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Lenny Bruce’s Legacy – New York Times

To the Editor:

How Would Lenny Bruce the Rebel Play Today?” (On Comedy, Arts pages, Aug. 10), on the 50th anniversary of Lenny Bruce’s death, was aggravating. Most annoying: Patton Oswalt’s comment that comics who said they found Mr. Bruce funny were lying.

Your overview of Mr. Bruce’s career wasn’t bad, but you danced around his groundbreaking responsibility for the future course of American comedy and his fearless battle for the First Amendment.

In 1964, The Times reported that after an obscenity arrest, nearly 100 of the heaviest hitters in the American arts signed a statement calling Mr. Bruce a social satirist “in the tradition of Swift, Rabelais and Twain.”

Oh, but you do report that “hardly anyone laughed” at a recent screening of 40 minutes of his act. This material was delivered when Mr. Bruce was frenzied and broke, his cabaret card canceled after scores of busts. His lifelong fight for freedom of expression brought him to that bottom, accelerated by drug abuse.

His work — from the hilarious to the profound — is available on CDs, DVDs and in books. I hope that young comedians who aren’t dissuaded by your article listen to the Berkeley, Calif., and Carnegie Hall performances. They’ll learn what it takes to be an authentic artist, whether Patton Oswalt laughs or not.

RICHARD LEWIS

Los Angeles

The writer is the comedian.

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