Fat Boy: The Genius of Lenny Bruce
Big Buzz Productions / Format Music
Lenny Bruce. One of the names you can’t escape in a discussion of American comedy. One of the guys. Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Woody Allen. These are the sorts of names that come up when discussing the development of the stand-up act and there’s a long shadow of their influence of the format, that being, broadly speaking, the joke-telling hour on stage. Maybe with a view to elongating the banter and rants into a ‘story’.
Comedy dates. And revisiting the ‘heroes’ and influential figures doesn’t always work. Bruce is even more problematic in that his whole lasting influence is tied up in the ideal of him as a free speech champion and the public obscenity trial which took place near the end of his career and life.
Lenny wasn’t a blue comic and though his legend is now wrapped in his lengthy legal battle and the way he handled it – by reading the transcripts from the stage, morphing into a performance-artist essentially – he was a joke-teller and a story performer and he did Yiddish yucks and the style of supper-club mirth that is lost on us now.
But the best of it cuts through – if you’re wanting it; if you’re a student of comedy, someone with an interest in the history.
And this collection is a useful starting point – particularly as it really shows some range. Famous bits – like the rather weird and still-wonderful Thank You Masked Man – bounce in and around bits that aren’t so much political, just character-driven.
The opening, title bit is a great extended character-rant. There’s some dark stuff in there. It’s like the best of Woody Allen and Bob Newhart in the set-up and then the full-character monologue is a blast.
But the most interesting thing is Bruce’s command of the stage. He owns it. He knows this crowd is hanging on his every word. That wasn’t always the case of course. Just as it’s not with anyone that tries this mad, strange art. But yeah, you’ll find one of the comics that’s still referenced (even if his actual influence has long since waned) in fine form here. And if you need a starter kit or a refresher (I lost my Masked Man CD long ago, no idea where the Berkley gig has gone to either, now I think about it) this should do the job just nicely. When would you listen to it though? It’s for ‘research’ purposes only I reckon.
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