This is one of my favorite Lenny Bruce bits of all time - a doped-up 50s hipster getting a job on Lawrence Welk's definition-of-square variety show. For some reason, they edit out Lawrence Welk's name. This isn't the best version; I prefer the one which ends with Welk commenting on the hipster's eyes being so smaaall instead of he monkey part. But, considering the dearth of Lenny Bruce stuff up on YouTube (along with the fact that no one is going to listen to the esoteric "Palladium" bit even if I personally upload it,) here you go.
My old internet buddy Pete -- who is both a comedian and half of The Native Cats, Tasmania's hottest boy band -- turned me onto this video of Nick Vatterott's performance on the Jimmy Fallon show. I'm used to a completely different sort of stand-up, much less structured and physical, but the sheer amount of skill this man has in crafting his act is incredible.
So, this is Come On, Let’s Go’s first anniversary week. Unlike what I stated on Thursday, the actual anniversary is this Thursday, putting an inordinate amount of pressure on me to compose something both heartwarming, edifying and mindblowingly awesome for you beautiful people out there in Internet-land.
So, obviously, today you will be treated to the tall, tall tale of this morning’s commute to school. My campus is situated on an adjacent block to Midwood High School. As my first class starts at 9:30 -- roughly the same time as Midwood -- I get to share my bus ride with teenagers, who slowly turn the B6 into a hot north Brooklyn bar at midnight on a Friday …unfortunately lacking both the watered-down liquor and overdriven music to dull the grate of two dozen horrible conversations. However, today hit a level far past “inane.” Today, for at least twenty minutes, I was entirely convinced that I was being gaslit by a pair of teenage girls who plunked down on the pair of seats directly behind me.
I had my headphones in, but I wasn’t listening to music. By the time Morning Vagueness started to give way to Morning Annoyance, the bus had already began to resemble a sardine can and none of me was in a position to easily retrieve my iPod without repeatedly thwacking, elbowing and groping my fellow travelers. Of course, I regretted not going through that effort when I was unwillingly thrust into the avant garde comedy stylings of the two girls behind me. I didn’t notice their features, but by their intonation I could tell that they were both ethnically Chinese, raised in Brooklyn, and about 14 years old. So, if you wanted to construct a more concrete mental image of their hellish vaudeville act, there you go.
I first noticed them when one kept repeating the same word. I didn’t catch the context; however I’m pretty sure the word was ‘moo’ so any sort of context would probably have raised more questions. Left – I will refer to them as Left and Right, lacking any other way to the distinguish the two – shut Right up and began to tell jokes. The first one was bad, told worse, but relatively innocuous:
“Okay, so there's this guy right. And there's three girls and one has blond highlights and one has red highlights and one has green highlights. And he comes up to the girl with the blond highlights and says 'how did you get your highlights?' and she says 'they're natural.' So he comes up to the girl with the red highlights and says 'how did you get your highlights?' and she says 'they're natural.' So then he comes up to the girl with the green highlights and asks 'how did you get your highlights?' and she says 'they're natural.”
(Pause) “Oh. I get it! She was lying.”
There's an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine tries to figure out the joke in a New Yorker cartoon, eventually making it up to the magazine's cartoon editor. Rather than giving her an explanation, he states that “you don't dissect gossamer.” Sitting there, reeling from that punchline, I considered the idea and how, rather than the rending of fabric, that one sentence contained within itself an entire Eli Roth movie. I didn't have time to think about this any more because Left had dropped the big one. The I-Am-Become-Death of shitty jokes told inside an uncomfortably cramped bus on a rainy Monday morning.
“Orange. Knock knock.”
“Orange. Knock knock.”
“You already said that.”
“Fine. Who's there?”
“Orange you glad I didn't say 'orange'?”
I woke up about twenty minutes later when the B6 did its famous morning clown-car act and extruded us all out into the rain.
A few years ago, I went through a time when I listened to The Carnegie Hall Concert and Let the Buyer Beware every time I put on headphones. Below is one of my favorite of his routines; conveniently, it's one of the ones that has held up the best, language-wise. For most of his other work, it take some effort to get past 1950s hipster slang, the media references (speaking of which: this is George Macready,) and his unstoppable delivery, but it is all worth it. Sometimes, the full weight of the humor can come in a single word. There's a part I love, from the middle of a routine, in a conversation between him and some midwestern Jews: “You from New York?” “Yes.” “Are you Jewish?” “Yes.” “What are you doing in a place like this?” “I'm passing.”
If you get a chance (and have Netflix,) The Lenny Bruce Performance Film – a full set from 1966 – is available on Instant Watch. Like I said, it has a bit of a learning curve, especially considering the mediocre fidelity of the recording, but it is amazing performance. Moreover, as he goes into the absurdity of his multiple obscenity convictions, it becomes an time capsule and oral history of 1960s stage culture. That being said, here's a somewhat lighter bit:
I can honestly say that I am not a member of that fraternity of sad folks who feel genuine grief over the death of someone they had never met, nor were ever likely to establish a genuine relationship with. Celebrity deaths do not usually trigger any sort of emotional response in me, outside of “well, ain’t that a shame.” There have been two exceptions to this rule. Both involved entertainers who I had seen at the prime of their abilities.
(Note: I changed the video to this one from the original, which, now that I have audio, wasn't that funny. Here is the original, just in case.)
I saw Mitch Hedberg live during my senior year of high school. I found myself going to comedy clubs at a regular basis around that time, for reason I can’t specifically recall. Maybe it was an unconscious attempt to relieve the pressures of 9/11, which started off the school year, and my own, unrelated, depression, which was coming to a head. I was there with a few friends, including whom I met that night and would later date for a few brief moments. She would later live in a dorm room that was, at one point, Lenny Bruce’s old hotel room, if you wish to bring this around full-circle.
Mitch was fantastic. Just as good as the one CD he had out at the time, or any of his specials. He took joke requests and was, generally, totally on the ball. Two years and change later he was dead. I was living upstate at the time, not doing too hot as far as living a reasonable life goes, and it hit me harder than I wanted it to. I had seen the man do his thing, and clearly enjoy doing his thing, and now he was gone forever. The haunting didn’t help…
I had been working at a Jimmy John's franchise in Ithaca, New York. Jimmy John's is a slightly-“classier”-than-Subway sandwich shop, found primarily in college towns. Mitch Hedberg did their radio ads. One night, a few days after his death, I was working the graveyard shift. It must have been a little past one in the morning when the ad came on. I froze. You’d think someone would have bothered taking the ads out of rotation, but I guess a contract is a contract.
That’s the Mitch Hedberg story. Here’s the second one: Gerhardt “Jerry” Fuchs, 34 years old, died in Brooklyn on Sunday. I’m not going to get into the details of his death because I do not feel like I have the right to comment on them. Here is where I found out (there are more links inside to tributes, etc.) What I can say is that Jerry Fuchs was probably one of the greatest drummers I had ever seen live. I saw the latest band he was in, Maserati, open for Mono a few months before I started this blog. Here’s a photo from the show:
Notice something odd? Jerry, the drummer, is right up front with the band. Most bands I see push the drummer right behind the other members, or way in the back. This was a gesture of palpable respect that I appreciated, as someone watching the band, considering his abilities.
When I found out that he had died, I, again, felt pangs of pain. Not because I had lost a “friend” or someone I respected as a person, but simply because the light of a man of extraordinary ability was put out way before its time. It wasn’t drugs or suicide, but a stupid twist of fate that robbed us of him. I doubt I’d have felt anything at all had I not seen him blasting away at those cans like he was truly, genuinely, born to do it.
Well. So long, Jerry.