When Lenny Bruce hit the stage at Carnegie Hall

Fifty-nine years ago in February 1961, thousands of avid fans trudged through 20 inches of snow to Carnegie Hall to see comedian Lenny Bruce—in a show that was recorded and released in a three-record set, The Carnegie Hall Concert.

This famous show, “was the moment that an obscure yet rapidly rising young comedian named Lenny Bruce chose to give one of the greatest performances of his career….The performance contained in this album is that of a child of the jazz age,” wrote Albert Goldman in the subsequent LP’s liner notes.

The Carnegie Hall concert was one of this Long Island native’s most iconic New York City moments, perhaps only surpassed by his arrest at Cafe au Go Go on Bleecker Street in 1964 on charges that “his nightclub act was obscene,” reported the New York Times.

Bruce had already been arrested in San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago, thanks to this “sick comedian’s” profanity-laced act.

He went on trial in Manhattan Criminal Court and was found guilty…only to be pardoned by New York State in 2003, which was 37 years after his death by speedball.

Bruce’s voice and style inspired a generation of comics. But would a so-called indecent, free-form comic like Bruce be seen as a free speech icon if he was making the rounds of clubs today?

[Top photo: YouTube; second photo: Wikipedia]

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13 Responses to “When Lenny Bruce hit the stage at Carnegie Hall”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    “But would a so-called indecent, free-form comic like Bruce be seen as a free speech icon if he was making the rounds of clubs today?” Wouldn’t that depend on how repressive the current administration gets? In the meanwhile, a lot of “comics” think that just suing four-letter words is funny – so for better or worse, Lenny let them loose.

    • Tom B Says:

      Isn’t the Colleges and Universities repressing free speech today, not “the current administration.”

      • Paul Says:

        That depends on the colleges and universities; I suggest that you’re painting everyone and everything with far too broad a brush. Re: suppression of expression, I sadly point to the administration trying to filter hard information about the coronavirus situation through their own politically-advantageous lens via their appointed “gatekeeper.” And that’s just one example.

  2. countrypaul Says:

    Oops – “just suing four-letter words” should be “just saying four-letter words.” Damn auto-correct….

  3. keenanpatrick424 Says:

    Been a strange ride from Bruce and the Berkely Free Speech movement to the p.c. snowflake culture now.

  4. Jeffrey Liss Says:

    Thanks for the great post! I have owned the three record set you mention since the late 1970’s and it was the cornerstone of the radio show I did in the mid-1980’s on my college radio station WESU. It is also great to get a recreation of Lenny’s early days in comedy on the Mrs. Maisel show.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks! I’m apparently the only person who doesn’t watch that show; I didn’t know Lenny was referenced on it.

      • Fletcher Portsmouth Says:

        oh you must. lenny bruce’s character is figurative to the development of midge’s onstage performance. it is a HOOT

      • Dean Says:

        The show seems to have fudged Bruce’s timeline somewhat, in order to make him more of a contemporary of Midge’s. He is represented as being pretty famous by 1960 (appearing on a TV show that is quite clearly meant to be Playboy After Dark), and the first episode depicts him being arrested in 1958.

  5. Kenny Says:

    Would twenty inches of snow stop any of us from seeing Lenny Bruce?
    There was another blizzard 48 years ago, Feb 1972, when jazz great Lee Morgan was shot and killed in a bar on East 3rd Street. He was in a car accident earlier that day and despite the weather the gig was packed.
    Sadly no ambulance could reach him in time.
    So far 2020 is snow free but there are not too many live performances worth seeing. Listen to The Sidewinder.

  6. George Quinn Says:

    Lenny Bruce died from shooting a speedball (junk mixed with speed.

  7. When Lenny Bruce hit the stage at Carnegie Hall – Jeffrey Liss Says:

    […] Source: When Lenny Bruce hit the stage at Carnegie Hall […]

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