette, Moxie CrimeFighter, 8, and Zolten Penn, 7, reside in their own home, with stories all its own.

The real human skeleton

“I called a medical supply company and asked, ‘Do you have a skeleton?’” Penn says. “Their question back to me was, ‘Do you already have a skeleton?’ The answer of course is, ‘Yes!’ because every person has their own skeleton under their own skin. I actually have two skeletons. The other is on permanent loan to Teller. But this one stays, and it really is a person, as creepy as it seems. She’s a woman, probably Indian.” Today, she lives in a nook outside the master bedroom.

The Scrabble tiles

The guest bathroom in Moxie and Zolten’s house is modeled after a Scrabble board, with tiles on the floor spelling out “peeing,” “tissue,” “towel” and the like. “That was Emily’s idea,” Penn says. “It’s not a live game.”

The observation windows

Looking out toward the Strip and Las Vegas Valley are tall windows of differing heights. The kids look out the lower windows, Penn out of the one built for someone 6-foot-6. “This is how we chart the kids’ growth,” he says.

The rare rock albums and posters

There is no greater Bob Dylan fan than Penn Jillette, and he has an autographed poster from Dylan’s breakout 1963 show at Town Hall in New York. He also owns an authentic Beatles “Butcher Cover” of the 1966 Yesterday and Today album, which was covered by a shot of the band posed with a steamer trunk, the original image visible behind it. The album was a gift from Teller after he read an LA Times interview in which Penn said he would disclose the secret to every trick the duo performs to anyone who could produce that album. Teller found a copy and gave it to Penn himself.

The sock monkeys

Since writing the book Sock, Penn has been given hundreds of sock monkeys. “I write Sock and get sock monkeys,” he says. “So my next book is going to be called A Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars and (Oral Sex).”

The fish pond

Man-made, shaped like a Goldfish snack cracker and surrounded by multicolored artificial grass swatches. “There are turtles in there,” Penn says. “But be careful—they scare easily.”

The Dean Martin memorabilia

Two artifacts are noteworthy: a golf club used by Martin that’s displayed in a classic photo of Martin with Jerry Lewis at the old Desert Inn Country Club, and, a real gem, the hand-drawn specifications for every item in Martin’s dressing room at Bally’s, which was later used by Penn when he and Teller opened at that hotel in 1993. “Brush: Bristles up!” Penn reads, pointing out the diagram specifying all of Martin’s grooming implements.

The pilfered coffee mugs

About 20, from Penn’s many talk-show appearances. “See this? ‘Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Guest 2,’” Penn reads from a cup. “Bill Maher told me, ‘You’re the only person who steals the cups.’”

The closet

Just off the master bedroom, “it used to be a dungeon, then a nursery, and now it’s a closet,” Penn says. “It’s my life story.”

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