The Berkeley Concert

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Side Projects
The Berkeley Concert
Released February 1969
See also:
Lenny Bruce

Lenny Bruce - The Berkeley Concert



Release Notes

Liner Notes

Not counting his performance at Carnegie Hall, Bruce is recorded here unedited. Bruce once said "I'm not a comedian, I'm Lenny Bruce", and this album is true to that statement. Bruce brilliantly explores the paradoxes of the American legal system, celebrity, advertising, and performs his classic routine "Religions Inc". Being well versed in the American legal processes and Bruce's battles with the Supreme Court will certainly enhance your understanding of the material. The album pales in comparison to Bruce's Carnegie Hall concert, but remains an important document of his groundbreaking comedy.

Recorded: December 12, 1965, Berkeley Community Theatre, CA
Executive Producers: FZ & Herb Cohen
Recording & Engineering: John Judnich
Cover Art: Basset Hand Graphics
Art Direction: Cal Schenkel Editing: ABSOLUTELY NONE

Enigma-Retro 7 73395-2, May 11, 1991 - Digital Remastering by Bill Inglot and Ken Perry / K-Disc; published by the Bruce Estate and Douglas Music Productions [BMI]. Liner notes written by Ralph J. Gleason

Liner Notes - Ralph J. Gleason

It is typical of the way in which this society misrepresents anything with which it disagrees that Lenny Bruce was always referred to as a "dirty" comic.

The first thing anybody found out about him, if they took the trouble to listen, was that he didn't have to say 'fuck' in order to be funny. The second thing they found out, if they listened a little harder, was that Lenny Bruce was not a comedian at all, as he said himself the night he was busted at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco. When he returned to the club after being taken to the city jail, booked and let out on bail, he told the audiance "I'm sorry if I'm not very funny tonight, but I'm not a comedian, I'm Lenny Bruce."

And Lenny Bruce was really, along with Bob Dylan and Miles Davis and a handful of others (maybe Joseph Heller, Terry Southern and Allan Ginsberg in another way) the leader of the first wave of American social and cultural revolution which is gradually changing the structure of our society and may effectively revise it, if the forces of reaction which are automatically brought into play by such a drive, do not declare military law and supress it.

Lennt Bruce said that this society is insanely paradoxical. That they call it the Hall of Justice but the only justice is in the halls. That the law is beautiful, the only trouble is the people who are in charge of it. He went ahead in his determined, logical, brilliant analysis of the laws and he fought the judges and the district attorneys and the newspapers and the trade press, that incredibly hypocritical house organ for vested interest.

Lenny Bruce was the prisoner of truth and no society will tolerate the voice which tells it the truth about itself because to face that truth is to admit it and be forced to change.

So it is easier to refer to Lenny Bruce as a dirty comic, as a convicted junkie and menace to youth. What he was, really, was a menace to THEM.

Lennt Bruce was a brilliant legal mind and a terrible lawyer. That's what defeated him in the end in the courts, even though he was victorious in his appeals on his obscenity conviction in New York and the one in Chicago was automatically reversed.

Lenny's problem with the law was that he believed in it. He had a fantasy he used to speak of and which is in his book, "The Essential Lenny Bruce" (Ballantine), about a party they would all give him sometime, all the cops and the lawyers and the DAs and the judges because "Lenny you never lost faith in the law, you always believed in it." He did believe, with all his heart. He believed that if only he could get the cops and the DAs and the Judges to obey the law he would be saved. That's what made him a bad lawyer.

He would walk out on stage sometimes with the transcript of his New York trial (he does it in the film, the only performance he ever made) and discuss its hundreds of errors, the inconsistencies and the fact that he was always getting busted because some cop went to see him perform and then went to court and testified what Lenny had said and the cop "did my act lousy."

"I found out in New York that I was judged by people who never saw my show," Lenny said. They reduced his show to paper and then read it to the Grand Jury. "My art is public speaking and the cop did my act and he's not a good comic!"

Nelson Algren, in a brilliant talk, once told how, after he had written "Man with the Golden Arm" he was praised by all the critics. Then he wrote "A Walk on the Wild Side" and they panned him. "They discovered I wasn't kidding," he explained. They had also discovered his importance.

Lenny was greeted by everybody at first, except for an assortment of prudes, as a great comic satarist but then he began to be more of a serious satarist and they couldn't take it. A society which can tolerate the TV serial bombings in Viet Nam, the female impersonations of Milton Berle, the sadism of Mayor Daley and Joe Pyne and the rest of the scenery along Desolation Row couldn't take Lenny Bruce. He hit too close to home.

So they did the thing they always do when the voice of protest penetrates too deeply. They killed him. Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad. They kept saying they had made Lenny mad but they really hadn't. They just insisted he must be mad to continue fighting. They drove him to demonical concentration on his fight. They make him into Joseph K. in Kafka's "The Trial," blindly and determinedly struggling to get before the right judge. At the end of "The Trial," Kafka wrote "Where was the Judge whom he had never seen? Where was the High Court to which he had never penetrated?"

Lenny kept trying. And it became more like "The Trial" where there is a verdict of "ostensible acquittal" under which, the accused is told, it is possible "for the acquitted man to go straight home from the Court and find officers already waiting to arrest him again...the case begins all over again, but again, it is possible to secure an ostensible acquittal. One must again apply all one's energies to the case and never give in."

Lenny's first bust was in Philadelphia and, dig!, the case was dropped! He claimed in a news broadcast on TV that he'd been offered a deal if he'd come up with the cash. In any case, the arrest was for possession of a medicinal drug for which he had prescriptions. That set off the syndrome. He got it next in San Francisco (tried and acquitted to the eternal glory of that city), then Chicago, then L.A. and then New York.

It got so bad that they used to roust him from the L.A. club and never even book him. Just take him down. When he returned from his first San Francisco date after his acquittal there, he had a house half full of cops in and out of uniform. There were squad cars parked all around the joint. Lenny took one look at the audience - half of them on the taxpayers payroll and expense account and said all the Magic words in the first 60 seconds and then went on with the show.

His famous Los Angeles narcotics conviction was on the testimony of a sheriff's squad member who was himself at the time under suspicion for smuggling narcotics and was eventually arrested, tried, convicted and jailed for a narcotics offense. But the society in that city - the media being its representative - wouldn't treat the Bruce case as a serious perversion of justice. Had he lived he might still have won on his appeal on that one as well. He made a good case for being framed.

Lenny's whole point was really epitomized in his trouble with lawyers. He didn't want to be defended on the basis that he didn't do it. He wanted, rather, to show that what he had indeed said was not obscene. In an incredible dialogue with the arresting officer on the steps of the paddy wagon in San Francisco Lenny, busted for using the word "cocksuckers," asked the cop if he had ever used the word. What cool!

The most incredible thing about Lenny was not that he was so brilliantly funny, but that he was funny at all under the circumstances of his persecution and in the corollary circumstances of being unable to work most of the time, for the essence of the satarist is to keep the wit sharp by constant use.

"Lenny, you're honest!" the head waiter at Off Broadway shouted the night Lenny returned to San Francisco. And that honesty was the key. He was frightening because of that honesty. In a town where the top columnist, Herb Caen, has a power Walter Winchell alone ever exercised in a major American city, Lenny told him to his face from the stage in full view of 300 people that he was chickenshit.

The outrage against Lenny really was caused by his honesty and by his unerring instinct. He touched everyone of us. Lenny outgrew nightclubs. He took on that whole society. Entire classes of law students attended his performances. The night he did the Berkeley concert, the audience was dotted with lawyers, professors, poets and authors. All by himself, with little advance notice, he drew 2000 people to that hall, which is more than any other comic could have done, I suspect.

For a long time it was clear that Bruce essentially was religious and a religious symbol rather than a comedian. It was not surprising that his posters were displayed on walls of the faithful and now and then in their windows like the pictures of Jesus in The Latin American ghettos.

He was afraid of the younger generation, worried tha he could not communicate with them knowing how TV made sophisticates out of six-year-old girls. But the oncoming wave of long-haired rebels picked up on him at the end. He had some at his Berkeley concert and he had more when he played the Fillmore a few months later. And now he had the true status of a myth and martyr with them that the pretenders like Malcolm Boyd convince TIME that they have.

Lenny didn't have to say the controversial words to be funny. Religions, Inc. and Comic at the Palladium will rank as classic American satires as long as we exist. But he did use those words, taking from them by his use their magic power to do harm to anyone but him. He used them and he was funny with them or without them. More than funny. He was a teacher and the greatest thing he ever taught, from which the philosophy grows, is that there is only what is. And it's paradoxical and somehow dramatically perfect that he should at the same time insist on the reality of the legal dream, the reality of what, in the law, ought to be. The "what is" of the lawis deals in inequity and chicanery and legal fictions. Lenny wouldn't buy that. He insisted that the laws be taken seriously. That was his trouble.

A library of Lenny Bruce tapes would raise the educational potential of the national school system to a considerable degree. They should all be made available. This is the Berkeley concert, the first Bruce full concert performance issued unexpurgated.

Background Information

Conceptual Continuity


ZFT # Version # # discs Format Catalog # Release
Artwork Comment
n/a Unknown 2 LP Bizarre Records/Reprise
2XS 6329
1969-02-17 None   US edition.
2 LP Transatlantic
1969 None   UK edition.
1 CD Rhino
R2 70355
1991-11-05 0081227035525   US edition.
1 CS Rhino
R4 70355
1991-11-05 0081227035549   US edition.
1 CD Enigma Retro/Bizarre
7 73395-2
1991-05-11 0018777339520   US edition.
1 CD Demon Verbals
1995-08-15 0072438340202   UK edition.
1 CS The Comedy Club
? 9781897861714