1961 October 4

Lenny Bruce, Pioneering Comedian, Arrested in San Francisco


Comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested on this day at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco on obscenity charges for saying the word “cocksucker.” Bruce was a pioneer in aggressive, politically oriented stand-up comedy, using humor to attack racism, sexual prudery, and religious hypocrisy in American life. Today’s tradition of boundary-breaking stand-up comedy, with respect to language, sex, politics, race, and religion, originated with Lenny Bruce.

Many observers then and now argue that Bruce’s arrests, including those in Chicago and New York City, were prompted not by dirty words but by his comedy routines that made fun of the Catholic Church, which offended local politicians and police. For his New York City arrest, see November 4, 1964. For that arrest, he was pardoned by the governor of New York 39 years later on December 23, 2003.

Read: Ronald K. L. Collins and David M. Skover, The Trials of Lenny Bruce: TheFall and Rise of an American Icon (2002)

Watch a Lenny Bruce Performance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CebRfSFnWGM

Visit the official Lenny Bruce website: http://www.lennybruceofficial.com/

Learn more about his 1964 trial: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/bruce/bruce.html

Watch the biographical film: Lenny (1974)

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