by Robert Wilkinson
October 13 is the birthday of the legendary Lenny Bruce, Patron Saint of Free Speech and powerful social conscience. He was a unique and tortured being, both a critic and victim of society with its cruel hypocrisies and heavy-handed ways of enforcing laws that harm sensitive Souls. If you haven't heard of him, prepare to have your mind blown. This guy was the first to put free speech to the test challenging the American myths of church and state.
As I noted in earlier birthday tributes, most people don't know it, but we owe the immortal phrase "yadda yadda" to Lenny Bruce, the saint who died for our right to utter the famous "7 dirty words" of George Carlin. Starting as a standup jokemeister, Leonard Schneider, aka Lenny Bruce (October 13, 1925 – August 3, 1966) became an icon of free speech. His bits challenged religion, government, American pop mythology, and a thousand other sacred cows.
His records certainly opened my young mind to the concept that we're all prejudiced toward beauty in "A White White Woman and a Black Black Woman." Punch line: “So let's just persecute ugly people.” Wow. If you can, listen to it in its entirety, since it's still relevant today. The line “What do you mean WE, white man?” from the Lone Ranger bit also blew my mind back when I was still a kid lost in the symbols of 1950s Americana.
We also owe him bigtime for the ever-popular, seemingly ubiquitous immortal line "blablabla." Lenny Bruce used that line in his unbelievable account "What I Was Arrested For," where he reminded us that the exact “10 letter word” he was busted for was used over and over by both the prosecutor AND the Judge during his trial! So he was busted in a nightclub for using the exact word spoken in court by the DA and hizzoner.
While his behavior was at times marginal, other times extremely self-destructive, he was still a trail-blazing icon for the ages. He led a tragic, archetypal existence, and still did America a favor by "lifting the sheets," so to speak.
Offensive to some, beloved by others, entertaining to millions, enjoy what you're about to hear and see. Called "Dirty Lenny" by up-tight authoritarians and very un-hip prudes, mostly the charges of "obscenity" against him were made by those who wanted to muzzle anything exposing the hypocrisy of the church, state, laws, and society in general.
This year we have some amazing film footage of this legend. I wholeheartedly recommend you watch as much as you want, because even though some of his material might seem dated and even obnoxious, he is a true Spiritual Zen Master we all can learn from. And, as it is said, "he died for our sins...."
Here's a great 8+ minute clip homage to Lenny featuring a lot of clips of famous comedians discussing his unique and remarkable ability to offend and enlighten at the same time. If you don’t view anything else today, this is the one to check out to get the story of the historical Lenny.
I think it lays it straight up. (So does da man in the Berkeley concert linked later in this article.) If you've ever wondered what this amazing Libra for the ages was all about, this is a great place to start. Here is a 14 minute clip of his gig on the Steve Allen Show in 1959, introduced as “someone guaranteed to offend everybody. As Steve put it "Here is a very shocking comedian, the most shocking comedian of our time,”
Here’s an interesting and very funny audio-only 6+ minute clip with Lenny talking about “Lenny Bruce – Censorship on the Steve Allen Show”
Here's a great find! Lenny doing a live singing/prose performance on television early in his career, All Alone
You can easily see the strain in the few short years between the one above and this 7 part video of Lenny's next to the last performance at San Francisco's Basin Street West. By this point he had been harassed, bankrupted, and it shows.
Some of it is not funny, some of it is very sad, but it is a graphic example of his views on society and its hypocrisies. It contains some of his most famous pieces all strung together. Remember it's the early 60s. For your consideration:
One of his most famous bits, Lenny himself doing "To Is A Preposition, Come Is A Verb."
Live on television in 1959, here’s Lenny Bruce on Playboy's Penthouse (Part 1)
Delivered by one of Lenny's best friends and a famous standup in his own right, here's a 7 minute clip from the Steve Allen show of Mort Sahl On Lenny.
At this point the videos stop, and his audio bits begin. We start with:
The Truth, an amazing piece of wisdom in a very short period of time.
On the relativism of what is and is not obscene, "The Meaning Of Obscenity"
This was always one of my favorite bits! In it he skewers the churches that go for the gelt rather than the message of the Ones they worship. From the Carnegie Hall concert, “Lenny Bruce – Christ and Moses”
A great find! Here's "Lenny Bruce At Carnegie Hall" in February 1961 when he was still on his game! The poster says this is only disc one, and he can't find the second one.
This was his last live album, and he’s at his best! Here’s all 79 minutes of Lenny at Berserkley in December 1965! “Lenny Bruce – The Berkeley Concert”
Now we go into documentaries, tributes and other oddities.
We begin with Bob Dylan performing his song "Lenny Bruce" live in concert.
George Carlin doing his impersonation of a famous Lenny Bruce bit, A Genie Goes Into A Candy Store.
Here’s a great clip of “George Carlin on Being Busted with Lenny Bruce”
From the movie,The Life and Crimes of Lenny Bruce
A great find! From 1954, this is an hour-long drama written by Lenny. Very film noir! Starring Tim Farrell (famous for his Ed Wood movie roles!), plus Lenny’s mom and girlfriend, this was the third in the Umberto Scalli trilogy.“Dance Hall Racket”
(Last year I found a great short bio voiceover with a Miles Davis soundtrack called “The Trials of Lenny Bruce,” but this year it’s nowhere to be found. I’m leaving this in as a reminder to look for it next year.)
A strange find! Here is a site with all the legal elements of his famous 1964 NYC obscenity trial. The Lenny Bruce Trial - 1964 has video clips, transcripts, and bits from monologues, as well as a whole lot more, cited in the Cafe Au Go Go Obscenity Prosecution of Comedian Lenny Bruce
RIP Lenny, and thanks for the laughs and insights. And as always on this day, a big Happy Birthday to my friend the Wolfeman. You would have been 62 and having a blast! Some of us still miss you.
I figured this might be a good send-off from America’s third Poet Laureate...
Lenny Bruce, written and performed by Bob Dylan
Lenny Bruce is dead but his ghost lives on and on
Never did get any Golden Globe award, never made it to Synanon
He was an outlaw, that's for sure
More of an outlaw than you ever were
Lenny Bruce is gone but his spirit's livin' on and on
Maybe he had some problems, maybe some things that he couldn't work out
But he sure was funny and he sure told the truth and he knew what he was talkin' about
Never robbed any churches nor cut off any babies' heads
He just took the folks in high places and he shined a light in their beds
He's on some other shore, he didn't wanna live anymore
Lenny Bruce is dead but he didn't commit any crime
He just had the insight to rip off the lid before its time
I rode with him in a taxi once
Only for a mile and a half, seemed like it took a couple of months
Lenny Bruce moved on and like the ones that killed him, gone
They said that he was sick 'cause he didn't play by the rules
He just showed the wise men of his day to be nothing more than fools
They stamped him and they labeled him like they do with pants and shirts
He fought a war on a battlefield where every victory hurts
Lenny Bruce was bad, he was the brother that you never had
Copyright © 1981 by Special Rider Music
© Copyright 2013 Robert Wilkinson