About the Book



He used to say that he was being crucified,

 and I'd say Hey man, but don’t forget the resurrection.

 Mort Sahl (1966)




Rated as One of the Best Books of 2002
by the Book Review Editors of
the Los Angeles Times
(Sunday, December 8, 2002)




I don't know what to say about the concept of 'going too far.' I love what Lenny Bruce had to say

at his obscenity trials. He said they were a sham, not necessarily on any libertarian grounds,

but because you can't legislate things like that. You don't need a government to tell you when you've gone too far. There's no greater deterrent for a comedian than stone silence.

 Mike Myers


USA Today, July 26, 2002

     Lenny Bruce spoke frankly about sex, race, religion, government and the lies we tell ourselves. The things he said infuriated those in power, and authorities in the largest, most progressive cities in the country tried relentlessly to silence him. To them, Lenny’s words were filthy and depraved. But to his fans—the hip, the discontented, the fringe—his words were not only sharp and hilarious, they were also a light in the dark, repressed society of the times.


     In this revolutionary new biography, The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon, authors Ronald K.L. Collins and David M. Skover chronicle and analyze Lenny’s free speech struggles. From Lenny’s early days on stage through his courtroom trials in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City, Collins and Skover reveal how Lenny’s free speech battles paved the way for his First Amendment legacy.  


     At his best, Lenny saw through the hypocrisy, pretense and paradoxes of our society.  To comprehend the power of his words, one must hear his shticks and spritzes as he performed them live on stage. The Trials of Lenny Bruce includes an audio CD of Lenny doing the bits that got him arrested, such as “Las Vegas Tits and Ass” and “To is a Preposition, Come is a Verb. Also included are interviews with his friends and followers George Carlin, Hugh Hefner, Paul Krassner and Margaret Cho, among others.  Nat Hentoff, a noted culture critic, syndicated columnist, and writer for Village Voice, narrates the CD.


     Lenny Bruce strove to unmask the masked man.  As Hentoff said, he “delighted in exploring why certain words were forbidden—and then demystifying them.”  Authors Collins and Skover follow Bruce’s crusade to free the First Amendment from the constraints of censorship imposed by a false modesty.


     Ultimately, Lenny Bruce was vindicated—in principle, but not always in practice:


  • In San Francisco, a jury acquitted him. 

  • In Los Angeles, no jury was able to convict him—charges dropped or dismissed. 

  • In Illinois, the State Supreme Court reversed his conviction. 

  • In New York, the state appellate courts finally sustained the principle of his free speech claims, though not in his case or in his lifetime. 

     The tragedy, of course, is that though his speech was legal, he died a convicted man.  Comprehensively researched and written with engaging wit and penetrating analysis, The Trials of Lenny Bruce is a major contribution to the history of free speech in America. It also stands as the authoritative work on Lenny Bruce’s valiant struggle to free his comedy.