Penn Jillette Visits the Beat Museum

   Penn Jillette


Legend has it that Allen Ginsberg used to get naked at poetry readings because “The poet stands naked before the world.” Beat scholars tell us it only happened once, at a reading where one of Allen’s friends was being heckled by an audience member and Allen leaped to his friend’s defense, took his clothes off and challenged the heckler to do the same.

We tell this story at The Beat Museum using a particular photo I’ve always liked. It’s a pic of Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso standing naked looking directly at the camera. I love the photo because it’s so fun. It’s boyish, it’s impish. It’s not dirty or perverted or offensive at all. It’s almost like Allen and Gregory are saying, “Hey, look at us, we’re naked in the world.”

Alan Ginsberg and Gregory Corso


We get our share of celebrities coming through The Beat Museum. It stands to reason: we’re in San Francisco, we’re in North Beach and we’re all about The Beat Generation. A lot of celebrities are celebrities because they’re “hip” and nothing says hip like The Beat Generation!

So, it was no big surprise when Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) walked in the door one day last week. He stayed for only a minute, he had a plane to catch but he told us he dug The Beats. He walked back in ten minutes later having changed his flight because he had to see The Beat Museum.

Turns out Penn Jillette is a huge Ginsberg fan. He actually met Allen Ginsberg on a few occasions in the ’80’s and ’90’s. He walked around The Beat Museum with two friends for an hour, digging the exhibits and taking it all in.

When it came time for him to leave we asked, “Penn, we like to get photos of celebrities that come to The Beat Museum, can we get your picture?” “Sure,” he said, “where do you want me to stand?” “Well, you dig Ginsberg, how about we take your photo next to Allen and Gregory?” Penn looked at the naked photo of Allen and Gregory and smiled a big smile. “Oh, I can dig this,” he said.

As we started to take the shots Penn began shedding his clothes. We couldn’t help but laugh along with his companions. I said, “Penn, I hope it’s OK if we put this on our website?” “I don’t mind,” he said, “but my manager might.”

Penn Jilllette – as Beat as they get.