“The book is indispensable.” —Booklist
“Detailed, objective, and valuable.” —Kirkus Reviews
“I thought I knew his story pretty well, but I learned a great deal from this book. It is a major contribution…” —George Carlin
10th Anniversary Edition—Includes a New Preface by the Authors
When it first came out in 2002, The Trials of Lenny Bruce quickly established itself as the definitive work on Lenny Bruce’s free speech battles over his provocative comedy.
The Trials of Lenny Bruce takes the reader on a wild and tragicomic ride, as the renegade comedian is tried for obscenity in city after city—San Francisco, L.A., Chicago, and New York. This book is an essential documentation of the free speech struggles of an icon of American comedy who, by speaking his mind and fighting for the right to speak his mind, paved the way for every standup comedian, satirist, and social critic who followed him.
Not only did The Trials of Lenny Bruce set the record straight on Lenny—being named one of the best books of the year by the L.A. Times—the authors led the push for the late comedian’s posthumous pardon in 2003 for his 1964 conviction on obscenity charges in New York.
The shelf is full of books about "outlaw social critic" Lenny Bruce (1925 1966). But now comes a different approach, as two legal scholars provide an in-depth survey of "comedy on trial" the five years of censorship, arrests, obscenity trials, convictions and appeals as prosecutors sought to bust Bruce for "word crimes." Skover and Collins (coauthors of The Death of Discourse) meticulously document both litigation and the literary scene of the 1960s, crosscutting between clubs and courtrooms to show how Bruce's career crumbled in a nightmarish fashion as he broke taboos and struggled for free speech in the years before his death from a morphine overdose. Looking for a lawyer in 1964, Bruce requested, "Get me somebody who swings with the First Amendment," and that year noted performers and writers (such as William Styron, John Updike, James Baldwin) signed a petition to support Bruce, while others (Jules Feiffer, Jason Epstein, even the "prim and proper" Dorothy Kilgallen) served as defense witnesses. Granted access to Bruce's papers, Collins and Skover have done exhaustive research, also interviewing Bruce's lawyers, club owners, cohorts and comic talents, including Orson Bean, George Carlin, Margaret Cho and Paul Krassner. The voice of Bruce springs to life with his memorable comedy routines heard on the accompanying CD, narrated by Nat Hentoff and also featuring interviews with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Hugh Hefner and others who reflect on Bruce's legacy. Generating a gamut of emotions, the entire package is an important documentation of a revolution in American culture. B&w photos.