From `Newsweek'    July 20, 1964

   In one of Lenny Bruce's nightclub routines he tells how his lawyer urged

him to wear a blue suit for one of his numerous appearances in court: "A Blue

suit, Lenny, that's how they tell who the criminal is."  For the past two

weeks Bruce has been wearing the suit - pale blue dungaree trousers and

matching collarless jacket - in a large air conditioned room in New York's

Criminal Courts building.  But it was becoming harder to know who the

criminal was, for Bruce's trial on charges of having given obscure

performances at a Greenwich Village cafe last April was developing into an

arena for broad, complex, and traditionally befogged social issues.

   The basic issue was to define the limits of language and behaviour of an

entertainer who is at the same time a disturbing social critic.  As one

witness said: "There's been a new type of humor in American nightclubs in

the past ten years - topical type - and Bruce is the most important of the

comedians on this theme."  These comedians are people such as Mort Sahl,

Shelley Berman, Elaine May, Mike Nichols, and Bob Newhart.  Their humor is

the probing, jaundiced, irreverent look at the way we live, whose two poles

are the domesticated, ingratiating spoofing of a Vaughan Meader and the

scathing, self-lacerating, jivey j'accusing of Bruce himself.

   Bruce hits his audiences where they live - or think they do - in their

religion, their sex lives, their politics, their prejudices and

prevarications.  And he does this by using many of the same shock techniques

of language and behaviour that modern writers, artists, and even musicians

are using to cut through the crust of custom and apathy.  He has become a

hero to thousands of young people who want to laugh, but at something more

important than Crosby's money or Hope's golf score.

   MISTAKEN IDENTITY: At the trial, Bruce sat at the defense table like a

case of mistaken identity - long, black, curly hair, a prophet's beard

(which he shaved off halfway through the court proceedings - "Let's not make

it too easy"), heavy pouches under his eyes, his gaze on his fingertips or

on the raised gold letters on the wall behind the judges banc: "In God We

Trust" ("It should be `No Smoking'," he remarked during a recess).

   The language at issue in the trial was heard in police-made tape

recordings, scratchy and at times unintelligible, of the performances at the

Cafe Au Go Go.  They were listened to solemnly by a three-judge tribunal

headed by Administrative Judge John M. Murtagh, and with obviously repressed

enjoyment by the spectators.  Here, in Bruce's rapid-fire delivery was his

mordant inquiry into conremporary manners and morals, with it's familiar

four-letter words and a slightly less familiar hyphenated twelve-letter one.

   UNIQUE EXPERIENCE: To Assistant District Attorney Richard M. Kuh, a

square-jawed defender of the public good, the performances were obscene

because they offended prevailing community standards in matters of speech

and lacked any redeeming social value.  Against this, Bruce's chief counsel,

Ephraim London (who has won a series of key censorship cases), sought to

establish the ubiquity of Bruce's "dirty" language throughout broad segments

of society.  When Judge Murtagh declared that he had never heard such

language in the army, London replied, "Your experience is surely unique."

   But the conflict went much deeper.  In the face of continued opposition

on the part of the D.A., London brought to the stand a steady line of

witnesses to establish the artistic merit and social utility of Bruce's work.

NEWSWEEK'S drama critic, Richard Gilman, led off with a detailed appreciation

of Bruce's comic and imaginative gifts; critic Nat Hentoff said that "Bruce

makes people think, he provokes his audience with absurdity and gets them

to react"; satire cartoonist Jules Feiffer said that after seeing Bruce, "I

leave thinking I don't hit hard enough."  Episcopal minister Sidney Lanier

thought that Bruce's performances were "in some ways helpful, and even


   But the most startling and in some ways most effective witness was Hearst

columnist Dorothy Kilgallen.  Sitting demurely on the stand, she withstood

a biting attack on her qualifications - "You write a chitchat column, don't

you?" asked Kuh - and went on to describe Bruce as a "brilliant...moral man"

with "valid, important comments whether or not I agree with them."

   Against this array of witnesses from the entire cultural spectrum, the

prosecution was able to marshal only their tapes, some officially humorless

policemen, and Department Licenses inspector Herbert S. Ruhe, whose notes on

Bruce's performance were unsuccessfully challenged by the defense, which made

its objection on the ground that they were selective and therefore a

personal interpretation.

   At the end of the week the trial was abruptly adjourned.  Judge Murtagh

announced that his vacation had been postponed long enough and attorney

London had a pressing case in Memphis.  For London, the respite was

particularly welcome.  In the atmosphere of hostility, bickering, and

semantic confusion, he had succumbed to the pressure only once when he

asked a witness who had seen the Cafe Au Go Go shows: "Did you see Mr.

Crotch touch his Bruce?"  He is pessimistic about the verdict but expects

vindication on appeal.  "I'm certain of ultimate acquittal.  It will come

on one of two grounds: either his performance is not obscene by any

standards, or, in the light of recent Supreme Court decisions, the statute

he's being tried under is unconstitutional."

   PETITION: The trial is Bruce's third for obscenity (he was acquitted in

San Fransisco in 1962, convicted in Chicago last year, a decision which the

Illinois Supreme Court at first upheld but last week agreed to reconsider)

and he has had two other trials on charges of possessing narcotics, in both

of which he won acquittals.  "Why are they hounding Lenny?" London has

asked, and the question was recently repeated in a petition to New York's

Mayor Robert F. Wagner which was signed by dozens of writers, critics, and

educators, and such diverse personalities as Mr. and Mrs. Richard Burton,

theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, psychologist Theodor Reik, and singer Rudy


   One result of Bruce's lacerating transcontinental skirmishes with the

law is that he has become "possessed", he says, with American legal

processes.  Last year he spent $9,000 trying to get a new trial for a

convicted California murderer whose trial he thought unfair.  As for

himself, he wishes only to be allowed to continue performing.  "I am

busted," he says, "not for my obscenity but for my attitudes."