The mass audience will never learn

On April 14th, 1960, comedian Steve Allen wrote the following letter to journalist Nat Hentoff, congratulating him on his latest Village Voice column (available to read here) in which Hentoff questioned some unfavourable reviews of Lenny Bruce‘s stand-up act. Bruce, recently a guest of Allen’s on his prime-time talk show, had caused widespread controversy following his arrival in New York; indeed, it only worsened, and over the coming years he was arrested numerous times as a result of his act. Following a six-month obscenity trial in 1964, he was sentenced to four months in a workhouse. He died before the appeal was heard.

In 2003, Bruce was posthumously pardoned for his conviction by New York Governor George Pataki.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.


Steve Allen

April Fourteen 1960

Mr. Nat Hentoff
Village Voice
150 East 77th Street
New York, N. Y.

Dear Nat:

Great piece on Lenny Bruce and the New York critics in the Voice. If I had had the time, I was going to write essentially the same thing myself. I was astounded that the supposedly hippest town in the world could give Lenny such a knockdown. He and Sahl are, to my mind, humorists of truly giant stature.

Interesting point: modern art, modern jazz, modern sculpture, modern poetry, modern politics, modern science, modern philosophy, etc., seem to leap far ahead of their audiences. The mass audience, which evidently will never learn, is not content to say “I just don’t understand this new jazz.” The usual comment is “It’s not funny … it’s not jazz … it’s not poetry,” etc. I kick this point around in an autobiography of sorts (MARK IT AND STRIKE IT) to be published this summer by Holt. Also go over the Meeting of Minds thing.

Best regards,

(Signed, ‘Steve’)