Cynics contend that dying young can be "a good career move." It worked out that way for Lenny Bruce, a rebel hero of the Beat-era comedy scene who has been lionized since his premature death by drug overdose in 1966. At 40, Bruce had, for five years, been hounded by law enforcement, standing trial in San Francisco, Chicago and New York.
His crime? Obscenity.
"Lenny was a groundbreaker," said Joan Worth, who along with Alan Sacks served as co-director, producer and writer of "Lenny Bruce: In His Own Words," which has an exclusive nine-week engagement with the UnCabaret.
Comedians such as Richard Pryor, George Carlin and Chris Rock directly descend from Bruce, who showed the humor in foul language as he demystified racial and ethnic epithets, rendering them innocuous. As absurd as it seems now, less than 40 years ago the ACLU did not come to Bruce's defense. Nor did most fellow comics.
Jason Fisher, a 33-year-old actor who studied at Columbia and then at Harvard's American Repertory Theater, plays Bruce in the one-man show. Without adopting too many of Bruce's mannerisms, Fisher nonetheless captures the essence of the late comic's jazz idiom. Like Bruce, Fisher has a rhythm not only in the cadence of his speech, but in his movement onstage. In his interstitial moments between bits, he pauses, questions where he is and what he is doing, just like Bruce at the end of his career, when he ad-libbed while frequently high on drugs during gigs.
In an interview at the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks, Fisher punctuates his comments with the hipster term, "man," perhaps to keep in character. Amazingly, he says that he has never watched the film "Lenny" or the film of Lenny Bruce performing. He says that he wanted to be free of any influence.
Still, when Fisher took the stage at M Bar, an intimate cavern with burgundy banquettes and perhaps a dozen tables, he superbly reprised many of Bruce's most famous sketches, such as one about Hitler auditioning as a cabaret star. The show concludes with Bruce uttering lines that he could have written yesterday: "Big-time religion is obscene. The war is obscene."
Runs Saturdays through Dec. 17 at 10 p.m. $18. M Bar and Restaurant, 1253 N. Vine St., Hollywood. For information, call (323) 993-3305 or visit uncabaret.com.
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