Comedy and Liberty: The Life and Legacy of Lenny Bruce
Social Research, Vol. 79, No. 1, pp. 61-86 (Spring 2012)
University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-15
27 Pages Posted: 30 Apr 2013 Last revised: 1 May 2013
Date Written: June 1, 2012
Comedy takes liberties. Hence, it depends on liberty to survive. Sometimes it is divine, other times farcical, sometimes operatic, other times poetic, and still other times shamelessly vulgar. As it moves from sauciness and scandal to sacrilege and sedition, comedy mocks everything in its sardonic path. Over the ages comedy has been tapped to punch out the likes of the mighty or to make swift shrift of their imperatives. Such actions point to the role of the First Amendment in all of this. Conceptually, the two intersect whenever comedy is offensive, that is, when it mocks, scorns, derides, ridicules, or pokes fun at person, creed, or cause. In this regard, no figure stands out more in American history than the always offensive and often funny Lenny Bruce. How a society protects or prosecutes the likes of Lenny Bruce is a barometer of how much it values freedom of speech.
Keywords: comedy, religion, obscenity, trials, First Amendment, free speech, freedom of speech
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