Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Feast of Saint Lenny

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

This week we celebrate the birthday of Lenny Bruce, a man who truly made much of comedy what it is today. Comedy in the 1950's was cute, like Alan King, even insightful and clever like Mort Sahl, but Lenny Bruce was a completely different animal, he unloaded on it with both barrels.

Born Leonard Alfred Schneider, he changed his name when he got out of the Navy and started doing stand-up around New York. He had the energy, passion, and anger that was beginning to bubble up to the surface in the times. The cultural straight jacket of the post-war years needed not a gentle loosening, but an explosion to break through and that charge was Lenny Bruce. His discussions of sexuality were not subtle innuendo, cleverly veiled, it was in your face, oh my God, did he really just say that? And it wasn't just sex, any topic from politics to religion to relationships was fair game for his raving take no prisoners wit.

Of course, then he became the prisoner. He was arrested for his act in San Francisco in 1961 for using the word "cocksucker." Ultimately, he was acquitted, but he became a lightning rod attracting attention from the authorities wherever he went. He was arrested several times for obscenity and drug use.

The big trial was in 1964, when he and Howard Solomon, the owner of the Cafe-Au-Go-Go where he had been working, were tried for public obscenity. He was found guilty after a lengthy trial that was as much about the direction of the culture as it was about state statutes. He was released on bail as he awaited his appeal, but pulling the ultimate stunt, he got out of future prosecution by dying.

He was a master, a genius, a man with a pair the size of Manhattan:When you look at half the comedians today, what you see is Lenny Bruce as the Platonic form and these guys as imperfect representations of his bit.

I'd say rest in peace, man, but Lenny did nothing in peace.

Live, laugh, and love,

Irreverend Steve