Lenny Bruce Is Not Afraid
"I don't smoke pot, and I'm glad because then I can champion it without any special pleading.
The reason I don't smoke pot is because it facilitates ideas and heightens sensations.
And I got enough shit flying through my head without smoking pot."
- Lenny Bruce
If you don't know about Lenny Bruce, then you owe it to yourself to find out. Not because of his originality, although Lenny practically invented the genre of stand-up comedy that can no longer be labelled 'alternative', since it captured the mainstream long ago. Not because of his genius, although Lenny was the Coltrane of comedy: a crazy, inspired hepcat who sweated jazz poetry as he improvised around a comedic riff. You need to know about Lenny Bruce because of what they did to him in retaliation for being these things.

Lenny was busted half a dozen times in the US between 1961 and 63, for possession and obscenity; banned from Australia and the UK; bankrupted in 1965 and finally dead the following year. You don't mind dying - in Lenny's satirical catch phrase - if you've got a natural sense of rhythm, but they hounded him into an early grave. "He was prosecuted because of his words," a former assistant district attorney told Paul Krassner thirty years later. "He didn't harm anybody; he didn't commit an assault; he didn't steal; he didn't engage in any conduct which directly harmed someone else. So, therefore, he was punished, first and foremost, because of the words he used... We drove him into poverty and used the law to kill him."

See, instead of telling the kind of jokes that make motherfuckers more comfortable with their own ignorance and prejudice - because, hey, we're all only human - Lenny told the shocking truth and he laughed at it. Lenny stood up for humanity and against hypocrisy; he wasn't afraid to tell it like it is. Like he said, apropos 'niggers': "the word's suppression gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness". Lenny told the lousy truth and he told it in the salty language of the avenues and alleyways and they hated him for it. They said he was the sick one, because he used the same words onstage they use behind each other's backs.

When his 39 year-old carcass was found on the floor of his Hollywood Hills home on August 3, 1966, the LA cops immediately announced to the press that Leonard Schneider had died from an overdose of a narcotic, probably heroin, and that has been widely reported as fact ever since. The official report admitted that the cause of death was unknown and the analysis inconclusive. The truth - as Phil Spector called it - is that Lenny died from "an overdose of police".

Lenny tells in his unreliable autobiography, How To Talk Dirty And Influence People, how he was introduced to hashish by a Turkish shipmate when he was a merchant seaman in the late 1940s. In the 1950s, he hung out with the hip, pot-smoking clique that congregated at 'The Castle', the stately home in Topanga Canyon of the 'Hollywood hep-cat in residence' and tongue dancer extraordinaire, Lord Buckley.

In 1962, Lenny Bruce published a home made brochure to sell at his concerts, Stamp Help Out, which contained an hysterical and highly incriminating pictorial and written thesis on The Pot Smokers, illustrated with 'actual photos of tortured marijuana-ites', most of whom were him. He also gave copies to poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti to sell at his City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, but by January 1963, Bruce was so embroiled in narcotics busts and obscenity trials that he sent Ferlinghetti a telegram ordering the destruction of all the remaining copies!

As Lenny knew only too well, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. Nearly all copies of this landmark in stoned humour were promptly destroyed and the few remaining are riddled with holes punched through Lenny's only extended discussion of marijuana. However, his priceless exposé of the dread narcotic, Cannabis sativa appeared posthumously in The Almost Unpublished Lenny Bruce and is reproduced here in homage and because, more than thirty years after Lenny's tragic demise, here's one commercial you'll still never hear on the radio:

Whiney Punter voice: "I don't know what the hell it is, Bill, I've been smoking this pot all day and I still can't get high on it.
Authorative Expert voice: "What kind are you smoking?"
WP: Well, all marijuana's the same, isn't it?
AE: That's the mistake a lot of people make!

Lenny Links:

For a concise summary of the life and work, see
Lenny Bruce Is Not Afraid
which is a reference to the lyric of The End Of The World As We Know It, by R.E.M.
Lenny Bruce was also the subject of a song by Bob Dylan. Lyrics to these and other Songs of Lenny are among a wealth of material archived by Ladies & Gentlemen,
...Lenny Bruce
Finally, Fade to Black Magazine has published The Lenny Bruce FBI File

ANY EYES: Look in the suspect's eyes. Hold a flashlight directly into the iris or, if no flashlight is available, have the suspect stand on a highway and as headlights of oncoming cars flash against his eyes, suspect makes comments such as "I've got no eyes to stay here.' He's usually guilty. The term, "I ain't got no eyes or, "Do you have eyes?" comes from the drug user's rebellion against form; in this case, academics satirizing the "Can I/May I" conflict. "Can I have some eyes?" "Of course you CAN, if you are able to." The correct use is, "MAY I have some eyes?"

The Pot Smokers

Marijuana idiom