Comedians in Courthouses Getting Cuffed: Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, December 1962

On Dec. 5, 1962, Lenny Bruce was both comedy icon and outlaw at the age of 37. He had played Carnegie Hall and released the recording as a triple-album, and was just beginning to amass a lengthy arrest record, too.

On that night, Bruce was performing at the Gate of Horn in Chicago.

In the audience, a 25-year-old George Carlin. Back then, Carlin wasn’t using any of the seven words he couldn’t say on TV, just barely beginning his career in front of the cameras himself with characters like the hippy dippy weatherman and impersonations of President Kennedy.

No. That night, ’twas Bruce who was being busted for obscenities. But Carlin and the rest of the crowd got swept up in a police raid, as the cops hoped to find underage patrons and really put the screws to Bruce.

Here’s actual audio from the police raiding the Gate of Horn while Bruce is onstage.

You can see Bruce led through a hallway by a cop (who amusingly enough, looks himself like a relative of Bill Murray, and it being Chicago, who knows, right?), with Carlin behind him.

In an interview decades later, Carlin recounted that night, noting that the cop actually said “Show’s over, ladies and gentlemen,” before checking the IDs of everyone in the club. “They had the people leave the club through the only door upstairs, the only door, one-by-one, show their ID. Because, basically, what they wanted to do was to catch someone underage so they could give the club trouble.” He said they did find one girl there who was 15, apparently.

“Vince and I just kept drinking our beers and all the beer we could get — because the upstairs bar was right there. The service bar was in there. I was good and juiced by the time they got to us and we purposely waited to be almost the last people. Just to watch all of this going on. So when I got to the door and the police was all, ‘ID. We want to see your ID.’ I said, ‘I don’t believe in ID.’ You know, just a smart-ass, Irish guy. Little drunk. Who didn’t like authority anyway, you know, didn’t much care for regulations my whole life, so I was always giving them a hard-, giving them some shit, you know. So I said, ‘I don’t believe in ID.’ So he was a little exasperated by this point, this policeman. I guess he was a plainclothes. And he sort of grabbed me by the collar of the suit, and the baggy pants up my ass, and kind of bum-rushed me down the stairs, you know, forcing me down the stairs on my way out, and downstairs, there was a place that you’d pass through and on the left, there were two little portals that led into the bar area and the cocktail lounge area and I knew Brenda (his wife) was in there. So as they’re rushing me past that, I said, ‘Tell Brenda I’m going to jail!’ And I got outside into a paddywagon. An old-fashioned paddywagon. This writer from Swank magazine was in there. And I don’t really remember if Lenny was in there…but he must have been, because he probably said to me, ‘What are you in here for?’ I said, ‘Ah, I didn’t give them my ID.’ He said, ‘Don’t be a schmuck.'”

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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