Director Ted Balaker once told this site Lenny Bruce wouldn’t be allowed on college campuses today.
And the director of “Can We Take a Joke? is right.
Bruce never held back. As a result, he found himself repeatedly jailed, hounded by cops monitoring his every quip and dead at 40 from an overdose.
The comedian’s no holds barred shtick, tackling sacred cows with humor and insight, made him a legend. Every political comedian owes a debt to Bruce.
Except that kind of brutal honesty is no longer allowed on college campuses. Just ask Nimesh Patel, an Indian-American comic whose Columbia University show ended abruptly after he told a joke the show’s organizers didn’t like.
Or Jerry Seinfeld, who famously won’t go near a college gig because today’s students cry “racism! sexism! etc.” over the tamest bits.
Ronnie Marmo, the actor who portrays Bruce in a one-man showcase, should know better than most performers why Bruce mattered and how conservatives are defending free speech rights in the modern era.
Except he appears 0-2 on both counts.
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Marmo spoke to the liberal New York Daily News about his show, “I’m Not a Comedian … I’m Lenny Bruce.” The long-running performance, returning to the East Coast this month, is directed by veteran actor Joe Mantegna.
The show will be a little different this time around, though. A portion in which Marmo, in character, uses the N-word is now gone. Bruce wouldn’t use that word now, the actor claims.
Marmo added that he isn’t afraid of Cancel Culture or liberal attacks on the show, even though progressives would swiftly rally against “I’m Lenny Bruce” if he uttered the word on stage.
“I realized there’s a balance between being an artist and telling the truth, and not being tone-deaf to the world I’m living in.”
Bruce’s whole career disagrees with that sentiment, and the actor who brings him to life should know that. If Bruce risked jail for telling the bits he wanted to tell, surely he’d stand up to Cancel Culture types eager to restrain his art.
It gets worse.
Marmo says he wants to introduce Bruce’s legacy to young liberals. Using the n-word, he alleges, would attract more racists to the show than his preferred demographic.
Because, as everyone knows, racists will line up to see any show that uses the n-word once. Happens all the time. Then they leave, en masse, goose stepping toward the lobby in their red MAGA hats.
Marmo then turns his back on the group currently protecting Bruce’s free speech legacy.
“The people on the right who are screaming ‘Screw you! First amendment! Free speech! I’ll say what I want’… those people think I’m doing the show for them … Lenny is rolling over in his grave.”
Marmo says he interrupted his own show once when he felt parts of the crowd were laughing at Bruce’s crude material for the wrong reasons.
“I stopped the bit and said, ‘Stop laughing.’”
Imagine a performer lecture the crowd not to laugh at his or her show, one based on a comedy legend. You don’t have to imagine it, apparently.
If Bruce is rolling in his grave, it’s not for the reasons Marmo suggests.
Here, comic Eddie Izzard explains why Bruce matters both then and now.
“He died for us to give us the freedom of speech …” Izzard says. Someone should tell Marmo before his next performance.