Keep in mind that Lenny Bruce’s act came out in the 1950s and up until the early 1960s when we were still living in this Leave it to Beaver Pleasantville, where a lot of Americans are supposed to live on the farm, or out West, type of culture. Where the idea of political correctness was not saying anything that went against this establishment. Where sex and divorce wasn’t talked about, where government officials were considered gods and looked up to, where women’s place was in the home and where gays place was in the closet, jail, or a mental institution. Where everyone at least was supposed to take their parents word as gold and if you questioned them, you were committing a sin.
Imagine if you’re Lenny Bruce and this is the culture you live and work in and your act is not ahead of its time, but you might be twenty-years ahead of your time. Your act would be mainstream in 1975 or so and to a certain extent in the late 1960s in certain places, but you’re starting out in the early and mid 1950s where America was still supposed to be Pleasantville. And you have this comedian whose literally being arrested and you have cops going to his shows for talking about things that the supposed culture and establishment of the time sees as unacceptable. Even with our liberal free speech and first amendment rights.
Lenny Bruce, was using swear words in a culture where words like damn, hell, bitch, bastard, ass, words that were very mainstream by the mid 1970s or so, that were considered very sinful and immoral in 1955, or so. Lenny, wasn’t getting in trouble for calling for people to be hurt, or murdered, or libeling people, things that aren’t protected by the First Amendment. Bruce was being harassed and prosecuted by government for using adult language. And talking about adult topics like marriage, divorce, sex and using adult language. All things that are protected by our first amendment.
I think the closest comedian to compare Lenny Bruce with would be George Carlin. Who came onto the scene about ten-years after Bruce. But they have similar styles and the ability to take on the system, or establishment and inform people that America and their country isn’t as perfect as their government wants them to think it is. That America is Pleasantville at least not everywhere. That we have real issues and concerns that need to be dealt with. And that talking about things even adult subjects issues that all Americans do in private at least is okay to talk about those things in public as well. And besides we have a First Amendment that protects this speech anyway.
Alison Martino: Mysteries and Scandals- Lenny Bruce