A passionate defender of the Constitution’s first amendment, LENNY BRUCE (Leonard Schneider, 1925–66) made a name for himself as a stand-up satirist and comedian beginning in 1954. It was the era of “sick” (i.e., critical) comedy — Mort Sahl, Jonathan Winters, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Tom Lehrer — and TIME labeled Bruce “The Sickest of Them All.” “Satire is tragedy plus time,” he once said. “You give it enough time, the public, the reviewers will allow you to satirize it. Which is rather ridiculous, when you think about it.” He didn’t give it enough time, though. When he played Chicago and quipped that Bobby Franks, the victim of that city’s Leopold and Loeb murder case, was “a snotty kid,” he was run out of town. Additionally, he used words like “cocksucker” in his act, at least a decade before it became OK to do so. Arrested (not the first time) in ’66 at Café au Go Go in New York City, Bruce was convicted on obscenity charges; his addiction to drugs and involvement with strippers rounded out his reputation in the eyes of the law, not to mention in the court of public opinion. Before his appeal could go forward, he was found dead of an overdose. Unlike the many so-called comedians and satirists today who invoke his example as they spew racism and misogyny without any true value, what Bruce did was true social commentary. He was brave, and he paid a price for it.
READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).