Magician and comedian Penn Jillette railed against Brandeis University’s decision to cancel a play about famous comedian and social critic Lenny Bruce in a recent op-ed for USA Today.
“I just read in the news that Brandeis University, one of the real universities that I didn’t go to, canceled a play about Lenny Bruce,” Jillette wrote. “Just drink in the irony: A school named for Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis — a champion of free speech — censored a play about a satirist of such renown that the school acquired his papers to advance its scholarship funded in part by the Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice and the ACLU of Massachusetts.”
The play, Buyer Beware, was written by Brandeis University alumnus Michael Weller and focused on a fictional Brandeis student who plans to perform a provocative stand-up comedy routine in the style of Lenny Bruce that touches on hot-button political issues. The main character, Ron, is threatened by the Brandeis administration with academic probation in the hopes that he will cancel his performance. Ultimately, Ron performs his routine and students protest.
The play was canceled after an uproar by students who claimed that the play was overly critical of Black Lives Matter. They suggested that Weller, as a straight, able-bodied, white man, should not be able to criticize the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The title of the Lenny play is Buyer Beware, and the students are the buyers. It’s their choice to make, and they’ve made it,” Jillette wrote. “But I’m no longer envious of their experience. If college is so comfortable and safe — I’m glad I’m not there. Who wants comfortable? Who wants safe? This old piece of carny trash still wants to be pushed and challenged, and I’ve proved I can do that without college. And it’s a lot cheaper than Brandeis.”
“F ’em,” Jillette finished, referring to the students who shut down the play.
Brandeis decided that in place of the production of Weller’s play, the theatre department will offer a course in the spring “devoted to the challenging issues Michael’s work evokes.”