“I’m Not A Comedian . . . I’m Lenny Bruce”
LIVE on stage through December 30, 2018
When Pearl Jam opened for The Rolling Stones at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Saturday November 14, 1997 (in a crossfire-hurricane driving rain) their guitar-slinging, lead-singing front man and premier lyricist Eddie Vedder did his habitual adlibbing during one particular song, repeating “‘To’ is a preposition, ‘come’ is a verb” over and over like some beautiful musical mantra. Vedder wasn’t just extemporaneously riffing, though, he was giving a clever tribute and paying homage by quoting a bit from the genius mind of the long-time dead-and-gone standup comic, poet, singer, screenwriter, author, parodist, iconoclast, social satirist, political activist, free speech advocate and righteous First Amendment defendant, litigant and martyr, Lenny Bruce.
“I’m not a comedian and I’m not sick. The world is sick and I’m the doctor. I’m a surgeon with a scalpel for false values.”- Lenny Bruce
Lenny Bruce wasn’t merely himself. He was also a trailblazing (and trial-blazing mad!) musical-comedic hero that first put poetic, esoteric, jazz-cat comedy into strip clubs then took it out into nightclubs, where he developed more “rhythmic & blue” material and practiced until he got to Carnegie Hall. There, on February 4, 1961 he performed his burlesque classics for 3,000 blizzard-braving, sold-out fans, transforming the prestigious music venue into the grandest comedy room of that time. It would be another five years before music impresario Sid Bernstein presented the Beatles at Shea Stadium on August 15, 1966 and where together they would simultaneously make music history and create arena comedy rock just 12 days after Lenny Bruce’s death. (A coincidence?)
Like a hip Jewish version of James Dean, Lenny Bruce is a rock ‘n’ roll icon, and if you think comedy isn’t rock-n-roll (and vice versa), go ask The Goons, Allan Sherman, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, The Strangeloves, Monty Python, Neil Innes, The Rutles, Cheech & Chong, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, The Blues Brothers, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinnison, Bill Hicks, Andrew “Dice” Clay, Dave Chappelle, Adam Sandler, Jack Black, Lewis Black, Michael Ian Black, and Jay Black (but none of The Americans!), Bob Dylan (hilarious self-parody for decades!), Elvis (the original “King” of comedy!) and especially, for his surname’s sake alone, Chris Rock. Then think again.
Ronnie Marmo is not a comedian…he’s Lenny Bruce! As such he shakes you and takes you on a spellbinding trip through Lenny Bruce’s laudable, lamentable life. Beginning at the end, Marmo brilliantly weaves an intricate yet seamless tapestry of naked truths and relevant revelations to fashion a tour de force of historical vignettes, hysterical bits, and tragic pieces that take you from Lenny’s birth and comic strip-joint debut through a heart-rending, entropic courtroom denouement and back again.
In between he expounds and artistically explores the three great loves and influences in Lenny Bruce’s life and in many other creative men’s lives too: that “Holy Trinity of Women” for most healthy, happy, heterosexual, red-blooded American men: “Mother, Lover, and Daughter.”
Lenny’s mom Sally Marr and universal, irreplaceable motherly love is most poignantly portrayed in “Nobody Wants To Go Back To Their Room Alone.” (“It’s not about the glass of water.”) His attraction to and passion for his wife/lover/significant other, baby mama and sweetheart Honey is expressed in love-at-first-sight and love-of-his-life recollections. Their daughter Brandy Kathleen Bruce (aka “Kitty”) is the subject of Marmo’s own soliloquy “Was It A Tulip Or Was It A Daffodil?”; the object in a custody battle that Lenny wins (“Custody. It’s two former flames, now extinguished, trying to get even.”); and appears as a voice-over (recorded by Marmo’s own daughter!) reading the lovely, touching letter she wrote for her Daddy when she was eight years old.
Deftly directed by Joe Montegna, the program for this one man show lists 13 other contributors. Extra credit to Production Stage Manager Kathryn Loggins as the lights, audio, and Marmo synch flawlessly (“like a big [Buddy Rich] drum solo”) for “To Come,” perfectly complement Lenny’s lyrical “All Alone” song poem showpiece, and merge terrifically to create a riveting, harrowing car crash.
Lenny’s mind was sharper, and Ronnie’s pen is mightier than any two-edged sword and their enthralling work here cuts to the core, passes right through the funny bone, goes straight to the heart and touches the soul. I laughed ’til I cried and cried tears of sorrow as I witnessed a desperate Lenny beseech a merciful GOD not to take away his critically injured Honey, and again as a devastated Lenny begged an unmerciful judge not to take away the only things that he has left: his words and the freedom to speak them. (“If we can’t say ‘fuck’ then we can’t say ‘fuck the government!’”) Anyone and everyone that trades in words for currency – not just comedians but also actors, writers, singers, poets, priests and politicians—should experience and appreciate this captivating, exhilarating, illuminating masterpiece. Enlighten yourself. Amen.
—Dennis J. McDonough
Through December 30 at The Cutting Room. Tickets HERE
“For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints from the marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)