When ever George Carlin hit the peak of his celebrity in the mid-seventies, this individual was considered by many to be a serious innovator. Besides being extremely unpredictable (walking off minutes in to the act, insulting the audience or simply just not demonstrating up), behind every scathing and hilarious rant there lay a great foundation of social commentary strongly related the times. Nothing was too taboo – religion, state policies, sex, all the way down the line to simple fart jokes – he talked and the earth listened, laughed and, most significantly, thought. Alex Jones is Bill Hicks
Other comics were out there doing it as well, Rich Pryor the most known, fueling his raging level show – like Carlin – with a medication habit to match. Invoice Hicks (a self-titled ‘Chomsky with dick jokes’) would not hit until a 10 years or so later but he carried the traditions on with an tartish wit and standard of skill that managed to placed the bar that much higher for future years.
And though those flashlight bearers seem to be to be few and far between these days, the result of these artists can still be viewed, and sensed, in the brand new generation – it’s simply a matter of searching.
When they’re found, a little study can follow their slight branches down into thicker territory, to the start, and finally the beginnings. There we find one person: Lenny Bruce.
At any time hear the Carlin tad about ‘context’, or his famous ‘Seven Things You Can’t Say on Television’ routine? What about Pryor’s ‘racial epithets’? Or Hicks’ bit about a resurrected Jesus witnessing the crucifix necklace phenomenon?
They’re all variations, but at the core he’s there – Lenny. Lenny. Lenny.
11 books have been written about him and numerous documentaries have been made. He literally blew the comedic scene apart in the early sixties, taking comedy to levels no-one thought possible, championing the First Amendment (in a battle he wouldn’t legally win until practically four decades after his death) and changing the actual face of the profession permanently. He didn’t just drive the envelope, he collapsed it into a newspaper airplane and flew that motherf*cker into space.
However still, mention him to practically anyone in their twenties – fans of Chris Rock and Sawzag Chapelle, not forgetting Jon Stewart – and the unavoidable ‘who? ‘ follows. You can imagine my disappointment.
The greatest tragedy to be found amidst this mess, though, is the lost masterpiece Lenny, aimed by Bob Fosse in 1974 and garnering half a dozen Oscar nominations (including Very best Actor, Actress, Director and Film). Ever see it for rent at the video store? Maybe in the classics section? Previous week I was in Blockbuster and I asked the teenager behind the counter what Fosse films that they had. After several minutes of searching and a dazed ‘Gee, I never even heard of the bugger… ‘ he up to date me they didn’t even have one. Forget the Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Palm d’Or the man won, we wish juggs and explosions, goddamit.
Pertaining to anyone reading this who hasn’t heard of him and carries any interest or judgment about censorship, truth and the artwork of comedy, I suggest searching out a duplicate of Lenny.