He Got Arrested for Saying “Cocksucker”

Lenny Bruce is considered to this day to be America’s most controversial comedian. Having been arrested numerous times for obscenity over the course of his career, Lenny performed only in San Francisco during the last year of his life.

The Lenny Bruce Performance Film was filmed live at the Basin Street West in San Francisco in 1965. It is considered to be his second-to-last live performance. In it, Lenny directly addresses the accusations and allegations stemming from his multiple arrests for obscenity. (We’ll get there in a second.) This rare live performance also contains some of his famous stand-up bits including the prison riot with Dutch, the Warden, Father Flotski and Sabu, the prison doctor.

Lenny Bruce, mugshot (1963)

Bruce had been arrested (and subsequently acquitted) for obscenity in San Francisco in 1961 for using the word “cocksucker” in a bit. Two years later he was arrested in West Hollywood for using the word “schmuck” — a Yiddish term for “dick”. Similar arrests happened in Chicago and New York City. He was even considered an “undesirable alien” and barred from entering the United Kingdom. Ultimately, he was sentenced to four months in a penal labor workhouse but died while out on bond pending appeal.

There’s so little video of Lenny’s stand-up that it’s criminal in itself, perhaps because he was labeled a “sick comic” and blacklisted from television. If not for friends like Hugh Hefner and Steve Allen, we probably wouldn’t even know who he is. This performance, which is rather great quality for something that was filmed live in the 1960’s, is unfortunately about all there is of Lenny.

It’s sad that, like many artists, he had to die before anyone appreciated his work.

The Lenny Bruce Performance Film is now streaming on The SCREW Channel exclusively on Roku. Don’t have The SCREW Channel? Add it here.

—SM

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