Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Lenny Bruce

 Opening Remarks

 As we have seen with many of the great Artists that have been profiled, when you are a trailblazer and go against the grain, you can expect heat and strife to follow. Little Richard, James Brown, many others felt it as they changed the nature of what was considered acceptable in their chosen fields. Lenny Bruce was no different. 
He did standup comedy that no one else dared to do at the time. He payed a heavy price for that. The great comedians of the day acknowledge that he paved the way for what they get to do today.

 "he did that thing that extraordinary important artists do. He forced people to see themselves"

 The Fact Of Life

Leonard Alfred Schneider was born October 13, 1925 in Mineola, New York

was a Jewish-American comedian, social critic and satirist.

His 1964 conviction in an obscenity trial was followed by a posthumous pardon, the first in New York state history.

His parents divorced when he was five years old, and Lenny moved in with various relatives over the next decade.

His mother, Sally Marr  was a stage performer who had an enormous influence on Bruce's career.

After spending time working on a farm, Bruce joined the United States Navy at the age of 17 in 1942, and saw active duty in Europe.

In May 1945 he reported to his ship's medical officer that he was experiencing homosexual urges. This led to his Dishonorable Discharge in July 1945.

After a short stint in California spent living with his father, Bruce settled in New York City, hoping to establish himself as a comedian. However, he found it difficult to differentiate himself from the thousands of other show business hopefuls who populated the city. One locale where they congregated was Hanson's, the diner where Bruce first met the comedian Joe Ancis, who had a profound influence on his approach to comedy. Many of Bruce's later routines reflected his meticulous schooling at the hands of Ancis. 

Bruce met his future wife, Honey Harlow, a stripper from Baltimore, Maryland, in 1951. They were married that same year, and Bruce was determined to have her end her work as a stripper.

Lenny Bruce, Honey Harlow and Kitty.

In late 1954, Bruce left Strip City and found work within the San Fernando Valley at a variety of strip clubs. As the master of ceremonies, his job was to introduce the strippers while performing his own ever-evolving material.

This desire to end his wife's stripper days led Bruce to pursue schemes that were designed to make as much money as possible. The most notable was the Brother Mathias Foundation scam, which resulted in Bruce's arrest in Miami, Florida later that year for impersonating a priest.

He was banned outright from several U.S. cities, and in 1962 was banned from performing in Sydney, Australia. At his first show there, Bruce took the stage, declared "What a fucking wonderful audience" and was promptly arrested.

 In April 1964, he appeared twice at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, with undercover police detectives in the audience. On both occasions, he was arrested after leaving the stage, the complaints again pertaining to his use of various obscenities.

Increasing drug use also affected his health. By 1966 he had been blacklisted by nearly every nightclub in the United States, as owners feared prosecution for obscenity.  

On August 3, 1966, Bruce was found dead in the bathroom of his Hollywood Hills home at 8825 W. Hollywood Blvd. The official photo, taken at the scene, showed Bruce lying naked on the floor, a syringe and burned bottle cap nearby, along with various other narcotics paraphernalia.


Bruce's early comedy career included writing the screenplays for Dance Hall Racket in 1953, which featured Bruce, his wife, Honey Harlow, and mother, Sally Marr, in roles;

Dream Follies in 1954, a low-budget burlesque romp;

and a children's film, The Rocket Man, in 1954.

He also released four albums of original material on Berkeley-based Fantasy Records, with rants, comic routines, and satirical interviews on the themes that made him famous: 






 Ku Klux Klan



 . These albums were later compiled and re-released as The Lenny Bruce Originals.

Starting in the late 1950s Bruce developed the complexity and tone of his material in the nightclub, "The hungry i," where Mort Sahl had earlier made a name for himself.

His growing fame led to appearances on the nationally televised Steve Allen Show.

On February 3, 1961, in the midst of a severe blizzard, he gave a famous performance at Carnegie Hall in New York. It was recorded and later released as a three-disc set, titled The Carnegie Hall Concert.

On October 4, 1961, Bruce was arrested for obscenity at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco; he had used the word cocksucker and riffed that "to is a preposition, come is a verb", that the sexual context of come is so common that it bears no weight, and that if someone hearing it becomes upset, he "probably can't come". Although the jury acquitted him, other law enforcement agencies began monitoring his appearances, resulting in frequent arrests under charges of obscenity.

Poster for Lenny Bruce's last series performances, which took place at The Fillmore in San Francisco on June 24 and 25, 1966.

 Bruce was known for relating the details of his encounters with the police directly in his comedy routine. These performances often included rants about his court battles over obscenity charges, tirades against fascism and complaints that he was being denied his right to freedom of speech.

 Bruce did have a famous performance at the Berkeley Community Theatre in December 1965. It was recorded and became his last live album, titled "The Berkeley Concert"; his performance here has been described as lucid, clear and calm, and one of his best.

At the request of Hugh Hefner and with the aid of Paul Krassner, Bruce wrote an autobiography. Serialized in Playboy in 1964 and 1965, this material was later published as the book How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Hefner had long assisted Bruce's career, featuring him in the television debut of Playboy's Penthouse in October 1959.

Bruce was the subject of the 1974 biographical film Lenny directed by Bob Fosse and starring Dustin Hoffman 

The documentary Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth, directed by Robert B. Weide and narrated by Robert De Niro, was released in 1998.

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