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The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of An American Icon Hardcover – September 1, 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks MediaFusion; Har/Com edition (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570719861
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570719868
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,194,115 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

One of the most incendiary entertainers in American stand-up comedy, Lenny Bruce was never one to shy away from controversy or a legal fight. Written by a First Amendment scholar and law professor, this is the story of the series of obscenity cases that Bruce had leveled against him and how they played out. Many details from the trials are included here, making the book a literal walking tour of his time in court. An outstanding feature is the accompanying audio CD, the contents of which are all keyed to passages in the book. Narrated by Nat Hentoff and containing performances by Bruce and interviews with other entertainment notables, including George Carlin, the CD gives the text another dimension and allows for a truly different reading experience. The book is best read in tandem with Bruce's How To Talk Dirty and Influence People: An Autobiography and William Karl Thomas's Lenny Bruce: The Making of a Prophet. A fine retelling of Bruce's career as well as one of the only books in print to detail his free-speech legal troubles, Trials is recommended for all media and law libraries. David M. Lisa, Wayne P.L., NJ
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Lenny Bruce lived to shock people. His nightclub routines, full of the worst of the four letter words, made fun of stuff which people, especially his contemporaries, were supposed to take seriously: religion, marriage, intimacy. However, _The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon_ (Sourcebooks) by Ronald K. L. Collins and David M. Skover, makes plain that the iconoclastic Bruce had enormous respect for the law. His rooms were cluttered with tapes, court transcripts, and legal research efforts, and he wrote letters to judges trying to explain how his comedy was legally protected speech. He even showed civic respect for the policemen who were so often out to get him. Bruce saw that it was his job to change the law, and while he never really managed that, he made historic changes by fighting battles that those after him would not have to fight. The authors of this engrossing book have found that his story is virtually absent from the history of the First Amendment; this is a corrective.
Bruce was arrested many times for obscenity, but particularly interesting in this book is the demonstration that what often drove the arrests was irritation about his blasphemy. Bruce had routines that could bother any denomination. After mockingly accepting Jewish responsibility for killing Jesus, he roared, "We Jews killed Christ, and if he comes back, we'll kill him again!" He had a hilarious routine in which Christ and Moses come into the back of St. Patrick's Cathedral, to the embarrassment of Cardinal Spellman and Archbishop Sheen, who have to telephone the pope to explain ("_Of course they're white!_"). We have no blasphemy laws in this country (to the dismay, still, of some), but he was literally brought up on blasphemy charges.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "ctgilley" on August 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Not many people know of Lenny Bruce. But most people do know about Sam Kinison, George Carlin, Denis Leary, Andrew "Dice" Clay, and other caustic comedians. Without Lenny Bruce to pave the way (and in the process become a martyr to the First Amendment), it's possible that none of these performers would be around today. Lenny Bruce pioneered the world of the caustic, vulgar, frank and (often too-) honest comedian, and paid the price of his life for it. Here, in Collins and Skover's detailed account of the comedian's life, trials, incarceration, and eventual death, the spirit of Lenny Bruce is brought back to glorious life and used as an example of the dangers inherent in allowing government to decide what we should see, hear, or say. Anyone interested in this dark chapter of our First Amendment should grab this book immediately!
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By michael ormond on September 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is really an excellent book. The first 200 pages focus on the embattled comedian, his bits and his scrapes with the law. As someone who was never a Lenny Bruce fan I found this section a provocative read. However, I found the book becoming progressively more compelling as the authors get into the details of the First Amendment trials. They do a masterful job of intergrating theory with the mechanics of placing the factual "matter" (the testimony) before the finder of fact.
In its discussion of the post-death and resurrected Lenny Bruce the book ascends to its highest level. The irony of Lenny Bruce as a First Amendment icon, whose free speech is beyond challange and the political destruction of William Kuh provide brilliant insights on the vicissitudes of American popular culture since the 1960s
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Phil on January 10, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Got it as a gift for Christmas, 100 pages in and I've never been so bored in my life. I feel like I don't know Lenny Bruce at all. But if you want to know a thing or two about the judges who convicted Lenny, then this is the book for you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By norm cash bukowski on February 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is a very unusual book. By the time you are finished you will understand just about everything meaningful about Lenny Bruce's entanglements with the judicial and legal system. It is an amazingly detailed study of a very important aspect of obscenity law in this country and the cultural transformation that occurred in the US in the mid-sixties. However, it is important to understand that this is not a biography of Lenny Bruce in that much of what is important about the man is barely mentioned here. There are descriptions of his run ins with police, his financial problems, allusions to his wife and mother and other acquaintances but only as they relate to whatever legal situation being discussed. It would probably be wise to either read Albert Goldman's bio or see the movie "Swear to tell the Truth" to get a better understanding of Lenny's psyche, remarkably self destructive drug habit which really controlled his life and ultimately killed him and especially a better understanding of why the status quo went after Lenny. Yes, Lenny was a ground breaking controversial performer who used language and images that were termed "indecent" but he really got in trouble when he started to imply in a Philadelphia bust that the cops and judges were crooks who he could have bribed if he didn't refuse to be shaken down. That aspect of Lenny's troubles with cops, judges and the legal system did not get mentioned in this book, probably because it can't really be quantified. Cops and DA's went after Lenny Bruce because they thought he was a rebellious, foul mouthed junkie who needed to be put in his place. Had Lenny Bruce not been so neurotic, obsessive and addicted he might have been able to remain much more stable and rational during this process. But then he wouldn't have been Lenny Bruce.
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