Lenny Bruce being arrested for obscenity in Chicago in 1962. Over Bruce’s left shoulder: young George Carlin.
Excerpted from the Chicago Sun-Times article “Carlin’s Comedy was Born in a Chicago Paddywagon”:
The show was on a Tuesday night, Dec. 4, 1962, at the Gate of Horn, 1036 N. State, according to the Sun-Times report the next morning. One of the vice detectives checking out the show described it this way: “We were there about a half hour when Bruce appeared on the stage and from the first few minutes of his routine the air turned blue. Every other word [was] a four-letter one, and he spared nobody, including the clergy and the police department in his abuse.”
According to “The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon” by Ronald K.L. Collins and David M. Skover, one of the comic’s signature bits, “Christ and Moses,” was the bridge too far for the cops. In this bit, the two holy men unexpectedly stop by St. Patrick’s Cathedral, causing a panicked Cardinal Spellman to beg the pope’s help. (“We’re up to our ass in crutches and wheelchairs here!”)
At that point, the police stopped the show and arrested Bruce, charging him with “giving an obscene and lewd show.” Also arrested were the club’s owner and bartender, as well as one George Carlin, 25, who refused to show ID. Carlin and Bruce shared a ride to the station in the back of a paddywagon, and when they were booked they both gave the same local address on East Delaware.
The incident left its mark on both comics. Carlin changed the tone of his comedy to be much more topical. “He was really a force for exposing hypocrisy. Lenny Bruce opened the doors for all the guys like me; he prefigured the free-speech movement and helped push the culture forward into the light of open and honest expression.”
Bruce, meanwhile, was found guilty and later said this about our fair city: “Chicago is so corrupt, it’s thrilling.”