' John Wilcock - The Column of Lasting Insignificance for November 8, 2014    
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the column of lasting insignificance: November 22, 2014
by John Wilcock

“Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong.”
—Oscar Wilde

“I like to be the right thing in the wrong place and the wrong thing in the right place. Being the right thing in the wrong place and the wrong thing in the right place is worth it because something interesting always happens.”
—Andy Warhol

“I’ve been accused of bad taste, and I’ll go down to my grave accused of it and always by the same people, the ones who eat in restaurants that reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” “I’m sorry I haven’t been funny. I am not a comedian. I am Lenny Bruce.”
—Lenny Bruce

Read my blog at Crowdsourcing survival.


* * *

Paul Krassner introduced me to Lenny Bruce, an outspoken comic who'd already created a sensation on the west coast with his attitudes, but mostly with his vocabulary. Lenny was about to open at the Village Vanguard and as it was only a few yards from my Perry Street apartment, I offered him a key so he could rest between gigs. One night I returned to find he'd left a bunch of flowers, another a row of candy bars accompanied by, "Wouldn't this be a great gift for a diabetic?"

Having Lenny around was much too good an opportunity to let pass by, and so I told him one night I'd really have to do a column about him. OK", he said, "bring that typewriter into the kitchen and we'll do it while I'm getting ready".... Then he proceeded to dictate both questions and answers:

What topics get the most attentive response from your audience?
"When I deal with a subject that connects with their own experience. Something that directly involves them. Theology, particularly if I talk about death in a philosophical or satirical manner. For example, I'm often tempted to talk to my mother frankly: "Ma, you're going to die and as a favor I'd like you to allow me to say or do anything I want about your body after death. Because I think it is archaic and horrendous the manner in which we relate death to our children. I'd like your permission," I'd say to my mother, "so that if I'm on the road somewhere and the super in my building calls me at four in the morning, the conversation might go something like this":

Super: Mr. Bruce, this is Mr. Schindler. I hate to have this reason to call you, but your mother passed away.
Lenny: I'm awfully sorry to hear that,
Super: Yeah, it was a tough break.
Lenny: What time is it there now?
Super: 4a.m.
Lenny: Is it cold? It's so damn sleety and rainy here.
Super: I don't know if you heard me or not but your mother passed away.
Lenny: I know,
Super: So?
Lenny: So, what?
Super: Er, well....what do you want to do with the body?
Lenny: Well, what would you like to do with it?
Super: I guess you're in shock.
Lenny: No, I'm just answering your question in a logical, reasonable manner. And it seems rather sad, but the only thing sad about this call is I've been living in your building now for nine years and this is the first time you've called me. You never called me. You never called to say, 'Lenny, the honeysuckle's in bloom, isn't it wonderful to be alive? Is the moon there as full and radiant as it is here?' The only time people give their fellow-man respect is when he's stretched out.
Super: I'm not interested in all that horseshit. I want to know what to do with the body?
Lenny: If the rent is paid to the 16th let it stay there. And fill out a change of address card.

"Lenny", I said at this point, "it seems safe to assume you're using this interview to try out a routine. How much do you change these bits from show to show?". "Oh," he said, " I have a tremendous backlog; I could do a different show every night of the week. But I wouldn't be creating anything new, I'd just be recalling bits I had already done. From the creative aspect, if I do two shows a night, at the end of the week I've created a new 15-minute bit, worth about $1,000 on today's market".

He hung his jacket on the door and I glanced nervously at the needles sticking out of the pocket. He noticed my expression and said, "I've got prescriptions for all this stuff. It helps me jazz the words..."

What did he do, I asked, on nights he didn't feel funny--"I bomb!" he said--and what did he do to get funny? "What I will do is bare my soul and through this cathartic method achieve humor". He was finished dressing and ready to leave. "Just before you go, Lenny, what people have influenced you the most?"

"Evelyn Waugh, Terry Southern and--thanks to John Wilcock's extensive library--Henry Miller".

Any actors or actresses?

"W.C. Fields, John Garfield, Jimmy Dean--who I loved to madness-- Eisenhower. I love them all but they haven't influenced me".

Well, I did watch that super routine change and grow in his performances over the next few days. But my guess is that over the years he never changed the philosophy of his opening words at his New York opening.

Well", he said, shading his eyes and peering into the gloom, "do we have any spics here tonight? Any kikes, any micks, any niggers?"

Lenny was an equal opportunity freak before the words came together.

(excerpted from Chapter 4 of Manhattan Memories—an autobiography by John Wilcock)

11/15/14



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