Think, fish out of water, Little Annie Fannie goes to grad school. I spoke at a Brandeis Academic Conference on Lenny Bruce. I have never have heard the word “trope” spoken so often. And please, can we retire the phrase “unpack” unless it’s about travel and luggage. Still, I met some really smart, interesting people and learned a lot, as well as treasuring Lenny Bruce even more than before.
By mistake the first morning, I got into the wrong van from the hotel to the Conference and was soon joined by Kitty, her entourage and Christy Hefner, daughter of Hugh, who had been so instrumental in supporting the exhibit as
well as Lenny’s early days in Playboy Magazine and on Playboy After Dark appearances, when others wouldn’t book him.
Christy had attended Brandeis and was thus another link to obtaining the papers.
It was a tad uncomfortable introducing myself as someone who had once gone out with her father…but Kitty was sweet and gracious. The next day I took the other van however, just in case.
Some of the papers presented in various panels were about “Ancestors and Descendants,” borscht belt to Charlie Hebdo, how he later influenced those like George Carlin, Richard Pryor. An actual Cantor sang a Bob Dylan song which was a tribute to Lenny (with harmonica!) Others were titled “Censorship and Law”, “Religions and Reason” covered blasphemy and humor in post War America…and even “Jewish Humor and the Holocaust” which led to a very interesting dinner conversation to say the least.
I treasured my Lenny encounter all these years and after the Conference, even more. How amazing that I met him. He was truly an Icon of our times. He was labeled by Time Magazine as a “sick comic.” A misnomer if there ever was one. Yet it tarnished him forever.
Lenny was unique. He pushed against the limits of free speech. Brandeis University is a great place to continue the fight. Colleges today are under such an onslaught of political correctness, “trigger” words which might offend, Halloween costume warnings; he probably couldn’t have gotten booked on campuses now. He loved to mix Yiddish and obscenities. He hated hypocrites, as he called out Bishop Sheen. In fact his religious attacks are what got him arrested. It was easier to prosecute blasphemy than obscenity. And then the nightmare began every appearance, cops and prosecutors. Persecutors.
His reach was endless and his purpose so different than comedians working today who just try to shock and use four letter words or bodily functions and like to think they are his descendants. To me they are not. I won’t names, but I will point out Louis C K as a real disciple, Sasha Baron Cohen and Amy Schumer deserve the mantle in my opinion. Jon Stewart rates and led to John Oliver, whose profanity somehow is cute…probably the “English accent.”
But there was only one Lenny Bruce. And there will never be another. He was quoted as saying poignantly, “I’m not a comedian. I’m Lenny Bruce.” Comics often describe their work in life and death terms like I killed,” “I died up there.” It was the first time anyone did what he did and he did die for it. Literally. He was brilliant, observant, and even in our brief time together, he pegged me correctly. As a child, I’d loved the book “The Secret Garden”, but was afraid to enter that night. Other times I did. Well, you’ll have to wait for the memoir.
At the end of the conference, I bought a T Shirt they had on sale, the money going to the Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation that Kitty Bruce had established to help addicts after their rehabilitation. I got the Extra Large so I could “wear it as a nightshirt,” as the salesperson suggested. It has an iconic full length shot of Lenny on the front, familiar slouch, hands in pockets. cigarette dangling, soulful eyes fixing you in his gaze. Sensual. Beckoning. So now, I do sleep with Lenny…in a way.