Brandeis University: Cancellation of Lenny Bruce-inspired play

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: Brandeis University

On Nov. 6, 2017, Brandeis University issued a statement announcing the cancellation of a planned production of the Michael Weller play, “Buyer Beware.” The play was reportedly postponed and subsequently abandoned, in part because it utilized material from the university’s Lenny Bruce archives — material that some within the university found “challenging.” During his lifetime, comedian Lenny Bruce was subjected to six obscenity trials, purportedly for words that today are regularly used in all forms of artistic expression. These prosecutions left Bruce bankrupt and unable to work before dying in 1966 at the age of 40. Given the history of censorship that contributed to Bruce’s early death, a group of free speech advocates wrote to Brandeis President Ronald Liebowitz on Nov. 13, sensitive to the possibility that Bruce’s words may again have been censored and asking him for more details about the cancellation of “Buyer Beware.”