Lenny Bruce and the Hipper Than Thou
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April 22, 1959, Vol. IV, No. 26
By Nat Hentoff
Although I've enjoyed Mort Sahl, Elaine May and Mike Nichols, and others of the "new" hipper-than-thou school of nightclub humorists—comics isn't quite the word-I've been bothered at times by feeling that they were a little too detached in their approach. Intellectually, the bits and the observations were very often slicingly exact and led to some members of an audience having some fresh insight into themselves. But the passion in their work seemed more of the mind than of the raw emotional marrow (not that the two, of course, are ever entirely entangled).
Lenny Bruce at the Den in the Hotel Duane is something else. Sure, he's uneven and he needs to learn, I think, how to edit himself (the long self-analysis of his methods he should put into a book, not into the mike), but there is nobody near him among American comic-humorists (because he's both). Bruce is a strange mixture of the thorough professional (unlike the others listed above, he could, if he wanted to, make it in any comedy context from burlesque house to "safe" TV, as he showed--disturbingly to me, in the last part of his Steve Allen appearance). But with all that experience and skill, he is also much freer and much more spontaneous and emotionally involved in his material than Sahl, May and Nichols, etc. He says things on a night club floor that tear furiously at the hypocrisy that is at the core of so many of our social habits and limp beliefs. He can be funny, but at his funniest he's the most truthful commentator on our private, let alone public, life that we have. Don't miss him.
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