Lenny Bruce remains, next to perhaps Richard Pryor and George Carlin, the most legendary stand-up comedian of all time. Notably, both Pryor and Carlin both cited Bruce as their greatest influence: once called the “dark angel” of new comedy, he was surreal, profane, critical, empathetic, brutally honest, terribly vulnerable, and always very, very funny.
Live at Carnegie Hall from 1961 is one of few unedited concert recordings of Lenny (he mostly lives on in “greatest hits” compilations). It represents Bruce at the apotheosis of his career. Five years later he’d be dead at the age of 40, his career, comedy, and life destroyed by five years of non-stop legal persecution in the form of obscenity charges.
In this piece, I (sometimes with other performers) perform Lenny Bruce’s entire 2 hour show from 1961 from beginning to end, speaking the language as I was hearing it over headphones. Viewers only heard the performers’ to keep up with Bruce’s blistering pace. In the gaps, the constant slippage between his words and our attempts to speak them, we attempt to extract a historical embodied knowledge–mother wit, a Jewish sensibility about the world–that runs, like a river, underneath.