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Bruce, Lenny (October 13, 1925 – August 3, 1966) 

I own a treasured copy of The Essential Lenny Bruce, a Ballantine paperback published by Random House in 1967. If you ever come across a copy at a used book sale, or store, get it. Pick it up. Run to the till.

Lenny Bruce was a lot of things but most of all he was very very funny. From casual one line observations like “shoes are to keep the dog shit off your feet.” Or “You can’t get snot off a suede jacket,” or “ So Reform, they’re ashamed of being Jewish,” to multi-character (doing all the voices himself) mini-dramas about integration, the return of Christ and Moses (one of my favourite’s) and sex.  His work broke trail and laid the foundation for comedians like George Carlin and especially Richard Pryor (a pretty direct link, riffing on the “n” word, I’ve always thought).

 Lenny’s  “To is a preposition come is a verb” is not only very funny, it is also a sound poem, unlike Dada, making sense, making fun, and long before Canada’s Four Horsemen hit the Canadian poetry scene.

 Bruce was Jewish, but not a Jewish comedian like anything before or since, Mort Sahl (born in Montreal) probably coming closest in his willingness to take on large social issues, though acceptable enough to write the occasional joke for President Kennedy’s speeches. Bruce, on the other hand, was repeatedly busted for obscenity, and drug possession becoming obsessed with the American judicial system; ending his career reading court transcripts, and his life with a drug overdose.

I seduced my second wife in a Manitoba country farmhouse after listening to Lenny Bruce’s Carnegie Hall February 4th 1961, New York City live triple album. Though the peppercorn steak flambé and the bottle of wine may have helped. Still have the vinyl.

 You can see some of Bruce’s work on YouTube, and the Carnegie Hall triple album is now available as a two cd set. There is a huge 6 cd boxed set, but I would say this concert was Lenny at his best, despite the snowstorm in New York that night and the midnight start. I would include him alongside Robert Kroetsch, Julia Kristeva, George Bataille, and Leonard Cohen as one of my more significant influences.

 “People should be taught what is, not what should be. All my humour is based on destruction and despair. If the whole world were tranquil without disease and violence, I’d be standing in the breadline – right back of J. Edgar Hoover.”

 – Lenny Bruce

 

 

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