Forty-four years after his death his influence still towers.
You may or may not like Lenny Bruce; if you discovered him towards the tail end of his career sometimes his appearances were little more than anti-establishment rants about the persecution he was being subjected to. He was losing his career, his freedom, and towards the end, his sanity. Who wouldn’t?
But his belief in personal freedom, the right for anyone to speak their mind, the drive to question authority – you know, fundamental human rights – made him a trailblazer in the world of comedy. His jazzy, free-flowing style blurred the line between storytelling and joke-telling; his subject matter risqué for the times; his intelligence and subtlety a reward for those who were really paying attention.
Jazz musicians in the pocket are capable of taking a solo at any moment; so too Bruce was able to run off on a tangent and weave his way back in almost invisibly. When they make lists of the greatest and most influential comedians ever to walk the planet, Bruce is always in the very top cluster, if not the apex.
When the movie Lenny first came out I was sure I wouldn’t like Dustin Hoffman in the lead, but I liked the film and thought he did great work. The film we really need to see is the documentary Swear To Tell The Truth, narrated by Robert DeNiro.
Read more about Swear To Tell The Truth.
But while it’s nice to read about him and hear about him, your first move should be to listen to him. I highly recommend that you get your hands on Let The Buyer Beware, the boxed set collection of his albums. Also Lenny Bruce Without Tears (a DVD with some of his TV performances) and The Lenny Bruce Performance Film, most copies of which include Thank You Masked Man.
Rest in Peace, Lenny. Finally, peace.
Lenny Bruce official website.
Lenny on Wikipedia.
Nice collection of links to Lenny related material.