Iconoclast Lenny Bruce appears at San Francisco's Basin Street West in what was his next-to-last live appearance. His act that night consisted of reading allegations and transcripts from ... See full summary »
Iconoclast Lenny Bruce appears at San Francisco's Basin Street West in what was his next-to-last live appearance. His act that night consisted of reading allegations and transcripts from one of his several obscenity trials and then commenting on what he'd actually done or said. While there are some "bits" in the performance (including the prison riot with Dutch, the Warden, Father Flotski, and Sabu, the prison doctor), this is much more a social commentary on government intrusion and censorship than it is a comedy routine. Written by
like the last good flicker from a lighter, this is a sporadically exceptional Lenny Bruce show
Seeing a complete performance from Lenny Bruce is like watching some Jazz musicians all in one form playing at the peak point at that same period in the 60s. Pretty soon all the fire that was keeping everything going would either fade away or get re-directed elsewhere. Lenny Bruce is part of the former, and this show that is likely the last time Bruce was at least totally coherent on stage, even in the similar form of Jazz. Like that, especially in seeing how he talks in a full one-hour show (as opposed to the bits I've seen on TV or occasionally heard on audio recordings), he goes off on tangents, little side-bars that almost might seem like they're going to no point or something random, but it's all in a structure. This structure that Bruce works in helps likely from keeping him on a loose track for his thoughts to go around. Here and there he does get off point, and a couple of stumbles reminds one of how he wasn't really in his full power of linguistic energy and satirical focus.
Yet I wouldn't have wanted to miss a minute of what Bruce had to say on stage, even as he would pop into doing full vocal (if not really physical as his face only shows so much mugging) forms of the people he was referencing. This is possibly the kind of talk and dialog with an audience that might have influenced Richard Pryor. You never really feel like the guy is doing full-on 'bits', not that he doesn't do them but they're not obvious. It's more like if a person might be listening to the other at a bar or over a coffee, it's about as natural as anything. Hence the structure of Bruce's court proceedings- the rougher ones as frank as possible following his only recently over-turned conviction in 64- is always of interest. It's peppered with him sometimes doing the bits that are referred to in the court papers, and through this Bruce doesn't just go off into long-winded rants about the injustices done to him. If anything he approaches it the best way by putting some more jabs into the rot that came out of the 'issues' presented at his trial.
But the special isn't only that, and in the last twenty minutes of the show the structure then kind of goes seamlessly into other bits more in tune with people in neighborhoods dealing with things, a little sex, some race, class, etc. There's even a very funny throwback to one of his earlier bits involving the word 'come' and its connotations. In fact, it's hard not to laugh through many parts of the one-hour/one camera shot show, as so much ends up coming through in the unusual flow of Bruce's dialog with the crowd (and with himself in a way) that when the punch-lines come they do work. If it's less than a great show, it's probably due to Bruce's own inhibitions perhaps, as the wear and tear of what had been going on shows as true as much of what he speaks out with. I would take a show like this, however, than more than half of the stand-up comedy on TV today- this is a guy, sometimes obsessively and in a tangent-like fashion, trying to level with those he's talking to.
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