Review: I'M NOT A COMEDIAN…I'M LENNY BRUCE at JCC Centerstage Theatre

Through March 19th, 2023.

By: Mar. 16, 2023
Review: I'M NOT A COMEDIAN…I'M LENNY BRUCE at JCC Centerstage Theatre
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For those who aren't comedy-philes or of a certain age, the name Lenny Bruce might not necessarily mean much. Lenny was born in 1925, his comedy career peaked in the late 1950's-1960's, he tragically died in 1966, and despite becoming a prophet to many comedians in the decades since his passing, he still doesn't quite have the household name-status of a Joan Rivers, Don Rickles, or (unfortunately) Bill Cosby; when I told my wife I was going to see a one-man show about Lenny Bruce, she said "who?".

(I then said "remember the comedian who gets arrested in "Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?" and she said "ohhhhhh, him").

That said, Lenny WAS iconic, a first amendment trailblazer, and a genuinely hilarious stand-up comedian. "I'm Not a Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce", an original show directed by Joe Mantegna exploring Lenny's life and legacy, is currently playing at JCC's Centerstage Theatre until March 19th.

Lenny Bruce's life provides ample fodder for a one-man show. Lenny was born to Jewish Long Island parents; his father was absent, his mother was a dancer and performer, and one of his earliest stage experiences was stepping in as an MC at one of his mom's shows. Lenny's comedy act was unlike that of any of his contemporaries, filled to the brim with satire, politics, religion, sex, and vulgarity; in short, topics that were largely off-limits for a comedian at the time. The uncensored nature of his act habitually landed him in legal trouble, even sending him to jail for four months on obscenity charges in 1964.

Lenny's personal life was no picnic either. He had a tumultuous marriage and a debilitating drug addiction which ultimately led to his death in 1966; the show is bookended with scenes of Lenny naked on the toilet, where his body was found after overdosing.

If you're saying to yourself "man, this doesn't sound like the makings of a comedy show" you're right, because "I'm Not a Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce" is MORE than a comedy show. Yes, it has moments of raucous hilarity and laughter throughout, but it is also deeply emotional and affecting, exploring the darkness that lives inside many of history's greatest artists, and the psyche of a man who refused to be silenced.

Ronnie Marmo perfectly encapsulates the spirit and legacy of Lenny Bruce, carefully avoiding the trappings of crude impersonation and delivering a performance that is heartfelt, raw, funny, and deeply sad. I imagine there are innumerable performers who could do a lame Lenny Bruce impression, but Ronnie gets inside the skin of the man and makes us deeply empathize with Lenny (in addition to making us laugh many, many times).

For tickets to "I'm Not a Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce", visit JCC Centerstage Theatre's website.


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