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Lenny Bruce Goes on Trial in NYC

June 16, 1964 - Lenny Bruce, the convention-defying comedian, went on trial in New York Criminal Court today on charges that his nightclub act was obscene.

He was arrested April 4 while appearing at the Café Au Gogo at 152 Bleecker Street. A grand jury had handed up a charge after hearing tapes of his performances there on March 31 and April 1. On April 7, Bruce was arrested again at the café on the same charge.

If convicted, he faces a year in jail on each of the three counts.

A three-judge panel made up of Administrative Judge John Murtagh and Judges

Randall Creel and Kenneth Phipps is hearing the case.

The judges denied a motion by Ephraim London, Bruce’s lawyer, for dismissal of the charges. He contended that the statute under which the performer was being tried was so broad and vague that it interfered with ordinary rights of speech.

London later said he would present expert witnesses to testify that Bruce’s performances constituted social criticism and satire.

London has appeared in state courts and before the U.S. Supreme Court in many cases involving censorship, including the showing of the films “The Miracle” and “The Lovers” and the distribution of the novels “Tropic of Cancer” and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”

He said he knew of no previous case in New York where a performer had been charged with obscenity on the basis of his words alone.

The 39-year-old entertainer has been arrested elsewhere for his use of words considered offensive in his performances. He is appealing conviction for obscenity in Chicago and was acquitted on a similar charge recently in Los Angeles.

Bruce has also been charged with narcotics offenses and is currently appealing a conviction in Los Angeles for possession of heroin.

He became ill with pleurisy soon after his arrest in New York and has not worked since.

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