My KPFA - A Historical Footnote




Come and gone

Thank you, Mr. Masked Man!




From the Wikipedia article on Lenny Bruce:


On October 4, 1961, Bruce was arrested for obscenity at theJazz Workshop in San Francisco; he had used the word cocksucker and riffed that "'to' is a preposition, 'come' is a verb" and that the sexual context of "come" is so common that it bears no weight, and that if someone hearing it becomes upset, they "probably can't come." Although the jury acquitted him, other law enforcement agencies began monitoring his appearances, resulting in frequent arrests under charges of obscenity.


The tape on top [left] was the one played by the defence during the trial at which Bruce was exonerated. (He had taken to having his gigs recorded, just in case.) From The Trials of Lenny Bruce by Douglas Linder, University of Missouri at Kansas City - School of Law, 2007:


First Amendment lawyer Albert Bendich represented Bruce alone, after the co-counsel he hoped would help turned him down flat saying, You can't win a case based on 'cocksucker.' Win Bendich did, however. In his opening statement Bendich told the jury that Bruce's humor was in the great tradition of social satire, related intimately to the kind of social satire found in the works of such great authors as Aristophanes and Jonathan Swift. Experts from jazz critics to literature professors were called to the stand to offer their opinions on the social importance of Bruce's iconoclastic humor. The jury heard both a tape of Bruce's full performance [Note: It wasn't the full performance; it was only 18' long.] and Bruce's own testimony on his choice of words before voting to acquit.


Al Bendich was a good friend of KPFA, and so we often did the recordings. From these we extracted for broadcast a few routines that would not land us in a courtroom along with their author. Twice I was the one who lugged the Ampex over to the Off Broadway. The last time, we all met up in a back alley before the show. It was March, and Lenny was shivering in a long dark overcoat. I vividly remember a face as ravaged as the death mask which, within a couple of years, it would become.


Jack Nessel writes, "I remember talking with him on the steps outside a club one late night between shows. Acting strangely, as if he were imparting a dangerous secret, he gave me a tape he said would prove some kind of conspiracy. I couldn't wait to play it. Of course it was blank.”


Long time KPFA supporter and Berkeley micro-radio producer Joe Bryak tells an amazing tale of helping Lennie to get his New York court defense organized. Read it here.       


From the conclusion of the Wikipedia article:


On December 23, 2003, 37 years after his death, Bruce was granted a posthumous pardon for his [1964 New York] obscenity conviction by New York Governor George Pataki, following a petition filed by Ronald Collins and David Skover with Robert Corn-Revere as counsel, the petition having been signed by several stars such as Robin Williams. It was the first posthumous pardon in the state's history. Pataki claimed his act was "a declaration of New York's commitment to upholding the First Amendment."


As KPFA’s Production Director, I had these recordings in my care. When tape-hungry volunteers started raiding  the archives, I took them into protective custody, where they have remained to this very day (it's the stack in the photo above). Now they belong to the world.

"Lenny Bruce Jazz Workshop Performance 4 Oct 61 Exb B (Def.) in S. F. Municipal Court, Dept. 11, 3 8 62 18’"


Off Broadway 9 Mar ’63 1st perf


Off Broadway 9 Mar ’63 3rd perf


Off Broadway 31 Mar ‘63


Off Broadway 31 Mar ’63 pt 2,  joined by Jonathan Winter (tape starts late)