January 2, 2019

Lenny Bruce introduces us to the 1960s

Happy New Year, kids! Today we're kicking off 2019 with this clip of Lenny Bruce appearing on Steve Allen's show, April 5, 1959—one of only six appearances that Bruce ever made on network television.

I know that there was already a counterculture in the 1950s; Bruce himself was one of its leading lights. But he paved the way for this new brand of comedy—edgy, political, topical, willing to take on sacred cows and taboo subjects—to become a dominant force n the cultural earthquake of the 1960s. (His numerous arrests for obscenity also fit right in.) You can almost feel the tension present in 1959; the established mores of the postwar era trying desperately to hold on against the gathering storm coming from a new generation with a new take on life. The pressure would become unbearable before the dam finally burst, creating a permanent change in our way of life.

Did you catch Bruce's remark about sticking to the script? Yes, such was his reputation that he did have to submit his routine in advance. I can only imagine how even straying slightly from that script must have made the network S&P people very nervous.

As is so often the case, much of Bruce's material seems tame today in light of the hyperpoliticized comedy that seems to be the rule in modern entertainment. But right or wrong, everything has to start somewhere, or with someone.  TV  


  1. Lenny has been brought to life in the award winning comedy, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel." A worthwhile watch.

  2. A Personal Story, for your edification:

    In the mid-'60s, my brother and I were going to Our Lady of Loretto grammar school.

    In the mornings, we'd be listening to Dan Sorkin's morning drive radio show on WCFL ("The Voice Of Labor! 1000 on your dial!"), which was the comedy outlet in Chicago.
    If Dan Sorkin's name is familiar to you, you might recall that he was the officially recognized discoverer of Bob Newhart; Sorkin heard him in local radio and TV, brokered his record deal with Warner Bros., served as announcer on the NBC sketch show (the one that won the Peabody Award), et al.
    My dad was a Sorkin fan of long standing; my brother and I got to hear all the stand-ups who came around in the '60s, as well as sketches old and new from early and contemporary radio (Stan Freberg, Bob And Ray, and the like), Jay Ward's famous mailing list, which was giving NBC some grief during the Bullwinkle years.

    ... and the early '60s LPs recorded by Lenny Bruce for Fantasy, which were clean (if a bit edgy); these days, you might call them PG (maybe PG13).
    WCFL Radio was owned by the Chicago Federation of Labor, a Democratic power center in Cook County. Most of the day, 'CFL played "middle-of-the-road" music; Sorkin's morning show was a definite exception - one which the Federation had more than a few misgivings about.
    When Lenny Bruce was arrested in Chicago, Dan Sorkin testified in his behalf at the trial - and was canned by WCFL instantly.
    Sorkin briefly was able to catch on with another (noticeably weaker) Chicago station, but ultimately relocated to San Francisco, where he ran for years.

    The foregoing is much condensed, but it's what I recall from my semi-misspent youth, which went to form the humorous sense I have today.

    Just thought I'd pass that along ...


Thanks for writing! Drive safely!