Lenny Bruce is by far the most innovative and pivotal of all modern social-political unrestricted comedy, and sadly one of the most under-recognized. Lenny Bruce paved the way for no holds barred, improvisational social commentary on religion, sex, and drugs long before it was publicly acceptable (and long before George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and all the way up to Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks and the like made it commonplace to shatter the conservative social morays of the past generation), reinforcing the importance of the First Amendment in American society.
All the way to the Supreme Court Lenny fought the outmoded concepts of "obscenity" in terms of the legal system and modern morality. After being blackballed from the industry, mostly out of comedy club owners' fear of legal reprisal and harassment by the police, government and religious leaders (he was arrested numerous times for obscenity in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles and he spent his last years, and the last of his money, fighting in court the label and charge of obscenity for what were really honest observations of everyday life. The comments he got arrested for were jokes about the Catholic church, using the words "cocksucker" and "fuck," but most of his comments were taken out of context, or even repeated by law officers in court (mostly inaccurately) and used to further ostracize Lenny in the public eye and drive him further out of a job.
He was finally acquitted of all charges after being forced into destitution and depression, afterwards dying from a drug overdose in 1966. The final decision proved he did or said nothing that was not "contemporary to societal standards" and did not "stimulate a prurient interest," the basis of most of the obscenity charges.
Lenny proved that we as a free society must always accept the good with the bad, and always allow for anything to be said regardless of how unpopular or offensive it may seem to others. Lenny always said "it is the suppression of the word that gives it its 'evil power'" and has no place in a free society. He was therefore never embraced by the mainstream, labeled as a "dirty comic" and never given the credit he deserved in the fight for free speech.
His words are as important and timely today as they were then. Ironically, Lenny died the martyr he did not want to be, but left an indelible and standard-setting mark on our justice system and the way we view free speech, unpopular and otherwise.