Tuesday, 21 September 2004

Sons and Daughters of Lenny Bruce

"That's great it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane - Lenny Bruce is not afraid" - REM, "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"
Lenny Bruce's personal recordings are now released. One of the most influential books I read while growing up was Paul Krassner's Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut, which only built up the Lenny Bruce myth in my mind, and then I read Bruce's own How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, which at times is laugh-out-loud funny and at times is really a bittersweet portrayal of a censorious past, with tut-tutting cops staking out comedy clubs just to see if Bruce would say certain words. Between Krassner, Bruce, and Mad magazine, I think my formative years were spent reading up the canon of puncturing hypocrisy.

Salon.com has a list (note: premium content) of the top 10 comedians in the spirit of Lenny Bruce. From #10 to #1:
  • Upright Citizens' Brigade
  • Louis CK
  • Chris Rock
  • Eddie Izzard
  • Sacha Baron-Cohen
  • David Cross
  • Sarah Silverman
  • Aaron McGruder
  • Rick Shapiro
  • Howard Stern
So, you're reading up to #1, and then you go, Howard Stern? In terms of following Lenny, Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman are probably two of the best in the world at skewering racial and sexual pieties, Sacha Baron-Cohen at exposing hypocrisy through the comedy of discomfort (though the amount of time he can continue with the Ali G veneer is probably limited), and Aaron McGruder (together with Tom Tomorrow) at sussing out the polemical possibilities of a hitherto apolitical genre (comic strips). But then we get a switcheroo at the end: it turns from a list of comedians whose style is most like Lenny's to one whose life - specifically the political persecution of indecency aspect - is most Lenny-like. Strange.

Incidentally, Izzard seems to be in the list mostly for playing Lenny onstage; his style is so much tamer. If I were making the list, I'd put Silverman at the top - "Jesus is Magic" was awesome - and throw in Triumph the Insult Comic Dog/Robert Smigel instead of Izzard. For me to poop on!




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