"Being Bruced"
(to coin a phrase)



    “Being bruced” means being prosecuted or harassed for speaking freely, for expressing unpopular ideas, or for breaking taboos. “To be bruced” is to be silenced for exercising one’s First Amendment rights. The expression – coined by Ron Collins & David Skover – derives from Lenny Bruce’s encounters with the law. America’s most dissident comedian was “being bruced” when he was:


  • hauled off to jail in San Francisco for speaking the unspeakable about sex; 

  • arrested in Los Angeles for using commonplace Yiddish expressions;

  • busted in Chicago for mocking the Pope; and

  • rounded up by police in New York for being too candid and colorful in his remarks about  two of America’s First Ladies.

     The robust and ribald comedian was “bruced”:


  • when he was prosecuted for obscenity relentlessly for more than four consecutive years;

  • when a dozen or more DAs in four cities came after him for being too outspoken in nightclubs;

  • when, in the winter of 1964, prosecutor Richard Kuh demanded that Bruce’s sentence be severe, “be one of imprisonment”;   

  • when no club could book him for fear of being shut down; and

  • when he was driven to bankruptcy for being unorthodox. 

      Other controversial figures who have been “bruced” include everyone from Socrates in ancient Athens to Bill Maher in modern America. Those who “bruce” others fear words, especially poignant or biting words; they fear words that defy accepted norms, or scorn the sacred, or expose hypocrisy. In short, to be “bruced” is contrary to the First Amendment and everything it represents.