5. A Pioneer of Modern Standup Comedy
Leonard Alfred Schneider, stage name Lenny Bruce (1925 -1966), was an early star of modern standup comedy. In a departure from the vanilla fare routinely dished out by standup comedians until then, Bruce was edgy. His comic routines combined satire, politics, religion, sex, and vulgarity. He became a poster boy for freedom of speech after prosecutors persecuted him with obscenity charges, of which he was convicted in 1964. Before his meteoric comic career, Lenny Bruce had served his country in WWII.
Born in Mineloa, New York, to Jewish parents, Lenny lived a chaotic childhood after his parents’ divorce. Raised in the homes of various relatives after his parents’ marriage fell apart, he saw little of his father, but was strongly influenced by his mother, a stage performer. Early in 1942, soon after the US entered WWII, a sixteen-year-old Lenny lied about his age to join the US Navy. He was assigned to the light cruiser USS Brooklyn, aboard which he saw combat in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.