For those of you who are now humming, "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," you're welcome. For those of you who know the lyrics because you:
- Owned the REM cassette tape, Document.
- Sat in bed with nothing more than your notebook, pencil, Walkman, and teenage angst, pressing Play, Pause, Rewind, Play over-and-over and-over until you captured each and every word...
Well done. For those of you who did it any other way (even because you were born after 1987 and have never heard of a company called Memorex), you're a poseur (you know who you are). All jokes aside, ironically enough, this post has NOTHING to do with that song. It's actually about Lenny Bruce.
If you don’t know much about him, you should Google him. If you love him, then you already know that he inspired almost every comedian since then, and – if he didn’t inspire them, at the very least he set the precedent which protected them from being arrested for using obscenities on stage. That’s right, if you like George Carlin, Margaret Cho, Louis CK, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Rita Rudner, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Robin Williams, or anyone else who ever told a dirty joke – you should thank Lenny Bruce.
Now, at the risk of only giving you the Reader’s Digest condensed version of history, the story goes something like this… He was arrested in 1961 for using the term, “Schmuck,” on stage. Then he was arrested again in 1962 and twice more in 1964 on similar charges… by undercover cops who were in the audience documenting every word that came out of his mouth. At his trial in 1964, free thinkers like Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, and others testified that it was a violation of free speech, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment. Regardless, he was convicted, sentenced, and died during the Appeal process. He later received a full posthumous gubernatorial pardon, the first and only in New York history.
You know, they say no one reads the retraction on page five, but Lenny Bruce may be the exception to that rule. His pardon said, “If you are an adult and you bought a ticket, you consented to the content. If you don’t like it, leave. He didn’t come to your house and hold you hostage. You paid to watch him perform. ” Amen Lenny, Amen.
That said… he went too far. Unfortunately, the process bankrupted him, and I mean that in every sense of the word – financially, spiritually, and comedically. Initially, no one would book his show because they feared the police would be in the audience and everyone would get busted. Then, no one booked his act because he stopped being funny. He was so disgusted and depleted by the lack of protection from that kind of brutality that at times he would simply sit on stage and read the First Amendment into the microphone.
Please don’t ever let me become so bitter that I’m more consumed by anger than laughter. Please don’t let me go down a slippery slope where I become that person. You know who I’m talking about… that crazy lady on the block who mumbles and hands out feral kittens on Halloween. The woman who opens the door dressed like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, and you’re like, “Nice costume.” And she says, “What are you talking about? I just got home from work.” And even the kids are like, “Thanks for the rabid cat and the chewing gum, ma’am” but are actually thinking, “She’s fucking insane. Can we please leave?” And because this is about Lenny Bruce, don’t be angry about that joke. Those kids learned that word from their parents – not the crazy woman who answered the door. But I digress. What I’m trying to say is… please don’t let that happen to me - where one day you’re fine, then the next day you drive to work in a dirty wedding dress and people refuse to make eye contact with you.
That shit happens (or so I’m told).
Anyway… the POINT of this post is to apologize for the recent lack of humor in my other ones. Life has been hard lately, very hard, but whose isn’t? Besides, Lenny’s legacy wasn’t simply fighting for what’s right. It was his brilliant sense of timing and an uncanny, unfiltered, uncensored ability to laugh and make us laugh – at him, at life, and at ourselves.
With that, all I have to say to you is this, “LEONARD BERNSTEIN!” Well, that and talk to you later.