From left, Kitty Bruce, Kelly Carlin, Rain Pryor and Karith Foster.
If you look up Comedy Central’s list of the 100 best stand-up comedians of all time, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Lenny Bruce sit atop it at one, two, and three, respectively.
Rain Pryor, Kelly Carlin, and Kitty Bruce are the daughters of the godfathers of comedy, and today you can hear them speak out—for the first time ever together—about their fathers and the fight for free speech in comedy on and off campus.
A few days from now, on August 3, it will be the 50th anniversary of Lenny Bruce’s death. He died of an overdose in 1966 after being brought up on obscenity charges in nearly every major city in which he performed across the country. He couldn’t get gigs anymore. Police would shut down his shows. He fell into a deep depression. As a result, he lost his livelihood and ultimately his life—all for a few dirty words.
FIRE got Kelly, Rain, and Kitty together at the Helium Comedy Club in Philadelphia to commemorate Lenny’s life and to reflect on the censorship fights that all three comedy legends combatted in their quests to stay true to their art.
Richard Pryor was never arrested for his words. Perhaps police were starting to learn their lesson. But he did shut down his critically acclaimed “The Richard Pryor Show” after only four episodes because of NBC’s meddling with its content.
Richard, George, and Lenny shaped all of the stand-up comedy you hear today. They started a comedic revolution. If you listen to any of their routines and none of them surprise you, it’s because they influenced every comedian who came later.
Now, in this first-of-its-kind interview, the daughters of comedy royalty speak out about what it meant for their fathers to shatter taboos and become artistic pioneers: the censorship fights, the drug use, the loss, and how all of it shaped who they’ve become today.
An audio version of the interview can be heard on FIRE’s So to Speak: The Free Speech Podcast. The podcast is available on iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. To learn more about So to Speak, visit sotospeakpodcast.com or the show’s Facebook and Twitter pages.
A transcript of the full interview can be found at this link.
This exclusive interview is part of FIRE’s campaign to defend comedy and free speech on campus. To support this campaign and to learn more about the soon-to-be-released, FIRE-supported documentary Can We Take a Joke?, visit thefire.org/comedy.