Host, Dave Schwensen, and his friends Kelly, Tom, and Logan have chosen some of their favorite comedians from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They take a look at how these comedians got started, their most successful comedy albums, and their lasting influence today!
The original sicknick of comedy, Lenny Bruce, and his 1961 album “American”
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One of the most controversial comedians of his time, Lenny Bruce, was the original bad boy of comedy. In this episode we will be listening to his 1961 album “American.” We will find out how Lenny got his start doing stand up, the influence of jazz on his comedy, and why he wore a trench coat on stage. Listen in as we discover what made Lenny Bruce so controversial!
Created in 2008, the Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation combats alcohol/drug addiction with scholarships and education. The foundation provides scholarships for sober living programs as approved by Lenny’s daughter, Kitty Bruce.
Narrator: Welcome to What's So Funny! A comedy podcast where we talk about some of the most influential and controversial comedy albums from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s. Sit back, relax, and get ready to laugh. Here's your host Dave Schwensen.
Dave Schwensen: Hi, I'm your host, Dave Schwensen, and today I'm joined by Tom Megalis.
Tom Megalis: Oh my gosh, so great to be here, Dave. Thank you.
Dave Schwensen: Well, thanks for being here, Tom, because today is a very special day. We're going to be talking about a legendary comedian, Lenny Bruce, and his 1961 album American. But, before we get into that, I know inquiring minds want to know. Tom, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tom Megalis: I refuse to. I'm being stalked by the FBI, so I'd rather not. No, I primarily do art right now. I mean, I was doing a lot of directing and video and radio. I've been on the radio, but currently a lot of art, Dave.
Dave Schwensen: I've seen some of your work on Facebook.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, Facebook.
Dave Schwensen: Because, I follow you. It's very impressive.
Tom Megalis: Thanks.
Dave Schwensen: I really enjoy it. Yeah, it looked nice.
Tom Megalis: It's always been there, even when I was working on, I used to do animation for Nickelodeon and MTV and all these people, and it was always making art. It was kind of all always part of it. A lot of these people we're talking about, especially our guy today, have been artists. All right, what's art? What's art, Dave? What is art?
Dave Schwensen: It's creating, and I call comedy, writing comedy, performing comedy, it's a creative art. It's just like painting a picture, taking a photograph, writing a book. What's the difference? There's no difference. You're expressing yourself.
Tom Megalis: That's it, right there, that little last sentence you said, expressing yourself. That's what a lot of these guys that I admire as comics, and I've done a lot of comedy in my work, in my radio, my film stuff. So, I always view it as self-expression.
Dave Schwensen: Yes, it is.
Tom Megalis: It's just like painting. It's just like drawing. It's just like anything else. So, that's why I'm digging it, Dave.
Dave Schwensen: Well, that's great. We're going to have a lot of fun today, because we've got Lenny Bruce today.
Tom Megalis: But, Dave, come on. Before we get started, give us a little bit of your background.
Dave Schwensen: I've been working in the comedy biz for a long time and probably known most of all as being a behind the scenes guy, as a talent booker, talent coordinator. I've done a lot of clubs and live venues and theaters, festivals, television, that sort of thing. I've written a few books on the comedy industry. I suppose the one that's best known is How to be a Working Comic. I do comedy workshops primarily for the improv comedy clubs and work with a lot of new comics. It's a lot of fun for me to see people who have an interest in doing standup comedy. They don't know where to turn. They don't know where to go. So, they'll come to one of our workshops, and we get them started. We get them out on stage, tell them a little bit about the business, and then watch them flourish afterwards.
Tom Megalis: Has comedy changed a lot over the years on how you approach it?
Dave Schwensen: There is a little bit of a change, and I hate to say it, because I do like freedom of expression. I believe in freedom of speech, but there is, with audiences in general, sometimes it depends where you want to play. Comedy clubs, they can still let it all hang out, but some of the other markets, you've got to pull back a little bit. I just mentioned freedom of speech, and that is so important with the album and the artist we're going to be talking about today, which is Lenny Bruce.
Tom Megalis: He was it, right, man? I mean, the first guy to freedom of speech, stand up for it, and push it.
Dave Schwensen: If you want to say this is ground zero, that's Lenny Bruce. I mean, nothing was the same after he exploded on the scene, which was in the late 1950s and early '60s. He got in a lot of trouble.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, he did. How many times was he arrested?
Dave Schwensen: I think about six times, always ongoing court battles over obscenities and things he would say. Lenny Bruce, I mean a lot of these comics they talk about had kind of tough lives and different things they went through. He didn't have it easy. He didn't have it easy, and what he did when he went on stage was really expressing himself.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, and he was a social commentator. I think you've got to dig in a little bit deep and listen to him and see what he's doing. It's not the comedy of today.
Dave Schwensen: No.
Tom Megalis: But, try to place it in 1960s and go, wait a minute, this is pretty ... He's pushing it, man.
Dave Schwensen: Exactly. I mean, that's exactly what you need to do, because you watch him or listen to his clips, which we're going to do here in a few seconds. It's not that dangerous compared to what you're hearing today or maybe in the heyday of the '70s and '80s. Lenny Bruce had some thought behind it. He was expressing himself about the way, the things, life as he saw it.
Tom Megalis: And, he'd pop in and out of these characters, which were funny. You could tell he had acting chops and aspired to do that and go to Hollywood and write screenplays. I think the more you dig into him, the more you go, man, I dig this guy. In his words, he swings.
Dave Schwensen: Well, I think that's a good way to get into our first clip today. It's from an album that came out in 1961 called American. He's going to talk about being in Lima, Ohio.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) I worked at a place called Lima, Ohio that I left MCA over, because I don't know if there's any of these people in sales here, but when you travel in these towns, there's nothing to do during the day. They're very boring. The first day, you go through the five and 10. That's one day shot, right? The next day, you go to the park. You see the cannon, and you've had it. That's it. Forget it. The lending library and the drugstores, there's two Fannie Hurst novels and Pearl Buck. Yeah, it doesn't make it.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) So, I'm working in this town, and the owner is one of these guys real hung up on his old lady, chick about 60 years old, still holding on to the leopard leotard and the brown and white spectator pumps or the whoopee socks. So, I'm really bugged working. I'm staying at the show business hotel. The other show people, one guy runs the movie projector in town. The other guy sells Capezio shoes. So, they held me over for spite, just completely depressing. At night, a city like this, if I want to go between shows, I can go to the Black Hawk, maybe. They always have playing a jazz group.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) They've got a jazz group, where I go anyway. But, in these towns, you could step out of the club. They're usually on the road, and you don't see anything but stars. Stars, beautiful stars, and one Siconi station. Those guys that work nights just don't swing somehow. Okay, Fred. Let me see the rack again. Okay, that's nice. All right, all right. They always give you matches. Here, take some matches. You always hear the story about small towns that are wild. Peyton Place is a dirty lie, nothing. You figure even the waitresses, they're all elderly women with corrective stockings and Mother Goose shoes and those handkerchiefs, different ones every day pinned on. I'm looking at his swing.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) They're bringing me in jelly and chicken soup. Now, I'm there the third week, and I'm completely whacked out, just very drunk at the time. I get off the floor one night, waitress says to me, "There's a couple, want to meet you." Solid. There's a couple of about 65 years old, nice people. Sit down, guy says to me, "You're from New York?" I say, "Yeah, originally." He said I recognized that accent tour, car, was, water. Oh, yeah. Now, Listen, Lenny, we've got some relations in New York." Oh, really? Where. Rochester. Oh, yeah. Yeah, listen, but I bet listen, a town is a town. I never thought of it that way, but that's pretty wild. A town is a town.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) Okay, now it's completely degenerated into it's a rat race, and there's a lot of phonies. My whole mouth is white from taking the tranquilizers with no water now. The wife is a real schlub. She's got this short-sleeve dress on with her vaccinations as big as a basketball, replete with a mole with a hair in it. You ever see those crinkly dresses, the kind you can see through, and you don't want to. Now, the guy stops out of left field. He comes up like this, and he looks at me, and I see sort of as searching hope in his eyes. The guy goes, "You're Jewish." I said yeah. [inaudible 00:09:06]. You're Jewish, boy? What are you doing in a place like this? I said, "I'm passing."
Dave Schwensen: All right, that was Lenny Bruce, the fist part of his bit called Lima, Ohio. To me, that is so enlightening observational comedy of what it's like to be on the road.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, man. His little detail and just his casual, the storytelling, it's sweet. He goes on later to do the sort of really, the satire in digging in all from religion to on and onto politics. But, this is kind of a sweet little, he said, observation of stuff on the road, the little details, the vaccination scar as big as a basketball, the hose, the see-through dress that you don't want to see through, little things that are just sweet and nice.
Dave Schwensen: And, especially being from New York City and being in a small town in the Midwest, which we all done. And, I'm not saying anything against small towns. I love small towns. I love big cities, but he's a swinger, swinging man, swinging in Lima. Jazz guy hanging out, and he's there for three weeks. He's just out of his mind. It's so true with a lot of these artists that do tour and travel around. People don't realize that. They think, what a great life, how exciting. But, I can remember talking to comedians calling me from Alaska in the middle of winter, because they've got gigs up there. Or, they're calling me from Southern Florida during a hurricane.
Tom Megalis: Dave, help me.
Dave Schwensen: Like I say, I'd be, hey, this is great. You get to hang out in all these exotic places. Well, there's a hurricane outside right now. They canceled the shows. I can't get out of here, and just different things. You're away from family. You're away from friends. You're away from things that were your everyday comforts.
Tom Megalis: It's lonely, man.
Dave Schwensen: It is.
Tom Megalis: And, some of these guys, I mean like Lenny have dabbled to sort of medicate themselves a little bit because of the boredom. Because, you work an hour and get 24. No, I'm bad with math. This is also, Dave, before the internet and before television exploded like it did. So, America, these little towns were still different. Now, you'll go to Flagstaff. You'll go here and there. They kind of all have the same stores, the same stuff. These towns really were, like you said, he's going, man, from New York. Look, I'm in Lima, Ohio, and I'm staying at the show biz hotel. Guy asks me personal question about New York. What are you doing here?
Dave Schwensen: We've got friends in New York, Rochester.
Tom Megalis: Right, that's the city. That's right, man.
Dave Schwensen: It's like going back to Lima, except it's in the State of New York. All right, well, we're going to continue with this train of thought here, Lenny Bruce stuck in Lima, Ohio. And, I don't mean that in a bad way.
Tom Megalis: No, people from Lima are sweet and nice.
Dave Schwensen: They really are, but this is back in the late 1950s, early '60s.
Tom Megalis: When they weren't.
Dave Schwensen: Anyway, we're going to pick up where he is going to tell us more about Lima, Ohio. This is Lenny Bruce off his 1961 album, American.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) 8:00 o'clock in the morning, I'm completely zonked out, really sleeping. 9:00 o'clock in the morning, the phone rings. Hello? Oh, it's Mr. Schectner . Who? The people from last night, meshugga. Oh, yeah, what's happening, baby? We didn't wake you, did we? No, man. I always get up at 9:00 o'clock. I like to get up about 15 hours before work, give me a chance to get coffee, brush my teeth and everything. Listen, why we called you, I was wondering about that man.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) My wife wants to know, where do you want to eat? You're putting me on, aren't you? At 9:00 o'clock, anything. I'm not a fussy eater, man. A Chiclet, a Fig Newton, I don't care. Yeah, yeah. I know the address. Solid, I'll be there. Now, I get over there. Now, mind you, I'm not going over there with a patronizing kind of ... They gratefully invited me over. I come over. They invite some chick over for me to look at. Did you have a dig? How can a chick look bad in a knit dress, right? She looked like a hockey stick with hair on it. Zonk it, ridiculous, real. The lipstick on the teeth, the whole bit. Now, we're talking, cooling, showing me all the pictures and everything and how dirty the other people were who lived there. We clean for months.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) They take me around the house, and yeah, that's a loverly closet. It's nice. It's nice the way the towel is folded. A lot of people with the bathhouse at the bottom. You've get the washcloth there, and it's nice like that. They always have a piano that nobody plays. Though it functions, the piano is set up with that brown eight by 10 picture of that schlub in the army, saluting. That's Morty. He lost some weight. Now, dig this. As soon as they find out that you played the coast, you've been in Hollywood, for some reason, they get vicious with you.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) The guy says to me, "You went to Hollywood, right? Yeah, that's true about Liberace? What's that? Don't worry. You know? He don't know, right?" Well, if you're telling me on him, he's a sissy. Well, I don't know the man's behavior patterns. I mean, I never hung out with him or anything like that. But, then they get good and vicious. I don't know about Liberace, but Eddie's a big fruit. You know that? Really? Are you kidding? Him and Georgie, it's disgusting. I never knew that. Where do you think the money for the B’nai B’rith goes? Are you kidding, cooling out those beef [inaudible 00:15:00].
Dave Schwensen: Lenny Bruce is such a genius as an observational comic, writing these sketches. I can visualize. I can see all this stuff happening to this guy. He's a swinging jazz fan out of New York City.
Tom Megalis: Irritated, irritated as hell. The annoyance, the thing, all the detail. You can hear how he influenced so many.
Dave Schwensen: Lenny Bruce is such an influence on a lot of those guys. A lot of those comics that came after him, because really before that, no one talked like Lenny Bruce Nobody brought up these subjects. Again, they could do dirty jokes on '50s albums, but they were just knock knock jokes, kind of thing. This guy, I don't want to call them just this guy, Lenny Bruce really took that he observed, and it might've happened to him. Of course, he exaggerated a little bit in things, but he turned it into comedy that you could follow. The skits, it's like a scene from a movie. He's explaining it to you. You can see it, you can feel it.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, you can really sense that he was into show business. I mean that like I've seen other clips and seen him. He really wanted to be part of show business, but he was also plagued with this. I've got to be honest and tell you how it is. Like I would tell you if we were sitting in my living room. He paid the price for that.
Dave Schwensen: He started out, he wanted to be an actor and a writer. He was writing screenplays that didn't get sold. He was trying to do plays that didn't get seen. But, yeah, it was show business. He was, hey, a swinging guy. It's almost like I don't want to bring it up like Saturday Night Live, with, hey, the wild and crazy guys, but yeah, they were nightclub guys with snapping their fairs and everything was swinging, babe, and jazz. It was all about jazz.
Tom Megalis: It was all about jazz, yeah, absolutely.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, he was very musical, Lenny Bruce, too. His material and how he delivered it and stuff. He really liked to-
Tom Megalis: You could hear that cadence. Yeah, that's interesting, because I think that's why I love the guy, man, so much, is that sort of speech pattern and the way that it was kind of like [dah dah dah dah dah dah dah, duh 00:00:17:00] in that jazzy sort of influence. I know he was a big art lover too. I heard him on some video talking about Gauguin exhibit, and he's like, "Yeah, you've got to see this, man. It really did just rip you apart. It swings, man." You go, wow. He just liked the creative explosion. That comes across, man. I mean, that's why you've got to give him a chance and listen to him and listen to more of them. I wish there was more, Dave, I wish it was actually more clips of him on television, which he rarely could get on.
Dave Schwensen: I think he only did maybe six television appearances all together. Four of them were on the Steve Allen tonight show before Jack Paar.
Tom Megalis: Then, Hugh Hefner's thing.
Dave Schwensen: You see him come out, and again it's Lenny Bruce, but according to today's standards, it's pretty tame.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, he had to present him with his writing. This is what I'm going to talk about. For a guy like that, imagine that. I've got to type it all out. These are the words, and then like, man, that's not really how I swing, man. I'm going to improvise a little bit, man. Wow. And, he was banned from, or some bits he wasn't allowed to do, I think on the Steve Allen. It was a Jewish bit that he was like, "What?" And, it seemed tame by his standards and kind of I think shocked him with how little you could do on television.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah.
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Dave Schwensen: Oh, boy. Well, let's get into that a little bit, because he was banned from a lot of places. This guy was really knocking down the barriers for comics that came later. Back in the late '50s, early '60s, they wanted the swinging Las Vegas kind of funny guy. And, Lenny Bruce was out there talking truth. He was saying things that, maybe he shouldn't have said in public. That's the way people looked at it in the '50s, and how he really felt about society and everything from prejudices to words, language. He presented it, and a lot of people took offense. So, nightclubs in different cities would ban him from coming in. And, he couldn't play a lot of places. Then, he started getting arrested.
Tom Megalis: Well, and then he had the court cases. That's why he ends up at the end bankrupt.
Dave Schwensen: If you watch his later shows or listen to them, again, there's not that much film of him. But, he is talking about the obscenity cases and his defense. He really, it played on him. Of course it did. It had to, and he wore a trench coat on stage when he performed.
Tom Megalis: Oh, yeah, that's true.
Dave Schwensen: Because, and this just only came out recently. His daughter Katie said this, and a lot of comics, didn't know why he wore a trench coat on stage. They thought it was part of his uniform or something. No, because he knew he was going to get arrested, and he knew he would-
Tom Megalis: My car keys are in the coat.
Dave Schwensen: He couldn't get back to the dressing room. Hit toothbrush is in there, his car keys, whatever. It's because they're taking him right to jail.
Tom Megalis: Because, he said one swear word. Think about that. I mean, you say one thing, and they rush the stage on obscenities charge. All right, this next clip here is interesting to me, because one of his contemporaries, one of his fellow comics.
Dave Schwensen: We're going to listen to Lenny Bruce describe what happened when Shelley Berman went on stage at Mr. Kelly's, the nightclub in Chicago. The mobsters were talking a little bit loud in the audience.
Tom Megalis: Be careful, Lenny.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) Have any of your people ever seen Shelley work in person? The thing that really cracks me up about Shelley is that as far as hecklers are concerned, well, if you've seen them work, you know if anyone really breathes too heavy while he's on he gets a coronary. We got shook up here. So, knowing this is his attitude towards any confusion in the audience is opening up the Deauville. I'm going to book the ringside. Am I going to have out there Belle Barth. [inaudible 00:21:16] Now, Chicago is quite unique, because Chicago is so corrupt, it's thrilling. Most cities, you have a continuous strike between the law enforcements and the forces of evil, but in Chicago it's nice. They all get along. It's hard to tell the difference between the two factions. But, the audience is concerned that Mr. Kelley's. You get guys sitting ringside that real shit talkers, tough, these kind of guys.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) These guys, my concept of a tough guy is a guy who's going to wear a wool suit with no underwear. These guys sit there. They sit there with a white and white shirts with a tie with a big horse hanging off. These guys are really tough. A lot of people say they happen to have their guns. They don't need guns. They can yell and break your rib casing, and they'd discussing. See, they don't have any offices. That's where they meet, the clubs, and they sit ringside and tomorrow's business. I refuse to testify on the grounds that sounds good.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) Now, I've worked in bust out joints to spot people and know that you don't try to censure these kinds of guys, because you can't win. In fact, these guys can, get off, you Ivy League fruit. God bless you, mister. Okay, the trouble is my shoe is now thinking it's cure. They're not cute. That's another bit. Because, If you do outwit them, you really made those guys look like jerks. What are you going to next? So, I've got a new bit that's called packing. Shelley Berman has only worked the East side, not Hester Street or Broom Street, but he's worked blue angel, literate, erudite audiences. So, he don't know. These guys are sitting there. They're talking. He starts to spritz them, right? [inaudible 00:22:57] Dr. Freud. Why don't you to hell. Shut up now. They can't hear him, because they can't imagine anyone talking to them that way. Listen, you guys, why don't you go home now. Your cage is clean.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) Okay. You know it's a dangerous table if he sees the maitre d' in the back of the room, crossing himself. He keeps zing it in, and they don't know. Maybe Shelly will get through with a line at these guys hear, unfortunate for him. Listen, guys. Where did you get that shirt, in [inaudible 00:23:37]? These guys, they do dinosaur takes. Now, the maitre d', he goes about 105 pounds. The owner asked him, listen, this boy's town, too. Tells the maitre d' the guy sitting inside, his pinky ring weighs more than the maitre d'. Hey, get those guys out of here. They're out of line. Tell them they're all out, their guns and everything. Get them out of here. The maitre d', you all talk the same in Chicago. Schmuck [inaudible 00:00:24:05]. Sitting next to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) What do you want from me? I don't want to hear that. It's your job. Get them the hell out of here. Of course, it's the owner in their car on their phone telling him all these things. Get them out on their own now. We find the poor maitre d' in the kitchen writing a note. You need to leave [inaudible 00:24:30] I've always admired your work. Most cafes are owned by people of a Semitic background or Italian people. Not a generalization, it always is that. Well, first of all, these groups, these ethnic groups, object definitely to the fact that in motion pictures, the criminals are always either Italian or Jewish people. And, there's great art, and there's pro and con for that. One thing that screws up, there's very few Japanese mafias, but as far as cafe owners, I prefer working for Italian bosses, which may sound a little bizarre. A Jewish will always nudge you. [inaudible 00:24:58] insulted, so people walk out. Italian bosses come up after the show and say, hey, I don't even have to sit down, right? I'm fucked. You ready? No time, blue cross reunions.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah. The thing about Lenny Bruce, he does these skits. He's not just telling joke, joke, joke. I mean, I'm visualizing this stuff.
Tom Megalis: Characters, everything, sound effects.
Dave Schwensen: Tom, I've spent a lot of years of my life in nightclubs. It's my job. These guys would come in, your tough guys are different.
Tom Megalis: You see them in the back.
Dave Schwensen: You talk to him, you hope to stay friends with everyone.
Tom Megalis: They don't have an office. Even back then, it was a virtual office.
Dave Schwensen: But, yeah, when he's describing the maitre d', get them out of there, the owner's calling from the car, and all this stuff. It's so true. Again, he's just taking real life situations, true facts. You know, they say comedy, good comedy is based on truth. And, he's just talking about how it really is, how it was in the nightclub business back then. But, then Shelley Berman, who is not going to take any kind of nonsense either, and he doesn't realize who he's talking to. To me, that's a very funny, funny and honest bit.
Tom Megalis: Dave, a lot of people that were there that night, who would have been watching, probably didn't take it in like Lenny did. He just saw it and thought this whole situation is absurd.
Dave Schwensen: Shelley Berman had a reputation also. I don't know how deserved it was, but he had a reputation for being difficult in the early '60s.
Tom Megalis: Interesting. Yeah, I didn't know that.
Dave Schwensen: There's a very famous clip of him screaming at this young kid, this agent, young kid, 20s, his agent, because a telephone went off backstage when Shelley was onstage finishing his act with a very emotional kind of thing and also on when this phone rings in the background, and he went nuts. So, he had this reputation for being difficult and hard to handle. I don't know if he really, really was or not. That might have just been a case of that, but it was televised. It was part of a television special.
Tom Megalis: Oh, and it aired?
Dave Schwensen: It aired on TV, on a news report.
Tom Megalis: That's awesome. I knew Berman did have this sort of his act, when you see these bits he did, whether he was on the phone and he's doing really rehearsed tight little theatrical pieces. So, you could see that something would throw the guy. Whereas Lenny I think was roll with it. Man, you guys go back there on stages. The guys swinging back. I don't know what's happening here.
Dave Schwensen: Lenny was part of the business. That's the whole thing. When you're part of the business, and you know what's going on behind the scenes and underneath the layers that you see on stage, you know a lot of audience people, they're there to enjoy the show. They want to laugh. It's a comedy show, everything's great. But, there's all kinds of stuff going on behind the scenes and between the comics. I always said, especially hanging around the New York City Improv, the original one, I always thought it was funnier hanging around the bar, listening to the comics out there, than what they were doing on stage.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, because it was real.
Dave Schwensen: But, it was real. But, it was all inside stuff, and they're knocking each other. I mean, do you think Shelly Berman can go off on the mobster guys sitting in the eyes? Well, you ought to hear all the comics go after each other. To me, it was just hysterical. But that's kind of stuff Lenny Bruce was listening to it. He was taking that what was going on and sharing it with the everyday people, what you call the audience. You don't realize how dangerous this situation is. You've got these guys. You don't know who these guys are sitting at this table, and you've got the guy on stage coming after him.
Tom Megalis: He may not get out of it. Lenny's quick, man. That's the thing that balancing characters, stuff like that, and sound effects, background, and narration, and telling the story. It's is a real art to that and a real craft to kind of being able to balance all these elements and keep it going without being total chaos.
Dave Schwensen: Well, that's why he was such an influence. Well, with Lenny Bruce talking about real life situations and I'm using this in his humor, his creative writing that he was doing, his life was not that easy. He kind of talks about this in a bit that's also on this album we're listening to today, American, called "The Lost Boy."
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) If you're interested in genetics and proof of environment, there is a story about a kid, Thomas Rubio. He was two months old, and he was abandoned by his parents in Yellowstone National Park. They were forgetful parents. They remembered to put out their fire, but they forgot their kid. The kid, two months old, is running around the woods, right? Now, a pack of wild dogs found him, and they adopt him, but he never felt quite accepted. They kept saying, "We chose you," how they do with the kids who are adopted. Now, the parents didn't realize they had forgotten until later on that Fall, they were showing home movies. That looks like Tommy. Where the hell is he? I don't know. You packed. Now, these dogs for 12 years, they raise this kid. The step father was a German Shepherd dog. They said at the time, [inaudible 00:29:52].
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) That was kind of shtick, sorry. Now, he is running around, walks on all fours, environment, assumes all the canine habits, eats raw meat, does all the dog bits. Now, the dog started old age. Hunters are going through Yellowstone. You can pick the kid up. They take him home. Here's where environment tells a story. Two years, the mental process is long dormant, become surprisingly acute. In Two years, this kid records. Grammar school, high school. Two months later, Cal Tech, a degree in astrophysics. Find that captivating, people flipping out. Dig this. Here's a kid who was raised by a pack of wild dogs, been with human beings for two years and two months, and is now a Phi Beta Kappa man, a leader in the community, people screaming. But, here's where tragedy and again environment steps in. A month later after commencement, he was killed chasing a car. Go find that.
Tom Megalis: Boom,
Dave Schwensen: "The lost boy."
Tom Megalis: That's a wild piece.
Dave Schwensen: It really is, and it says so much about Lenny Bruce. I think his background, his youth, being shuffled around to different homes after his parents divorced, different families, and he had to conform. The thing was, you look back at when he was doing this, about late '50s, early '60s. I always picture all the men looking like Dwight Eisenhower.
Tom Megalis: They all went out with hats on, and ties, and you had to look proper. No one jogged.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, nobody wore jeans or anything.
Tom Megalis: No, T-shirts. That was for peasants.
Dave Schwensen: It was like Leave it to Beaver, the house. It was Ozzie and Harriet.
Tom Megalis: Conformity. At that time, tight.
Dave Schwensen: The thing is, Lenny Bruce was thrown into that situation to conform, and he couldn't do it. He couldn't do it. He's like the kid chasing a car, then. It's just his Nature to rebel. I think it says a lot about him and even how he turned out.
Tom Megalis: They called him, Dave, this sick comic, and something that he didn't really like that tag, didn't like the tag sick. He was commenting about sick society.
Dave Schwensen: Yes, that's great. Tom, that's great. Thank you so much.
Tom Megalis: I thought that was brilliant.
Dave Schwensen: But, yeah, he was doing this social commentary, how he saw it. He was ahead of his time, or maybe he was setting the times.
Tom Megalis: Commenting about the times, rooted in saying, look, this is where we're living. This is what's happening. He paid a price though, Dave. Think about it, man. If you throw yourself into the fire like that and go, I'm going all in, and I'm going to comment, and I'm going to throw it out here, and I'm going to be arrested, and all this. He threw himself into it. It's kind of in a way, I don't know if he viewed it as a sacrifice, or if that's all he could really do at that point, but he paid the price, man.
Dave Schwensen: Yes, he certainly did.
Tom Megalis: Every time he hit the stage, and the guy, like we said, went broke.
Dave Schwensen: He went against the grain. All right. You talked about things that maybe kept secret, people didn't want to know about. One of these, I think this is a fascinating clip, that he did from his album American, but he also did it on the Steve Allen Show, who Steve Allen was the host of The Tonight Show before Jack Paar, before Johnny Carson. It was Steve Allen, and he was a very big supporter of Lenny Bruce.
Tom Megalis: Oh, yeah, Steve definitely was fascinated by it.
Dave Schwensen: Yes, but back in the late '50s, early '60s, people didn't talk about drugs. But, he was already talking about teenagers sniffing glue, which was not a common topic.
Tom Megalis: Airplane glue.
Dave Schwensen: I'll tell you what, instead of giving up too much of this, you want to go ahead and introduce this one, Tom? Tell us what we're going to hear.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, the bit is called "Airplane Glue."
Dave Schwensen: That's all I wanted to hear.
Tom Megalis: Let's hear it now.
Dave Schwensen: Okay, here we go, Lenny Bruce.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) There were kids, eight, nine years old, that were sniffing airplane glue to get high on. These kids are responsible for turning musicians on a lot of things they never knew about, actually. So, I had a fantasy. How it happened. Kid is alone in his room. It's Saturday. Kid is played by George McCready. Well, let's see now. I'm all alone in the room, and it's Saturday. I'll make an airplane. That's what I'll do. I'll make a land cast, a good structural design. I'll get the balsa wood here, cut it out, sand it off. Now, a little airplane glue. I'll rub it on the rag, and hey now. I'm getting loaded.
Lenny Bruce: (Comedy Clip) Is this possible, loaded on airplane glue? Maybe it's stuffy in here. I'll call my dog over. Felucca, Felucca come here darling and smell this rag. Smell it, you freaky little doggy. Smell that bag, Felucca. Felucca! He's up there. I've done it. I'm the Louis Pasteur of junkydom. Out of my skull for 10 cents. Well, there's much work to be done now, horses hooves to melt down, noses to get. Cut to the toy store, any toy store, any neighborhood kid walks in. Hello, [Shandler 00:34:47]. Nice store you got here. Give me a nickel's worth of pencils. Big boy tablet, some Jujubes, Tailspin Tommy Book, and 2000 tubes of airplane globe. I hope you can sleep tonight, Mr. Lee Page.
Tom Megalis: Heck yeah.
Dave Schwensen: Oh, gee. I want to mention that George McCready, he talks about in this bit was a well-known character actor at that time. I've heard clips of him, and Lenny Bruce-
Tom Megalis: That's it. He nails it.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, he was doing impressions, and see people won't remember that. But, if you see him do this clip, now I've watched this clip, him doing it on the Steve Allen show. The funny thing is too, they had to type out, they had to print out the act he was going to do to have it approved before they would put him on television. He pretty much had to stick to it.
Tom Megalis: That took a lot of guts too for Steve Allen. It really did.
Dave Schwensen: It really did, because Lenny Bruce was so controversial. Really, that's the way show business is. People think about their ratings and who's watching, their audience, all this stuff. Lenny Bruce did not sit well. They were hiding out under the table.
Tom Megalis: You could see his fascination with drugs, even though, I mean, at that point, I mean, because he was doing it, man. He was busted a lot for opiates.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, it's such a sad story. He has such a sad ending for someone like that. It's a shame.
Tom Megalis: Man, Lenny Bruce, how would he do today? In today's waters? My thoughts or feelings when I'm looking his trajectory, dead at 40, I think he would have continued in his Hollywood pursuit, maybe written more, because I think that he had this progression was feeling like it was going to be a little deeper work, maybe the movies.
Dave Schwensen: He was someone from '30s and the '40s, he was in the service. In the '50s, he started talking, speaking his mind in the '60s. By 1966, he was gone, and he left behind this legacy that again, the others picked up on and ran with it. No, it's who he was in his era. He's into it. I can't see him outside of that.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, interesting, interesting.
Dave Schwensen: All right. We're coming to the end of this.
Tom Megalis: Oh my gosh, it went by so fast, Dave.
Dave Schwensen: It really did. It was so interesting. Talking about Lenny Bruce, focusing on his album, American, and just the legacy he left behind. This was ground zero for the comedy that we see today, here today.
Tom Megalis: He's a legendary show biz comic, and it's fascinating to look at his life. It really is, man. I dig him. He swung.
Dave Schwensen: Thank you very much, Tom, and thank you everyone for listening.
Tom Megalis: There's more of these. This isn't just the only one you're doing, right?
Dave Schwensen: I hope so. Anyway, we are hosts. I'm Dave Schwensen.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, and I'm Tom Megalis, hanging out with Dave today. He invited me.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, Tom. We had a blast, didn't we? All right, thank you everyone. Thanks for listening, and keep laughing.
Speaker 1: You've been listening to, What's So Funny! Catch us next week when we meet cohost Kelly Thewlis and listen to the one, the only Steven Martin. A special thanks to executive producers, Joan Andrews and Michael DeAloia, producer Sarah [Willgrube], and audio engineer Eric Koltnow.