Lenny Bruce Martin Williams - Essay

Martin Williams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Probably it is a symptom of our particular American education that nowadays when a man gets off a few good ones aimed at City Hall or the local upper crust, our journalists will usually describe him as a "devastating social satirist" or something of the sort. Such pronouncements may become heavy burdens even for high comic artists to bear; they form an almost impossible billing for a promising night club comedian. Worse, they may encourage a comedian to look at his work in quite the wrong way.

Bruce did get off some very good ones. And he had the audacity not of a satirist but of a good low comedian, an audacity that popular American comedy has probably not seen since the heyday of pre-striptease burlesque. No attitude seemed too sacred for Bruce to lampoon, no word too improper for him to utter; he seemed perfectly willing to say absolutely anything. An intriguing airplane sketch on ["The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce"], with Bruce as usual taking all the parts, offered a slovenly pilot who showed up for his flight after a couple of fortifying hours in the airport bar (he is afraid of heights, you see) and proceeded to expose every scurrilous suspicion one has ever secretly entertained about non-scheduled airlines. But Bruce followed this with a perfectly conventional bit about a kid who marked up the walls of the airplane with a crayon. Such irrelevance-for-a-laugh may be accepted low comedy, but it is hardly the sign of a true...

(The entire section is 570 words.)