Sometimes I was funny. Sometimes I wasn’t, but I was truthful.
~ Lenny Bruce
A good friend told me that if you combine the lat great comics Richard Pryor and George Carlin, you might get a ¼ of Lenny Bruce. I didn’t get what he meant. I knew of him but never saw or heard him perform. I’m more familiar with Eddie Murphy, Sheryl Underwood and Chris Rock. I was the perfect candidate to see what made Bruce a powerful presence. After all, there had to be a reason why Rolling Stone magazine listed him as number three, behind Pryor and Carlin, in the best 50 stand-up comedians earlier this year. Bruce’s career started and ended in the toilet. Literally. He was found lying on his bathroom floor with a syringe nearby. He was 40 years old.
As Bruce, Ronnie Marmo (General Hospital) does a sensational job in re-living one of most confrontational and controversial artists who lived. Marmo goes all out in playing the conflicted, drug-addicted talented comic. As he gets dressed, puts on his white boxers, black slacks, pants with matching tie and jacket with a pick of a white shirt peeking from underneath his black jacket and socks in all black, Bruce explains how he ended up dead. He and begins insulting blacks and Jews, calling them niggers and kikes. Sound familiar? You can hear Richard Pryor and Carlin in those amusing insults. The crassness is reminiscent of the late Sam Kinison. Bruce recalled fond memories of his performer mother Sadie Kitchenberg, who went by the stage name Sally Marr. She was very detrimental in his career. Bruce makes them sound more of a brother sister team. He worked a lot of odd jobs, including dancing and bartending to pay his way until his big break came in. In the interim, he would perform in different clubs practicing on his material. He tested the waters on how far he could and could not go. In his charming manner he would describe what cocksure by playing with his zipper and licking the microphone head. During a performance, he quickly fingers an undercover cop taking copious notes on the foul language the comedian would utter. Bruce says his monologue and as quickly as possible that the cop ripped the napkin on which he wrote his notes. Poor man! Hopefully the copy learned that you can’t out hustle a trained hustler. I’m just saying!
And then it happened. Bruce fell in love and fell hard. Her name was Harriett Jolliff, but was known as Honey Harlowe. According to Bruce, she was beautiful woman with long red hair and a face of a kindergarten teacher. They fell in lust, then in love, and soon became parents to Brandy Kathleen Bruce affectionately known as Kitty. She starred in the 1975 cult classic Switchblade Sisters. Bruce tenderly spoke highly about his only child. He recalled a horrific car crash where his and Honey were battered bodies with cracked skulls. After four months, Bruce could walk. “Nothing in life is free. There’s always a price. Always,” he said regarding the crash but probably the wretched things he and Honey put themselves through. One of those things that stuck with him getting arrested on numerous occasions. He impersonated a priest. He got stuck with an obscenity charge for using the word cocksucker. He was a mess. It does come out as a sad tale but that’s not Bruce’s way of dealing with things. You get up, after uour body heals, be there for your daughter and think of new ways to insult and defy the rules conformity. A lot of the shared credit in creating such a beautiful, tormented account of Bruce’s life is actor Joe Mantegna (Criminal Minds) who directed this moving tribute. The Tony-award winner did an incredible job piecing together a story with heart and character. Under Mantegna’s direction, Marmo is incredible and mesmerizing to watch as he becomes Lenny Bruce. No worries. Nothing held back. Another hit for Marmo, who takes his character front and center. There’s no hiding or explaining away the ugly. It is what it is and its often painful and sore but somewhere in the cracks, like Pandora’s box, hope survives, then thrives until it holds tightly giving you a momentary reprieve. Bruce was all that. Marmo kept it one hundred by not hiding the scars or bruises. He puts Lenny out front and center for the world to see. An exceptional job with a lot of heart and balls.
I AM NOT A COMEDIAN…I’M LENNY BRUCE plays until Saturday, December 30th. Friday, (December 1st and 8th at 10 p.m., December 15th, 22nd and 29th at 8 p.m.) Saturday (December 2nd and 9th at 10 p.m., December 16th and 23rd at 8 p.m. and December 30th at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.) playing at Theatre 68, located at 5112 Lankershim Blvd in North Hollywood. No performance on Sunday, October 22nd. For reservations, call (323) 960-5068.