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The Lenny Bruce Obscenity Trial - I’m Not a Comedian | 2

The Lenny Bruce Obscenity Trial - I’m Not a Comedian | 2

Tue, 10 Mar 2020 09:00

Lenny Bruce faces a terrifying moment, when his health takes a sudden downturn. But a recent Supreme Court case lifts his spirits, and raises the prospects that he'll triumph over his own legal troubles. The trial winds down, and soon, the verdict is in.

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A listener note, this episode contains references to adult content and language, and contains material that some might find offensive. It's June 17, 1964, in New York City. Inside the Manhattan Criminal Courts building, a crowd has gathered. They're hovering near the door to courtroom 535, where a sign reads standing room only. The crowd murmurs in anticipation. Reporters, spectators, prospective witnesses, they're all here for day two of the Lenny Bruce Obsentity trial. Inside the courtroom, the famous comedian sits at the defense table. He's staring grimly at the American flag near the witness stand. Hippocrates, roofs thanks to himself. The flag has no place in this courtroom, a courtroom where prosecutors are completely ignoring the First Amendment. Just then, across the room, assistant district attorney Richard Q pushes back his chair and stands. Q gives off a commanding presence with his thick black hair and three piece suit. Bruce anxiously picks out his fingernails. His nerves are shot. Then he turns to the elegant, gray man sitting beside him, his defense attorney, Ephraim London. Gotta tell you, Lundo, that guy makes me jerry, especially after what happened to the cop you put on the stand. Petrolman O Neil? Yeah, O Neil. Why weren't you more aggressive with the cross examination? It was like watching a nanny changing her first diaper. I need you to tear these guys apart. If they find me guilty of obscenity, it's all over for me, man. Lenny, I thought we were clear on this. I intend to present our case my way. I know what I'm doing, and if you want to win, follow my lead. And quiet, please, we're about to resume. Bruce starts to argue again, but London shushes him. Q glances over at the defense table with a look of annoyance. Then he speaks to the court. The prosecution will now call Inspector Herbert Rue to the stand. Bruce glairs at the inspector. He notes Rue's glasses and thin moustache. He certainly remembers him from that night at Cafe Al Gogogo. Bruce had sensed there was something off about a guy sitting alone at a table taking notes at a comedy show. And soon enough, the cops showed up. They hauled Bruce straight to the precinct headquarters. They also arrested the club's owners, Howard and Ellis Solomon. Inspector Rue is sworn in and Q begins his direct examination. Inspector Rue, were you present at the Cafe Al Gogogo the night of March 31st? Yes, sir, I was. Did you take detailed notes of the defendant's performance that evening? Yes, in fact, I have those notes right here. Who'd you please read the first section you identified as a scene? Rue sits up straight, clears his throat, and begins to read. He even begins a slight impersonation of Lenny Bruce. When now the British they talk nice, such beautiful sounds. They can even make the word shit sound nice. Sounds elegant the way they say. Bruce's jaw drops. He turns to London and grabs his arm. What's he doing? That's supposed to be me. Lenny, please. I'll handle it. Rue continues his reenactment, which for Bruce feels increasingly bizarre. Eating is very important. I say eating is really an act of oral copulation. Of course, most schmucks wouldn't understand. You know, the word schmuck is a very interesting word. In Yiddish, it literally means a man's penis. Bruce has had enough. Oh, for God's sake, London. I said, I said the schmuck thing like 15 minutes after the food thing. I don't jam it together like that. And the delivery's all wrong. Where's his timing? London finally speaks up. Objection. The witness is only recounting what he personally considers obscene. His testimony fails to capture the artistic and philosophical nuance of my client's performance. Bruce nods his head vigorously. He couldn't have said it better himself. He looks hopefully at the three judges who will decide his fate. And one shakes his head. The judge overrules the objection. Bruce sinks down into a seat and then he says to no one in particular, man, this guy is bombing. And I'm going to jail for it. There's been a dull ache in Bruce's chest and suddenly that ate flares to a sharp pain. As Rue continues his testimony, Lenny Bruce wins his in agonizing pain. He's felt this pain before. He needs medical attention and he needs it now. All right, ready? Ready. OK, when you watch the next one, the one raised, don't put up. Watch it with us. Tudor, the fast and loose side cast hosted by the Kid Miro and me, Michelle Beetle. He is funny and I will be there. And she also knows what she's talking about. We go live on every race Sunday. That is right. Download the app and follow us at amp presents F1 on amp. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together. And we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. From wondering, I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American Skin. In the summer of 1964, Lenny Bruce faced a high stakes trial in New York City. The celebrated comedian was charged with a crime of performing obscene material at a local nightclub. A guilty conviction could land him behind bars. The trial, though, carried a larger significance for American culture. Bruce admitted that he was vulgar, but he believed that his work revealed difficult truths about modern life. So the trial was a test about the limits of free speech. Yet Lenny Bruce's obscenity trial placed a huge toll on Bruce himself. And as the stress of his situation mounted, Bruce entered a downward spiral of self destruction and drug use. Nevertheless, he was determined to prove his innocence. And he wanted people to see him as he believed he truly was, a sensitive and observant artist ahead of his time. This is Episode 2. I'm not a comedian. This June 22, 1964 in New York City, at the Flower in Fifth Avenue Hospital, Ephraim London slowly pushes open the door to a private room. Harsh fluorescent light beams down from above, the smell of lice allows in the air. As London enters, he sees Lenny Bruce sitting upright in his bed. His client looks pale. Bruce is hooked up to an IV, but he's also chuckling to himself and jotting down something in a notebook. London notices something else. The faint, pink marks along comedian's bare arms. It's the first time he's ever seen heroin tracks up close. London is disturbed by the sight, and even feels a little light headed himself. But he's also irritated because despite Bruce's talent, he's putting his life at risk with dangerous disgusting drugs. Bruce closes his notebook, turns to London and smiles. Lando, you escaped the courthouse. How are you Lenny? Oh, perfectly fine, Lando. So we bid a pluracy, no big deal. Gives me time to work out some new material. What brings you to my posh little penthouse? You bring me flowers? London smiles weakly and shakes his head. No flowers. And I did bring you some promising news. Bruce raises an eyebrow. London pulls up a chair to Bruce's bedside and leans forward. Lenny, the US Supreme Court has just ruled in another obscenity trial. It involved a French film called The Lovers. The court decided that the film has socially redeeming value. They say it should not be considered obscene, and no one should get arrested for exhibiting it in the United States. The Lovers, huh? Sounds like my kind of movie. London shakes his head impatiently. Lenny, the point is, the court's ruling helps our case in a very large way. If we can establish that your act has socially redeeming value, it shouldn't be considered obscene either. Bruce's face brightens. My act's got loads of socially redeeming value. You heard my bit about pot. One day it's going to be legal, so all those congressmen can protect themselves. Lenny, I know. I got one about the church people. You know, I respect their beliefs, but I don't respect that they say one thing, and they do another. You've told me that one too. So what then? We present this new Supreme Court case to the judges and the trials over? Well no, not exactly. But it should influence the judges to view our case more favorably. Well that's amazing, London. When do we have to be back in court? Eight days. Eight days. Perfect. Plenty of time to book a gig, maybe even two. Lenny, you're in no shape to perform. I don't have a choice. After this little hospital stay, I'm practically broke. And you don't come cheap yourself either, unless you're willing to work pro bono. No, I can't do that, Lenny. And I guess I gotta go out and make some more bread. It's late June, 1964. Inside the Corkin Bib Jazz Club in Long Island, the air is heavy with cigarette smoke. Lenny Bruce enhales deeply in grins. He's booked four shows here over the weekend, and he'll earn $1,100 enough to hold off his creditors for a while. Bruce rubs his hands together. The Corkin Bib is his kind of establishment. A mixed crowd of jazz fans snack their fingers. The saxophone player on stage launches into a dizzying solo. Bruce pops his head to the music as he heads towards the bar. He's eyeing a pretty cocktail waitress when a police officer approaches. The officer introduces himself. His name is Norman Levy, and he's a local squad chief. Levy says he doesn't want any trouble. Bruce can perform tonight as long as he keeps his act within the bounds of the law. Bruce gives Levy a sarcastic salute. And he downs his whiskey and orders another. As Bruce waits for the drink, Levy asks if he can record Bruce's act. Bruce shrugs. Sure, why not? And asks the officer if he's heard about the new Supreme Court case. The one about the film, The Lovers. Levy shakes his head. Ah, it's nothing really. Bruce says nonchalantly. It just means everything I'm going to say tonight is totally legal. The jazz band ends its set, and Bruce makes his way to the stage. He picks up the mic and launches in. He's happy to discover that he's not rusty at all. He digs in and challenges the hypocrisies in middle class life, politicians, America's cultural taboos. His biting commentary pours out in what feels like an uncontrollable torrent. Times like this, he feels like he has more in common with jazz musicians than comedians. What jazz players do with musical notes, he does with words. He explores, improvises, he invents something new on the spot, and the crowd can't seem to get enough. 40 minutes later, Bruce walks offstage to wild applause. Officer Levy is waiting in the wings. The club's owner stands next to him wearing a pain expression. Levy points a meaty finger at Bruce and says that tonight's material was borderline of scene. If he performs it here again, he'll be arrested. Bruce rolls his eyes as Levy walks away. He turns to the club owner and tells him not to worry. The cops can't really do anything. He's got the Supreme Court on his side. Club owner sighs though, looks at the floor. He's really sorry but he can't let Bruce go on again. Bruce is stunned. He had the crowd laughing through the entire show tonight, but the owner says the performance isn't the problem. It's the liquor license. If the cops arrest Bruce, the club could very well lose its license and the owner could even wind up in court like the Solomon's. Bruce feels a rising sense of panic. He is out of money and there's no one else in New York who will book him. Bruce pleads. I need your help. But the club owner shakes his head sadly. He'll pay for tonight's show, but that's all he can do. Bruce looks away. He felt you're foric to be on stage. But once again, he feels worn out, beaten down. He realizes there's just one solution. He has to win his trial. That's the only way he'll be able to put to rest the fears of America's club owners. And if he loses in New York, well then his career is truly over. It's June 30th, 1964. Efron London checks his watch and continues to climb the steps of the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building. Lenny Bruce lags a few steps behind wearing a tattered black jacket and sunglasses. London frowns. His client looks like he hasn't showered in weeks. London understands why Bruce is depressed. It must have been hard to have his shows canceled so abruptly. But then again, London thinks maybe it's just the drugs. It's really not on his business though. Only one thing matters. Proving to the court that Bruce's act has socially redeeming value. Before he does that though, he wants to try something else. He wants to take one more stab at getting the charges dismissed altogether. London pushes open the doors to the courtroom. He and Bruce sit down next to Howard and Ellis Solomon. They're joined by the defense's two cocautials, Alan Schwartz and Martin Garbous. Garbous is a 30 year old graduate of NYU Law and has proven especially useful during the trial. Unlike London, he's a fan of Bruce's comedy. When London struggles to follow Bruce's twisted rhetoric, Garbous is always ready to explain. Soon three justices take their seats on the bench. London stands and here he makes a motion to dismiss the charges against Bruce and end the trial today. Bruce John Murthaw's size. He points out that London has asked twice for this before and was denied. The justice wants to know what's changed. London says that he'd like the justices to consider this case from a different angle. He wants them to think of the so called obscene words that Bruce is alleged to have used. Why exactly he asks are some words acceptable to use in society while others are not? London asks that everyone in the courtroom be honest with themselves. He explains the reason why certain words are taboo is because they tend to be used by working class people, people in the lower economic wrongs of society. But London says the country's founders intended the first amendment to protect the rights of everyone in America and that includes those at the bottom. The justices have a unique opportunity here to affirm that principle once and for all. London waits quietly as the judges confirm. After several minutes, Judge Murthaw turns back towards London and the motion to dismiss is denied. Frustrated London sits. Bruce is stone faced. London pulls some notes from his briefcase and begins reading. At this point there's little else to do but get ready for the rest of the afternoon. He certainly disappointed, but London's hardly ready to give up. In fact, he still believes he can pull off the victory. And today, he plans to call a number of successful writers and critics to the stand. All of them support Bruce. London figures these experts will help sway the judges because they'll attest to the importance of Bruce's art and the judges will finally understand that the comic is not obscene, but rather that his work has significance to American society. A few hours later, Lenny Bruce sits up in his seat at the defense table. Ephraim London has just called Richard Gilman to the stand. Britain is a literary critic with newsweek, whereas a stylish suit that suggests that he's both smart and hip. Bruce likes him. And Gilman supports Bruce. He tells the court that Bruce's intention is artistic. Bruce removes the stigma from certain words and in doing so reveals important truths. Bruce is amazed. This endorsement of his art is far more than he could have hoped for. And soon, Bruce's old friend Nat Hentoff takes the stand. Hentoff, the writer for the Village Voice, tells the court that Bruce is a moral comedian, more so than any of his contemporaries. Hentoff is followed by Alan Morrison, the city editor of Ebony magazine. Morrison says that Bruce's social satire is superb and it demonstrates a concern for social issues including racial equality, bigotry and religious intolerance. More experts continue to testify on Bruce's behalf. They compare him to writers like James Baldwin and Tennessee Williams. And one of the experts, a Christian minister, says that Lenny Bruce verges on genius. After each witness steps down, Bruce looks them in the eyes and mounds the words thank you. He feels a sense of gratitude that's almost overwhelming. He bows his head, does nothing to keep the tears from falling. Martin Garb has passed his shoulder and Bruce smiles. He feels a renewed commitment to this battle. He'll show this court and the world that Lenny Bruce is more than just a troublemaker with a foul mouth. He's an artist. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion? Or you woke up in the morgue? Or you were seriously injured miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening. Ask our listeners this very question while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives, even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available ad free only with Wondry Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. It's July 1964 in San Francisco. Lenny Bruce walks into his room at the Swiss American Hotel and kicks aside a pile of unwashed clothes. The room is small, but to Bruce, it's far less claustrophobic than Court Room 535. Bruce had rejoiced when Justice Murthall announced the court would take a three week recess for summer vacation. And since arriving in San Francisco, he spent almost every night on stage at a club called the Off Broadway. His shows have gone well and the money is finally trickling back in. Best of all, no cops hassling him. They've mostly left him alone ever since his San Francisco obscenity trial was dismissed on a technicality. In his hotel room, Bruce sits down at a rickety writing desk. He begins flipping through his mail. He tosses aside a couple of envelopes that look suspiciously like bills. The next envelope, though, is addressed to Mr. Lenny Bruce with a return address in New York. Bruce feels a sudden wild hope. Maybe it's a note from the DA's office informing him that the trial recess has been extended. Or maybe he thinks there's been another technicality. Maybe the trial's been dismissed. His pulse quickens as he tears open the envelope. He unfolds the letter and begins to read. Dear Lenny, I will keep this short. You must return to New York. With those words, Bruce's heart sinks. He recognizes the handwriting now. He belongs to his attorney, Efrem London. London explains that the recess is ending and he must be present when court resumes next week. If not, he'll forfeit bail and face other penalties and he will almost certainly lose his case. Bruce drops the letter and slams the desk with his fist. Bruce is not what he wants. Just last week he wrote London a very clear letter. He explained that he had to stay in San Francisco to make money. It's the only major city in America where he can safely perform. In Bruce's opinion, there's no reason why he needs to sit in the actual courtroom while London defends him. Bruce looks around the cluttered room. He's looking for his lighter, spoon, and syringe. He needs to take the edge off. Bruce decides he'll go back to New York as ordered. But he's done playing by his lawyer's rules, all these attorneys and justices. They claim to be legal experts, but he's the one on trial. So he makes a resolution. Tomorrow he'll visit the public library and check out every law book he can find. Because the next time he faces a judge, he wants to be prepared. It's July 28, 1964 in New York. Inside courtroom 535, Richard Q makes his final impact. He's a passionate argument to the court. But Lenny Bruce is focused on something else. These last few days, he's been studying his legal case. He's taken copious notes on every witness for the prosecution and in wild scribbles refuted their arguments. He's drawn numerous parallels between his case and cases from the past. Bruce studies his papers. He believes that here in his hand is a blueprint for his exoneration. He snores to himself. He didn't need Frem London. He could have conducted his defense all by himself. He can see it right here. He has the smarts and the talent, and now he's about to prove it. Bruce puts his note pad down. He catches Penn as Richard Q reaches his conclusion. At this point, your honor, the people rest. Justice Murtan nods. He opens his mouth to speak, and right then, Lenny Bruce pushes his chair and stands. He ignores a look of shock on Frem London's face. Your honor, I would like to ask the court to allow me to speak. There's evidence that's been withheld from the court. Judge Murtaw shoots him a withering scound. The court strongly advises you to be guided by the wisdom of your attorney. You are fortunate in having most distinguished and able counsel. Yes, I do have counsel, but I have trouble communicating with them. This evidence is very important. Excuse me, Mr. Bruce. We'll take a short recess to allow you to consult with your counsel. Bruce sits down. He notes the appalled expression on the faces of garbage, shwarts, and the solomans. He can tell they're going to beg him not to go through with this. But it's London who speaks up first. What the hell are you doing? Winning the case, Lenny, we may have already won it. You want to jeopardize that on the very last day of the trial? You're making a huge mistake. I know what to say, Lundo. I know all the First Amendment presidents. I can do a bit of my act here so the judges get it. It'll convince them to let us off the hook, you know? Lenny. I cannot allow you to do that. If you take the stand, it's like handing you a winning lottery ticket. London then points at the solomans. And then think about Howard and Ella. You're putting them at even greater risk. No, no, no, I'm not, Lundo. I'm saving them. The fact that you can't see that, it's why we're still in this mess. Now step aside, man, I'm going up. Fine. You want to ruin your life and there? I can't stop you. But I don't have to watch you do it either. London stands and begins shoving documents into his briefcase. What are you doing? I'm quitting. If you testify today, I will walk straight out of this courtroom. You'll never see me again. Bruce's eyes dart quickly to Howard and Ella. They look helpless, terrified. Bruce looks away and gathers his thoughts. His shoulders slump and he turns back to London. Jesus, Efron, take it easy. London stops packing his briefcase. Bruce lowers his head slightly. OK, fine. You'll try it your way. Breathing heavily, London sits down and smooths his time. He turns to the judges. His face still red. Your honor, Mr. Bruce has agreed to be guided by my advice, the defense rests. Mertal races his gaville. Court is adjourned. After 43 grueling days, the trial is over. The justices will announce their verdict on November 4. Bruce stands, he brushes past London without saying another word, and he heads for the exit. It's September 2, 1964. Lenny Bruce stumbles through a darkened living room. It's just after 2am and Bruce is in his two story home in Hollywood, California. In one hand, he holds a baggy of light brown powder. His other hand is wrapped around a bottle of Jack Daniels. Bruce pauses. He stares out the floor to sealing windows, watching the twinkling lights of West Hollywood. Laps bitterly. Afrin London thinks he's dumb, but a dumb guy could never afford a house like this. And speaking of London, it's time for Bruce to deal with him once and for all. Bruce arrives at his wood paneled office and flips on the light. He sits down at his desk and gazes at a frame photo. This is ex wife, honey, looking like she's smiling back at him. Bruce remembers taking that picture. It was a perfect day in Santa Monica eight years ago. Suddenly, Bruce is furious. He angsts open a drawer and grabs a sheet of paper and pen. He throws back a slug of whiskey and then starts writing. In a letter to Efram London, he launches angry accusations at the lawyer. He says that London ruined the trial. And Bruce reminds London that he's detailed hundreds of errors in the police transcripts from the cafe Al Gogogo. Bruce can't understand why his lawyer wouldn't submit these documents while he wants to wait and use them on a possible appeal. Bruce feels himself gaining steam, his hand flying across the page. What is the matter with you, Efram? He writes, Bruce pauses and then comes to a decision. He orders London to submit the documents to get them into the official record. And if London won't do so, Bruce says, well, then he's not paying the attorney's fees. With that, Bruce leans back, suddenly spent. He intends to mail the letter the second the post office opens, which is just a few hours away. To get to sleep, he grabs the bag of brown powder and a syringe. It's November 4, 1964. Bruce is back in New York City for the first time in months, dressed in his courtroom uniform, skin tight black pants with a black leather jacket. Bruce enters the courthouse. Feels good to enter by himself without any lawyers at his side, the way it should have been all along. He sent his letter to Efram London two months ago. London responded by suing him for breach of contract. Bruce isn't worried about the suit. If London wants any money out of him, he'll have to pry it out of Bruce's cold dead hands. Bruce feels a rising excitement as he walks down the long, marble hall. It's the kind of excitement he gets just before going on stage, which is appropriate. Today, he fully intends to turn the courtroom into a one man show, a performance that will prove his innocence once and for all. Bruce strides into courtroom 535 and smiles at the judges in the solomans. None of them smile back. Instead, Murthaw tells Bruce he's 15 minutes late and that his tardiness is not appreciated. He says that the judges have arrived at their decision and they'll now announce their verdict. Murthaw seems to notice that Bruce is alone and asks if he's represented by council. Bruce says he'll be representing himself today. He then asks if he can address the court. Murthaw's size and gestures for him to proceed. Please, Your Honor, Bruce begins. I want to show you today that my performance is not obscene. I will prove that every word I've ever said is in the dictionary. Murthaw looks bewildered. He tells Bruce that the court already has all the arguments but the court hasn't heard my show, Bruce cries. Murthaw raises his voice in a tone of extreme exasperation. He reminds Bruce that the case is closed, the verdict is ready. Bruce suddenly realizes that Murthaw is really truly not going to let him reopen this trial. He can't believe it. He prepared for this moment, rehearsed every day and all for nothing. The court won't let him plead his case in his own words. Bruce feels panic creeped down his spine. He takes a few desperate steps toward the bench. The bailiff warns him to stay where he is. Bruce looks around the room wildly but there's no one to help him. He begs the judge not to end his career and show business. But Murthaw bangs his gavel and shouts over him. The court finds Lenny Bruce and Howard L. Solomon guilty. L. Solomon is not guilty. The defendants will be sentenced the next month. Gavel comes down one last time. The judges rise to leave. Bruce cannot believe what he just heard. It's over and he's lost. He grips his curly hair in both hands fighting a wave of nausea. Murmuring, the court audience begins to file out. Bruce looks at them but they turn away. He's seen the bearist. Bruce pushes past them. His eyes blurry with tears. The bailiff tells him he must remain for fingerprinting. Bruce takes one look at the bailiff's ink pad, turns away, and walks out. The court is on fire. It's December 21, 1964. The New York courtroom that's been home to the people V. Bruce is as crowded as ever. Martin Garbis is packed into the back with the rest of the onlookers. He can hear the winds and howls outside the building. It feels like he's at a funeral of a good friend. In many ways he is. Garbis is a true fan of Lenny Bruce's comedy. He was also Bruce's legal co counsel until Bruce fired him along with Efron London. London will have nothing to do with Bruce now. Won't even speak his name. Garbis though doesn't take his firing personally. Bruce is just a temperamental artist and he really did have a good case. Garbis still can't believe the judges ruled against him. The day Divertic was announced was a dark day for the Constitution he thinks, but today feels darker. It's the day Bruce will be sentenced. Garbis is here in the show of moral support, though the comedian hasn't noticed him yet. Because Bruce is too busy making one last desperate plea for a quittle and sad for Garbis to see Bruce this way. Overweight, unshaven, eyes puffy and bloodshot, begging the judges to reconsider. Bruce couldn't even bother to put on his stylish all black outfit, instead he wears a striped t shirt under a filthy trench coat. He looks to Garbis like a man at the end of his rope. Garbis wishes there was some way he could help, but he knows that Bruce would never accept it. The crowd goes quiet as the court is called to order. In a clear voice, Judge Morton announces Bruce's sentence, four months in prison. Howard Solomon has the option of paying a $500 fine or doing 30 days alongside Bruce at Rikers Island. Solomon hugs his wife and smiles. They weep openly with relief. The Solomon's got off quite easy in the end, and Garbis is happy for them. Bruce on the other hand has no one to hug. He looks utterly defeated. Garbis turns to the exit. Bruce will be okay, he thinks, and the sentence could have been much, much worse. Garbis is about to reach the door when he hears Bruce calling his name. He turns, looks back, then greets the comedian warmly. Bruce smiles at him. His eyes are shiny, his voice, horse. He tells Garbis that he's flat broke, he didn't even bring enough for cab fare back to his friend's place. Could Garbis spare a couple of bucks? Garbis is choked up. He clears his throat. I drove, Lenny, he says quietly. Let me give you a ride. It's March 1965 in San Francisco. Bruce is back in his favorite room at the Swiss American hotel. He's done a few shows recently and made a couple thousand dollars. After each performance, he invites anyone who will join him back to his hotel room. They smoke, they drink, they use a lot of drugs, and hailed through their noses and shot into their arms. Tonight the room is dense with cloud to marijuana and cigarette smoke. A Charlie Parker record plays a full volume. Bruce swings his head wildly to the music. His friend Eric Miller, a local nightclub musician, sits in an armchair looking around. He turns to Bruce, hey man, what's all that on your bed? Bruce gasses across the teetering stacks of thick hardcover books. Ah, yeah, my legal library, all those books are for the case. Oh right, how's the case going man? Not bad, not bad. New York said I was guilty and gave me four months, but I haven't served a single day. It's all under appeal. Meanwhile I'm just researching, man, just researching. Researching, researching one. Everything. Our history of the legal system, every single case ever, and you know what? In the end, I'm going to win. Miller nods, but skeptically. Right on, Lenny. Right on. Bruce fishes in his pocket and pulls out a tightly rolled joint. He flicks his liner, then takes a hit. Hey, you want something like this? I added a little something special. DMT. Gotta keep it interesting, you know? Trip to me? Ah man, I don't screw around with that. So, shoot yourself. Bruce takes another hit and crosses over to the window. You know, I gotta tell you, the last couple of years have not been easy, but it's been starting to turn around. There's going to be a surprise ending to all of this. Mark my words. Hey Lenny, don't lean against the glass like that. Oh no, let me finish. There's going to be a big party and all the judges and all the DAs are going to give me a big shiny medal for revolutionizing the judicial system. I'm telling you, they're going to call me legal Lenny. Bruce is suddenly on the sidewalk, covered in blood. Shards of glass are lodged in his face. Bruce finally regains his breath. Holy wow. That's a trip. Miller's right beside him. Don't talk, we call the ambulance. Police officer approaches. Oh, thank God, officer, he had an accident. Fell out of the window. Please, please help him. Sir, are you all right, sir? Don't move. Don't move. Stay there. We're here to help. But Bruce pushes away pieces of glass and staggers to his feet. You want to help me? Like you helped me back in 61? Like you helped me in New York and you helped me in Chicago? You mother. Bruce starts swinging wildly as other officers arrive and swarm at him from every side. The last thing Bruce remembers is being wrestled to the ground. Then his world goes black. It's mid February 1966 in Hollywood, California. Lenny Bruce hovers on stage at the neon lit music box theater. His hair is tangled and his stomach hangs out from beneath an untuck shirt. Bruce realizes that he's in the middle of a joke, but he can't remember the punchline. He stifles a giggle. The heroine has certainly kicked in. So in costs Bruce leans toward the microphone and there's a loud screech of feedback. Say something funny, someone yells. Someone else tells the heckler to shut up. Bruce waves his arm for everyone just to calm down. He informs the crowd that he's run out of stories to tell. He told them about his arrests, his trials, what he's learned about the legal system. That's all there is to know about him. He shrugged as he peers down at the disappointed faces in the audience. I guess I wasn't all that funny tonight, he says slurring. But what can I tell you? I'm not a comedian. I'm Lenny Bruce. Several months later, Bruce sits on the couch in his Hollywood home next to his girlfriend. The red haired comedian Lotus Weinstock. He stares at the TV screen, his expression blank. But which does on? Whenever the laugh track kicks in, Bruce laughs too. Then he goes quiet. It's 8.15 pm and he's sleepy. Weinstock tells Bruce she's been thinking. Maybe they should go to the beach tomorrow. In a flat voice, Bruce says he'd prefer not to. Weinstock protests and says they never go out anymore. He never goes out anymore. It's been at least a week since he left the house. Doesn't he want just a little sun? He'd be good for him. Bruce sighs and picks up the remote. He turns down the volume on Bruwich then faces Weinstock. He says he has something to tell her. And when he says it, he doesn't want her to react. He just needs to hear himself say it out loud. Weinstock leans forward a worried expression on her face. I'm going to die this year, Bruce says. Weinstock stares at Bruce, her mouth, the game. She waits for him to say more, but he retreats into his own thoughts. He tries to imagine a future for himself, but he can't. He's lost his wife. He's lost his career. He's almost out of money, maybe for good. There aren't many places left where he can still perform. The only thing he enjoys these days is sitting alone at home with a needle in his arm and a finger on the plunger. But that's turning out to be no good either. When he's high, all he does is dwell on happier times than a long gone. He sees Weinstock wipe something from the corner of her eye. She forces a cheerful smile. He says they should make a deal. If she goes out to the store right now and buys him those raisin cookies he likes, will he at least wait a year to die? Bruce sighs, reaches out and touches her face. He nods, sure. And then says, you get me those raisin cookies and I'll wait a year. She pops up off the couch, slips on her shoes, and heads for the door. Bruce smiles after her, then turns back to the TV. He hopes he'll be able to keep his end of the bargain, but he can't make any promises. On August 3, 1966, just two months later, Lenny Bruce died in his Hollywood home. The cause of death was an overdose of morphine. He was 40 years old. At the time of his death, he had won his cases in Los Angeles and Chicago, but was still appealing his verdict in New York. Lenny Bruce's death raised important questions among the public. Lenny's asked whether the criminal justice system had overstepped and pushed the comedian to an early grave. This in turn forced a broader conversation about the value of free speech and the role of artists in American life. And soon the criminal justice system began to shift. Prosecutors focused less on comedians and turned their attention to other offenders. Lenny Bruce suffered as he fought for the freedom of speech and performance, but he paved the way for future comedians who could perform insisive and even vulgar material without the fear of arrest. Bruce's trials and his eventual death helped lay the foundation for American culture today. In 2003, New York Governor George Potucky issued a posthumous pardon to Lenny Bruce. It was the first such pardon in state history. Potucky called it a declaration of New York's commitment to upholding the First Amendment. Next on American scandal, I speak with Brett Gary, professor at NYU. Gary studies media, American culture, and politics focuses on the public battles over censorship. He joins us to discuss the profound impact of Lenny Bruce's obscenity trials. From Wondering, this is American scandal. Just a quick note about our reenactments. We can't always know exactly what we're sending, but everything in our show is based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited, and executed produced by me, Lindsey Graham for Aresha. Sound designed by Derek Barons. This episode is written by Hannibal Diaz, edited by Christina Malsberg, produced by Gabe Riven. Guided producers are Stephanie Jenner's Jenny Lauer Beckman and Hernan Lopez for Wondering.