News & Politics

Lenny Bruce, Zen Comic


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May 24, 1962, Vol. VII, No. 31

Lenny Bruce in London

By Charles Marowitz

Much of the pro-reaction here to Lenny Bruce is fatuously eggheaded. The big guns on the London weeklies insist that Bruce is a moralist. Not only insist, but demand that he be so. Anyone who employs such obscenity, they seem to imply, must have an uplifting motive. Must in some way be related to D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and what is loosely referred to here as the “new morality.”

For my money, Bruce is, if anything, a hedonist.

A hedonist to whom sex is therapy and charity. That sex is not dirty seems to me one of his marginal truths. That it is rabid, uncontrollable, and desirable seems much more the point. In the midst of a fatal car wreck with only one male and one female survivor, horniness rears its head. Like Antonioni, Bruce reminds us of our inescapable animality. Like De Sade, he urges us to celebrate it. Like Henry Miller, he finds it a source of endless merriment. Like Norman Mailer, he sends us in search of the Big Orgasm and bids us not be ashamed to live for the wisdom our senses afford. This is closer to Wilde’s hedonism than to any saint’s conception of morality…

Bruce is the closest thing we have to a Zen comic. Out of an astonishing relaxation such as we find only in the finest Jazz musicians Bruce pursues his riff to the furthest reaches of rationalism. Suddenly everything transfuses into inspired lunacy and we are in a world no longer confined by logical positivism or dulled with conventional associations. This is true Zen country where new frames are added to the mind and, with Bruce as our Monk, we are allowed to share hallucinations we could never conceive of on our own.

I’ve spent many hours with Bruce; was his first guide to London (what a day!), and have come to know the lad who, dropping the goornisht name of Leonard A. Schneider, adopted the moniker Bruce. A name that suggests brawn, self-confidence, peerless white Protestantism; Bruce Wayne alias Batman; Bruce the high-school hero, president of the student council, star fullback of the college team. In short, all the things father-hounded, ex-sailor Schneider was not.

Besides being a highly professional stand-up comic (“I know what I’m doing every minute I’m out there”) he is an adorable human being. A mensch such as most people haven’t such equipment to be. A good friend of mine who caught the act four times told me: “Screw the comedy, I don’t come to laugh. I just want to be in his presence. He is an important human being.” The friend in question is a hard-boiled, gauntlet-flinging art critic not given to hyperbole. I’m not exactly a dewey-eyed bobby-soxer myself, but I know precisely what he means.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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