Maybe he had some problems,
Maybe some things that he couldn’t work out
But he sure was funny and he sure told the truth,
And he knew what he was talkin’ about….
He’s on some other shore
He didn’t wanna live any more
— Bob Dylan. from the song, “Lenny Bruce“
I imagine that it must not have been easy being Lenny Bruce. He was a man who saw the world as it really is – minus the rose-colored lenses that were the fashion rage during the age of Eisenhower and the New Frontier. “People should be taught what is”, he told us, “not what should be”. There had never been a comedian like him before. His humor was real. It could even be bleak. But he was always – to the very end – screamingly funny. That his was a troubled soul there can be no argument. Newsweek once described him as a “self-destructive genius of a dirty time.”
So unsettling did the power elite find Lenny Bruce’s tumultuous vision of society, they sought to silence him forever. Between the years 1961 and 1966, he was persecuted for his ideas by law enforcement agencies all across America with a relentlessness normally reserved for murderers and rapists. As the never-ending pressure on him increased, he sought relief from the stress in narcotics. On August 3, 1966, this brilliant but tormented humorist, whose name belongs enshrined with those of Mark Twain and Robert Benchley, was found dead in his West Hollywood home, the victim of a drug overdose. He was two months and ten days shy of his forty-first birthday.
The writers of his obituaries would callously dismiss him as a “sick comedian”.
When Lenny died, his daughter Kathleen, known to all the world as Kitty, was eleven-years old. In the forty-four years since, her mission has been to make the name Lenny Bruce known to each new generation. In 1984 she published “The Almost Unpublished Lenny Bruce“, a book of her dad’s writings, interviews and even a script for a proposed children’s record.
Then a few years ago, she released “LET THE BUYER BEWARE“, a six-CD set of mostly unissued nightclub routines and private recordings that span Lenny’s entire career: from his 1948 appearance on the CBS program, “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” (where he did impersonations of Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in German accents!) to a tape he made the night before he died. For the uninitiated who wish to discover the genius of Lenny Bruce for the first time, this box-set is a pretty good bet.
Now Kitty is on a different kind of quest to memorialize dear old Dad. She wants to utilize his memory in a way that will help the less fortunate. In a fund raising letter she wrote:
“For a number of years I have wanted to honor his memory in a way that would change lives and make our world a better place. There is a great need for women to have a place to go when they are in recovery from drugs and alcohol. That place is ‘Lenny”s House'”.
Kitty Bruce is not content that her father be remembered merely as the most influential stand-up comedian of the twentieth century. She wants his name associated with a righteous cause. The name “Lenny’s House” is not quite accurate. More than a house, it will be a home, a refuge that will provide the kind of aid to victims of substance abuse that was not around in 1966 – the type of help and comfort that might have saved Lenny’s life had it been available then.
It is difficult to accept the fact that he has been gone longer than he was alive on this earth. He would have turned eighty-five this October thirteenth had he lived. Can you even imagine an elderly Lenny Bruce? I can picture him, verbally improvising on the sad state of modern-day America. Oh, what might have been! I can just hear him now….
“George W. Bush….Dig this: Forty-five years ago when LBJ became president – and this is just my perspective as an ethnocentric northerner – I could imagine him shoveling horse shit on a farm twenty miles outside of Galveston – that’s it, Jim. Not as president, are you kidding me? Whenever Johnson said the word “Negro” it always came out sounding like “NIGGER-OH”! Really! But Bush? Compared to that guy, Johnson is starting to sound like Noel Coward! Emmis! And I can’t even fathom Lyndon doing that ‘Bring ’em on’ bit! Never! It’s just so….Pheeewww….Forget about it, man. It’s too weird”
Lenny Bruce, 2010
(Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)
In an e-mail received two days ago, Kitty told me,
“There is a great need for a place for women in early recovery from drugs and alcohol to go and have a couple of months to get their mind, body and spirit healthy and strong. Being altered for any period of time makes returning to a sober world very difficult without a strong foundation. Lenny’s House is non-profit and is the place to go. I need all the help I can get to make this a reality. Some women are literally recycled through the prison systems and rehabilitation programs – but they just keep returning to old habits. I believe that the combination of the Twelve Step form of recovery, basic life skills – plus self-esteem building – is a win-win.”
In addition to the traditional methods of fund raising, Kitty is also planning on holding an auction of all of her father’s personal possessions. (So help me Masked Man, I’m going to get one of Lenny’s ties if it kills me!) Although there is not yet a place on line where once can make a donation, here is an address where you can send a check via snail mail:
The Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation
P.O. Box 1089
Pittston, PA 18640-5082
Let’s all help Kitty Bruce make this dream a reality.
Tom Degan is a 51-year-old video artist who in 2006 became so thoroughly disgusted at the state of America’s national political dialogue, he decided to take time off to become a freaking civics teacher.