August 3rd was the 40th anniversary of Comedian Lenny Bruce’s death by overdose. Born Leonard Alfred Schneider, he was found dead in the bathroom of his Hollywood Hills home, lying naked with a pair of trousers around his ankles. A syringe and burned bottle cap were found nearby, along with various other narcotics paraphernalia.
Bruce had suffered a series of arrests as a result of the colorful language used in his standup comedy routines. Despite the vocal support of many prominent individuals in the arts community, his carreer had floundered by the time of his death. he is nonetheless still cited as being one of, if not the most influential comedian of his generation. The BBC had this to say:
“Lenny Bruce’s legacy is freedom of speech and telling it as it is, getting your life and putting it out on the table, telling everyone about it,” comedian and actor Eddie Izzard told BBC Radio Two’s documentary Lenny Bruce is Dead… “I think he was the first one to do it as an individual, and we’ve all followed that.” Australian comedian Brendon Burns agrees: “Without Lenny Bruce a lot of us wouldn’t be able to do what we do today.” He pioneered stand-up about things “everyone does and everyone thinks, but it just wasn’t polite to talk about”, Burns told BBC News… “He was bringing it from behind closed doors – and that’s pretty much what a lot of stand-up is now.” In 2004, US cable channel Comedy Central named Bruce the third greatest stand-up of all time, behind fellow Americans Richard Pryor and George Carlin – both of whom cite Bruce as an influence… “He changed everything,” says Burns… “He turned comedy into a freedom of speech art form. And everyone else then went and changed everything they did off the back of him.”
To commemorate Bruce’s death, the Shmaltz Brewing Co., makers of such fine ales as He’Brew and Genesis Ale, have announced the production of Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A. This Rye India pale ale is made with “obscene amounts of malts and hops,” (ha, ha) according to Shmaltz and it packs a punch, containing 10 percent alcohol.
Oy. For the record or for those of you who care, Leonard Alfred Schneider aka Lenny Bruce’s yahrzeit is on the 17th of Av – so the Jewish anniversary of his death would be on the 11th of August – this coming Friday.