The Meaning Behind Penn Jillette’s Red Fingernail


Penn Fraser Jillette is a talented American entertainer. He is sort of a jack-of-all trades when it comes to performing. Jillette is a musician, comedian, inventor, juggler, actor and a writer, but he is likely best known for being half of the comedy magician duo – Penn & Teller. The duo has been performing their act since the late 1970s, which has brought them worldwide recognition, not to mention super fat paychecks.

Today, Penn & Teller continue to put on a show, currently headlining in Las Vegas at The Rio. During the majority of their acts, Penn does all of the talking and storytelling, leaving Teller to communicate non-verbally. Over the years, Penn’s personality and storytelling developed, making him beloved by the masses.

Many that have watched Penn perform likely noticed that one of his fingernails on his left hand is always painted red. For years, it was a mystery as to why Penn did this, but he eventually spilled the beans, putting the speculations to rest. Before coming out with the serious answer, Penn joked in an interview (like any self respecting comedian would) that the red nail polish was a reminder of the reporter he shot for asking personal questions.

Eventually he did reveal the mystery, and his reasoning turned out to be very touching. In a tweet back in March of 2012 he said that the nailpolish served as a reminder of his late mother. The story goes back to the very beginning of Penn’s career. As he started to gain popularity and began performing, his mother said that he would need to get a manicure as people would be paying attention to his hands. After that comment, Penn went out and painted all of his fingernails red as a joke. Penn remembers that his mother found it “disgusting,” so he decided to keep the joking running. Obviously he couldn’t go on performing with red nails all of the time, so he decided to leave just one painted in memory of his mother.


On that same finger, Penn also wears his late father’s ring. Together, the red nail and the ring serve as a reminder of his parents. Penn explains – “I don’t need anything to remember them by, but I like having something to remember them by.” In another interview with Skepticality back in 2012, Penn admitted that at one point he considered changing the meaning behind the red polish, and telling his daugher that it was for her. However, during his appearance on the Chopped Tournament of Stars two years later, Penn told the full story of his mother and said that he kept the meaning in respect for her.

Penn obviously holds his family in high regard, but he also admitted to there being a second use for his red nail. In another interview he confessed that the painted nail also serves as a great misdirection tool when he’s performing magic tricks, especially those involving sleight of hand.

For those interested in replicating the same colour on their fingernails – Penn uses Jelly Apple Red (#054) by Essie.