Monday, October 13, 2008

Lenny Bruce

Today is the birthday of comic and social critic Lenny Bruce, born October 13, 1925. Bruce's sad life and short career are the stuff of legend. He was perhaps the first comedian to crash through the taboos of the Eisenhower years, broadly mocking the official hypocrisy of the military, the Catholic church, the racist culture of his time, and generally skewering American attitudes at a time when it was considered dangerous to do so.

Bruce was arrested for obscenity in 1961 for using the word "cocksucker," and although the jury acquitted him, the incident began a long and torturous series of arrests. In 1964, Bruce was arrested in New York and the widely-publicized six-month trial resulted in Bruce being found guilty and sentenced to four months in the workhouse. The conviction was announced despite testimony and support from Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Jules Feiffer, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, William Styron, and James Baldwin, among other artists, writers and educators. The conviction was eventually overturned by the New York Court of Appeals, but the unceasing legal scrutiny took a toll on Bruce. He died of a drug overdose in 1966, having been blacklisted by nearly every nightclub in the United States.

According to the obituary by jazz critic Ralph Gleason,

Lenny Bruce had an incurable disease. He saw through the pretense, hypocrisy, and paradoxes of our society. All he insisted on was that we meet it straight ahead and not cop out or lie about it...He was one of those who, in Hebbel's expression, "have disturbed the world's sleep." And he could not be forgiven.

In 1971, one of Bruce's comedy routines was developed by San Francisco filmmaker John Magnuson into a short animated film, "Thank You Mask Man," which features Bruce performing all of the voices, and is now available to all of us through the miracle of Youtube.

1 comment:

The Corey said...

Lenny Bruce is not afraid.