Jamestown's National Comedy Center is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival August 4-7. The festival will feature more than 50 events around town, including a roundtable discussion with the daughters of comedy legends Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts on Friday at 6 p.m.
August 3 also is the 50th anniversary of Lenny Bruce's death at the age of 40. It was his counter-culture stand-ups in the 1950s and 1960s that blazed a 1st Amendment trail for Carlin, Pryor and others. WBFO's Marian Hetherly talked with Bruce's daughter, Kitty, about her father.
Lenny Bruce stand-up: "The stripper in the burlesque house goes, 'Here it is boys, lat da dat dah,' it's cool. But let her do that in a public park and their ass is in jail. (laughter) The theater is make believe. That's where it's at."
Kitty Bruce: "He was a very loving father. He was also a complex individual with a lot on his plate. He was fighting, literally, for his life not to be imprisoned for obscenity and it practically destroyed him. He started getting arrested. He started to go before judges. He was coming up on trials...many, many trials...some he won, some he didn't. And what he was saying was not obscene. It wasn't the prurient interest. It wasn't stirring up sexual feelings. That's the definition of obscenity."
Lenny Bruce stand-up: "I figured out after four years why I got arrested so many times. Here's how it happened: I do my act at perhaps, uh, 11:00 at night. Little do I know that at 11:00 a.m. the next morning, before the grand jury somewhere, there's another guy doing my act. (laughter) The grand jury watches him work and says, 'That stinks.' (laughter) But I get busted. (laughter) And the irony is I have to go to court and defend his act. (laughter)"
Kitty Bruce: "The powers that be - for a better word, I don't have one - just didn't like what he had to say and found that it was just too on point and they needed him to be quiet. In my Dad's autobiography, which is being re-released on August 3, he talks about some of those issues. He was absolutely terrified to go to jail and it was outrageous that he was going to be imprisoned for practicing what he believed was his 1st Amendment right."
Lenny Bruce stand-up: "So what happens is that the rule gets bigger and bigger and they say, 'OK, nobody on the post office steps, that's the rule. OK, nobody in the street, that's the rule. Rule, rule, rule, rule by the cops. While up in Harlem there's 9,000 people wailing their ass off, sticks and stones. They get a cop with a short-sleeve shirt on with a stick in his hand and people are yelling, 'gestapo' at him."
Kitty Bruce: "The climate and temperature of the attitudes of the people in our country at this time are not too far different from what was going on in my father's day, in the late '50s and early '60s - there's still civil unrest, there's still racism, there's blood in the street - and this all was happening at the time my father was getting arrested, during those years. He was bringing some of those topics to light and he was being arrested for doing so. He was arrested for the content, not because he was Dirty Lenny or a dirty word."
Marian Hetherly: "Was it important to you that then-Governor Pataki in 2003 pardoned your Dad?"
Kitty Bruce: "It was very important to me. Uh, it was a little late for an apology. What I thought to myself was, 'You know what, God daddy, they wanted you to be quiet, they tried to shut you down and it's 50 years later and you're still talkin'.' That made me feel good. I felt that Governor Pataki was very brave to do so and it was an honor and very well deserved.
"My father's memory, I feel like I'm the gatekeeper. And I wanted to make sure that people weren't going to forget about Lenny Bruce. His autobiography is being re-released, on the 50th year of the anniversary of his death, on De Capo Press, How to Talk Dirty & Influence People. And the money from that book, portions of it, are going to go to the Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation. We give life-saving scholarships to people who are in need for treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. We have an epidemic going on. So that's one way I can keep my father's memory alive in a way that changed people's lives. I think that that's really what he would have wanted."
Later this week on WBFO, listen for "The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah, who appears at 8 p.m at The Reg, immediately after the comedy legends roundtable. More information, including videos, about Lenny Bruce can be found on the official Lenny Bruce website.