On May 2, 1964, one of the most influential and groundbreaking comedy albums of all time was released: “I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You This” by Lenny Bruce. Known for his unapologetic and often controversial style, Lenny Bruce’s album challenged social norms and tackled taboo subjects head-on.
Born Leonard Alfred Schneider in 1925, Lenny Bruce grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in Long Island, New York. After a brief stint in the Navy, he began performing as a stand-up comedian in the early 1950s. Bruce quickly gained a reputation for his unconventional style and willingness to tackle sensitive subjects such as religion, politics, and race.
“I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You This” was Lenny Bruce’s third album, and it marked a departure from his earlier, more traditional comedy style. In this album, Bruce pushed the boundaries even further, exploring topics such as homosexuality, drug addiction, and police brutality. He also included segments of his actual court testimony, which stemmed from his arrest for obscenity charges during a performance at a San Francisco nightclub.
The album’s most infamous track is “Religions, Inc.”, a 20-minute bit in which Bruce takes aim at organized religion and its hypocrisy. In it, he critiques the way that religious institutions use guilt and shame to control their followers, and he calls out specific religious figures, such as Billy Graham and Oral Roberts, for their greed and deceit. While this material was controversial at the time, it resonated with many people who felt disillusioned by the perceived moral decay of American society.
Despite its critical acclaim, “I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You This” was not without its detractors. The album’s explicit language and subject matter led to it being banned in several countries, and it was the subject of several obscenity trials in the United States. However, Bruce refused to back down from his controversial material, and he continued to perform and record despite the legal and financial troubles it caused him.
Tragically, Lenny Bruce died of a drug overdose in 1966, at the age of 40. But his legacy lives on in the many comedians who have been inspired by his fearless style, including Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Bill Hicks. Bruce’s willingness to push boundaries and speak truth to power paved the way for a new generation of comedians who saw comedy as a tool for social and political commentary.
In many ways, Lenny Bruce’s “I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You This” was a game-changer for the world of comedy. It demonstrated that comedy could be a powerful force for social change, and it paved the way for future comedians to tackle taboo subjects in their own work. Even today, nearly 60 years after its release, the album remains a touchstone for those who seek to use humor as a means of challenging the status quo.