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Lenny Bruce

Paul Luikart

26 toilet tank

I get a lot of reading done sitting on the can. Evidently there’s something about filling my nostrils with my own stench that also makes me want to fill my mind. If I were smarter I’d conduct some Pavlovian-type research to see if the smell of crap actually increases my brain’s neuroplasticity. (DAMN. There’s a word that’ll make you slap your mama upside the prefrontal cortex. But let me tell on myself: Wikipedia.) Right next to my commode is a basket of books and magazines. The current selections include Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water, a Runner’s World that’s a couple of months old, some magazines about parenting and, from 1967, The Essential Lenny Bruce. It’s an original edition. Musty, with brittle pages and those tiny bugs that crawl up from the binding once in awhile (which straight up give me the creeps. After all I routinely open the book inches above my exposed junk.) Anyway, The Essential Lenny Bruce is nothing more than his act transcribed onto the page.

Lenny Bruce, the original filthy comic. He nailed topics like drugs, politics, pornography, religion(s), and made gorgeous art out of the word “motherfucker” while his contemporaries were riffing on their wives’ terrible cooking. Bruce got arrested all the time for the stuff he said. Sometimes the cops would climb up on stage and collar him right in front of the audience. How’s that for a show?

Lenny Bruce, the original comic’s comic. Bruce was light years ahead of his time. Without Lenny Bruce, you can forget about George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Sam Kinison, Bill Hicks, Roseanne Barr, Dennis Leary, David Letterman, Louis CK. The list goes on. Though I have a feeling we’d still be cursed with Andrew Dice Clay, Yakov Smirnoff, Dane Cook…it is a fallen world after all.

Lenny Bruce, an original modern prophet. Howzat? Yeah. Now, I think God is pretty funny. I mean, the Divine has a sense of humor and it’s kind of sick if you think about it. Dig. We Christian types like to say stuff about the Judeo-Christian prophets like, “Well, that was a different time and after Jesus, you know, we didn’t need prophets anymore so God doesn’t, you know, work like that. Anymore.” I’ll bet He does. Probably all the time. It’s just that we Christian types don’t hang around where His prophets do. That’s funny, man.

Of course it goes without saying that the Christian types chased Lenny Bruce around in his day. “Motherfucker” was just their cover. Bruce was more than dirty words. He stuck it to them right in the heart and it made them twitch. So they called him immoral and they all wrote him off. For bits like this: Imagining Jesus and Moses walking into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, Bruce said:

Christ and Moses standing in the back of St. Pat's, looking around. Confused, Christ is, at the grandeur of the interior, the baroque interior, the rocoque baroque interior. Because his route took him through Spanish Harlem, and he was wondering what the hell fifty Puerto Ricans were doing living in one room when that stained glass window is worth ten G's a square foot? And this guy had a ring worth eight grand. Why weren't the Puerto Ricans living here? That was the purpose of church—for the people.

Some comic material goes with the times in which it was created and only with those times. It lacks the universality to propel it through the generations. I’m thinking of Mike Myers thrusting his crotch at the camera. “Shwing!” It’s irrelevant now and can only be appreciated in an ironic sense even if it does elicit laughter. But imagine Bruce’s bit above as it pertains to now. Replace the words “St. Pat’s” with “Willow Creek Community Church,” “Spanish Harlem” with “East Garfield Park” and “stained glass window” with “sound system.” Fifty years later and it still hangs true. I call that a motherfucking prophecy.