BWW Review: I AM NOT A COMEDIAN…I'M LENNY BRUCE Back in Town Honoring His Comedic Genius and Dedication to Free Speech Prior to National Tour
Two years ago, I attended the World Premiere of I'M NOT A COMEDIAN... I'M Lenny Bruce written by and starring Ronnie Marmo as the legendary outspoken comedian, expertly directed by Joe Mantegna at Theatre 68 in NoHo. After running for an unprecedented 110 performances at that venue and receiving enormous critical acclaim and dozens upon dozens of rave reviews, Marmo's solo show went on to run for nine months Off Broadway.
It was recently announced that Marmo has signed a contract to take his masterful portrayal of Bruce's many court battles championing the freedom of speech, including many of the legend's original comedic bits and insights from his own writings, combined with his personal history of devotion to his bellowed mother, wife and daughter, on a nationwide tour following a two-month run in Chicago. But first, Marmo decided to bring the show back to Los Angeles for five additional performances on August 8, 9, 27, 28, and 29, 2019 at Theatre 68 where it began. Crowds flocked to the shows, all of which were sell outs.
I'M NOT A COMEDIAN... I'M Lenny Bruce focuses on the life and battles of the undisputed comic legend, one of the greatest stand-up artists of the 20th Century. His life and work have had an impact on poetry, politics, music, film and, of course, comedy, becoming a true inspiration for hundreds of comics who followed his lead in speaking the truth about our out-of-whack society.
During the 90-minute show, now more tightly presented so scenes seem to flow effortlessly, Marmo authentically inhabited the great passion and great pain Bruce endured in his tempestuous personal and professional lives, as well as his unwavering commitment to free speech which led to numerous obscenity charges and arrests. Fighting for his freedom to speak his mind (using his street-wise vocabulary) took Bruce all the way to the Supreme Court where he challenged the court's ability to deal with social change. To emphasize how ridiculous Bruce felt his persecution was, Marmo often asked audience members to acknowledge how often they use the same language or perform the same acts which landed him in such hot water. And with every vote, laughed erupted!
Resulting prison sentences and his on-going heroin addiction contributed to his death on August 3, 1966, with that incident presented as the opening and closing scenes of I'M NOT A COMEDIAN... I'M Lenny Bruce, during which the fearless Marmo appeared totally naked sitting on a toilet, the way Bruce was found after an "accidental" overdose, while out on appeal, ended his life. But the question is raised if he really was found that way or just posed by the police to further show their contempt of the outspoken comic, knowing news and photos of his death would hit the media.
I do thank Marmo for not smoking during the show, even though Bruce was a chain smoker who always has a cigarette in his mouth during his stand-up shows. Of course, times were different back them with small clubs engulfed in a smoky haze as not only the comic but most audience members smoked continuously during his live shows in small clubs. But I am sure modern audiences appreciate not being distracted by the smell and or ability to breathe. I wonder what Bruce would have thought about laws now in place which have challenged his right to smoke indoors in public places?
A very, effective ending has been added to the show with a spotlight focused on a standing microphone center stage while voice over tributes to comics, including Don Rickles, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Chris Rock and George Carlin among many others, reflect how accepted and commonplace their language has become. Of course, that same vocabulary landed Bruce in hot water during his lifetime, and paved the way for social change.
Is easy to realize, as you laugh at these modern stand-up comics, that Bruce's audiences were laughing the same way at his language during his live shows and recordings, all at the same time his right to free speech was being challenged in the courts. Marmo shared with me that when the show is taken to Chicago, that final tribute will include short videos of famous modern comics using the language Bruce fought so valiantly to allow being said. And even while you may question if it really benefited or harmed society, Bruce's action certainly cemented our right to freedom of speech.
Director Joe Mantegna shares, "Lenny Bruce is still talking, thanks to the brilliant play Ronnie has written. I'm thrilled that his powerful performance is exciting Lenny Bruce fans, old and new. Bruce is as relevant today as ever!" May we all continue to remember how important it is to #SpeakUp and #TellTheTruth without fear of the same type of legal ramifications Bruce so courageously fought.
For more information about future performances of Ronnie Marmo's amazing solo show I'M NOT A COMEDIAN... I'M Lenny Bruce visit www.lennybruceonstage.com. As always, a portion of the show's proceeds will go to the Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit charity, which provides funds for those who have no insurance or enough money to get treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. All contributions are tax deductible.