LA CULTURE HOUND – UnCabaret: Fifty Years After Lenny Bruce’s Arrest
by LA Culture Hound
Lenny Bruce committed his life to telling the truth, but his truth pissed off a lot of people. To those attending his brilliantly profane rants in small clubs and lounges his words were not only sharp and incisive, they were a light in the dark repression of the early 1960s.
Fifty years ago, in April of 1963, Lenny Bruce was in a downward spiral. Considering the night club stage as “the last frontier” of uninhibited entertainment, he uttered his provocative words and was arrested for obscenity in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and Chicago.
George Carlin was present at Lenny Bruce’s arrest for obscenity. As the police detained members of the audience for questioning and asked for ID, Carlin said he did not believe in government-issued IDs. He was arrested and taken to jail with Bruce in the same car. George Carlin would later be arrested in July, 1972, by Wisconsin police and charged with public indecency for violating obscenity laws by performing the routineSeven Words You Can Never Say on Television, which would become central to the 1978 Supreme Court case in which the justices affirmed the government’s power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.
Lenny Bruce and George Carlin weren’t the first artists to be convicted for obscenity. Eighty-six years ago, in April, 1927, Mae West was sentenced to 10 days in jail for Sex, a play she wrote, produced, directed and starred in. The theater was raided and West was arrested and prosecuted on morals charges for “corrupting the morals of youth.” She served eight days with two days off for good behavior and the media attention turned her notorious and only enhanced her career.
It is always a treat to drop in at UnCabaret and see what sort of stellar line-up Beth has lined-up. One of the distinguishing elements of UnCabaret at First & Hope is that everyone is so friendly. From Suzanna’s warm greeting at the door when you arrive to Beth’s curtain speech, the vibe of the night always feels a little bit show and a little bit party.
Rebecca Corry gets the night going. “I’m in the biz and it sucks my dick most of the time.” She continues, “I’m really good at detaching. I can have sex with a person and hate their guts, I’ve done it many times.” To prove her point she shares her Twitter flirtations with a young actor she met at a gluten-free cupcake place in the Valley. The vanilla cupcake man is impervious to her Mrs. Robinson charms. When she learns his name, she says, “I like that name, that’s Michael Jackson’s rat’s name, did you know that?” He says he did not and reminds her that he is only thirty. Her raucous story underscores a theme of the night: she wants to be a whore and he just wants her to follow him on Twitter.
Nineteen-year-old Shelby Fero can’t buy a glass of wine but she can talk to a roomful of grown-ups about her recent rectal exam. She is the youngest performer I have seen on the UnCab stage and the girl’s got chops and potential. She has a strong instinct for material and enough presence of mind to recover gracefully if a joke doesn’t land. (“That’s not fully worked-out,” she observes.) She is so young and undamaged by the ravages of Hollywood, it will be interesting to watch her develop as an artist once she’s got a little life under her belt. But in the meantime you’ve got to love a girl who says, “I had a pregnancy scare, turns out I was lactose intolerant.”
I loved Missi Pyle on Broadway in Boeing Boeing but after seeing her on the UnCab stage I’ve gotta say I’m an even bigger fan now. Making her first UnCab appearance, she takes to the stage and speaks quietly into the mic, “This story can’t leave the room.” She takes a deep breath. You can almost read her mind: Oh God, am I really going to tell it? She speaks of an old boyfriend who “had sexual interests… different from mine.” While trying to be supportive of her boyfriend’s wild sexual pursuits, she is recognized. “Weren’t you in Dodgeball? Didn’t you get in that fight with Queen Latifah?”Irony laces her droll tone when she starts sentences like, “While I was living in a geo-dome…” She talks about driving with a friend at 3 am, taking the Coldwater Canyon exit, and getting hit by a car. Bobby Brown steps out of the other car and asks, “Hey ya’ll, you drunk, too?” She ends her set with two original songs while playing guitar, How Sexy Are You? and I Wanna F—k You Up. Of course she can sing and play the guitar, what can’t she do? With a resume that spans film, television and Broadway, she is a mega-talent who proves to be a natural in this medium.
Tony Award-nominated cabaret performer Justin Vivian Bond makes a rare West Coast appearance at UnCab. Bond, who is also the author of the Lambda Literary award-winning memoir Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels, is best known for the role of “boozy octogenarian” and bitter chanteuse Kiki DuRane, one half of the legendary lounge duo Kiki and Herb.Tonight Bond is dressed smartly in a white linen pantsuit with brooches, looking like a cross between Grace Kelly and Gwyneth Paltrow. She dramatically sighs, “My Didionesque headache,” and continues, “I couldn’t check my Twitter account to find out what was really happening.”“There is no oxygen in the air,” Justin Vivian Bond sings, soulful, full-throated, multi-octave. Everyone in the audience loses their shit. It is an electrifying performance. “We need you back every week!” Beth raves.
Kelly Carlin takes to the UnCab stage and quickly establishes herself as smart and observant, comfortable in front of a mic, with a calm and confident vibe.Admitting she ignored her own creative dreams for too long, she realized she “must have meaning in my life” and stepped away from “the biz” to pursue her love of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and mythology. She received her masters in Jungian Depth Psychology and hosts The Kelly Carlin Show on Sirius XM radio and her own podcast “Waking from the American Dream” at smodcast.com.She also happens to be George Carlin’s daughter.Forty-one years after her father was arrested for obscenity, his only child stands at a mic and speaks her truth without fear of arrest.
Blues, jazz and acoustic soul musician Raspin closes the show. While he adjusts the mic he comments, “All these comedians… they’re very political.”
He seems a bit stunned, which is completely understandable. He’s a sincere, intense musician who brings a gruff soulfulness to his songwriting and performance. He plays guitar and sings straight from the heart, losing himself in the music. Songs included King of Fools and Mama’s Got Those Low-Down Blues with guitar back-up. Check him, out at www.RASPIN.com.
Another memorable night of alternative comedy comes to a close. It’s a privilege to watch gutsy artists taking creative risks. Stepping onto the UnCab stage is a high-wire act with no net, requiring honesty and creative risk in order to tell those tragic stories that are ready to be satirized.
Other performers tonight included Melanie Mayron and Tom Lenk. Mitch Kaplan on piano, Denise Fraser on drums. UnCabaret, Sundays @8 pm @FirstandHope.