Lenny Bruce makes a comeback 52 years after he died on the can
Fifty-two years ago, Lenny Bruce was found naked on the toilet of his Los Angeles home, dead from a morphine overdose. Through next week, at the Cutting Room in Midtown Manhattan, that final moment of his life serves as the opening scene of “I’m Not a Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce.” The one-man bio-play is the latest entry in what appears to be a Lenny Bruce revival.
Last year, for the debut season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” the shock-comic was portrayed by Luke Kirby. He served as what series creator Amy Sherman-Paladino described to Vanity Fair as “a sage, or a muse, or a weird freaky guardian angel.”
Not coincidentally, Sherman-Paladino’s father was a stand-up in the early 1960s, and she hung out with Bruce’s mother — whom she describes as “sort of a godmother to all the comics.”
Bruce is currently featured in an exhibit at the recently launched National Comedy Center in Jamestown, New York. The Bruce display features legal documents (Bruce was often busted for obscenity — so much so that he would single out uniformed cops and plainclothesmen in the audience), the annotated manuscript of his book “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People” and the trench coat that he often wore.
In June, the Hollywood Reporter likened Kathy Griffin to “Lenny Bruce in the last stage of his career.” It was not a compliment to Griffin, who got into hot water after being photographed while holding up a fake severed head of Donald Trump. Like Bruce, she was bringing her legal travails to the stage in ways that were kvetchy but not funny.
From the late 1950s until the mid-’60s, Bruce heralded a new kind of comedy. It was shocking, hip, dirty and controversial. He poked fun at religion and bigotry, made jokes about sex and attacked politicians at times when all of that was considered too taboo for public airing.
The Long Island-raised rabble-rouser hit nerves and tackled subject matter that some view as relevant today: Last year, Brandeis University canceled a play about him, because the material was deemed too controversial.
“I think Lenny has a lot to offer younger generations,” says “I’m Not a Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce” playwright Ronnie Marmo, who plays the title character in the current Cutting Room stage show, told Newsday. “Free speech, censorship … I mean, we’re still fighting for the same things we were fighting for 50 years ago.”
And Bruce has well-entrenched fans who remain devoted to him and his causes. “After the show, a lot of people share stories,” Marmo related to Newsday. “One guy told me, ‘I saw Lenny arrested twice!’ One of his attorneys gave me a bounced check from Lenny. I had one guy last night who’d seen Lenny 10 times in person. He had tears in his eyes. He said, ‘Thank you for bringing my hero back.’”
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