Lenny Bruce - 13 St. Marks Place

Art & Culture | History

A Pioneer for Freedom of Speech and First Amendment Rights

Lenny Bruce East Village History

About Lenny Bruce - 13 St. Marks Place

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • 13 St. Marks Place was the home of Lenny Bruce in the mid-1960s.
  • Lenny Bruce (1925-1966), born Leonard Alfred Schneider, was a stand-up comedian, screenwriter, satirist, and social critic.  His vulgarity (unheard of at the time but common today) and free-style of comedy made him a cause célèbre for the free speech movement in the United States.
  • His comedy content was raunchy and controversial. In 1961, Bruce was arrested for obscenity in San Francisco for using vulgar language during a set. He was ultimately acquitted, but law enforcement started to monitor his performances.
  • At this point, sadly things started to go downhill for Bruce.  His routines became less creative and often centered around his obscenity, arrests, sex, religion, anti-fascist sentiments, and lamentations about the denial of his freedom of speech.
  • He was arrested numerous times for both continued obscenity and drugs. He was banned from multiple cities and deported from the UK.  Overall, things were not going so well…
  • In 1964, he took his routine to New York’s Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village.  Plainclothes police posed as audience members and arrested Lenny Bruce, along with the club owner, for obscenity. This time, the prosecution found him guilty, which caused a free speech uproar.  Boldface names of the time such as Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Norman Mailer, Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Woody Allen and many more formed an “Emergency Committee against the Harassment of Lenny Bruce” and signed a petition in his favor.
  • Free on bond while appealing his case, Bruce died from a morphine overdose in his Hollywood Hills on August 6, 1966. He was 40 years old.
  • New York Governor George Pataki posthumously pardoned Lenny Bruce in 2003 and his name lives on as a pioneer of free speech, free press, and free thinking.

Carpe City Trivia

Lenny Bruce is a recurring character in which popular TV show? (no spoilers, promise!)

Mr. Bruce is a recurring character in Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Actor Luke Kirby plays Bruce and highlights his sarcastic attitude toward his comedy.  While the TV show does take some creative liberties, his story is portrayed pretty accurately.  The show depicts how he spent nights in jail for offending the crowd at his stand-up shows.  At the end of Season 2, Bruce performs a set in song form, which is about being alone in life which was a real Lenny Bruce set!

What's the deal with free speech? And where does Lenny Bruce's story fit in?

Freedom of speech was made official in the First Amendment to the Constitution in the year 1791 and included freedom of religion, press, and the right to assemble. Ancient Greeks first introduced the idea of this freedom in their concept of “parrhesia,” meaning “to speak candidly,” and this principle became a fundamental aspect of democracy in Athens. Just as ancient Athenians, politicians, philosophers, writers, and citizens alike were given the right to express their thoughts, and even criticize the government openly, Lenny Bruce felt that through his comedy, he should be able to do the same without the onslaught of obscenity charges. With Bruce’s pardon, Pataki said: “Freedom of speech is one of the greatest American liberties, and I hope this pardon serves as a reminder of the precious freedoms we are fighting to preserve.”


If you are interested in old school comedy, here is a round-up of some of the best.  You can watch it for free if you have Amazon Prime:

TVs funniest comedians on amazon

By: Cyd Sacks

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