Lenny Bruce Performance Film, The (1967)

Lenny Bruce Performance Film, The (1967)

“I am not a comedian… I am Lenny Bruce.”

Lenny Bruce debunks the obscenity charges made against him in New York City.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Stand-Up Comedy

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that Lenny Bruce’s second-to-last live performance — “filmed in San Francisco in August of 1965 in San Francisco, the one place in the states where he could get bookings” — is crudely shot (the director “keeps a nervous camera focused on Bruce at all times”) and only intermittently funny (“one wishes his material were a bit stronger”). Nonetheless, Bruce still manages to come across as both highly intelligent and naturally witty; it’s easy to catch glimpses of his genius through the haze of his (legitimate) obsession with the “politics of obscenity”. As Peary writes, Bruce was “a comedian who relied on his intelligence and natural wit rather than a memorized set of irrelevant jokes,” and it’s clear he “seems amused by life’s sad ironies.” Most enjoyable for me was seeing what a master Bruce was at voice characterizations — watch how easily and convincingly he’s able to switch from character to character during his running jokes.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bruce’s improvisatory discussion of the obscenity charges made against him
  • The skewering “How the Jew and the Negro Got Into Show Business” schtick (much less offensive than it sounds)
  • If you’re renting the DVD, don’t miss the oddly hilarious short “Thank You Mask Man”, in which one of Bruce’s most famous running jokes is set to animation

Must See?
Yes. As Lenny Bruce’s only live performance preserved on film, it holds a special place in cultural history.


  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Lenny Bruce Performance Film, The (1967)

  1. A once-must, for its place in cinema/cultural history.

    When I think of the people who may not even know who Lenny Bruce was, it’s fortunate that we have this document (though I know it is not the only way to be reminded of him). Stand-up material today goes so far beyond what Bruce got in deep trouble for; it’s almost mind-boggling realizing that many today – who are much less-talented and without Bruce’s wit – have nothing to worry about (in terms of the law).

    I’m glad I was able to see Cliff Gorman’s remarkable portrait of Bruce in the Julian Barry play on Broadway. (Subsequently, I was in an amateur production of the play.) As well, we do also have Bob Fosse’s ‘Lenny’ – tho some may quibble about Dustin Hoffman’s take on the man. (I think he was ok, but I prefer Gorman in the role: Gorman appears as Lenny in Fosse’s ‘All That Jazz’…but it’s not the same thing at all and that doesn’t serve what Gorman was capable of on-stage.)

    I would imagine that – considering what Bruce was going through at the time this document was captured – this film may not be showing Bruce at the top of his form. Nevertheless, there’s enough in it to give us a proper glimpse of the man and his work.

    Personal fave: Bruce’s parody of a typical Warner Bros. prison movie – with all of the stock characters, including (here) ‘Kiki, the hospital attendant’.

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