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.”

  • Lenny Bruce is back, but Brandeis University doesn’t want him

    November 17, 2017

    By Rick Kogan at The Chicago Tribune. Lenny Bruce, the controversial comic who was hammered and hounded during most of his career by those who think certain words should be kept from our ears and who also enjoy standing guard over our collective morality, has been dead since 1966… Read more here.

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  • FIRE Wants Answers on Lenny Bruce Brandeis Play

    November 14, 2017

    By Nick Roll at Inside Higher Ed. In an open letter to Brandeis University President Ronald Leibowitz, free speech advocates are calling on the university to answer more questions about how the staging of a play about Lenny Bruce and his comedy, originally scheduled to debut at the university, was tabled… Read more here.

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  • Brandeis cancels play amid protests over racism — and gets more backlash

    November 3, 2017

    By Mark Arsenault at the Boston Globe. The notion that the staging of a play about comedian Lenny Bruce would be held up over incendiary content seems too ironic to be true. Or like the setup for a scorching joke Bruce would have told… Read more here.

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  • REPORT: Artists clash with campus censors

    July 10, 2018

    Art purged for being “one-sided,” among other excuses Censors, often not understanding the message, ban art rather than grapple with its meaning PHILADELPHIA, July 10, 2018 — Art censorship is nothing new. Spanish conquistadors smashed ceramics of ancient Peruvian cultures that portrayed gay and lesbian sex. The Roman Catholic Church of the 15th century was so intent on covering up penises that for decades even Michelangelo’s David wore a garland of leaves around his waist. But a new report from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education shows that art censorship remains alive and well, even on today’s college campuses, […]

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  • The ‘silencing’ of ‘Buyer Beware’ at Brandeis

    November 20, 2017

    Some campus controversies are beyond parody. Indeed, sometimes campuses almost become parodies of themselves, like earlier this year when Northwestern University launched a Title IX investigation of a professor for writing a book about being investigated for saying there are too many Title IX investigations. This month, Brandeis University may have joined these farcical ranks after a fictional play about offended Brandeis students pressuring their university to cancel a scheduled artistic performance reportedly resulted in real-life offended Brandeis students pressuring their university to cancel a scheduled artistic performance. FIRE wrote an open coalition letter to Brandeis for more information about […]

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  • An open letter to Brandeis regarding the cancellation of Lenny Bruce-inspired play, ‘Buyer Beware’

    November 13, 2017

    November 13, 2017 Ronald D. Liebowitz Office of the President, MS 100 Irving Enclave 113 Brandeis University 415 South Street Waltham, MA 02453 781-736-3001 URGENT Sent via U.S. Mail and Electronic Mail ( Dear President Liebowitz, We are a group of free speech advocates with a resilient interest in comedian Lenny Bruce’s life and legacy. We write to you today because we are concerned by recent reports that a play scheduled to be staged this month at Brandeis University was postponed and subsequently abandoned, in part because it utilized material from the university’s Lenny Bruce archives — material that some […]

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  • Are universities abdicating their responsibility to educate students for fear of offending them?

    November 10, 2017

    In two separate incidents over the past several weeks, two college theater departments have canceled productions after students objected to the content of the plays. These troubling episodes of self-censorship suggest that universities’ capitulation to student demands is interfering with their ability to fulfill their core educational purpose. In late October, reports emerged that the theater department at Brandeis University had canceled a planned fall production of a play based on the comedy of Lenny Bruce by acclaimed playwright and Brandeis alum Michael Weller. The play, which centers around the efforts of a fictional Brandeis student to perform a Lenny-Bruce-inspired […]

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