Penn Jillette Responds Perfectly After Chicago News Anchor Tells Him His Book Title is ‘Negative’

Penn Jillette appeared on Chicago’s WGN-TV yesterday morning and pushed back hard when anchor Robin Baumgarten suggested that the title of his book, Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday!, had a negative undertone to it:

[The video plays automatically, so you can click here to watch it.]

Penn just kept the attention on Baumgarten, asking her why she felt it was negative. The best she could come up with was that it implied that other holidays were “not cool,” which made no sense at all and he let her know it:

Jillette: Every day is a day that we’re full of life, we’re with our families, we see sunrises, sunsets, we eat, we breathe, we have art. It’s a total, total celebration of every single day! I think calling someone who loves every day of their life ‘negative’ seems a little bit… a little bit odd!

It seemed to me like the trigger word in the title wasn’t holiday, but rather “atheist.” Baumgarten couldn’t understand how an atheist could be happy and smiling and enjoying life. It just didn’t compute. Jillette was right to not let her question slide. Even better, his response showed just how bad and (arguably) offensive her question was.

Can you imagine Baumgarten saying to Pastor Joel Osteen, “Your book title is ‘Your Best Life Now’… doesn’t that imply that life up to this point has been very depressing?”

I sure can’t.

(Thanks to Andy for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Miss_Beara

    Robin Baumgarten makes WGN morning news unwatchable.

    • Buckley

      Larry “Grumpy Day” Potash is no ray of sunshine either, but at least he didn’t start out as the Traffic Girl

      • Miss_Beara

        Bleh, they are both awful. I used to like him when he was with Roseanne Tellez in the morning. Now it acts like he hates being there and hates Baumgarten.

  • smrnda

    Given greater visibility of atheists, isn’t it getting a bit old to suggest that somehow, atheists are these grouchy, unhappy people?

    • # zbowman

      Given the need for flu jabs every year to counteract viral evolution, it’s getting a bit old to suggest evolution isn’t real. I *wish* that mattered to them.

      • Christian Kemp

        Don’t blind my faith with facts :(

      • cyb pauli

        Germs are just a theory.

      • Lagerbaer

        But they are still a virus. Show me a flu virus turning into a crocoduck!

      • Corinna

        Vaccinations cause autism! Nobody in their right mind would get them! Tsk, sheesh!


    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      You mean this isn’t true? And yes, I know it is a joke to begin with.

      • cyb pauli

        Ha. I maybe a grouchy goat, but I dont stay home on Sundays… I go to the university and practice harp for a few hours!

      • ShoeUnited

        I like Mr. Gruff. He knows how to live comfortably and enjoy a good morning’s coffee.

        • doug105

          If only those damn christain kids would stay off his lawn.

      • Hat Stealer

        They seem to have mistaken “sad” with “comfortable apathy.”

        Nothin’ like some good old comfortable apathy to kick off an early Sunday morning.

      • SinginDiva721

        Funny story, the website that comes from was the first place I discovered that there were people in the world that think the earth is only 6,000 years old. A friend of mine showed it to me. We couldn’t wrap our minds around this thought. Hadn’t they heard of radio carbon dating? They think the bible is a science textbook? WTF!?!? I only found out a couple years ago that the website was actually a Poe and not real.
        I wish young earth creationists weren’t real. Sadly, they are.

    • Warren Senders

      Well, I’m often grouchy and unhappy, but it’s not because I’m an atheist. I’m unhappy because apocalypse-fetishizing Abrahamists have rigged it so that we’re killing off the biodiversity of a beautiful world, and I’m grouchy for the same reason.

  • Cos2mwiz

    Wow. Hilarious how she couldn’t even give a coherent reason for her Dumbassery. smh

  • Fred

    Ladies and gentlemen I give you the difference between a Spokesperson and a Talking Head.

    • usclat

      If you’re talking about Robin Baumgarten then you must refer to her not as a talking head or a spokesperson but a “spokehole”.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        I’ve got a bunch of spokeholes on my bicycle rim.

  • Daniel Brown

    I am presuming she is NOT an atheist, and perhaps a devout religious person.

    She felt a negative sensation when she read the title because it went against her beliefs. She then projected her own personal knee-jerk feelings onto Penn and and every other person who may read the title before giving her feelings a second thought (or even a first thought).

    • Ewan

      Thanks for clearing that up for us.

  • Sven2547

    Shorter Robin Baumgarten: “I am deeply offended by your attempts to break down my prejudices that atheists are bitter, miserable, negative people.”

    • Christian Kemp

      Yeh, she even asks why the title sounds angry. Then expects him to be nice, when she starts the interview with an attacking question.

      • randomfactor

        Reminds me of the old joke where the patient sees sex in all the inkblots–and then when accused of being obsessed, says “YOU’RE the one with all the dirty pictures!”

        • Cyrus Palmer

          What about bob. Classic.

  • Jordan

    Hi Robin? Yes, this is FoxNews calling. We just wanted to call and let you know that you’ve met the only requirement for hire, and we’d be happy to welcome you to our team!

  • C Peterson

    It is a little bit negative. It implies that people who don’t treat every day as a holiday are missing out on something good. Hard to see anything wrong with that sort of “negativity”!

    • newavocation

      Holidays without a church or religion? Boy that’s bad for business, since most people don’t go to church except for holidays.

  • BoGardiner

    Of course, since our very existence is offensive. It’s rude of us to not all kill ourselves immediately, so that we don’t go around offending people by breathing.

  • baal

    Outside of faux news, I rarely see authors treated so shabby. Even then it’s usually someone like a holocaust denier. Being an atheist makes it ok to be treated so?

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    The moment she opened her mouth she sounded like a complete bitch.

  • cyb pauli

    The only thing more offensive than a happy atheist who loves life is a dominant woman who don’t need no man. :D

  • monyNH

    Ugh…have you seen the article on WGN’s website? Apparently It was Jillette who “spared” [sic] with the newscaster, and not the newscaster setting out to put him on the defensive. Riiiight…

  • Deanna Jackson

    Folks are still using the word “atheist” as a trigger word to accuse us all of being “negative”. Penn responded perfectly.

  • Richard Wade

    I think Ms. Baumgarten is operating with two common problems:

    1. She has a negative reflex to the word “atheist.” It means all sorts of negative things to her instead of someone who doesn’t believe in gods. If you were to ask her to define or describe “atheist,” you’d get a long, elaborate description of someone very ugly and scary.

    2. In her attempt to explain herself, she seems to think that “Every Day Is an Atheist Holiday” is somehow an implied put-down of somebody’s religious holidays. This is similar to the bizarre self-centeredness of some Christians who seem to think that every statement that isn’t praising Christianity is somehow a statement against Christianity, or that anything an atheist says at all, even if it’s about the weather, is somehow a put-down of Christians. Uh, no, not everything is about you or your religion. Now try to relax and enjoy your life.

    • NateW

      I could be wrong, but maybe she assumes that the title implies something like, “…but for people who aren’t atheists there are only a few days a year worth living.” Otherwise why not call the book “Every day is a Holiday?”

      I’m not saying I agree with that, but it seems plausible and maybe a little less offensive?

    • Savoy47

      Not only that but she said in her defense that she asked a
      question and Penn attacked her for it.
      He asked why it’s negative and she saw it as an attack on her.

  • NathanExplosion

    Thankfully she is on Twitter waiting to receive some positive feedback.

  • pamsfriend

    This kind of push back makes me SOOOOOOOOOOO happy. It’s exactly what we need to do in all kinds of situations where the interviewer presents a question w/a shitload of assumptions baked in. Unpack it and question the assumptions!!!! Before you even begin to deign them w/an answer! Well done, Penn.

  • EdmondWherever

    To be fair, Baumgarten didn’t say it sounded “negative”. She said it souded “angry”. Listen to it again. She never used the word “negative” at all during the segment. Penn asked her what part of it sounded “angry”, and then she tried to ask him if was seeking some kind of respect. He tried to get the subject back on the first question, and HE changed the word “angry” to “negative”. I don’t begrudge him this change, it was a simply slip of the human mind, he was lightly derailed and wanted to grasp back to the gist of what she said, which I think was close enough.
    To be doubly fair, of course, it seemed like SHE thought this was close enough, also. She never called him on this change, and continued on as if this still perfectly defined how she felt. I will say that I didn’t feel that this crew was antagonistic toward him, in fact the male reporters were downright jovial, calling Penn a “cup full guy” (no doubt meaning “glass half full”) and laughing heartily. They let him get his general message out and plug his book, and when Penn said he thought her comment was “odd”, she agreed that she was “odd”.
    All in all, I thought he did a wonderful job of deflecting EITHER “angry” or “negative” stereotype, and was a fitting voice for atheism.

    • Larry Gay

      What a nice, careful analysis.

  • Rain

    She probably watches too much internet. “Angry atheist” is the meme du jour, and she is probably in denial of the friendly atheist meme, or has not yet encountered it. It’s all about the memes. “Just the memes, ma’am”.

  • Emmet

    I like Jillette. He seems down-to-earth and interesting. The way he took the anchor to task was spot on.

    This clip has been floating around over the last couple of days – in it Jillette comes across as a pretty friendly atheist:

  • Emmet

    And this one from a while back where he takes down Piers Morgan. (While putting across a couple of bloopers.)

    • lovesalot

      Penn Jillette is my new hero. Very skillful. Supporting atheism by elucidating the Catholic argument in a non-hostile way. It’s like a little whisper in the questioning Catholic’s ear: (…what? you’re saying there’s something you don’t accept?…)

  • Dan Robinson

    I’m glad he pressed her on the point but it’s frustrating that the clip seems to end before the discussion does. Would love to hear the rest of it.

  • lovesalot

    Perfect! This made my day.

    The fact that he responds with relaxed confidence, without the need to attack or use abusive language, increases his effectiveness.

  • eric

    I get the xmas Rudolph, Easter bunny, thanksgiving turkey, and 4th fireworks…but wtf does the bluebird represent? Is there some veteran’s day bluebird I don’t know about?

    • allein

      Maybe it’s the Bluebird of Happiness?

  • Mark W.

    Al: I’m Al Albert, here with George Foreman for the fight of the week. Tonight’s line up is the consummate professional Penn Jillette, one of the heavy weight champs of the atheist movement against local favorite Robin Baumgarten. What do you think of this match up George?
    George: Well Al, Jillette has years of experience against some of the toughest contenders, but Baumgarten is scrappy and has the home turf advantage, it should be a goo fight, if she keeps her head.

    Al: Thanks, George and it’s show time.

    Baumgarten comes out of her corner swinging, Jillette covers and counter-jabs to her face…oh it’s a big hit. Jillette presses in with a flurry to the mid section which Baumgarten tries to deflect, but Jillette keeps her on the defensive. OMG! Jillette just landed a hay maker to Baumgartens temple and she’s down! Even the folks at home could feel that hit. She’s trying push herself off the mat, but she collapses…and this fight is over folks.

    George: Well, that’s what happens Al, these amateurs come in here trying to make a name for themselves. They throw down big, but always overestimate themselves and underestimate the champ.

    Al: Yep George, absolutely. Well folks that young woman learned some valuable lessons about taking on the best. And now up next synchronized swimming.

  • Markus

    Super excited to be seeing Penn speak about his book in Toronto tomorrow night!!!

  • Tobias 27772

    Even her co-hosts seem to find her position offensive. They laugh at the title early on and claim that she is negative or mean later.

  • JustSaiyan

    I loved how as Penn’s rant progressed it became even more absurd. The concept that anyone who has even the slightest doubt or question about the origins of existence is an atheist is a smart way of saying “you are with me, or you are a completely delusional idiot”. He really is a master of illusion, and I’m sure many believe he someone presented himself positively.