Born: October 13, 1925
Died: August 3, 1966
Perhaps the most fearless and influential comic of all time, Lenny Bruce wrote in his semifictional autobiography How To Talk Dirty And Influence People that he was introduced to hashish by a Turkish shipmate when he was a seaman in the late 1940s. In the 1950s, he hung out with "the hip, pot-smoking clique that congregated at 'The Castle', the stately home in Topanga Canyon of the 'Hollywood hep-cat in residence' and tongue dancer extraordinaire, VIP Lord Buckley." Source.
After a stint in the Navy, Bruce (then Leonard Schneider) joined the merchant marines. His ship picked up a Turkish sailor who'd had an appendicitis attack and needed medical care. Lenny and a fellow seaman offered him candy bars, and in return "he opened his little bag and offered us something I didn't know what the hell it was." He proceeded to cut the leatherish stuff and mix it with tobacco. "He took a pipe from his bag, filled it, and lit it. Oh that was it--some sort of religious ritual like the Indians have on first meeting --a peace pipe."
"The tobacco was rather strong, and we passed it around several times, but when the pipe came to me the fifth time, for no apparent reason Caleb looked hysterically funny to me, and I started to laugh, and Caleb started to laugh, until we were carrying on like a couple of damned idiots." Only then did they realize they were smoking hashish.
Although they learned to communicate with their Turkish friend, "No matter how hard I tried, though, I couldn't make Sabu realize that iwas against the law on American ships to smoke dope. He wanted to know why, and I honestly couldn't tell him. He asked me what I used to get high, I told him whiskey, and he was horrified.
"Since then, I've learned the Moslems do not drink. But they sure smoke a lot of that lovelorn. It's based on their religious-health laws. Imagine that: religious laws to smoke dope. But here's the capper: They're right. Alcohol is a caustic that destroys tissues which cannot be rebuilt. It is toxic, and damages one of the most important organs in the body--one that cannot repair itself or be repaired--the liver. Whereas, for example, no form of cannabis sativa (the hemp plant from which marijuaana is made ) destroys any body tissue or harms the organs in any manner."
Bruce was arrested for obscenity for using the word "cocksucker" in his act in 1961, putting his license to perform in jeopardy. He was arrested again that year for narcotics (speed), and publicly named the judge who a bail bondsman told him would let him off for a fee. After that, Bruce was hounded continually by law enforcement. (Source: Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth, 1998 documentary.)
In 1962, Bruce published a homemade brochure to sell at his concerts, "Stamp Help Out," which contained a mock thesis on The Pot Smokers, illustrated with 'actual photos of tortured marijuana-ites', most of whom were him. The Almost Unpublished Lenny Bruce contains his equally amusing Idiom For Marijuana Cigarettes.
Bruce was brought up on more charges that lead to a six-month obscenity trial beginning in 1964. Over eighty prominent people signed a petition protesting the prosecution, including Allen Ginsberg, Paul Newman, Bob Dylan, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, John Updike, James Baldwin, George Plimpton, Henry Miller, Joseph Heller, Gore Vidal, and Woody Allen. Nonetheless, Bruce was convicted and sentenced in December to four months in a workhouse. He appealed and was set free pending the decision, but died before his conviction was overturned. The official cause of his death at age 40 was "acute morphine poisoning caused by an accidental overdose."
On December 23, 2003, 37 years after his death, Bruce was granted a posthumous pardon for his obscenity conviction by New York Governor George Pataki. In 2004, Comedy Central listed Bruce at number three on its list of the 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time.
(Above) Watch Steve Cuiffo performing verbatim* a Lenny Bruce routine about marijuana. It mentions the imprisonment of VIP Candy Barr for pot.
*Except in his book Bruce says he doesn't smoke pot "because it facilitates ideas and sensations--and I've got enough shit flying through my head without smoking pot." He compared the notion of marijuana being a gateway to heroin to that of a gambling addict starting with bingo at church.
Changing the Face of Cannabis
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