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Symposium with Christie Hefner, Kitty Bruce to open the Lenny Bruce archive – Brandeis University

By Julie JetteOct. 5, 2016

Brandeis will celebrate the opening of the collection of personal papers, recordings and photographs of late comedian and social critic Lenny Bruce with a symposium titled “Comedy and the Constitution: the Legacy of Lenny Bruce,” on Oct. 27 and 28.

The two-day symposium will include a keynote speech by Brandeis alumna and former trustee Christie Hefner ’74, and a conversation with Lenny Bruce’s daughter, Kitty Bruce. Hefner is trustee of the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation, whose generous gift made it possible for Brandeis to acquire the papers, which Kitty Bruce had maintained for decades since her father’s death 50 years ago.

Lenny Bruce was a groundbreaking comedian and satirist in the late 1950s and early 1960s who eschewed the bland mainstream humor of the time to push the envelope on language and social issues. He was charged with obscenity in multiple cities and was convicted in New York. Having faced years of legal persecution around his act, he died of a drug overdose on Aug. 3, 1966, at age 40, shortly before the appeal of his conviction; he was pardoned posthumously in 2003. Numerous comedians who would follow him cite Lenny Bruce as an inspiration in their own work.

“I am very grateful and relieved that Brandeis University has the archive. With Brandeis’s emphasis on social justice, it is the right place to ensure my father’s documents and artifacts are protected and made available for everybody,” said Kitty Bruce. “Students, free speech advocates, law students, scholars, fans of Lenny Bruce old and young can now read and listen to these materials and remember his legacy for years to come.” 

The symposium features a number of panels about Lenny Bruce’s legacy in comedy, first amendment law, and Jewish humor. Sessions include “Censorship and the Law,” “Jewish Humor and the Holocaust,” and “The Language of Comedy.” Martin Garbus, one of the attorneys who represented Bruce in the New York trial, will speak as part of one panel. Key pieces of the collection – some of which have never been seen before by the general public will be on display in the exhibit area in the Archives & Special Collections Department in Goldfarb Library through mid-2017. Those wishing to attend the symposium should register on the conference website. Brandeis students may apply for free admission to the conference.

Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy, was a strong supporter of Lenny Bruce in his career and legal battles. Christie Hefner said her father’s history with Lenny Bruce made it fitting for the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation to sponsor the acquisition of his papers by Brandeis, enabling future generations to learn about Bruce’s legacy.

“Lenny Bruce’s legacy is so important, not only for his enduring contributions to American comedy, but because he endured persecution and prosecution for exercising his right to free expression,” said Christie Hefner, who is the former C.E.O. and Chairman of Playboy Enterprises. “My father was a strong supporter of Lenny Bruce’s talent and his first-amendment rights. I’m very proud that the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation is supporting this symposium, and making it possible for scholars and students to study Lenny Bruce’s history and its relevance and resonance today.”

“We are deeply grateful to the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation and to Kitty Bruce for entrusting Brandeis with this incredible collection, which will give researchers new insight into one of the most fascinating and controversial figures in American pop culture of the mid-20th century,” said Steve Whitfield, the Max Richter Professor of American Civilization. “We believe this symposium and the many scholars who will present their own work is a fitting way to open this never-before-seen collection to the world.”

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