Remembering Lenny Bruce and When Taboo-Breaking Comedy Collided with the Law

Lenny Bruce (born Leonard Alfred Schneider) introduced a strongly satirical, taboo-breaking form of comedy during the 1950s and 1960s, which paved the way for some of America’s great comedians Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Chris Rock, even John Stewart. And for ushering in this new era of comedy, Bruce paid a heavy personal price. In 1961, San Francisco authorities arrested Bruce on obscenity charges. Then, in 1964, Bruce found himself in the crosshairs of Manhattan’s District Attorney, Frank Horgan. A six month trial followed, which raised important First Amendment issues, and which also brought Woody Allen, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, and William Styron to Bruce’s defense. (Dylan would later write a song about the affair.) But, regardless, the trial ended badly for Bruce, and, two years later, the impoverished comedian would die of a heroin overdose.

For Bruce’s legacy, things have gotten a little better. In 2003, Governor George Pataki granted New York’s first posthumous pardon to the satirist, calling it “a declaration of New York’s commitment to upholding the First Amendment.” Meanwhile, legal scholars have written books that paint Bruce and his First Amendment battles in a rather sympathetic light. Below you can find a video clip of Lenny Bruce appearing on the very popular Steve Allen Show. It gives you a pretty good look at the brand of comedy that Bruce presented to the wider nation. (You can access Part II of the video here.) Beyond this, you may also want to check out the actual FBI file that was kept on Bruce. It’s been published thanks to the Freedom of Information Act. And if you’re up for more video footage, here is a clearly deflated Bruce using his trial as fodder for comedy.

The New iPod Lineup Versus Its Rivals

ipodtouch2.jpgSince we talk a lot here about podcasts and mp3 files, it seems worth flagging this Yahoo gadget review that pits the new iPod lineup against its rivals. Here, we’ve got the new iPod Touch v. the Samsung Yepp YP-P2; the new Nano (with video) v. the Sansa View, and the iPod Classic v. Microsoft’s Zune. The net result is that the new iPods come out ahead, but not by much. Get review here.

(For another review of the new iPod Touch, have a look at this piece on Gizmodo.)

Quick note: As part of the new lineup, the iPod Classic features a new 160 GB model for $349. It apparently holds 40,000 songs (twice as many as the previous model), which translates to three continuous months of listening entertainment. Imagine how many mind-expanding podcasts that could include.

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New R.E.M. Concert Video “Leaving New York”

Below we have “R.E.M. Live, recorded on the Around the World Tour, which promoted Around the Sun, a studio album from 2004. It is to be released October 16.” (Thanks to Justin for the clarification.)

Source: Stereogum. (For more music, check out our collection of MP3 Blogs.)

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FYI for Smart Money Readers

We got a nice little mention in the October edition of Smart Money (The Wall Street Journal Magazine), which highlighted our collection of university courses available as free podcasts. If you’re a Smart Money reader, you’ll want to focus on our collection of 75 University Courses as well as on our general University Podcast Collection. These podcast collections, along with many others, are permanently housed in our Podcast Library, which you can always find by looking to the right.

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Falling Man 9-11

fallingman.jpgOn the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, it seems fitting to call attention to Don DeLillo’s Falling Man, a recent addition to the growing body of fiction now known as “9/11 novel.” However you may feel about DeLillo’s writing style (we often find that it grates), Falling Man adeptly captures the emotional and physical haze that surrounded NYC in the wake of the attacks. In interviews with Guernica and NPR’s All Things Considered, DeLillo talks about the influences that led him to explore the attacks and their aftermath from the perspective of both a terrorist and a survivor. If listening to the book is more your speed, check out the audio version at Amazon or the download at Audible.

This guest post was written by Noah Elkin.

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Meet Larry David (in Video)

larrydavid2.jpgHBO just started airing the sixth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, so it seemed fitting to serve up this lengthy interview with Larry David. The talk is very funny. No shock there. But it also gets into some good substance. How Larry got into comedy; how he struggled during his early standup years and had to scratch together money for a can of Chef Boyardee; how he approaches writing comedy; how he has generated ideas for the most memorable episodes of “Curb” and Seinfeld – it all gets touched on here.

We have included the first part below, plus links to the other seven segments. For more Larry David interviews, check out the 60 Minutes piece on Larry from this past weekend. You can watch it online here.

Part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

Life-Changing Books Now on Google’s “My Library”

A few weeks ago, our readers contributed to creating a list of books that left an indelible mark on their lives. You can review the original post here. But we figured why not add them to our “My Library” page on Google, a new product that we briefly mentioned yesterday. You can access the collection here (or get it by rss feed). And, as you’ll see, we also imported to the list all of our users’ comments on the individual books. Explore the list, find a great read, and pass it along to a worthy friend.

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The World Without Us: The Staggering Thought Experiment

worldwithout2.jpgWhat if we disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow? All of us, just like that? What would happen? How would the remaining world survive or thrive without us? That’s the scenario that science writer Alan Weisman works through in his new eco-thriller, The World Without Us.

Based on his considerable research and extensive interviews with experts, Weisman sees things playing out like this (and here I’m quoting from the New York Times book review): “With no one left to run the pumps, New York’s subway tunnels would fill with water in two days. Within 20 years, Lexington Avenue would be a river. Fire- and wind-ravaged skyscrapers would eventually fall like giant trees. Within weeks of our disappearance, the world’s 441 nuclear plants would melt down into radioactive blobs, while our petrochemical plants, ‘ticking time bombs’ even on a normal day, would become flaming geysers spewing toxins for decades to come… After about 100,000 years, carbon dioxide would return to prehuman levels. Domesticated species from cattle to carrots would revert back to their wild ancestors. And on every dehabitated continent, forests and grasslands would reclaim our farms and parking lots as animals began a slow parade back to Eden.” And, it’s also helpful to know, perhaps, that not even cockroaches would fare well in a world without Homo sapiens.

How Weisman researched this big question and drew his conclusions is fascinating, and fortunately it’s all explained in this Scientific American podcast (iTunesFeedWeb Site) that features two recent interviews with Weisman. You can also catch Weisman speaking on John Stewart’s Daily Show in less scientific terms. Watch the video here.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.