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The Lenny Bruce Obscenity Trial - The Obscenity Circus | 1

The Lenny Bruce Obscenity Trial - The Obscenity Circus | 1

Tue, 03 Mar 2020 10:00

In the 1960s, Lenny Bruce was a trailblazing standup comedian who took aim at American culture. Bruce clashed frequently with law enforcement, but his decisive legal battle began in 1964. Bruce faced obscenity charges over one of his performances. He also faced a criminal-justice system bent on silencing an outspoken social critic.

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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 March 31, 1964 in New York City. Lenny Bruce paces backstage at the Café Algo Go, a new club in Greenwich Village. He loosens his skinny black tie and walks over to a scuffed up mirror. His face looks puffy. His eyes are ringed with dark circles. But Bruce knows that in this dimly lit basement, no one's gonna notice. Bruce runs a hand through his dark hair, then shrugs into his black jacket. Ella Solomon, the coowner of Café Algo Go enters the room. Her dress kicks up dust. Hey Len, you ready? Bruce turns and gives her his most charming grin. I'll be out there, Ella, just give me a minute. That's what you said 10 minutes ago. I know, I know, I'm just working through the opening bit. I was thinking of going with Jackie Kennedy. You like the Jackie Bid? God forgive me, but yes I do. Good, because it's one of the last safe bits I've got left. How on earth can that joke be safe? Her husband got killed four months ago. Well, I haven't been arrested yet, so it's safe in my book. Safety first. That's my motto. What have you done with the real Lenny Bruce? I'm serious, Ella. Your boy needs a break. My low life buddies tell me that I'll get used to the handcuffs, the jail cells, the lawyer fees. But guess what, Ella, you never get used to them. Well, I'm tired of waiting, you got a show to do. Yes, mother. Bruce follows Solomon down a long, narrow hallway. They reach the stage where Ella's husband Howard Solomon is stalling the crowd. Bruce stops in the wing. Gives Howard an impish wave. Howard rolls his eyes and pulls the microphone close. And now the moment you've all waited for, ladies and gentlemen, the great Lenny Bruce. Bruce takes the stage, clasping Howard warmly on the shoulder. Solomon then walks off stage and stands next to his wife. Bruce peers out at the packtouse. It's full of beatniks, burnouts, and hipsters. He's kind of people. He adjusts the mic. Let's talk about Jackie Kennedy. You guys see that photo in Time Magazine? Are you climbing out of the backseat of the Lincoln after John gets shot? There's his car right behind them filled with secret service. Jackie jumps out of the Lincoln and into the secret service car. Well, that makes sense. Definitely makes sense. But here's the thing. Photo caption says that she's bravely jumping into the secret service car to help lead the agents into the Lincoln. That's bull. That's a dirty lie. Give me a break. Jackie Kennedy wasn't brave. She was just hauling to save her own ass. Bruce leans back and smiles. He's 15 years into his career, but he can still get a crowd going. Some people in the audience clasped their hands over their mouths and some have tears streaming down their faces. Bruce is paid to perform, but that's not why he does it. The gasps of shock and laughter. That look on a person's face when they're shoved out of their comfort zone. Those are the true rewards. Bruce scans the crowd soaking up the reaction. And then he zeroes in on one man, a few tables back. He's got a thin dark mustache and hasn't taken off his long overcoat. Bruce narrates his eyes. Man sits alone, rapidly riding on a small notepad. Bruce feels himself getting tense, because he knows there are only two kinds of audience members who would take notes, aspiring comedians, and cops. He is a feeling that the man with the mustache was no aspiring comic. Bruce swallows hard, his heart pounding. And lately the police have been cracking down on his act, and he can't afford more legal trouble. Certainly not another night in jail. He knows that a cautious man would come up with an excuse and just end the show right now. But Lenny Bruce is not a cautious man. He grabs the mic and launches into his next bit, and it's outrageous. 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. I'm Wondry, I'm Lindsey Graham, and this is American Scandal. Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock. These are just a few of the stand up comedians who have found fame with vulgar and unflinching comedy. They performed without fear, safe with the knowledge that their material was considered free speech in America, that even their raunctious jokes fell under the protection of the First Amendment. But this wasn't always the case. Just decades ago it was illegal to tell boundary pushing jokes in public. Those who did could be found guilty of obscenity, a crime that could be punished with steep fines and imprisonment. It wasn't until the 1950s that Lenny Bruce rose to prominence as a comedian and challenged the nation's obscenity laws. He was brilliant, uncompromising, outspoken, onstage, and off. In his acts he skewered the norms of mainstream society. He railed against hypocrisy, and his comedy took a hard look at religion, race, politics, sex, and more. Bruce quickly became a countercultural legend, but he also became a target for those in power who saw his dissenting views as a threat. Bruce clashed frequently with law enforcement throughout his career, but his decisive legal battle began in 1964 in New York City. It was a bitter fight, one that would test just how far the authorities would go in order to silence a performer who spoke out and criticize conventional morality. It was a trial that would not only change comedy, but redefine free speech in America. This is episode 1. The obscenity circus. It's April 18, 1949 in New York City. Inside the CBS studio building, stage lights illuminate the set of Arthur Godfrey's talent show. Lenny Bruce waits in the wings, clutching a stack of homemade cue cards, his right hand trumbles. For months he's worked on these jokes and he can't afford to flood a single word. This is the number one late night variety show in the country. It's television, the big time, and it could make his career. So Bruce tries to relax. He thinks he could use a drink, his armpits are moist, his bow tie feels like it's choking him, and that cream they use to slick down his hair so stiff now he feels like he's wearing a helmet. He takes a breath and a break from his no cards. And he watches Godfrey deliver an opening monologue with his trademark folksy charm. The 45 year old showbiz veteran makes it look so easy. Bruce just turned 24. He wonders if he'll ever be as good or as popular. Bruce drops one of his cue cards. He curses, but then glances nervously toward the nearby crew members. A makeup girl approaches and starts powdering his face. But also, with a smile, warns him that he better not use language like that when he's on stage. Just then a crewman with a clipboard walks over and tells Bruce that he's up. Bruce strides on stage with all the confidence he can muster. He hears a creek as a spotlight swivels overhead following him to the microphone. He takes a deep breath and looks out at the hundreds of people waiting in the audience. For a split second he hesitates. He's worked so hard to get to this moment, refining his jokes, touring tiny clubs in the middle of nowhere, getting paid pennies. But now that he's finally here, something feels wrong. I can't quite put his finger on it. So in the audience calls, Bruce realizes he better get started. He does an impression of James Cagney crying, dirty rat. It's a perfect imitation. Next, he does a bit about Audrey Hepburn on a date with Gregory Peck and pitches his voice at just the right octave. He makes a few more good nature wise cracks about movie stars in general. And then, before he knows it, his time is up. He's performed his entire routine perfectly on the studio audience's cheers. It's at that moment he realizes what's bothering him. This should be the happiest moment of his life, but deep down, he knows how much better his performance would be if he could do things his way. The way he does it sitting at the bar with his friends. That's the real Lenny Bruce. The Lenny Bruce who makes cracks about the time Gregory Peck cheated on his wife. Bruce acknowledges the applause. Then he heads off stage, his smile fading. If he's going to be an honest to God comic and not some phony, he needs to do things differently. He'll have to hone his craft in front of his kind of people, not these tourists and suburban nights. Bruce has heard about the after hours clubs and strip joints where they don't tell you what to say or how to say it. He thinks that's where he truly belongs, where he can be free. On his way to the exit door, he rips off his bow tie and chucks in the trash. It's early 1957 in Los Angeles, California. Lenny Bruce reclines on the black leather sofa in his living room. He presses a damp washcloth over his eyes and breathes slowly. He's still coming down from all the booze and pills he swallowed the night before. Recovery isn't as easy as it used to be. Now the Bruce is in his 30s. The setting sun glows through the windows, lighting the room and shades of pink and gold. Bruce loves this house. LA has a special place in his heart too. It was here that he learned to work the burlesque scene. By gyrating strippers, he developed a new material that was uncensored and edgy. A far cry from the material he plurmed eight years ago on Arthur Godbury's show. In that time, he developed a following and even made some money from his work. But even a well stocked bank account can't solve a bad hangover. As he reclines on the sofa, suddenly the washcloth is pulled from his eyes. He groans and protests. His wife drops down on the couch and tells him to get up. Her name is Honey and Lenny met her at a strip club where she was working as a dancer. Even though Lenny's hung over, he still thinks she's got the prettiest smile he's ever seen. Honey reminds him that it's coming up on nighttime. She asks doesn't he have a show in a couple hours? Lenny sits up and wipes his mouth. His head throbs and his skin feel sticky. He leans into sneak a kiss, but when Honey catches a whiff of his breath, she bats him away. Lenny pleads with her. I'm a foul mouth comedian, I don't brush my teeth, he says. Rather than laughing, Honey's face hardens. And all at once, Lenny knows what she's going to say. Honey reminds him that he needs to be careful. He needs to clean up his act. Even if he's telling jokes at a strip club, cops come around even there and they could bust him. Lenny frowns. He rises and says he's not worried about the cops. As he heads toward the bathroom, Honey grabs his arm though and stops him. She says she's serious, he should be worried. The wrong joke in the wrong place, it'll get him arrested. Lenny counters and says his act isn't obscene. He talks the way people talk in real life and there's nothing wrong with that. Honey says she understands, but the police will not. She's worried he's defying them too openly and they'll go out of their way to make an example of him. So Lenny pauses. Then he promises that in the end he's going to win the fight. Honey shakes her head. He tells him that depends on how he defines winning. It's April 1959 and Lenny Bruce waits patiently backstage at New York's Hudson Theatre. This is the home of the Steve Allen show. Bruce likes Allen. He wears hip, black rim glasses like Buddy Holly and he isn't afraid to be a little vulgar. In fact, Steve Allen is one of Bruce's biggest mainstream supporters. An article came out in Time magazine calling Bruce the high priest of sitcomity and still Allen fought to keep Bruce on the show. As he waits to go on, Bruce miles to himself. They call him sick because he speaks his mind because he's suspicious of the mainstream, hypocritical, suburban world of America. But the way he sees it, that's exactly what makes him healthy. Onstage Allen begins his introduction. He tells the audience that once a month they book a comedian who's going to offend everybody. And tonight they have the most shocking comedian of all. He calls out Lenny Bruce's name. And as the house band fires up a song, Bruce walks on stage, a crowd roars. Bruce begins with a few of his best clean jokes. He tells the audience he first started smoking mall bros at six years old and makes fun of kids who sniff glue. He's having fun but there's something important he wants to address. He wants people to know that there's more to him than four letter words. He has a reputation as being controversial in their reverent, but he says, I'll tell you something. There are definitely things that offend me. Segregation offends me. Programs that exploit societal problems under the guise of helping them that offends me. Allen nods thoughtfully in the audience applause. Bruce feels that he's made his point. People should challenge intolerance and hypocrisy however they can. Bruce's weapon of choice is comedy. He also knows that the other side, the establishment, they have weapons too. As he wraps up his set and heads off stage, Bruce begins to wonder. Was honey right? How badly has he offended the people in power? And if he has, when are they going to strike back? It's October 4, 1961. In San Francisco, Lenny Bruce stands on stage in a cramped club known as the Jazz Workshop. He pauses in the middle of his set and sway slightly. He's lost his train of thought again. Then he remembers and jumps back into the material. He wants to talk about a recent drug bust. Bruce offers a melancholy smile. This isn't made up material. He was arrested in Philadelphia the previous month, caught with meth amphetamine, methadone and a few syringes. He tells the audience it was a big misunderstanding that his doctors prescribed the drugs. Bruce sighs. The truth is he has needed medication lately a lot of it. He's had a rough few years. He and Honey divorced one because he was having affairs and two because he was doing too many drugs. He's had his share of troubles recently, no need to invite more. So tonight, Bruce sticks to the basics. He riffs on sex and the male body, nothing too crazy. When he's done the audience applause, and he heads back towards his dressing room. This turns a corner and stops dead in his tracks. Two brownie police officers stand in the hallway. Art hourbock, the owner of the jazz workshop, turns Bruce and sputters. I'm sorry, Lenny. They were watching your act. They say it was obscene. We've got to take you to jail. Bruce glairs at the cops. Hold on. You guys can't just come in here and do this. One of the officers grabs and firmly on the elbow. Yes, we can, and you're coming with us. Bruce wants to fight back, but knows he won't win. Not when he's still high from two joints he smoked before the show. Outside, Bruce is led toward a police call box across the street. He turns to the arresting officer. What's your name, anyway? James Ryan, San Francisco Police Department. We're going to call the sergeant so I can tell him you've been apprehended. Apprehended for what? For an offensive illegal act, I don't understand how you can use that word in public and think it's okay. A mischievous grin spreads across Bruce's face. What word would that be? You know the word. You scared to see it out loud? No. Go ahead, give it a try. It'll make you feel dangerous. Ryan shoves Bruce. What makes you think you can get away talking the way you do? I'm not trying to get away with anything. We should get all these so called bad words out in the open. Really break them down, you know? No. I don't know. What about the word clap? Does clap bother you? Ryan thinks it over as they arrive at the call box. No. Clap isn't bad. Bruce can't help himself. Now if you get the clap from him, Ryan shoves Bruce and discuss before he can finish the joke. And he grabs the call box handset. Bruce trips and falls to the ground. Hey, hey, hey, take it easy, man. Hello, this is Officer Ryan. I'm outside the jazz workshop. Give me three squad cars in a patty wagon right now, please. Bruce is on the ground, giggling, and Ryan reaches out and pulls him to his feet. Lenny Bruce, you are in violation of the Municipal Police Code, sections 176 and 205. Bruce stops laughing and catches his breath. He suddenly realizes there's nothing funny about a night in jail. And he realizes he wishes his ex wife were here to see you. The thing she was so afraid of has finally come to pass. Bruce has been arrested for obscenity, and if this cop's attitude is any indication, all that lies ahead are problems. 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 March 31, 1964. Inspector Herbert Rue is walking through the New York District Attorney's office. Rue is an olive skin Frenchman with a thin dark mustache. As he moves through the office, he passes rows of wooden desks and hears ringing phones and clacking typewriters. Rue heads straight for the corner office belonging to District Attorney Frank Hogan. Hogan's door is wide open. Upon seeing Rue, the lean, gray District Attorney rises to shake his hand. Rue hangs his tan overcoat on the coat rack and takes a seat. Hogan launches into it. Tonight, Lenny Bruce is performing at the Cafe Al Gogogo. Rue will need to go to the club and carefully watch the comedian without being noticed. It's the perfect mission for Rue who used to work for the CIA. Rue says he's happy to do his order. He likes using his wit to bring criminals to justice. But he's at a loss. The name Lenny Bruce doesn't ring a bell. He asks Hogan why is he following a comedian? Hogan leans forward his expression suddenly very serious. Bruce, he says, is performing vulgar comedy all over the country. He's a known drug addict and provocative tour. He's already been arrested on obscenity charges. Rue scribbles the details in his no pad as Hogan continues, explaining that Bruce's first arrest was in San Francisco. But the comedian refused to change his act. He kept breaking law over and over so he was arrested in LA and then Chicago. So far Hogan says, Bruce has been able to act with impunity. The charges in San Francisco were dismissed. He was convicted in Chicago and sentenced to a year in jail. But he's currently free on bail as he appeals. The case in LA hasn't even begun. So until someone nails him, he'll continue to act like he's above the law. He'll do whatever he wants and keep performing obscene material. Rue nods. He understands. It's his job to catch this criminal in the act. With his intelligence gathering, he can help put Bruce away for good. Rue's snap shut his no pad. He's antsy and ready to hear this obscene comedian from himself. Because after he does, he'll be able to show Hogan what a skilled undercover investigator he really is. Later that night, Inspector Rue sits at the cafe OgoGo, surveying his surroundings. Masks and pink globes hang from the ceiling. The air is thick with marijuana smoke. It's well past 11 pm, but the crowds are still growing. Meetnik girls and black berets, unshaven guys and beanies, men and women of all races all here to see Lenny Bruce. But when Bruce finally takes the stage, he's not the trim, stylish man that Rue saw in the photographs. This Bruce is a little heavy in the midsection and he looks very tired. He launches into a routine that mocks Jackie Kennedy. Rue raises his eyebrow while the people around him laugh. Rue notes that the material is rude, but not too extreme, and it's clear that the crowd finds Bruce's performance quite thrilling. Bruce moves on from Kennedy, and that's when the dirty material begins. He references enemas, orgasms, masturbation. Rue actually fires Bruce's routine quite funny. Not that he would share that opinion widely, especially not with the arresting officer that he's certain Hogan will now send. This mid April 1964 in New York City. Lenny Bruce is sprawled on the living room rug in his friend Nat Hentoff's apartment. Bruce looks up a Hentoff who sits a few feet away on a moss screen couch. Hentoff is a young staff writer at the village voice. He has a thick beard and glasses and he's one of Bruce's oldest allies. He's also a jazz connoisseur and Bruce loves digging through Hentoff's record collection. That's what he's doing when Hentoff pulls off a shoe and throws it across the room. Hey Lenny, stop looking at the damn records and pay attention please. I'm trying to get you out of this mess. Tired okay? My chest is killing me. Look I know you're down man. This is a very depressing situation, but they're not fooling around arresting you like that the cafe you go go. New York City's finest, but look, you can't win if you don't fight. Bruce scoots closer to the couch. Nat I'm ready to fight okay? I want to win this. It was one thing when it was just me getting arrested, but arresting Howard and Ella for booking me that's going way too far. It's got to stop. We got to beat the system once and for all. I hear you Lenny, but if you want to beat them for good, you're going to need a lawyer, the best lawyer. Yeah, well who's the best lawyer? F from London. I've written about a few obscenity trials and he's probably the best first amendment lawyer around. The guy has argued more than 200 obscenity cases. I'm pretty sure he's got a copier the constitution on his bedside table, but I need him right away. You don't actually think I can get him. There's one way to find out. Hentoff rummages through a folder of newspaper clippings and index cards, sliding one of them across the coffee table. Bruce grabs it, heads to the kitchen phone. Hello, F from London speaking. Wow. You sound just like I picture Abraham Lincoln, Santa. You know that? This is Lenny Bruce, by the way. You heard me? Yes, Mr. Bruce, I've heard of you. Please call me tomorrow at my office. Right now. No, wait, sir, please don't hang up. I need your help and I need it now. I don't know that I'm the one to help you, Mr. Bruce. I'll be very blunt. Your style of comedy doesn't amuse me. Hey, yeah, I get it. I'm not for everyone, clearly, but that's not the issue. And what is the issue to you, sir? The issue is the city of New York trying to take away my first amendment rights. And body Nat says you're the best free speech defender in America. Mr. London, would you agree, even if you don't like my material, that I have a right to perform it? Yes, I suppose I agree with that. Then what do you say? I like my case. London pauses and has Bruce weights a heavy knot forms in his stomach. It suddenly feels like everything rides on this moment. With a good lawyer, he could stay free. He could keep performing. Even change the way this country thinks about free speech. This could be big. Mr. Bruce, I will take the case, but on one condition. Fantastic, but yeah, of course, what is it? You follow my lead and my advice at every juncture of this trial. Bruce agrees. And as he hangs up, a giant smile spreads across his face. He has a lawyer, a great one. And now the real fight is set to begin. It's April 13th, 1964. Assistant district attorney Richard Q enters the glass and granite towers that are home to the New York criminal courthouse. Q is a tall, broad shoulder man with jet black hair and a camera ready smile. He takes pride in his ability to win any case he's told to prosecute, and he's especially eager to win this one. Q knows he wasn't Frank Hogan's first choice to lead the prosecution. He only got the job because Hogan's go to guy was a little too fond of Bruce's jokes. What anyone sees in such a nauseating act, Q doesn't understand. But he's grateful for this chance to impress Hogan. If he wins this trial and puts Lenny Bruce in prison, he'll be the DA's top choice for years to come. Inside the courtroom, Q nods respectfully to the panel of judges and glances at the defense. A middle aged couple sits together looking frightened. Those must be the club's owners, Howard and Ella Solomon. Next to them is Lenny Bruce. Bruce wears tight black pants, polished boots, and a black jacket buttoned up to the neck. And Q's estimation, the comedian, is clearly on drugs. Next to Bruce is Efrem Lunden, whose lanky and sits in a plain dark suit. Q respects Lunden. He's a formidable attorney. But he wonders if London grasps that this case is a lost cause. The lead judge bangs his gaule and the pretrial hearing begins. The judge says they'll start with a matter of the real to real tapes. Bruce taped his act at the Cafe Algogo, a fact he lets slip during an interview with a village voice. Q tells the court that Bruce is legally obligated to turn over the tapes as evidence. London says that this is out of the question. The tapes are Bruce's personal property. Forcing him to turn them over would be a violation of his constitutional rights. But Q is well prepared for this argument. He responds that in fact the tapes are not Bruce's property. Bruce recorded them in the Cafe Algogo. That's an incorporated establishment and therefore the tapes belong to a corporation, not an individual. And so they should be entered as evidence. The lead judge agrees with Q and he orders the defense to handle the tapes. Q watches Bruce's face crumple. He allows himself a quick moment of satisfaction. It's not yet even 10 a.m. and already Q has scored his first major victory in the People V Bruce. Two days later in court on April 15th, Ephraim London leans over the defense table to confer with Lenny Bruce. Bruce is upset that the prosecution has his tapes. What's the plan London man he asks? London grimaces in the irritation. He does not appreciate Bruce's nicknames or his attempts at humor. London takes a moment to straighten his jacket and collect himself. He finds Bruce to be sloppy and prone to say whatever pops into his head. So London does not think much of Bruce the man. But he does think highly of the first amendment and freedom of speech. It's why he agreed to take the case. London believes that free speech must be defended and that obscenity law is ludicrous. No one deserves to be persecuted under obscenity law not even Bruce. So rapidly London lays out their strategy. Yes, Q has the tapes but that shouldn't matter he tells Bruce. He's going to try and get this case dismissed today. According to legal precedent, no performance can be considered obscene if it contains redeeming social value. Bruce lights up and he agrees with London. Bruce says that yes his work does have redeeming social value. That's what he's been saying all along. Bruce claps London on the shoulder and the panel of judges calls upon them. It's time for London to formally make the case for dismissal. For the next 30 minutes, London argues passionately against the trial. He cites the legal precedence and declares the trial to be simply unconstitutional. Bruce is impressed. Across the room, Q even furrows his brow with concern. But the lead judge, Frederick Strong, remains stone faced. London watches with a sinking feeling a strong deliberates his opinion. He says that the court will not decide upon the constitutionality of the obscenity law. That must be done in a higher court. And so the trial of Lenny Bruce will continue. London sits down quietly. He's disappointed. He's upset. He expected more of Strong being a judge in the most diverse, most cosmopolitan city in America. And London's opinion, Strong, is standing in the way of cultural progress. Yet this decision has only deepened London's resolve. He is in this trial for the long haul. London turns to Bruce and starts to tell him not to lose heart. But Bruce is slumped down in the seat, his head and his palms. He moans and says he knows it. He's going to jail. He puts a hand to his chest and coughs. The next morning, Bruce wakes up in his room at the Malton Hotel in downtown Manhattan. It's just before dawn and he's choking in the dark. He struggles to sit up but collapses back onto the sheets. He thrashes and pain. It feels like a flaming spike is being hammered through the center of his chest. Terrified, Bruce fumbles for the phone on the nightstand. He picks it up, dials the operator, and gasping for air, begs for an ambulance. Once later, he can hear approaching sirens as he begins to lose consciousness. It's three in the afternoon in Los Angeles in April of 1964. Lenny Bruce is in his master bedroom, propped up in his king size bed. The blinds are closed. He prevents glare on the TV set he had wheeled in. This little else to do these days but watch TV and wait for his body to heal. The doctors told him he's lucky to be alive. What happened in New York was an acute attack of pleurcy, a condition that causes painful swelling of the chest cavity. Thankfully, the ambulance reached him in time. Surgeons operated on Bruce for five hours and in the end, they removed a rib and drained his chest of fluid. It was painful and terrifying, but there was a silver lining. The New York trial was postponed and won't resume until Bruce recovers, so he's been taking his sweet time recovering. Bruce meets the TV and picks up a notebook and pen from the bedside table. He's been meaning to write to his LA defense attorney, Stanley Irmus. Not long after Bruce's operation, Irmus called with wonderful news, he succeeded in getting the LA obscenity charges dismissed. In his mind, Bruce composes a note thanking Irmus for his work. Dear Stanley, it begins, thanks to you, I'm now spoiled. Thanks to you, I can laugh at sheriff's cars as they drive past. Bruce leans back against his pillows and turns up the volume on the TV. He feels like he's finally able to rest easy for the first time in years. It's June 1964, two months later. Alan Weaver, a New York writer and translator, sits cross legged on the floor of Alan Ginsburg's tiny apartment. Mountains of books and papers are stacked on every visible surface. It's an absolute mess, but there's no place she'd rather be. Weaver feels that Lenny Bruce needs her help. She's admired the comedian for a long time and believes that he's a creative visionary. But Bruce is battling ongoing court cases in New York and Chicago. And though his recent health scare bought him a little time in Manhattan, he's hardly out of the woods. Weaver tucks her dark brown hair behind her ears and prepares to make another phone call. She and Ginsburg have been working the phones for days now, and she knows she has to keep reaching out to more people. Weaver picks up the receiver. Hello, Taylor residents. Hello, this is Helen Weaver. I have a call scheduled with Mrs. Taylor. One moment please. This is Elizabeth Taylor. Hello Mrs. Taylor, this is Helen Weaver. I'm a friend of Alan Ginsburg and he asked me to call you. Are you aware of Lenny Bruce's legal situation? Oh, yes, I've heard. Isn't it just awful? Yes, it's terrible and absurd. That's why Alan and I are putting together a petition, formally protesting the persecution of Lenny Bruce. It'll go out in newspapers across the country. We're asking prominent people like yourself to join us. Bob Dylan has already signed, so has Norman Mailer and James Baldwin. Can I add your name as well? Weaver sees Ginsburg turn around in the kitchen. His expression hopeful. I don't know. Between you and me, I like Lenny, but you have to admit his material is very racy. Oh, I understand, Mrs. Taylor, but America's creative community can't sit by why one of our own is unjustly attacked. By fighting for Lenny Bruce now, we're fighting for the freedom of all artists. After a moment, Taylor responds. You're right. I'm on board. Thank you so much, Mrs. Taylor. Tryumphant, Weaver adds a checkmark next to Elizabeth Taylor's name. Ginsburg returns from the kitchen, carrying two steaming mugs of tea. He congratulates her. Notes that right now they have nearly 100 supporters. They should finish up their calls for the night and send their petition to papers in the morning. Weaver nods and then picks up the phone again. It's June 15, 1964 and a gloomy day in Los Angeles. Lenny Bruce walks across the living room of his Hollywood Hills home. He's head pounding from another wild night. He stumbles over a suitcase and kicks it angrily. The phone rings and he picks it up. It's his friend Dick Shep calling to apologize. He hasn't checked in since his surgery and wants to know how Bruce is doing. Bruce gives him the quick answer. He's terrible. His chest is healed, but everything else in his life has fallen apart. Two months ago, he was on top of the world. He thought his legal troubles were over. Apparently it doesn't mean anything though that his LA case was dismissed. The city attorney appealed the decision and that means Bruce will have to fight the charges all over again from square one. Plus, he's about to be late for his flight to New York where his trial starts there tomorrow. But Shep says he's got something that will cheer Bruce up. He's just read something in the New York Times, a petition demanding that Bruce be allowed to perform free from censorship or harassment. This sign by 100 of the most famous people in the world. Bruce finds his darkest sunglasses and puts them on. Hooray for Hollywood, he says. His voice, a deep monotone. But Shep continues the gush over the petition. They're calling Bruce a social satirist comparing him to Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift. But Bruce is not impressed. He calls the petition stupid and claims that those who sign it are just trying to look hip. He doesn't want to be their symbol. He just wants to beat these court cases, get back on the road, and make some more money. Bruce can tell Shep sounds deflated. And he tells his friend not to worry. He's got a good case and he's going to prove in court that he's protected by the first amendment. It's June 17th, 1964 in New York City. Lenny Bruce and his lawyer Efron London walked toward the massive, looming criminal courts building. Bruce is sweating under his black jacket and feels a slight stab of pain in his chest. He ignores the spectators that line the outside of the building and follows London to courtroom 535. It's day 2 of Bruce's New York absentee trial. Bruce takes a seat at the defense table and scans the room. Behind the judges are golden letters, stretching from floor to ceiling. They read, in God we trust. Bruce smirks. Right now he needs a cigarette, a lot more than he ever needed God. He turns around and waves to the audience behind him. There are random smattering of friends, foes, media, and curious onlookers. And they all look like they're hoping for a little free entertainment. Bruce's size. He can't believe he has to sit in this miserable room 5 days a week for the next several months. It's better than jail, but not by much. At the witness stand, Petrolman William O. Neill sits in full uniform. It was O. Neill who arrested Bruce and the solomans at Café Algogo in New York, a show that Inspector Rue watched while undercover. Now he's testifying for the assistant DA, Richard Q. Q paces at the front of the courtroom, asking O. Neill questions about the night of the arrest. The Petrolman responds to his tone, cooperative, and eager to please. He tells the judges that the solomans didn't make any attempt to stop Bruce from performing his obscene material. When they heard Bruce's act in their club, they should have dialed the police immediately and reported the comedian. Bruce snorts. He's told a lot of ridiculous jokes in his lifetime, but none of them were as ridiculous as this argument. He can't believe the Q would put this idiot on the stand. Bruce looks at the three judges in the front of the courtroom. They remind him of stone face gargoyles on the ledge of some cathedral. He wishes a jury was deciding his trial. Real people would understand the need to speak your mind and tell it like it is. But this is a New York misdemeanor trial, and Bruce is stuck with an uptight panel of judges. He watches and disbelief as they listen to O�Neil's testimony. They nod, soberly it won another as if they're buying O�Neil's argument. Bruce feels the color drain from his face, because if the judges are buying this argument, then he and the solomans are going jail, all because he dared to question the establishment and slaughter its sacred cows in public. He can't believe that he and Ella and Howard could lose their livelihoods and their freedom. One of him wishes he could just run out of the courtroom, but there's no outrunning the forces aligned against Bruce. He has no choice but to stick it out and fight. Next on American scandal, Lenny Bruce continues his desperate clasper justice and grows increasingly frustrated with the New York's legal system. As the judges near their verdict, the comedians downward spiral of drugs and self destruction picks up speed. I'm wondering, this is American scandal. Just a quick note about our reenactments. We can't always know exactly what was said, but everything in our show is based on historical research. American scandal has hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsey Graham, for airship, Sound Design by Derek Barons. This episode is written by Hannibal T.S., edited by Christina Malsberger, produced by Gabe Riffin, executive producers or Stephanie Jenz, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and her nonlopes for