Listen Live on
 
Lenny Bruce
Lenny Bruce
When once asked to describe jazz, trumpet legend Miles Davis sarcastically but saliently replied, "You can sweat it down to four words: Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker." Applying that same old-school, new-school trailblazer to comedy is somewhat more problematic. A number of great early comics could stand in for the Armstrong entry, among them Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, and George Burns. But in choosing the "Charlie Parker of comedy," by that meaning the one who blazed the modern-day trail, influencing all that came after him, the answer is simple and irrefutable: Lenny Bruce. He was the genre's reckless visionary, the one who defied conventions, the law, and the system, and -- like most visionaries -- was taken down by it all in the end. Bruce changed the whole ball game: no longer would comics have to come out in a cute little suit and tell cute little mother-in-law jokes or feel like they were "working dirty" if they talked openly about sex and other taboo subjects. The shoot-from-the-hip and tell-the-truth work of Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Richard Lewis, and myriad other modern-day comics could never have existed without Bruce first storming the citadel and tearing down the conventional walls of comedy presentation back in the 1950s. He was the original rebel in this marvelous amalgam he invented, taking his borscht belt and strip-joint background and spot welding it to a hipster enlightenment. His style took previously taboo subjects and not only dumped them all in the audience's lap, but did it with a creative verve that made him the wildest, the hippest, the most controversial, and simply the best comic trotting the boards. Those lucky enough to have caught Bruce on an inspired night said it was like a roller coaster ride inside a person's head, free-association ramblings streaming out in a virtual torrent of ideas. Jumping from '50s jazz hipster slang to a liberal dosage of Yiddish vernacular that sounded like code to the uninitiated to sometimes impish little-boy charm letting you in on a big, dark secret, no comic created intimacy with an audience in almost any environment -- conclusively proven in his amazing performance at Carnegie Hall -- than Lenny Bruce.
Share Email Bookmark