Oct 22, 2009

Lenny Bruce - "When Jesus & Moses Came To Town"




One of my favorite comedians has always been Lenny Bruce. I never heard him while he was alive, but I've enjoyed his work a lot since his death. One of my favorite recordings of him, which I've listened to numerous times, is the Carnegie Hall concert. It's so cool listening to him speak to the crowd and jokingly suggest that since they were doing a midnight show, that the people who ran the place didn't even know they were THERE. That it was some corrupt janitor that was like "alright, just don't make a mess and clean up after yourself".

The thing about Lenny was that he wasn't really a dirty comic. I mean, yeah, he used some foul language, but it wasn't really gratuitous. There was a purpose to it. The words MEANT something. It was in the sense of telling the story.

Nowadays comics throw an "F" word in, as a sort of punctuation. Lenny never did that. It was more of a nuanced use.

One of his more famous routines involved Jesus and Moses coming to Spanish Harlem. This routine is also what set into motion the bogus charges against him on "obscenity" and led him to going to jail.

Via Gadfly:

My favorite Lenny Bruce number began with Christ and Moses returning to earth. They were standing in the back of imposing St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in New York, watching then Cardinal Francis Spellman—a fierce foe of "obscenity" and the lead strikebreaker in an action by cemetery workers at a Catholic cemetery. The Cardinal dug the first spadeful for a new grave. Christ says to Moses, "My visit took me to Spanish Harlem where there were forty Puerto Ricans living in one room. What were they doing there when this man"—Lenny pointed to the Cardinal—"has a ring on worth $10,000?"

This observation infuriated the city's District Attorney, Frank Hogan, much revered by the populace and most of the city's judges. A devout Catholic, Hogan began to inquire about assaults that this heathen had made on the standards of the good, God-fearing members of the community. Hogan then decided to prosecute, but some members of the staff dared to decline. Another, Gerald Harris, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Hogan to drop the case. Harris then presented it to the grand jury, which, to Harris' dismay, voted to file charges. He went to Hogan and said he could not, in good conscience, go on with the case.

But Richard Kuh, an ambitious assistant D.A., was eager to take on Lenny Bruce.


Below is the entire bit, from the Carnegie Hall show, of Lenny detailing Jesus and Moses showing up at a church in Spanish Harlem, and the ensuing confusion. Classic stuff.

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