The Skeptic Ink Network is proud to be a supporter of this year’s The Amaz!ng Meeting (TAM) and we’d like to introduce our readers to some of the excellent voices which make the “4-day vacation from unreason” such a pleasure. With well over 80 names filling out the program, we’re not able to give every worthy speaker their due, so we’ve decided to focus on skeptical women that inspire us. We think they’ll inspire you, too.
There are many impressive people speaking and performing at TAM this year, but I think Heather takes it for the single coolest thing anyone could tell me: I’m in Penn’s band. The No God Band is among the featured entertainment during TAM at Penn’s Rock & Roll Bacon & Doughnut Party, as it has been the past couple of years (I hasten to add that Penn’s party is a private affair open to TAM attendees but not an official TAM or JREF event.) If you’re anything like me, then you like every word in the name of that party.
Heather is also an actress, editor, producer, 10+ year burlesque veteran and co-host of the Ardent Atheist and Skeptically Yours podcasts. One of the things that makes TAM so successful is that it doesn’t scrimp on the entertainment. For many skeptical conferences and events, entertainment programming seems like a distant afterthought. Thanks to Heather and many others, TAM isn’t just intellectually engaging, it’s loads of fun. This isn’t a trivial virtue. Skepticism can have much better cultural penetration when it is made fun and engaging. That’s one reason I admire Heather and the work that she does. I invited her to Incredulous to chat a bit about each.
Skeptic Ink Thanks for the interview, Heather. While doing this series on the women of TAM it’s very obvious they are extremely busy and productive people, and you’re no exception. As a lazy skeptic person, I wonder if you’re not tying to make the rest of us look bad. What really drives you?
Heather Henderson Thanks for interviewing me! Well, I don’t do as much as I could. Life gets in the way, but I do what I can, mainly by promoting skepticism online and supporting organizations like JREF and CFI through volunteering time and spreading the word about them. It may seem like I do a lot because I have a large online presence plus I do two podcasts, but I’m not doing as much as so many other amazing lady skeptics out there who go around giving speeches and writing books.
What drives me to promote skepticism and atheism is my religious upbringing. When I had discovered that the god story wasn’t true, it was like a lightening bolt had struck me. I realized that I had been lied to my entire life! I felt like I wanted to shout it out to the world, and especially to others like me who didn’t really buy into it, but wasn’t quite sure. It is really important to me to speak out loud about my beliefs because I know there are others out there who are searching for answers too, and I want to help by being a beacon to those who are afraid to be counted.
SIN How did you first get involved with organized buzzkillng? Did you come to Hollywood in hopes of making it big in skepticism, like me?
HH I became a skeptic while still living in Philadelphia over 4 years ago. It was the movie Zeitgeist and Penn Jillette that got me there. Now I know what you’re thinking. Zeitgeist? Well I know that the movie is filled with all sorts of misinformation, but it was the trigger that started me thinking about what was true in the world and what was not. Penn, taught me about psychics and how they play off of the emotions of people filled with grief and that it’s a bad thing. I had simply never thought about it before and when Penn showed me that, simply put…I woke up.
From that moment, it was on. I started challenging all my Facebook “friends” on their beliefs and went nuts proclaiming all that I had learned about religion and psychics and woo. I lost a lot of Facebook friends that year, and gained tons of new ones who shared the same mindset.
I moved to Hollywood because of the weather. Ahhhh, it’s just so nice.
SIN Many skeptics focus on things like activism and philosophical discourse. I hope it’s fair to say that your primary medium in skepticism is entertainment. This is not to sell short Ardent Atheist or Skeptically Yours which both feature rigorous discussion and coverage of important current events, but they are described as comedy/entertainment foremost.
HH My podcast Skeptically Yours covers all sorts of areas of skepticism from gay rights to homeopathy. We try to entertain by being funny while also debating people who aren’t as skeptical as we are about some topics. I would say however that my main focus is on religion. I’m most passionate about my atheism and spend most of my time speaking with people who are hardcore believers and also those that are on the fence. When debating these individuals I try to be kind and understanding of where the other person may be coming from and most importantly, I stay calm and never let emotion play a part of the discussion.
SIN How are music and comedy important for promoting skepticism or bettering the skeptical movement? Are there parallels to other social movements that used art and media to promote the cause or rally the troops?
HH Music and comedy are extremely helpful for promoting skepticism. One of my favorite artists is Shelley Segal. She sings songs about religion and skepticism that are funny and catchy and she’s just fantastic. We need music and art that we can relate to. And now there are comedians like Ian Harris who do shows with bits about skepticism and religion that are very funny and have the ability to open the minds of people and make them think.
There are definitely parallels to other social movements that use art and media to promote their causes. Churches have their hymnals, there are Christian rock bands and even Christian magicians. It’s everywhere. But there is not enough secular focused entertainment available. We need more.
SIN When playing with the No God Band, does Penn ever slip a hymnal song or choir staple into the mix just to screw with people?
HH Not that often but the lyrics to one of our songs goes like this: Fuck you, you’re an atheist, hallelujah so am I. Does that count?
SIN For the uninitiated, is No God Band’s music exclusively about atheism?
HH I’d say that the music is mostly about love and freedom. There are songs about religion but they also have love in them. It’s pretty great. One song we play is called, “Strippin’ for Jesus” and I know that seems like a song about sex but really, it’s about love and freedom.
SIN Would you call yourself a feminist? If so, what does that mean to you?
HH I wouldn’t call my self a feminist.
I’m for equal pay, I’m for reproductive rights. But there are so many different types of feminist beliefs that it gets a little bit confusing. I used to be a stripper. Some feminists would say, that I was expressing my sexuality and that it was a good thing and some would say that I was being oppressed and taken advantage of by men. So, I’ll just declare myself a woman.
SIN Is there anything about your partner/co-producer/badminton nemesis Emery Emery to know that can’t already be gleaned from his catalog of silly/deeply offensive Vine entries?
HH He’s the most energetic, hardworking man that I know. He’s always in a good mood. He’s also super supportive of me and all my endeavors. When he’s not making Vines, he can be found working on one of his many film editing projects, promoting Ardent Atheist and Skeptically Yours, and debating people online. We are polyamorous, and he has another girlfriend who he also sees regularly. He’s a busy guy!
SIN Where might Los Angeles-area readers catch or hear about one of your storied burlesque shows?
HH You can find me performing some weeks at Monday Night Tease and Friday Night Happy Hour at 3 Clubs in Hollywood. I’ve been doing burlesque since 1998 and will do it until I die. And that’s the truth.
SIN What’s the best part of TAM, for you?
HH The best part of TAM for me is seeing all my friends. I am great friends with many people on the internet but they live so far away. It’s really nice to catch up with them. Also, I just live for the Penn Jillette Bacon and Doughnut party. I wait all year to perform with Penn and the band, it’s the most exciting part of the convention for me.
I look forward to Bacon & Doughnuts with Heather at TAM, with a side of freethought.
More in the Inspiring Women of TAM 2013 series:
Cara Santa Maria profiled by Caleb of Great Plains Skeptic
Heather Henderson interviewed by Ed of Incredulous
Jennifer Ouellette by John of Debunking Christianity
Sara Mayhew interviewed by Damion of Background Probability
Sharon Hill interviewed by Ed of Incredulous
Susan Jacoby profiled by Caleb of Great Plains Skeptic
Susan Blackmore profiled by John Loftus of Debunking Christianity