I Am Not A Comedian


Review by Willard Manus

Ronnie Marmo has been channeling the late Lenny Bruce for the past ten years in a one-man show which he wrote for himself. Previously called “Lenny Bruce is Back,” the show has returned to L.A. under the new–and much more cumbersome--title of I am not a Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce, directed by Joe Mantegna, for a five-week run at Theater 68.

It’s to be hoped that young people who might not even know who Bruce was will see this show and learn something about the man who revolutionized American comedy in the 1950s—and paid a tragic price for that accomplishment.

Bruce was a hugely controversial figure in his time, an iconoclast who dared to talk openly about sex, organized religion, politics, race, big business and the A-bomb. Denounced by the Catholic church, the NYC press and police, his humor was called sick and obscene, a danger to society. Bruce was arrested, put on trial, thrown in jail. He died in 1966, a broken, embittered, and impoverished man.

Bruce was also victimized by his own flaws as a human being. A heroin addict and a narcissist, he aided in his own demise by firing his lawyers, acting like a fool in court, alienating friends and family.

Marmo, who is as tall and lissome as Bruce was—and comes out of Brooklyn as well—captures the late comic’s many sides in a performance that can justifiably be called memorable. He’s got Bruce’s jazz-Jewish voice (Kenneth Tynan’s description) down perfectly, his aggressive confidence and street-smarts as well.

The drugs and, above all, the merciless attacks on him by his enemies, took their toll, reduced Bruce to a suffering, vulnerable wreck. Marmo skillfully makes us feel the pain and bewilderment Bruce experienced as a pariah, a victim. “What was my crime?” he cries out. “Sticking up for free speech?”
Marmo’s monologue mostly deals with Bruce’s battles with the likes of Cardinal Spellman, Judge John Murtagh, and the chief of NYC’s Narcotics Bureau, but he manages to also give time to Bruce’s personal life: his crafty mother (a standup comic in her own right), his ravishingly beautiful wife, Honey (an ex-stripper), and his only child, a daughter he loved from afar.

In 2003, Honey, after a long legal struggle, managed to persuade Governor George Pataki to issue a pardon for her late husband and clear him of the obscenity rap. Too bad Bruce wasn’t alive to enjoy that victory—or the successful work of the many comics who followed in his ground-breaking footsteps: Buddy Hackett, Chris Rock, Kevin Hart, George Carlin, and Sam Kinison, to name but a few.

(Theatre 68, 5112 Lankersheim Boulevard, North Hollywood. Visit theater68.com)