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The Lenny Bruce Originals, Vol. 1

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Album Review

After being out of print, the Fantasy label compiled Lenny Bruce's late-'50s and 1960s platters onto compact discs for two volumes simply named The Lenny Bruce Originals (1991). The first installment gathers Interviews of Our Times (1958) and The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce (1959), while the second serves up Togetherness (1960) and American (1961). The bulk of the material captures Bruce before an audience at the Peacock Lane club in Hollywood circa January of 1958 as well as Ann's 440 in San Francisco in April of the same year. As Bruce's legacy supports, he took on all topics and subjects with equal measures of wit and unapologetic candor. "Interview with Dr. Sholem Stein" as well as "Shorty Petterstein Interview" were from an odd EP that was not credited to Bruce, but rather was issued under the monikers of Henry Jacobs and Woodrow Leafer as Two Interviews (1955). "The Interview" was part of a weightier monologue detailing the career of a struggling jazz musician. The story is picked up as the addict horn player is in the process of being hired by a very famous bandleader (aka Lawrence Welk), whose name had to be excised due to potential lawsuits. Other standouts are the brilliantly conceived and executed parody named "The March of High Fidelity," in which hi-fi enthusiasts are depicted as fetishists who use junkie jargon and exhibit addictive behavior. "Father Flotsky's Triumph" — displaying the artist's love and penchant for cinematic pseudo-drama — is presented unedited at nearly eight minutes. Bruce delves into what he describes as "poetry in jazz" with the linguistic bit of psychedelic word association "Psychopathia Sexualis." "Non Skeddo Flies Again" recalls the tragedy of John "Jack" Gilbert Graham's successful bombing of United Airlines Flight 629 that killed 44 — including his own mother. Bruce chides that it's hard to hate someone who bombs a flight that "only kills 40 people." His honest assessment of professionals doing what professionals do [read: get paid for their work] in "The Kid in the Well" suggests that many of Bruce's revelations have remained both poignant and ingenuous. The Hollywood-ification of "Adolf Hitler and the M.C.A." is admittedly in poor taste but impossible to ignore, while "Ike, Sherm, and Nick" offers a long-lost nugget of history concerning the inappropriate behavior of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's White House Chief of Staff Sherman Adams. Adams was asked to step down after it became public knowledge that he accepted a vicuña coat and other gratuities from a cotton broker who was concurrently being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission. "Religions, Inc." is perhaps the best-known entry in The Lenny Bruce Originals, Vol. 1, as it has appeared on several comedy compilations over the years. Bruce's keen BS detector and "follow the money" acumen hit upon major faith-based organizations decades prior to the PTL and subsequent fallout in the televangelism community. Finally, tacked on at the end of the disc is "Three Message Movies," with the humorist drawing on cinematic references to preach about three of his favorite topics: narcotics, truth, and tolerance.

Customer Reviews

Wilbur Runt's Triumph

'Father Flotski' is the most astonishing thing on this collection (in the first big joke the audience don't know what vibrators are). It's worth it for 'Kiki the hospital attendant' alone. It's Bruce really putting together his bits on cinema and this vibe has dominated comedy ever since: for those who haven't enjoyed drugs or a mild hangover this is what it feels like to get a bit helpless slagging off a crap film in front of others for the sheer enjoyment of pitiful stereotypes and everyone's obscene versions of every other line. Volume two of this collection has 'The Palladium' which matches 'Father Flotski' in fantasy scope but seems, now, to have become a world in itself. Most of its cultural references have probably been lost for the average listen over time. Who would now know the origin of the 'smoke the bazooka' line in 'The Palladium', or know that it was a 1920s novelty musical instrument, or that one of its virtuosos, referenced by Bruce, was caught up in a drugs-fall-from-grace?. But "The Palladium' is a list of beautiful obscurities which form a celebration of his take on what the vicious business of 'Variety' in all its camp glory does to the mind: it's Bruce's most vivid Carnival of the Absurd, yet it's also Bruce's self-analysis 'OK Bullets'.


Born: 13 October 1925 in Mineola, NY

Genre: Comedy

Years Active: '50s, '60s

When once asked to describe jazz, trumpet legend Miles Davis sarcastically but saliently replied, "You can sweat it down to four words: Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker." Applying that same old-school, new-school trailblazer to comedy is somewhat more problematic. A number of great early comics could stand in for the Armstrong entry, among them Charlie Chaplin, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, and George Burns. But in choosing the "Charlie Parker of comedy," by that meaning the one who blazed the modern-day...
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