Slicing raw nerves: The man who wouldn’t hold his tongue


Don’t kill the messenger—but sadly, we always do. He was more like a prophet, really; it’s hard to imagine what today’s cultural landscape would look like without social provocateur, satirist, and comedian Lenny Bruce. His dark humor and scathing criticisms of racial, sexual, religious, and political hypocrisy were way too much for the tighty-whitey moral sanctioning of J. Edgar Hoover’s post-war America. Persecuted for “obscene” language—”cocksucker” (arrest number one) and “where’d that fucking dwarf go?” (arrest number two), the first of many incarcerations he endured—his work redefined the notions of censorship and free speech, and completely face-lifted modern comedy. In light of his iconic status, it’s often forgotten that the dude was friggin’—uh, excuse me, Lenny’d have preferred “fucking”—hilarious! “Two Five-Letter Words” is a collection of Bruce’s choice television appearances from throughout his entire career. Highlights include his debut TV performance on Arthur Godfrey and Friends in 1949, bits from The Steve Allen Show, Playboy’s Penthouse, Close-Up! (with Nat Hentoff), and many more. With today’s political climate frighteningly echoing Hoover-ville (check out the Patriot Act), Lenny’s words are more relevant then ever: “Take away the right to say ‘fuck,’ and you take away the right to say fuck the government.”