Lenny Bruce Robert Ruark - Essay

Robert Ruark

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Lenny Bruce gives his] customers an hour of unleavened four-letter words plus gross assaults on motherhood, the Testaments Old and New, and vivid descriptions of the more basic physical and sexual processes….

As high priest of the sick comedians, as the pinup boy of the hip set, Bruce puts on an act that would gag a goat. But when I caught him at the Village Vanguard, the cellar was packed and the customers hushed except for bursts of applause and loud laughter. I wasn't prepared for the unceasing stream of sewage which appeared to fascinate an audience devoted to Bruce.

Sick humor seems to have been a phenomenon of the '50's. If you will recall, the decade spawned a whole body of psychologically twisted humor….

"Sick" became the catchword of the '50's. You never said anybody was nuts; you said: "Man, you're sick." The alleged humor built itself off that state of inverted mental sickness, and it was only natural that it would descend to the barnyard in its eventual amplification. It was aided considerably by "hip" talk, a sort of secret language known mostly to musicians and marijuana smokers, in which a whole lexicon of careless scatological terminology was added to the punctuation of ordinary conversation. Four-letter words displaced commas, and the profane attack on any established institution, from church to motherhood, became vital to the hipster's jargon. The end product is a man like Lenny Bruce. (p. 39)

Robert Ruark, "Let's Nix the Sickniks" (copyright © 1963 by Robert C. Ruark; reprinted by permission of the Harold Matson Company, Inc.), in The Saturday Evening Post, Vol. 236, No. 25, June 29-July 6, 1963, pp. 38-9.∗