A week or so after the election, when I heard that Bill Maher was being sued for palimony, my first response was, Oh no, what do they have on Jon Stewart? Just because everybody says comedians supplied the only trenchant campaign analysis doesn't mean it's not true. The first comic to be hounded for speaking the truth (and working blue, before that meant states) was Lenny Bruce, the subject of a new five-disc retrospective that includes taped phone calls to his lawyers and interviews with jurors, as well as formative TV and radio appearances and most of his classic nightclub bits. Anyone into Bruce is going to have those bits in other forms. His many jazz references are going to baffle younger listeners, and so might his frequent Yiddish, which is no longer hip lingo. Anyone looking for incisive Cold War critiques is going to be frustrated, becauselike Howard Stern'sBruce's frame of reference was cultural and autobiographical rather than political (Maher and Stewart are Mort Sahl's progeny). Yet his contemporary relevance becomes obvious once you hear him do "Christ and Moses" or "Religions Inc.""I picked on the wrong God," he says at one point. It's obvious, too, why Bruce continues to be not just an influence on dirty-mouthed and socially relevant comedians, but also their patron saint. We hear him growing steadily more defiant as the law closes in. Here's one junkie who could serve as a role model.
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