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The Ever-Influential Lenny Bruce

Getty Images / Michael Ochs Archives

Lenny Bruce remains one of the most influential performers on the comedy landscape — just ask his fellow comics.

Lenny Bruce (1925 - 1966) remains one of the most influential performers on the comedy landscape despite dying more than half a century ago. But don’t take our word for it — just ask the comics (and Bob Dylan) themselves.

“I listened to Lenny and loved him. I wore out the Green Album. He was prosecuted when he should have been treasured. He created new [expletive] ways to laugh. He’d be rolling over in his grave if he knew he was pardoned by Pataki for a 1960 obscenity bust. I loved him. I still love him. Remember Lenny.” Richard Pryor

"When I was 12 my mother opened a bank account, and they gave her a choice of a toaster or a tape recorder/player, which she took. That must have been my birthday present because she wasn't fond of shopping, for me anyway...and I found her Lenny Bruce tape and listened to it ad nauseam until I could do all the voices. Lenny actually did great accents. He was my first influence." —Cory Kahaney

"The most influential album to me was The Carnegie Hall Concert. It was a midnight concert during a huge snowstorm and he was at the top of his game...before all the busts. The mic kept going out, and he riffed, and it is still the best album ever, ever, ever! Especially when you think of what he was saying." —Will Durst

“Lenny Bruce's legacy is freedom of speech and telling it as it is, getting your life and putting it out on the table, telling everyone about it.” —Eddie Izzard

"If you could be in the audience when he came up with that 45 minutes to an hour's worth of genius, you knew you had been blessed. America has produced three comedic geniuses — Mark Twain, Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor — and what Lenny was doing back then frightened people." Dick Gregory

“He changed everything. He turned comedy into a freedom of speech art form. And everyone else then went and changed everything they did off the back of him.” —Bruce Burns

“I rode with him in a taxi once, only for a mile and a half. Seemed like it took a couple of months” —Bob Dylan



“Lenny Bruce was the one who influenced me the most. He was the one who went all the way. I still relate to him as a touchstone for the tradition I’m trying to carry on.” —Paul Krassner

“He was really a force for exposing hypocrisy. 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.” George Carlin

“Lenny Bruce was one of the first poster boys for free speech, and even though it's long in coming, the pardon I think is well deserved … I think it's a symbolic and virtuous thing the governor did for Lenny Bruce. He is a hero to many of the comedians who recognize his work, and was also a very good constitutional observationist." —Tommy Smothers

“He showed me that the truest humor comes from pain and tragedy. That has given me permission to do what I do.” —Margaret Cho

“He should be remembered for the substance of what he said, and for the incredibly lyrical way he used the language. Unfortunately, he's remembered more for the fact that he used certain words. So much of what he was saying is completely lost in how he was perceived as saying it. He didn’t step over the line just to step over the line. There was a method to his madness." —Jon Stewart

“He used to say that he was being crucified. I’d say, ‘Hey man, don’t forget the Resurrection'.” —Mort Sahl

“I love Lenny Bruce because he put himself out there. Because he wasn't perfect, but he tried. Because he was vulnerable. He was a big kid, but a big kid with a heart and a mind and a mouth. He gave us a great gift, a vision we may never attain, but one we must never lose sight of: a world of love." —Eric Bogosian