The Lenny Bruce Performance Film – The New Yorker

Lenny Bruce’s performances—such as this, his penultimate one, from 1965, in San Francisco—reflect, in wild comedy, his own stringent morality, which starkly contrasted with the morals of the time. The previous year, he’d been convicted, in New York, on charges of obscenity; he could perform in California because he’d won an obscenity case there. His time in court sparked his obsession with the law; in his terrifying journey through its labyrinths, he became a standup Kafka. In this show, the transcript of the New York trial is his script, and he performs it with gusto. His confrontation with authority is his master plot—his quest to speak freely about sex and politics, and his paradoxical view of his persecutors’ passions. Indeed, Bruce, who was Jewish, launches into a profound, uproarious digression—mocking liberals and praising the censorious—about Jews’ and Catholics’ divergent attitudes toward sex. Bruce’s legal travails ruined him, but they also nourished his art, transforming him into an outlaw philosopher of law.

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