Clip Job: an excerpt every day from the Voice archives.
April 9, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 25
The Village Square
By John Wilcock
The things that have been happening here lately have just about driven me up the wall with outrage and frustration. Who are these so-called “judges” and “licensing officials,” et cetera, et cetera, who have the incredible gall to tell us what we may read, or see, or do? There is no majesty in the law when it is being administered, as it sometimes is at the lower levels, by bone-headed, pea-brained political hacks whose only claim to authority is that they have bribed and bootlicked their way into public office.
This is your society, and my society, just as much as it belongs to those hypocrites and liars who have proved time and time again that they are prepared to sacrifice any decent instinct or principle to the overriding cause of staying in power. Let me put the issue before you squarely: my life and that of thousands of thinking people around me is being controlled and manipulated by a generation that knows and understands nothing of what we love and believe.
It is time that the old, old men, the Southern Senators, the police chiefs, the politicians of all shades, learned to LEAVE US ALONE. They do not “represent” us. They do not represent anybody except themselves and their mythical gods. Men who spend their time drinking and praying possess no franchise whatsoever to close down harmless coffee shops on my behalf; men with large homes and civic automobiles paid for with my taxes are merely being arrogant when they tell my artist friends that they must leave their lofts and studios; mulish, vicious policemen with obscene vocabularies and comic-book tastes are not going to decide whether or not my friends shall express their criticisms in liquorless night clubs. Nobody is forced to listen to Lenny Bruce, even policemen.
It is common news by now that Bruce, harassed and hounded all over the world, has finally been arrested in New York, where he will appear in court on April 23 charged with giving an obscene performance. (What is an obscene performance? Apparently anything that offends the delicate susceptibilities of the local police.)
To help Lenny, but even more importantly to make a stand, the Emergency Committee Against Harassment of Lenny Bruce has been formed. All mail and contributions (to pay legal costs, buy ads, etc.) sent to the Committee c/o myself at 26 Berry Street will be passed along. The committee has petitions, asking the Mayor to implement guarantees of free speech, but you are urged to write your own, collect signatures, and send them along.
Maybe the American Civil Liberties Union, of which I have long been a member, can also be persuaded to take an interest in the case if its cautious New York director, George Rundquist, can be convinced that what is at stake is not what Bruce said but his right to say it.
The Committee’s initial action has been to distribute several thousand petitions, addressed to Mayor Wagner, protesting Bruce’s arrest and “the double-barreled approach to decency which ignores many levels of dishonesty and concentrates, instead, on the words of one man as cause, symptom, and solution.” Newspapers have been notified that such sympathizers as Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, editor Paul Krassner, Singer Pat Scott, producer Bob Booker, and other stalwarts are behind the case.
Finally, tentative plans have been made for a meeting to which all who are willing to help — and not just talk about it — are invited.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956. And at Amazon, you can order his new autobiography, Manhattan Memories.]