Comic chameleon: Lenny Bruce’s stage personas

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Abstract

This article examines Lenny Bruce’s ‘dirty’ humour with regard to his life and the stereotypes he employed. Evoking the image of the ‘dirty Jew’, which has long been a stereotype in anti-Semitic culture, such a label as ‘Dirty Lenny’ seems hardly accidental. Bruce thrived on his title while challenging its meanings. Throughout this article I question the simplistic categorisation of Bruce as ‘savage’, ‘dirty’, or ‘scornful’, instead revealing a comedic style and personality much more complicated.1 Bruce’s routines varied as he responded to different stereotypes. His comedy advanced beyond the recognised limits of how a comedian was expected to handle them. I contest analyses of Bruce’s behaviour. This is accomplished through examining his public persona and private life. I partly dismiss the abrasive, macho image Bruce can be accused of projecting. If, as Nathan Abrams explains, ‘contemporary cinematic representations’ have managed to ‘collapse the previously rigid boundaries between the queer and tough Jew’ (2012, 114), then I propose that Bruce was very early on equally capable of such a feat.2 Bruce blurs the line between sissy and mensch in order to confuse, amuse, and subvert monolithic Jewishness and Gentile masculinity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)223-238
JournalComedy Studies
Volume11
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2020

Keywords

  • Lenny Bruce
  • Stereotypes
  • Stand-up
  • Sick comics
  • comedy
  • Jewish humour

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