Lenny Bruce



Lenny Bruce

Leonard Alfred Schneider, or more commonly known as Lenny Bruce, was a comedian, a
family man, drug addict, and philosopher. A conventional Jewish child from Long Island, who
joked about homosexuality, drugs, religion, and race. Arguably, he paved the way for the comics
of today, paying the price for being twenty years ahead of his time. Addicted to vulgarity and
drugs he became a regular in courtrooms across America. The humiliation he caused a
Philadelphia judge is thought to be another reason he spent so much time in court. His untimely
death still stirs speculation of murder, rather than just another junkie that overdosed.

Bruce was born on October 13, 1925 in Long Island, New York. His father worked as an
orthopedic shoe salesman, who spoiled his only child, while his mother was his best friend. When
Bruce was eight-years-old, his parents divorced. In 1936, his father remarried, and along with
Bruce, they lived a conventional life. However, the jazz musicians and drug influences around him
impacted him and the way he talked. At age seventeen, Bruce joined the Navy. But after two
years of fighting fascists, he became tired of it. He went to the medical officers proclaiming that
he was obsessed with homosexuality. Shortly after, he was dishonorably discharged (Hendra 115).
Once he came home his father had offered him a job selling orthopedic shoes. However,
Bruce had other plans; he wanted to be a comedian. Bruce started as an impressionist, although
he was not very good. In 1948 the “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts Show” offered Bruce a
television appearance and a chance perform his act. Few bookings were made after that broadcast.
Bruce’s career had started slowly; making appearances at strip clubs and performing his act.
Harriet Lloyd, or “Honey”, was a stripper at one of the clubs where he performed. And, in 1951
she became his wife (Kronke). Together, they moved to Los Angeles and did acts that he
directed. Bruce and his new wife soon expanded the family-having a girl whom they called Kitty.
Even with his new family, Bruce continued doing acts at strip clubs. Once while performing at a
strip club, Bruce stripped naked and said, “What’s the big deal? This is what you came for isn’t
it?”(Hendra 116). This shocking type of behavior was thought to be the turning point of his
career.
From that revealing show in 1955 to shows in 1957, he was an icon for many clubs in Los
Angeles. He worked mainly at the Crescendo, where he would get on stage and ask people if they
had babysitters at home, then he would call the babysitter and tell them that their employer had
just died in a car accident (Hendra 125). This was one of his most popular acts. Performing at the
clubs allowed him to play with the audience; even if it included playing an awful joke on someone.
A definitive moment in his career took place in 1959, when a fan of Bruce’s and a host of a
popular NBC television show, asked him to appear on the show. Steve Allen, the host of “ The
Steve Allen Show,” had Bruce on twice that year, each time the NBC producers were strictly
censoring any material he used. Words that may have made Lenny Bruce a strip-club-favorite,
were generally not allowed

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on air. These regular appearances at clubs and television shows helped pay for a growing drug
addiction (Goldman 88).
In 1959, Bruce was busted for possession of narcotics. To stay out of jail he cut a deal
with the L.A.P.D. and agreed to turn in drug dealers that he knew. Later, while in Philadelphia in
1961, he was arrested for having prescription drugs such as amphetamines. (Kronke). After the
trial Bruce went public about a corrupt Philadelphia Judge who would drop the charges for a fee.
Once he humiliated this elected official prosecutors and judges went after him. Just five days after,
while in San Francisco, he was arrested. From that point on Bruce could not get away with
anything (Goldberg 23).
Bruce’s way of talking was not acceptable public speaking at the time. His blunt and
sometime harsh words were classified as “dirty words”. Constantly he made fun of issues that
were not spoken in public such as homosexuality, drug addicts, and communism. He would say
things like, “(My friend) Carmelo’s mother was a manicurist and the town whore. The symbols of
my childhood are gone--what a shame!--the country doctor, the town whore, village idiot, the
drunken family