Lenny Bruce (October 13, 1925, Mineola, New York - August 3, 1966, Hollywood) was an American comedian, famous for his controversial stand-up routines and fights against censorship.
Bruce was discharged from the army for wearing women's clothing in 1945. He held various jobs while studying acting in New York. An appearance on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts television show (October 1948), performing standard comedy routine, brought him national attention. The next few years were spent – as a stand-up nightclub entertainer – at numerous comedy clubs across the country refining what became known as "sick comedy" routines: his scatalogical and sardonic humour was alternatively called obscene and "radically relevant". In 1959 appeared on the Steve Allen TV show reaching a national audience.
His life then became a catalogue of arrests and prosecutions that would leave him mentally and financially drained.
September 29, 1961: arrested in Philadelphia for possession of narcotics.
October 4, 1961: arrested on obscenity charges after performing at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco. After booking, he goes back to the club for a late-night show.
November 17, 1961: first obscenity trial begins in San Francisco. The judge fails to advise Bruce of his right to counsel.
March 5, 1962: After his motion for a new trial is granted (based on the failure to inform him of his right to counsel), a second municipal trial opens before Judge Clayton Horn, to whom the case has been reassigned.
March 8, 1962: acquitted the San Francisco obscenity trial.
October 24, 1962: arrested on obscenity charges for a performance the night before at The Troubadour in Hollywood.
December 5, 1962: arrested on obscenity charges in Chicago after a week of performances at The Gate of Horn.
December 28, 1962: The Troubadour obscenity trial opens in Beverly Hills, California.
February 12, 1963: arrested on obscenity charges following a performance at The Unicorn in Los Angeles.
February 18, 1963: The Gate of Horn obscenity trial opens in Chicago. Bruce acts as his own counsel.
February 23, 1963: arrested on a narcotics charge in Los Angeles taxi cab during a recess in his Chicago trial. Facing felony drug charges in California, Bruce is unable to return to Chicago for the rest of his trial, which proceeds in his absence.
February 28, 1963: After one hour of deliberations, the jury in Bruce's Gate of Horn obscenity trial returns a guilty verdict.
March 12, 1963: Bruce sends a telegram to the judge in the Gate of Horn trial, Judge Daniel Ryan, accusing him of "illegal, unconstitutional, and most fascistic ... behavior" for trying him in abstentia.
March 19, 1963: After Judge Ryan in Chicago sentences Bruce to one year in jail, Illinois sends a fugitive warrant to California requesting Bruce's extradition.
April 3, 1963: Bruce flies to Chicago where he requests and is granted an appeal bond, allowing him to remain free until his appeals of his conviction are decided.
April 13, 1963: After attempting to perform at The Establishment in London, Bruce is seized by police and taken to the London airport, where he is deported the next day.
June 20, 1963: ordered to be confined at the State Rehabilitation Center at Chico, California for treatment of his drug addiction.
March 19, 1964: arrested on obscenity charges for performances given over the previous three weeks at The Talley Ho is Los Angeles. He is released on $500 bail and returns for another show at The Talley Ho.
March 31, 1964: License Department Inspector Herbert Ruhe attends performance at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village and later submits a report on the show to the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
April 1, 1964: Four vice squad officers attend and record Bruce's 10 P. M. show at the Cafe Au Go Go in New York City.
April 3, 1964: Bruce and Howard Solomon are arrested on obscenity charges in the dressing room of the Cafe Au Go Go shortly before Bruce was to go on stage for his 10 P. M. performance.
April 4, 1964: pleads not guilty to the obscenity charges and is released on $1000 bail. He returns to the Cafe Au Go Go to perform before a capacity crowd.
April 7, 1964: after continuing to perform at the Cafe Au Go Go following his arrest three days earlier, is again arrested on obscenity charges.
April 23, 1964: hospitalized for pleurisy and his Cafe Au Go Go trial is postponed.
May 21, 1964: In Los Angeles, Judge dismisses the Talley Ho obscenity charges, citing Roth v United States.
June 13, 1964: Various celebritites (including actors, musicians, authors, journalists, and scientists) sign a petition in defense of Bruce. Signers include Paul Newman, Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, and Elizabeth Taylor.
June 16, 1964: Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial opens in New York Criminal Court before a panel of three judges.
June 17, 1964: tapes of April 1 and April 7 performances at the Cafe Au Go Go are played in court.
June 18, 1964: the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously affirms Bruce's Gate of Horn obscenity conviction in People v Bruce. Bruce is again hospitalized with pleurisy, and his trial is recessed until June 30.
June 30, 1964: the defense moves to dismiss the prosecution against Bruce on constitutional grounds. The defense begins its case, which will include eighteen witnesses (most called to prove Bruce's act had significant redeeming social value).
July 7, 1964: The Illinois Supreme Court vacates its June decision in People v Bruce, asking for new arguments in view of the U. S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Jacobellis v Ohio.
July 28, 1964: Final day of the Cafe Au Go Go obscenity trial.
November 4, 1964: Bruce is found guilty in the Cafe Au Go Go trial by a 2 to 1 vote of the three-judge panel. Howard Solomon is also found guilty.
November 24, 1964: The Illinois Supreme Court reverses Bruce's obscenity conviction in People v Bruce, the Gate of Horn obscenity case.
December 14, 1964: A New York federal district court rejects Bruce's request for prospective injunctive relief against New York prosecutors and judges in the case of Bruce v Hogan.
December 21, 1964: At his sentencing hearing in the New York Cafe Au Go Go case, Bruce addresses the court for over an hour. Bruce is sentenced to "four months in the workhouse."
February 11, 1965: files a second civil action for damages against the district attorney's offices in New York for allegedly violating his constitutional rights.
1965: His autobiography, "How to Talk Dirty and Influence People" (dedicated to Jimmy Hoffa), was published.
June 1, 1965: The U. S. Supreme Court denies Bruce's request for certiorari in the case of Bruce v Hogan.
October 1965: declared bankrupt.
August 3, 1966: Bruce dies of a morphine overdose in Hollywood Hills, California.
February 19, 1968: In People v Solomon, a New York appeals court reverses the obscenity conviction of Bruce's co-defendant in the Cafe Au Go Go case, Howard Solomon. (Bruce's conviction stands, since he died before his appeal was perfected.)
January 7, 1970: The New York Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) affirms the overturning of Howard Solomon's conviction in People v Solomon.
December 23, 2003: New York Governor George Pataki grants a posthumous pardon to Lenny Bruce. Pataki describes it as "a declaration of New York's commitment to upholding the First Amendment."
Frank Zappa and Lenny Bruce
Lenny Bruce is mentioned in the list of influences inside the sleeve of "Freak Out!" (1966) under the heading: "These People Have Contributed Materially In Many Ways To Make Our Music What It Is. Please Do Not Hold It Against Them".
In 1969 Zappa produced the album The Berkeley Concert, a memorial recording about Lenny Bruce, released on his label Bizarre.
Frank Zappa about Lenny Bruce
"I had seen Lenny Bruce a number of times at Canter's Deli, where he used to sit in a front booth with Phil Spector and eat knockwurst. I didn't really talk with him until we opened for him at the Fillmore West in 1966. I met him in the lobby between sets and asked him to sign my draft card. He said no – he didn't want to touch it. At that time, Lenny lived with a guy named John Judnich. ... Compared to Jerry and Bill, Lenny Bruce was quite normal. At that time, according to Judnich, Lenny used to stay up all night dressed in a doctor's outfit, listening to Sousa marches and working on his legal briefs."