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The huge price one comedian paid so that George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and others could make it big.

Lenny "Bruce" Schneider blazed a trail for comedians starting in the 1950s, and our world has never been the same.

The huge price one comedian paid so that George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and others could make it big.


"I think some people have erroneously connected me with Lenny Bruce for one simple common denominator, and that is the use of profane language. I think everything else is quite different...Lenny and I had this language in common, and he was the first one to make language an issue, and he suffered for it. I was the first one to make language an issue and to succeed from it...Obviously, I was very influenced by his approach to comedy, as I was with Mort Sahl's, because I was in my formative stage and I was a rebel at heart and an anti-authoritarian at a time when they were succeeding by taking those positions."
— George Carlin

Before George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and others radically pushed the boundaries of comedy in our culture, there was one comedian who hurled himself against the roadblocks of conservative American society in the late-1950s and early-1960s and, ultimately, didn't survive it.


Lenny Bruce considered himself a jazz wordsmith, riffing layers of complex ideas and thoughts into word streams while onstage. His mother, a jazz musician herself, inspired him to think in those terms. He liked to speak his mind freely without censoring himself. In 1959, "Time" magazine wrote about comedians like him who tried to break down some of these barriers, calling them "sick comics." He responded:

"The kind of sickness I wish Time had written about, is that school teachers in Oklahoma get a top annual salary of $4,000, while Sammy Davis, Jr. gets $10,000 a week in Vegas."
— Lenny Bruce

He recorded some comedy albums in the late-1950s before trying his hand at onstage versions of his work. But his headlong encounter with the uptight culture of the time began in 1961, when he used the word "cocksucker" onstage, becoming the first person ever to do so. He was trying to describe why the act should not be considered a pejorative against homosexual men. He was arrested that night, harassed constantly with police presence at his gigs thereafter, and acquitted the next year of that particular charge.

In March 1964, the "New York Post" wrote, "Bruce stands up against all limitation on the flesh and spirit, and someday they are going to crush him for it."

"In the Halls of Justice, the only justice is in the halls."
— Lenny Bruce

In all, he was arrested seven more times over the next three years, twice for narcotics possession (both fabricated charges) and the rest for "obscenity." His last arrest and sentence of four months in a workhouse (for using profanity in a comedy routine) was still being appealed when he died of an accidental overdose in 1966.

But that would be much later. During his ephemeral rise and fall, he inspired other comedians of the time and served as a bit of caution to others. He was banned from several countries, clubs, and from many television shows as well. Not so much because of his routines but because people were afraid of what he might say when he "riffed" live. Also, the implied threat of arrest for club owners for letting him perform was a huge factor.

"I won't say ours was a tough school, but we had our own coroner. We used to write essays like: 'What I'm going to be if I grow up.'"
— Lenny Bruce

Ultimately, the 1960s saw a huge cultural shift in our country, and the world for that matter. Lenny Bruce was a harbinger of things yet to come.

While his final years featured some of his best work, they were just as likely to see him onstage reading from arrest records and lawsuits, which of course did not make for great comedy.


Why does it take these kinds of dramatic, sometimes violent, shifts in culture for things to change for the better? Of course, some would argue that the change was not for the better, that using profanity and vulgarity on stage or in music and films was ultimately a negative for all of us.

But I don't think so. Humans crave freedom of expression. Words are created to represent something in all of us, something that we need to get out sometimes, in whatever form those words take.

"There are never enough I Love You's."
— Lenny Bruce

Was Lenny Bruce seeking reactions? Maybe. Did he get them? Certainly. And that's one reason he belongs on the short list of the greatest standup comedians of all time. In fact, Comedy Central has that short list as 1) Richard Pryor, 2) George Carlin, and 3) Lenny Bruce.

In the about section below, you can find a few video clips of actual performances by Lenny Bruce, all of which are 10+ minutes. It's worth checking them out. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of great videos because much of his best work was never filmed. There are, however, many audio recordings, mostly from albums.

In 1974, Dustin Hoffman delivered an Oscar-nominated performance in the movie "Lenny," just eight years after Lenny Bruce died. It's about a gig he did a few nights after he was arrested for using a word describing someone who performs fellatio. Several cops were on hand to see that he didn't do it again, but he managed to talk about the act itself without actually using the word. Watch:

When Lenny Bruce died in August 1966, all the press reported it as a heroin overdose; however, it was an accidental overdose from morphine. He was a pauper at the time, having spent every dime he had on legal defense and trying to clear his name.

Who's to say where stand-up comedy would be today if Lenny Bruce hadn't probed the edges of what was considered acceptable to talk about onstage? Possibly, somebody else would have done the same thing. In fact, George Carlin was also arrested for his famous "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine in 1972, just six years after Lenny Bruce's death. And Richard Pryor was never arrested for performing his routines, but he took full advantage of the more colorful words in the English language when he began working profanity into his act in 1967.

"Life is a four-letter word."
— Lenny Bruce



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Shopping sustainably is increasingly important given the severity of the climate crisis, but sometimes it's hard to know where to turn. Thankfully, Amazon is making it a little easier to browse thousands of products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications that help preserve the natural world.

The online retailer recently announced Climate Pledge Friendly, a program to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products. To determine the sustainability of a product, the program partnered with third-party certifications, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and independent labs.

With a selection of items spanning grocery, household, fashion, beauty, and personal electronics, you'll be able to shop more sustainably not just for the holiday season, but throughout the year for your essentials, as well.

You can browse all of the Climate Pledge Friendly products here, labeled with an icon and which certification(s) they meet. To get you on your way to shopping more sustainably, we've rounded up eight of our favorite Climate Pledge Friendly-products that will make great gifts all year long.

Amazon

Jack Wolfskin Women's North York Coat

Give the gift of warmth and style with this coat, available in a variety of colors. Sustainability is built into all Jack Wolfskin products and each item comes with a code that lets you trace back to its origins and understand how it was made.

Bluesign: Bluesign products are responsibly manufactured by using safer chemicals and fewer resources, including less energy, in production.


Amazon

Amazon All-new Echo Dot (4th Gen)

For the tech-obsessed. This Alexa smart speaker, which comes in a sleek, compact design, lets you voice control your entertainment and your smart home as well as connect with others.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.


Amazon

Burt's Bees Family Jammies Matching Holiday Organic Cotton Pajamas

Get into the holiday spirit with these fun matching PJs for the whole family. Perfect for pictures that even Fido can get in on.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

Naturistick 5-Pack Lip Balm Gift Set

With 100% natural ingredients that are gentle on ultra-sensitive lips, this gift is a great gift for the whole family.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.


Amazon

Arus Women's GOTS Certified Organic Cotton Hooded Full Length Turkish Bathrobe

For those who love to lounge around, this full-length organic cotton bathrobe is the way to go. Available in five different colors, it has comfortable cuffed sleeves, a hood, pockets, and adjustable belt.

Global Organic Textile Standard: This certifies each step of the organic textile supply chain against strict ecological and social standards. Each product with this certification contains 95%-100% organic content.

Amazon

L'Occitane Extra-Gentle Vegetable Based Soap

This luxe soap, made with moisturizing shea butter and scented with verbena, is perfect for the self-care obsessed.

Compact by Design (Certified by Amazon): Products with this certification are packaged without excess air and water, which reduces the carbon footprint of shipping and packaging.

Amazon

Goodthreads Men's Sweater-Knit Fleece Long-Sleeve Bomber

For the fashionable men in your life, this fashion-forward knit bomber is an excellent choice. The sweater material keeps it cozy and warm, while the bomber jacket-cut, zip front, and rib-trim neck make it look elevated.

Recycled Claim Standard 100: Products with this certification use materials made from at least 95% recycled content.

Amazon

All-new Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote

Make it even easier to access your favorite movies and shows this holiday season. The new Fire TV Stick lets you use your voice to search across apps. Plus it controls the power and volume on your TV, so you'll never need to leave the couch! Except for snacks.

Reducing CO2: Products with this certification reduce their carbon footprint year after year. Certified by the Carbon Trust.

In the hours before he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, then-President-elect Biden was sent a letter signed by 17 freshmen GOP members of the House of Representatives.

In sharp contrast to the 121 Republican House members who voted against the certification of Biden's electoral votes—a constitutional procedure merely check-marking the state certifications that had already taken place—this letter expresses a desire to "rise above the partisan fray" and work together with Biden as he takes over the presidency.

The letter reads:

Dear President-elect Biden,

Congratulations on the beginning of your administration and presidency. As members of this freshman class, we trust that the next four years will present your administration and the 117thCongress with numerous challenges and successes, and we are hopeful that – despite our ideological differences – we may work together on behalf of the American people we are each so fortunate to serve.

After two impeachments, lengthy inter-branch investigations, and, most recently, the horrific attack on our nation's capital, it is clear that the partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans does not serve a single American.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.