The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon by Ronald K.L. Collins & David M. Skover

December 22nd, 2008 at 8:52 am

Dig, I read this book about Lenny Bruce, The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon by Ronald K.L. Collins & David M. Skover.

Collins and Skover, both lawyers, do not provide a traditional biography of the infamous “sick comic,” but rather a legal lineage of his battles against misdemeanor obscenity charges brought forth as a result of his stand-up acts. The book also includes an audio CD of actual Bruce performances for which he was arrested. The supplementary interviews, commentary, and Bruce acts make for an incisive, illuminating account of this man’s life.

There’s plenty of relevant reasons to be reading about Lenny Bruce. That radical packet of papers we call a constitution just does not seem to go away. We’ve come a long way since the 60s when Bruce was prosecuted and persecuted for saying things like “dwarf motherfucker” and railing against the establishment. And if the constitution can eventually get around to protecting Bruce’s raunchy, satirical-comic descendants (George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Bill Hicks, Margaret Cho, Howard Stern, Sarah Silverman, etc, et al), then certainly it must protect those confined and flabbergasted by the legal wrangling brought on by our modern culture’s flogging of gay marriage and prisoner’s rights.

Lenny Bruce is a fascinating case study in the progression of an open society’s values, especially what a culture deems acceptable satire and criticism. Bruce’s predicament was one artists will find themselves in for generations to come, just as Joyce, Flaubert, Miller, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, and Burroughs all struggled for the Freedom of Expression, the value of art free from censorship, the importance of liberating language from social constraints.

“Every age needs a Lenny Bruce and every age will try to kill him.” – Peter Hall

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