A recent two-day symposium at Brandeis University remembering the late comedian Lenny Bruce featured a keynote address by Brandeis alumna Christie Hefner—daughter of Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner—on free speech, comedy, and Bruce’s legacy of transgressive social change. She also highlights campus speech issues, specifically praising FIRE’s work (and that of FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff, who was in attendance) around the 21-minute mark.
Her full remarks are certainly worth a watch.
Hefner gave the address as part of “Comedy and the Constitution: The Legacy of Lenny Bruce,” which took place October 27-28. The event marked the opening of a long-awaited exhibit featuring many of Bruce’s personal items and related archival material, including family photo albums, personal correspondence, audio recordings, and other effects. Brandeis acquired the collection from Bruce’s only daughter, Kitty Bruce, through a grant from the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation, of which Christie Hefner is a trustee.
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“Alone among the many rebellious artists, talented men and women who were his contemporaries, Lenny Bruce was persecuted and prosecuted for his words and ideas,” Hefner said, addressing Bruce’s unique legacy. “Because he confronted the hypocrisy of institutions and of society. Because he was willing to criticize and challenge stereotypes, he became a target.”
Hefner also reminded symposium attendees that lessons learned from Bruce’s experience remain relevant today.
“In a time of the Charlie Hebdo murders, we would do well to be thoughtful about the role of humor in human affairs, and to think about what are, perhaps, unacknowledged, the off-limits of today,” Hefner said. “We should be asking ourselves, what is transgressive at this moment, and how do we not just protect, but nurture it.”
Hefner observed that while Bruce and her father, Hugh Hefner, shared a special friendship rooted in a shared passion for free—sometimes transgressive—speech, Bruce’s path was unique.
“In Hef’s battles, he had a large company behind him and a powerful platform in the magazine. Lenny had none of that. Just friends. And Hef was one of those friends.”
Now all of us can see the fruits of that friendship at Brandeis’ Lenny Bruce exhibit, which runs through the end of the academic year and is free and open to the public.