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Lenny Bruce Edit Profile

also known as Leonard Alfred Schneider

entertainer

Lenny Bruce was an American entertainer. He has been praised as “the most radically relevant of all contemporary social satirists” and denounced as “obscene.” As a comedian during the late 1950s and early 1960s, he shocked his audiences by satirizing subjects considered sacred by most people, such as religion, incest, and the Holocaust.

Background

Lenny Bruce, born Leonard Alfred Schneider, grew up on Long Island, New York. His parents divorced when he was five, and thereafter he was shuttled between his father, a shoe salesman, and his mother, an occasional performer in local night clubs.

Education

Studied acting in Hollywood, Cal.

Career

Under age, Bruce enlisted in the U.S. Navy at sixteen, participating in World War II landings at Anzio and Salerno, Italy. After three years in the service, he was discharged and spent the next few years studying drama in Los Angeles and trying to find work. His first break came in 1949 when his impersonations won him first place on “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.” Bruce then took his act on the road.

At first, Bruce’s material was considered “clean” and fairly standard for the small nightclubs and striptease clubs in which he worked. It was in California that Bruce began to draw the attention of audiences and critics. His routine became increasingly wild and “hipper” as he added the type of material for which he is known.

At the height of his career, Bruce performed in theaters all over the United States, including Carnegie Hall in New York City. However, his fall came quickly. In 1961 and again in 1962, he faced narcotics and obscenity charges. Bruce went to trial, often insisting on defending himself before the court. He began studying law by night and appearing in court by day. He seemed obsessed with having justice served, but at the same time his ineptness probably contributed to his ultimate convictions. From 1964 on, he was legally banned from stages in New York and no one wanted to book his act elsewhere. The trials left him unemployed and financially drained; he declared bankruptcy in 1965.

The final blow came in 1966, when Bruce received notice that his home was being forfeited to a bank. Utterly devastated, he seems to have begun to construct some kind of legal defense for himself and began to type the following, “Conspiracy to interfere with the Fourth Amendment const....” Later that day, he was found dead on his bathroom floor with a needle protruding from his arm.

Views

Quotations: • Every day people are straying away from the church and going back to God.

• My mother-in-law broke up my marriage. My wife came home from work one day and found me in bed with her.

Personality

Bruce’s biographer, Albert Goldman, reports that although Bruce’s parents made no attempt to teach him the practices or principles of the Jewish religion, he thoroughly identified himself as a Jew. When he was embroiled in court battles over the decency of his comedy act, Bruce held that the judge did not understand his comedy because the judge could not “appreciate the values that motivated him as a Jew.”

Connections

Married Honey Harlow (divorced 1957).

spouse:
Honey Harlow