Archive for Lenny Bruce

Tonight on TCM: The Story of Esther Costello

Posted in CAMP, Hollywood (History), Movies with tags , , , on January 24, 2014 by travsd

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I am very excited: tonight at 6:15pm E.S.T. Turner Classic Movies will be showing this camp classic. I’ve not yet seen it, but have known about it for years through the good graces of an old Lenny Bruce comedy routine.

In the bit, Bruce painstakingly recounts the movie’s ridiculous plot, which concerns Joan Crawford’s efforts to bring comfort to a blind, deaf and dumb teenage girl. Then her estranged husband returns and exploits the unfortunate girl for financial gain. And then, the coup de grace:  he rapes the girl — magically restoring her hearing and eyesight in the process. Bruce’s exasperated punchline, “So what’s the moral?!” makes me howl just thinking about it. I’m sure I’ve stolen the IDEA of Bruce’s reaction in this bit many a time. At any rate, the machine is set; can’t WAIT to see this movie.

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Lenny Bruce

Posted in Comedy, Jews/ Show Biz, Stand Up with tags , on October 13, 2012 by travsd

Today is the birthday of Lenny Bruce (1925-1966). When I was 19 and 20 years old I was DEEP under the Brucean spell, enthralled by way of a handful of existing records borrowed from a friend’s dad. For awhile I was even talking like Bruce, in that distinct mix of Yiddishe and hophead bebop slang, and on some days you can still catch me doing it, especially when I play my character Nihils, which I first devised while still under Bruce’s spell.

There are levels to Bruce…his unique verbal cadences being the outer shell, the one that initially hooked me. But as you listen to him, he becomes a sort of Hipster Holy Man, a guy who’s honest to a fault, somebody who’ll blow the whistle on anything that’s wrong, and this is why I truly treasured him, even though he’d already been planted in the ground for two decades. These days, I’m thinking a lot about the burlesque connection. He and his wife Honey, a stripper, met and performed together in what might be called the post-burlesque scene of the early 50s….nightclubs where jazz, stand-up comics and strippers were presented on bills together, a far cry from the halcyon days of Minsky. It was in these “toilets” as Bruce called them, that he learned to improvise fearlessly in front of an audience.

Because of his untimely death in 1966 of a heroine overdose, he is forever frozen in the noir era, the time of black and white. It’s hard to imagine what he might have evolved into if he’d kept going into the late 60s and 70s and beyond, when the likes of George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks took up his mantle. Would he have kept growing? Or would he have become a throwback? It’s academic, baby.

Here’s a routine of his, chosen quite at random. People are always quoting and sampling his political stuff, his First Amendment screeds, and his material about racial relations and so forth. Here’s one that’s a bit more social, but no less significant…freezing a moment of sexual history in time. We’ve grown accustomed to much that he is talking about here, but I assure you that back when he did this bit, it had to sound like a thunderbolt:

American: The Bill Hicks Story

Posted in Movies (Contemporary), PLUGS, Stand Up, TV variety with tags , , on April 8, 2011 by travsd

For most of my adult life, had you asked me who was the most brilliant, wise, perceptive, brave and penetrating stand up comedian of the modern era I would have said without hesitation Lenny Bruce. I discovered him when I was about 20, and worshiped everything about him: his lengthy, crazy flights of imagination, the way he knocked the lofty off their pedestals and the complacent off their perches. Above all I loved the way he talked — the very soul of post-war Bohemianism, an argot mixing hep-cat slang, be bop, beat poetry, and Yiddish. I soaked it up like a sponge and imitated it. If you listen to me closely to this day you will catch me channeling him.

In the late 90s, my pal and occasional collaborator Beau Mansfield opined that, no, Bill Hicks was vastly more brilliant than Lenny Bruce. I considered the idea so preposterous I didn’t even bother looking into it, never even having heard of Hicks. It wasn’t until a year or two ago that I finally was exposed to Hicks’ comedy. (I was introduced to it by my good friend the Illimitable Mr. Pinnock, my instructor in all things worthy). And I’ll be damned if Beau wasn’t right. Hicks is an eye opener. He takes on the same stalking horses of religion, politicians, big business etc that Bruce had, issues that ought to have been settled matters after the presumed social revolution of the sixties. Hicks wakes you up to the evil and injustices we are still swimming in, and maybe don’t even think about, and frames them so perfectly you are just in awe, not just of his heart and his mind, but of his bravery. (Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion all rolled into one).

Unfortunately, he passed away in 1994 at the age of 32 before becoming truly famous in the U.S., making him even more of an underground figure than Lenny Bruce. Now he’s the subject of a critically acclaimed new documentary entitled American: The Bill Hicks Story, opening today at Cinema Village. You owe it to yourself to check it out.  For more info go here.

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