Saturday, October 10, 2009

Feast of Saint Lenny

My Fellow Comedists,

This week we celebrate the feast day of Saint Lenny. Lenny Bruce would be 84 this week. Few comedians have had more of an effect on the craft. Working strip joints with his wife Honey Harlow, Lenny developed his frenetic delivery that combined classic character driven skit work with monologues. He left the burlesque scene for the straight clubs which paid better and led to fame and television. He became a social force, a cultural earthquake.

Most remembered for the obscenity charges against him, there is no doubt that Lenny Bruce was the original shock comic. Lenny Bruce ended the Will Rogers era in American comedy. It was, after all the 50s, and the nation was deeply entrenched in its post-war tv dinner suburban complacency. Steve Allen represented the edge. And then Lenny blew it up. Yes, he talked about sex and abortion, he talked about lesbianism when it was a completely taboo subject. He used words that would have been common on board the ships he served on in the Navy, but which never came from stages in nightclubs. But he was not just someone who received notoriety by saying things that could not be said. He was one of the best writers and stage performers to ever pick up a microphone. His razor sharp mind took on the Jewish community and the generation gap between those who came over and those who had become assimilated. He took on relationships. He took on religion. His was a quick and penetrating mind that sliced away at the vanilla that was America at the time. Lenny not only set the stage for the next half century of comedy that was to follow, but was one of the opening shots in the culture war. He led the way for the counter-culture.

Here's one of his classic bits, Religion, Inc.

Thank you, Lenny Bruce.

Live, love, and laugh.

Irreverend Steve