Leonard Alfred Schneider (October 13, 1925 – August 3, 1966), better known as Lenny Bruce, was a controversial stand-up comedian and social critic. Active from the late 40s through the mid 60s, it's his 60s stuff that made him (in)famous. During this era, clean-cut, family-friendly comedy was the norm. Lenny's stand-up was confrontational, profane, unforgiving and uncompromising and paved the way for modern comedy. Bruce was an influence on some other specific comedians. He wrote an autobiography that was serialized in Playboy called How to Talk Dirty and Influence People.
Lenny's uncompromising attitude toward his work contributed to his success but also caused his decline. Arrests, drug addiction and depression took their toll on Bruce, and he was found dead from a morphine overdose in 1966, aged 40. The consensus is that his death was a suicide although there are those who will question the notion.
On a side note, he once impersonated a priest and jumped out of a two-story window while high. Awesome.
The Sick Tropes of Lenny Bruce:
- All There in the Manual: In 1991, Fantasy Records released on CD The Lenny Bruce Originals Volume 1 (containing, with a couple of changes for better playing time, Bruce's albums The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce and Interviews Of Our Times) and The Lenny Bruce Originals Volume 2 (containing Bruce's albums Togetherness [aka I'm Not a Nut, Elect Me- listen to "Our Governors"] and Lenny Bruce- American), with each disc containing "A Skeleton Key To Lenny Bruce," a guide to the mix of Yiddish expressions and possibly dated entertainment/cultural/political references in Bruce's routines.
- Author Filibuster In his later years, he often spent several minutes on-stage telling stories and making pointed observations without telling a single joke.
- Autobiography: How to Talk Dirty and Influence Peoplenote
- Black Comedy:
- "Are there any niggers here tonight!?" Of course, taking it as straight-up Black Comedy misses the point.note
- He opened his first show after the assassination of John F. Kennedy by remaining pensively silent for a few moments and then saying "Boy, Vaughn Meader is fucked!"note Vaughn Meader was an impressionist who had been very successful with a spookily accurate impersonation of JFK, and his career did in fact come to an instant and total halt.
- Break the Comedian: So worn down by the traumatic struggles involved in fighting for his right to perform and fighting lawsuits for things like obscenity, blasphemy and so forth, that he lost his way completely and ended up committing suicide. The film biopic has his later comic performances being not so much stand-up comedy as embittered rants and discourses on the multiple legal cases he was fighting; the film has disappointed fans leaving the gig in droves when the performance disintegrated this way.
- Cheap Heat: In-Universe. His routine "Comic at the Palladium" is about a terrible American comedian who somehow gets a chance to perform at the Palladium in London. "And he's bombing, nothing." Finally, out of desperation, the comedian screams "Screw Ireland!" and someone in the audience says, "That's the first funny thing you've said all night."
- Crosses the Line Twice: Among the first comedians to do so, especially with his routine "How To Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties."
- Culture Police: They were responsible for the decline of his career. Undercover officers would often attend his performances so that they could arrest him, and many venues eventually refused to let him perform because of police harassment. He eventually went bankrupt paying for legal fees.
- Improv: As the liner notes for the album of his 1961 Carnegie Hall show say, Lenny wanted his performances to be the stand-up version of a jazz concert - demonstrated on the album itself when a chance bit of feedback launched him into a series of tangential free associations before returning to where he left off.
- Jesus Was Way Cool: Despite his caustic criticism of religion Lenny was rather fond of Jesus.
- Returning War Vet: He joined the Navy during World War II at 16 and served aboard the light cruiser USS Brooklyn, fighting in North Africa and Palermo in 1943, and Anzio in 1944. In May 1945, he dressed up in a WAVES uniform for a comedy show, and landed in hot water with his superiors (who apparently didn't get the joke). To spite them, he convinced the doctors he had homosexual urges, which resulted in a dishonourable discharge in July 1945, which he appealed and had changed to an honourable discharge because he never committed or confessed to any breach of naval regulations.
- Rule of Funny: Though he dropped this as he got deeper and deeper into his troubles. This is lampshaded in the movie when someone walks out on a performance, and Bruce says, "These are the jokes."
- The Scourge of God: He fully believed this was the case for a car accident that left his wife Honey horrifically injured, right when he was about to implement a massive con game making people think they were donating to a religious charity. He begged God on the spot to spare her, and she indeed survived and even recovered from a broken back after just a few months of therapy. He remained very skeptical about religion, but never tried anything like that again.
- Stage Name: Leonard Alfred Schneider was his birth name.
- Wham Line: Not from Bruce himself, but from Dick Schaap's obituary: "One last four-letter word for Lenny: Dead. At forty. That's obscene."
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Several stories state that, while in the Navy, he would wear a WAVES uniform to get a discharge. In actuality, he only wore one once for a comedy bit for his shipmates, then claimed to have homosexual urges to spite his commanding officers (who had ordered an evaluation), which resulted in a dishonorable discharge (later changed to honorable due to a lack of any misconduct). According to Larry Gelbert (writer/producer of M*A*S*H), Klinger was based on the stories.