Lenny Bruce was not someone who would say nothing. If there was something he believed in, dammit, he was going to be outspoken. No matter how controversial. No matter how raw or how unpopular. And he did so all while making people laugh. He was a comedian, after all.
Kitty Bruce, born in 1955, is the one and only daughter of the one and only Lenny. And it’s through Kitty that the spirit of her father lives on, as she is vocal about just what it is that she believes in. The Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation commemorates her father in a tasteful way that means a lot to not just his legacy, but also to Kitty.
This year, The Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation partnered up with Right Turn and The Boston Comedy Festival to present the fundraiser event Stand Up For Recovery. The event will be held this Sunday, September 24th, and it is something that remains very near and dear to Kitty’s heart.
“Jim McCue invites me to the comedy festival,” says Kitty Bruce, over the phone from her Pennsylvania home, “and I said to him ‘Jim, you know what? I love coming to represent my father at these functions. And I need to tell you the most important way to keep my father’s memory alive and to help people at the same time. If there’s any way, shape, or form that you could hook me up with a treatment center, that could guarantee a scholarship for someone who’s in need of drug and alcohol treatment, and they don’t have the insurance or the funds, so that they can get the help that they need [we can do that]. Because that’s what The Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation does. So he hooked me up with this recovery center, a very good one. And so we’re having a fundraiser.”
This fundraiser is hardly anything new for Ms. Bruce. This is just more of what she’s been doing. “This is what we do. Honor my father’s life in a way that’s going to change lives. ‘Kitty, this is what you wanted.’ He’s alive today through his memory and through his work. As far as material goes, man, it is timeless. Because situations have, if anything, gotten frighteningly close to where it was in the 50’s and 60’s when he was getting locked up.”
Remarkably, it seems as if the legend of Lenny Bruce is still alive and well today, within the youth of America. He’s actually celebrated way more today than he ever was when he was alive. More and more young people, aged around 20 or so, seem to be introduced to the brilliance of Lenny Bruce via the internet.
“They’re hungry for what he stood for,” says Bruce. “I’ve had people send me things on Facebook and say ‘Did they really do that to your dad? Did they really want to put him in prison for talking? How could that happen? This is America. Wait a minute, what’s free speech?’ These are 20 year old kids. The millennials saying ‘Oh my God. Did that really happen? Is this really true? Did he really exist?’ Yes, he existed. Yes, it really happened. Yes, it was part of history. And that part of history can never be disinfected or sanitized.”
If her father had gone out of his way to fight for what he felt was right, then there must have been something within those genes. Because much like her father, there is this part of Kitty that is not going to sit back and just watch on the sidelines. She is going to step up to the plate to try and make a difference. It was around this time, in 2008, that Kitty decided exactly what it is that she could do to honor her father’s legacy, the RIGHT way.
“I was helping put on a 12 step meeting at a woman’s prison. So these women are talking, I’m talking to them, and I kept hearing the same thing. That their addiction, or their being in jail, became generational. So now there’s a grandmother, a mother, and a daughter all locked up. So I said to them ‘Do you have any place to go when you leave here?’ ‘No, I’m probably going to have to go back to my hood, and it’s going to start all over again.’ So I walked away from there, and it gave me a great reason to think. And I was 51 at that time. And I thought ‘Okay Kitty. What’re you going to do? What’re you going to do?’ And I was told to pray for a vocation. And as quick as a bolt of lightning, it came to me. Lenny’s House, a place for recovery.”
It was that moment of realization that spawned an entire movement, all helmed by Ms. Bruce herself. She put her house up for mortgage and found a gigantic 16-room facility that would become Lenny’s House. She then sought out to help women who had suffered substance abuse issues transition back into the frightening elements that come with the real world after you’ve been disconnected for so long. These elements include making decisions like what would you like to drink, to figuring out what you’re going to do with all of your idle time, where in the past, you’d just fill that time with drugs or alcohol.
“I just wanted them to taste and to smell and to know that there’s another world out there,” says Kitty, in a voice that suggests that she can truly sympathize with the daunting tasks that lay ahead for these women. “There’s another world out there. And guess what. It’s attainable. It’s attainable if you just follow a particular, simple set of guidelines until it becomes a habit.”
And what are these guidelines?? Ms. Bruce has created a module of steps to help these women adjust and prepare for the long and healthy life of recovery: Education (learning how to perform day to day functions without becoming overwhelmed), Focus (guiding your attention towards the power of positive action), Sober Experiences For Fun, Volunteer Work, and Self Esteem.
As someone who is in recovery herself, Kitty Bruce remains determined. She will continue fighting for those who struggle with substance abuse in general. And she will continue to do it in loving memory of the ever-present-in-her-life father. “So this is what I’m hoping to do,” determines Bruce. “Get another Lenny’s House in a city. If I had my way, I’d have one in every single city he got busted in.”
And as for the future of Lenny Bruce himself??
“I love the idea that young people are starting to understand history. The history of it is his legacy. Free speech, what happened, and the fact that he was also very funny. Then you combine that with doing something to help change the world. He changed how people thought, ‘Let’s take a step further. Let’s help seize the world a person at the time. A kinder, gentler world, where we all help each other. And that, to me, is my father’s legacy. To keep current, to be real, and to love.”
Stand Up For Recovery will be held this Sunday, September 24th, at the Regent Theatre in Boston, at 8pm. Tickets can be purchased here.
To donate to The Lenny Bruce Foundation, a 50123 Not-For-Profit Organization or to pick up some sweet Lenny Bruce related merchandise, visit lennybruce.org