Here’s Lenny Bruce’s original application for a New York Cabaret and Public Dance Hall employee identification card and the card itself from 1963. These cards were required by law in order to perform at clubs and venues. If you didn’t have one of these, you didn’t work.
What’s noteworthy here is where the application asks “Have you been arrested since issuance of the card you now hold?”
Bruce answered “Yes.”
The application then asks “If so, give full details.”
Bruce writes “For violation of obscenity laws in California.”
Unfortunately I can’t really make out the rest due to an ink smudge. But it appears he was only granted a 3 month temporary card until a hearing was held.
I found this on the Live Auctioneers website. These Smithsonian-level items were up for auction in 2006, but it looks like no one placed a bid?!
I was in drag the last time I did stand-up, about twenty-five-years ago, in a crowded bar at the Tron Theater, Glasgow. It was a return appearance, on a ‘gong night’ bill that included Craig Ferguson, who was starting out with his comic character Bing Hitler.
In some respects I was amazed to be asked back, and was certain my invitation had been a clerical error. The first time I’d tried to be Lenny McBruce and was full of misplaced energy that led me to telling the audience to ‘fuck off’, whilst reading a copy of the Sun, riffing on its headlines, horoscopes, interviews and adverts. I’d got as far as Princess Diana and Pete Sutcliffe jokes, when the howls of abuse proved too much, I was gonged quickly off.
Other gong nights had seen a generation of new and original talent: a duo called Victor and Barry - Alan Cumming and Forbes Mason - those erstwhile founders of the Kelvinside Young People’s Amateur Dramatic Art Society (KYPADAS), who performed camp musical numbers, in slick-backed hair and monogramed smoking jackets.
And then there was Jerry Sadowitz, who was incredible, and still is. His humor was unpredictable, relentless and much in the spirit of Lenny Bruce - nothing was sacred, no subject off limits. When menaced with the gong, he pulled out a joke pistol and threatened to shoot the compere, John Stahl.
Amongst such talents, I was just a daft, wee laddie, who wanted to succeed more than I wanted to perform.
So, on my return, I revamped one of my old drag characters, Bessie Graham, a mistress of the single entendre. I went through the rehearsed material and it seemed to be working well - at least for half the audience, those nearest to the stage that is. But for anyone beyond row 4, I appeared as an indifferent mime artist, with a basic grasp of mime. Later, I was told my mic had not been working.
Afterwards, watching Craig Ferguson perform, I decided to give it all up. Over 2 years of performing, on-and-off, I’d found out I was fine at comic characters and sketches, but hadn’t grown-up enough to have my own voice, and know what I wanted to say. And without that, I would never be any good.
Documentarian Richard B. Weide likes to focus on the lives of comedians in his films and in Lenny Bruce he has powerful material to work with. Combining rare archival footage and interviews with Lenny’s mother Sally Marr, ex-wife Honey, daughter Kitty, Paul Krassner, Nat Hentoff and Steve Allen, Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth manages to be both richly informative and emotionally engaging. It’s a terrific movie.
With lean narration by Robert De Niro, Weide digs deep into the life of a comedian prophet driven to an early death by drugs and a government hellbent on shutting his mouth. Bruce was a punk Jesus who railed against hypocrisy and injustice with the low key deadliness of a man armed with the truth and a razor blade tongue.
The man who spawned modern comedy, Lenny Bruce was born today in 1925. Instead of a selection of his well-known monologues from stage and TV appearances, here is Dance Hall Racket, a low budget exploitation movie, which Bruce wrote and starred in, alongside his wife Honey Harlow, and Timothy Farrell as Umberto Scialli.
Produced by George Weiss (best known as the producer of Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda?), Dance Hall Racket was the third of the Umberto Scialli films, following on from Devil’s Sleep and Racket Girls, in which Scialli was killed. Dance Hall Racket is a quirky, trashy, Z-movie, and leaves no clue to the Lenny Bruce who would, within the decade, start a revolution in comedy.
Bonus clips, Lenny sings and on-stage, after the jump…
Speculating on how an 85-year-old Lenny Bruce would be celebrating his birthday today is as fun as it is pointless.
But it’s pretty easy to guess that edgy comedy’s patron saint would not have been able to stretch out casually on TV for 25 minutes in conversation with a legendary publisher and lifestyle creator like the Hef.
That’s what happened in 1959 on the first episode of Playboy’s Penthouse, Hugh Hefner’s first foray into TV, which broadcast from WBKB in his Chicago hometown. This was the first mass-market exposure of the erstwhile club-bound Bruce, and its high-end hepness set the tone for the show’s two-season run, which featured a ton of figures in the jazz culture scene.
Of course, the dynamic between the eloquent snapping-and-riffing Long Islander Bruce and the perennially modest Midwestern Hefner is classic as the comedian covers topics like “sick” comedy, nose-blowing, Steve Allen, network censorship, tattoos & Jews, decency wackos, Lou Costello, integration, stereotypes, medicine and more.
An online auction of rare memorabilia from the estate of comedian Lenny Bruce, whose outspoken views on sex, drugs and religion paved the way for generations of comics, is currently accepting bids.The auction, set up by Bruce’s daughter, Kitty Bruce, is to benefit Lenny’s House, a nonprofit recovery program for women who are dealing with drug and alcohol addictions. Items for sale include Bruce’s typewriter, several private family photographs, his bed frame and one of Bruce’s trademark black trench coats, often seen in his arrest photos. This is the first time items from the Bruce estate have ever been put up for auction.
Other celebrity supporters who have also donated items include Chris Rock, Yoko Ono, Hugh Hefner, Jonathan Winters, Elizabeth Taylor, Carl Reiner and Arianna Huffington.
Bidding on the auction will end Oct. 28, and that evening a benefit for Lenny’s House will be held at The Laugh Factory comedy club with performers Paul Mooney, Rick Overton, Paul Provenza, and Bobby Slayton, with Richard Belzer hosting. Tickets are $35 and $50.
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