By Scott T. Sterling
When it comes to the Mount Rushmore of comedy, Lenny Bruce is certainly front and center.
The pioneering ‘60s comedian famous for routines like “The Meaning of Obscenity” and once being arrested in L.A. for using the word “schmuck” onstage is being remembered in a one-man stage production, I’m Not a Comedian, I’m Lenny Bruce.
The show is written by and stars actor Ronnie Marmo, who’s been presenting his homage to Bruce at Theater 68 in North Hollywood for the past year.
“I don’t do an imitation of him, but I embody him and his spirit,” Marmo explained to Wave host David Caprita in a recent interview about becoming Lenny Bruce onstage. “I listened to everything I could get my hands on. At one point, I let it all go, and figured out who I thought he was in an authentic way. We wanted to make sure that people under the age of 50 understood that he passed the torch to those guys,” he added in reference to comedians from Richard Pryor and George Carlin to Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. “But he was so much more than that.”
Marmo reveals that such comic legends as Richard Lewis, Paul Reiser and Eric Idle have all come out to support the show, which was crafted with help from a famous friend, fellow actor Joe Mantegna.
“He directed it, but also helped me shape the final version of the script,” Marmo said. “So he was a big important player. Joe’s been a mentor for me for the last 15 years. He’s one of the great guys in Hollywood.”
Marmo talked about how spending so much time as Lenny Bruce has blurred the lines of his own reality between himself and the actor he’s portraying onstage.
“It’s completely mixed now. I don’t know who I am, who he is,” Marmo laughed. “Even if I disagreed with things like the N-word bit and certain things in the show, or what Lenny would do in the ‘60s, I appreciated the fact that he was trying to evoke change. He was trying to do something different, something new, something else. Everyone else was scared to speak up and talk about the hypocrisies in this world.”
Bolstered by the success of the L.A. run, Marmo is ready to take the show on the road, with an upcoming open-ended run Off-Broadway.
“We decided to do it at a nontraditional theater, this wonderful place called The Cutting Room. It’s a music venue on 32nd and Park. The whole vibe is Lenny Bruce,” the actor revealed, adding that the one-off performance there drew a packed house including Actor and E Street Band guitarist, Steven Van Zandt.
Future plans include a proposed college tour, and taking I’m Not a Comedian, I’m Lenny Bruce to the big screen as a motion picture.
“I’ve been very blessed in my career, and I’ve done OK for myself,” Marmo admitted. “But this is the one that keeps sticking with me. It’s this story and I’m not done telling it. I’ve done a hundred performances, and I’m just about getting started.”