Long Time Coming

This is interesting — there’s a movement afoot in New York state to pardon Lenny Bruce, the controversial comedian who was hounded by the authorities for “obscenity” until he died of a drug overdose in 1966.

Bruce has always been one of my personal heroes. He was a troubled soul, to be certain, and his personal life was pretty screwed up (as is true of many comedians), but he had the courage to say something bold and original in a culture that didn’t want to hear it. He was a truth-teller who paid the price: plainclothes cops would be in the audience of every show he did, waiting to haul him off the stage the minute he started saying anything they deemed objectionable. He spent the last years of his life fighting an uphill legal battle to clear his name, a battle he ultimately lost.

What’s often lost in the noise about Bruce is that he was truly, truly funny — if you read his material today, most of it still holds up very well. (There are RealAudio clips of him up for you to listen to, if you aren’t familiar with his material.) There would not be another performer who mixed devastating wit with insightful social commentary as powerfully as Bruce until Bill Hicks hit the scene in the 80s.

Hopefully the pardon-Bruce movement will win the support it needs and clear the name of a comic pioneer.