Monday, June 08, 2009

Lenny's House

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-three years since, her mission has been to make the name Lenny Bruce known to each new generation. In 1984 she published "The Unpublished Lenny Bruce", a book of her dad's writings, interviews and even a script for a proposed children's record.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-four 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, 2009
(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 one 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
Goshen, NY


The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon
by Richard K.L. Collins and David M. Skover

The Essential Lenny Bruce
edited by John Cohen


The photograph at the top of this piece was taken in Miami in the summer of 1960. Lenny Bruce is posed with his wife Honey Harlowe (1927-2005) and their beloved daughter, Kitty Bruce.

I'll let Father Bruce have the last word:

"I'm not a comedian and I am not sick. The world is sick and I'm the doctor. I'm a surgeon with a scalpel for false values. I don't have an 'act'. I just talk. I'm just Lenny Bruce."

For more recent postings on this site, go to the following link:

"The Rant" by Tom Degan

It's a hoot!


At 12:31 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Another great late comedian in the Lenny Bruce style was Bill Hicks. He had some choice observations of America in the 1990's. Also, another great Lenny: Leonard Cohen. Both available on Rhapsody to check out.


At 12:36 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Laneman. Both Cohen and Hicks are voices to be reckoned with.

Thank Heaven we still have Lenny (Cohen)


Tom Degan

At 11:07 PM, Blogger Prairie Waif said...

Excellent write-up. I only wish I'd been around to see/hear Lenny Bruce. He's just my kind of guy.


At 4:30 PM, Blogger Jefferson's Guardian said...

Nice article, Tom.

Yeah, Lenny was considered, probably, the most obscene menace to society back in those pre-"summer of love" days, wasn't he? Compared to what's acceptable "in mixed company" today, his material would probably be relegated to The Family Channel. Not really, of course, but it's certainly a reflection of how much more open we've become as a society.

I guess.

Again, a nice piece. Keep up the good work.

Oh, by-the-way, read your comment on the lunatics' site that I pointed you toward the other day. You put everything into perspective. Good job, again. ;-)

Peace to you...

At 7:15 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Listen to recordings of Lenny Bruce now. The question begs to be asked: WHAT THE HELL WAS THE BIG DEAL? The irony is, much as I loved Lenny's work, I never cared for off-color humor. When I hear the man described as a "dirty comedian" (and there are some idiots who still describe him that way) I want to explode.

The man was a poet.


At 1:12 PM, Blogger Jeff McBride said...

Just great Tom! What a wonderful transmission of a woman/ daughter with a mission.

Keep up the thoughtful commentary.

Yours in the mystery of media,

JEff McBride

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Hey Jeff!

Glad you're tuning in, pal!


Go to You Tube and check out the magic of Jeff McBride". The man has got to be seen. Like Lenny Bruce, he doesn't have an "act". He's real.

Tom Degan

At 1:07 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Always good to read what you've got on your mind, Tom! I'm a huge fan of Lenny Bruce's ("The Essential Lenny Bruce" being one of my favorites), and I'm pleased that Kitty is doing something to make a difference. Her dad would be proud!

Thank you for posting about what Kitty Bruce is doing to make this world a better place, and honoring her father, too!

At 5:16 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...


Have you ever heard a recording of Lenny on stage? If not, e-mail me your address and I shall send you a CD. Although the book "The Essential Lenny Bruce" is a great read, it's nothing when compared to actually listening to him. The guy has got to be heard to be believed.

All the best,

Tom Degan

PS - Yaddah! Yaddah! Yaddah, Warden!

At 6:17 AM, Anonymous Lenny Bruce said...

People should be taught what is, not what should be. All my humor is based on destruction and despair. If the whole world were tranquil, without disease and violence, I'd be standing in the breadline - right back of J. Edgar Hoover

Lenny Bruce


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