Lenny Bruce - Stand Up / Social Satirist
LENNY BRUCE (October 13, 1925— August 3, 1966), was a stand-up comic and social satirist whose career spanned the 1950s and mid ’60s. He was introduced to show business after leaving the army in 1945, serving as master of ceremonies at the nightclub where his mother, Sally Marr, an entertainer herself, worked. Inspired, he began participating in amateur nights at various nightclubs in New York and New Jersey where he performed impressions, parodies and one-liners. He soon developed a style marked by blue humor punctuated with obscenity and, as he gained notoriety, material focusing on criticisms of the social, political and legal establishments, organized religion, moralistic attitudes toward sex and drugs and other controversial subjects. In 1947, he changed his name from Lenny Schneider to Lenny Bruce. Lenny Bruce gave his first professional performances shortly after the end of World War II, though it was not until his appearance on the television show Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts in 1948 that his career began to grow. After playing New York’s Borscht Belt, the natural progression for comics of the day, he married a stripper named Honey Harlow in 1951, moving to California, where he broke from comedic norms and experimented with his material and technique in the strip clubs and burlesque houses of LA. In a 1959 televised appearance on the wildly popular Steve Allen Show, he was introduced as “ the most shocking comedian of our time.” As Lenny Bruce’s popularity grew, so did his legal troubles, with his increasing prominence and choice to take on societal norms through humor bringing intense police and judicial scrutiny. In 1961, he played to packed house at Carnegie Hall, a turning point in his career. Numerous arrests and convictions based on obscenity statutes would soon begin to follow him across the country. As his performances continued to raise issues that tested the legal system’s capacity to deal with social change, he was blacklisted from appearing in a growing number of clubs that feared repercussions. Public authorities increasingly denounced his performances as dirty and sick and courts across the United States tried him for obscenity. He was still, however, held in wide esteem by the artists and intellectuals of his day, not only for saying what he was saying, but for fighting for his right to say it. Over the span of his career, Bruce recorded more than 30 albums of his stand-up routines and live performances, and his autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People was a national best seller. Although plagued by controversy and overcome by addiction at the end of his life, Lenny Bruce is now looked upon as a groundbreaker, a visionary. Seen as both a crusader and martyr, a saint and sinner, the predecessor for so much of what we recognize today as satire through his relentless challenging of the perceptions and purpose of comedy and a revolutionary for the path he paved for entertainers and individuals alike regarding the freedom of speech.