George Carlin and Lenny Bruce

“The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of An American Icon” (Ronald K. L. Collins, David M. Skover)

Regional news outlets can find any national event and find the angle that links the story to the local market. Apparently, George Carlin got his second start in Chicago (or not, the NYT Obit claims Carlin started doing darker, topical humor in 1970, quite a few years past 1962)

The show was on a Tuesday night, Dec. 4, 1962, at the Gate of Horn, 1036 N. State, according to the Sun-Times report the next morning. One of the vice detectives checking out the show described it this way: “We were there about a half hour when Bruce appeared on the stage and from the first few minutes of his routine the air turned blue. Every other word [was] a four-letter one, and he spared nobody, including the clergy and the police department in his abuse.”

According to The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon by Ronald K.L. Collins and David M. Skover, one of the comic’s signature bits, “Christ and Moses, [YouTube with photo montage of Bruce and audio recording of this bit]” was the bridge too far for the cops. In this bit, the two holy men unexpectedly stop by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, causing a panicked Cardinal Spellman to beg the pope’s help. (“We’re up to our ass in crutches and wheelchairs here!”)

At that point, the police stopped the show and arrested Bruce, charging him with “giving an obscene and lewd show.”

Also arrested were the club’s owner and bartender, as well as one George Carlin, 25, who refused to show ID. Carlin and Bruce shared a ride to the station in the back of a paddywagon, and when they were booked they both gave the same local address on East Delaware.

The incident left its mark on both comics. Carlin changed the tone of his comedy to be much more topical. He was arrested himself 10 years later in Milwaukee for performing his infamous “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine.

“He was really a force for exposing hypocrisy,” Carlin said of Bruce in a radio interview. He later added: “Lenny Bruce opened the doors for all the guys like me; he prefigured the free-speech movement and helped push the culture forward into the light of open and honest expression.”

Bruce, meanwhile, was found guilty and later said this about our fair city: “Chicago is so corrupt, it’s thrilling.”

[From Carlin’s comedy was born in a Chicago paddywagon :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Entertainment]

Lenny Bruce, right as usual.

John Nichols of the Nation has a nice collection of Carlinisms. Like:

“Now, there’s one thing you might have noticed I don’t complain about: politicians,” [Carlin] explained in a routine that challenged all the premises of today’s half-a-loaf reformers. “Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck.

Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders. Term limits ain’t going to do any good; you’re just going to end up with a brand new bunch of selfish, ignorant Americans.

So, maybe, maybe, maybe, it’s not the politicians who suck. Maybe something else sucks around here… like, the public. Yeah, the public sucks. There’s a nice campaign slogan for somebody: ‘The Public Sucks. Fuck Hope.‘”


Recalling George Bush’s ranting about how the endless “war on terror” is a battle for freedom, Carlin echoed James Madison’s thinking with a simple question: “Well, if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire, what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part to us, do they?”

and a favorite of mine:

“The real owners are the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they’re an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They’ve got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They’ve got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying – lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else,” ranted the comedian whose routines were studied in graduate schools.

“But I’ll tell you what they don’t want,” Carlin continued. “They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. You know what they want? Obedient workers – people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork but just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And, now, they’re coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They’ll get it. They’ll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It’s a big club, and you ain’t in it. You and I are not in the big club.”

2 thoughts on “George Carlin and Lenny Bruce

  1. I got to know of Lenny Bruce the first time I visited the USA, in 1981. Then there was the film. It’s so sad to see how the people who dare speak the truth are penalized here in the “Land of the Free.” I really enjoyed both of them, and I believe george Carlin was too young to leave us.

  2. Caben Herrel says:

    Enjoyed reading this post, thanks 🙂

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