Listening to recordings of comedian Lenny Bruce has had a great influence on so many of my views. The other day on DV Chat, we had a conversation on the topic of rights, law, government, and police. I don't want to renew that debate here, but it did remind me of this bit from one of Lenny's last recorded performances before he died at age 40. For me, it is definitely among the top five bits of all his recorded performances and wanted to share the relevant quotes from it. I can almost recite it from memory, though I took care to listen to the original once again for this excerpt below.

The context is the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement, but this bit is more of a funny yet insightful thought experiment that is meta- to those current events. From this snippet, you might get the impression that Lenny is anti-religion and pro-police, but that's not really the case. What he's doing here is exploring the origins as well as misconceptions about law and institutions of control, like religion and police. He's setting this up so that later he can examine the roles that those institutions play in society more rigorously (but still humorously) without falling into the same old fallacies.

While I love this bit, for new Lenny Bruce listeners, "The Berkeley Concert" probably isn't the best introduction. "The Lenny Bruce Originals" and "The Carnegie Hall Concert" are a better start. My favorite album is "Dirty Words - Live 1962" but that might be for advanced listeners because the satire is so razor sharp and cutting. The 1974 film "Lenny" from with Dustin Hoffman is pretty good, though it tells more of a biographical narrative rather than his philosophy. A few other documentaries have been made on him as well, and they're okay. The best content comes straight from his mouth from his recordings.

So, without further ado, let me introduce to you, Ladies and Gentlemen... Lenny Bruce (in substance)

from "The Berkeley Concert" by Lenny Bruce. Performed 1965. First published 1968 by Bizzare Records.

...That's another big problem: that people can't separate The Authority and the people who have the authority vested in them. I think you see that a lot in the demonstrations. Because actually the people are demonstrating, not against Vietnam, they're demonstrating against the police department, actually against police men. Because they have that concept of the law: that the law and the law enforcement are one.

And it started: "Well we have to have some rules." That's how the law starts, out of the fact. Let's see, I'll tell you what we'll do: we'll have a vote. We'll sleep in area A, is that cool? Okay, good. We'll eat in area B, good? Good. We'll throw our crap in area C.

So everything went along pretty cool, ya know, everyone was very happy. Then one night, everybody is sleeping... a guy woke up and POW! got a face full of crap.


He said, "Hey what's the deal here? I thought we had a rule? Eat, sleep, and crap... and I was sleeping and I got a face full of crap!"


So they said, "Well, ah, the rule is substantive." That's, see, that's what the Fourteenth Amendment is. It regulates the rights but it doesn't do anything about it, just says that's where it's at. "We'll have to do something to enforce the provisions, to give it some teeth."

"Here's the deal. If anybody throws any crap on us while we're sleeping, they get thrown in the crap house. Agreed?"


The guy says, "Well, everybody?" "Yeah." "But what about if it's my mother?" "No, you don't understand. Your mother will be the fact, it has nothing to do with it. It's just the rule: eat, sleep, and crap; if anyone throws any crap on us they get thrown right in the crap house. Your mother doesn't enter into it, everybody's mother gets thrown in the crap house. Priests, rabbis, they all go. Agreed?" "Okay, agreed."

Okay, now going along very cool, now. The guy's sleeping and POW! another face full of crap. Now he wakes up and sees he's all alone, this guy. And he looks out and everyone is having a big party. He says "Hey! What's the deal? I thought we had a rule: eat, sleep, and crap; and you just threw a face full of crap on me!"

The other says "Oh, it's a religious holiday!"


"And, we told you many times that if you're going live your indecent life and sleep all day, then you deserve to have thrown crap on you while you're sleeping, if you want to sleep all day."

And the guy said: "BUUULL-SHIT."


The rule's a rule and this guy started to separate the church and the state right down the middle: POW! Here's a church rule... and here's a federalist rule.

Okay, everything's going along very cool. Now the guy says: "Hey, wait a minute. Although we made the rule, how are we gonna get somebody to throw somebody in the crap house? We need somebody to enforce it... law enforcement." Okay. Now they put up the sign up on the wall: "Wanted: Law Enforcement" and a guy has applied for the job.

"Look, here's our problem. We're trying to get some sleep and people keep throwing crap on us. Now we want someone to throw them right in the crap house. And I'm delegated to do the hiring here and, so, here's what the job is. They won't go in the crap house by themselves. And we all agreed on the rule, now. And we firmed it up, so that nobody gets out of it. Everyone's vulnerable; they get thrown right in the crap house. But you see, I can't do it because I do business with these assholes..."


"...and it looks bad for me, ya know? So I want somebody to do it for me. So I tell you what, here's a stick and a gun and you do it. But wait til I'm out of the room. And whenever it happens, see, I'll wait back here and I'll watch, ya know. And you make sure you kick them in the ass and throw them in there."


"Now, you'll hear me say a lot of times that 'it takes a certain kind of mentality to do that work' and all that bullshit. But you understand it's all horseshit and you just kick them in the ass and make sure it's done."


...Now comes the riot. Or the marches. And everybody is wailing.... Now you've got a cop there who's standing with a short-sleeve shirt on and a stick in his hand. And the people are yelling "Gestapo" at him. "GESTAPO?! You asshole, I'm the mail man! GESTAPO?!"