50 years gone: Lenny Bruce is not afraid

By Dennis Hartley

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Today is the 50th anniversary of comedian Lenny Bruce’s death.

On August 3, 1966, he was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home, from (what was ruled as) an accidental overdose of morphine.

For years following his passing, he was arguably more famous for the suffering he endured for his art, rather than the visionary nature of it.

In fact, it wasn’t until 2003, after years of lobbying  by members of the entertainment industry and free speech advocates, that New York governor George Pataki issued Bruce an official posthumous pardon for his 1964 obscenity conviction. It is worth noting that no comedians have  been jailed in America for telling jokes to roomfuls of drunks  since Bruce died (yet…I’m currently working on a review for a sobering new documentary called Can We Take a Joke? It’s an eye-opener).

Of course by now everybody has jumped on the bandwagon and acknowledges the man’s genius and the groundbreaking nature of his material. But I can’t help but wonder how Lenny would have fared in the age of social media, or in front of a modern college audience (oy).

Would today’s audiences grasp the subtlety of this bit, for example? Or would Lenny suffer a virtual lynching by an outraged Twitter mob before he could reach the end, when its true message becomes clear?

“Lenny Bruce”,  by Bob Dylan  

Lenny Bruce is dead but his ghost lived 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 living 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 talking 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 want to 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 say 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.

    
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