In the 1960s, Lenny Bruce was the martyred saint of the rising upstarts undermining the old social order. In the 2010s the winners of the 1960s struggles don’t see anything at all funny about a play moving Bruce to the present.
From Inside Higher Education:
Play about late comedian is called off amid student protests.
By Nick Roll
November 6, 2017
Lenny Bruce made a career of transgressing traditional social mores with his stand-up routines, culminating in his conviction for obscenity in 1964.
Now a production of a play based on Bruce’s comedy at Brandeis University has been canceled, after students and alumni rallied in opposition. They complained about what they called the play’s offensive and objectionable content, though this time objections came from the left.
The play, Buyer Beware, written by Brandeis alumnus Michael Weller, was originally scheduled to be put on by the university’s theater department this month. Following backlash from students and alumni who organized against the play, faculty members postponed the play until the spring semester. Weller has since decided to take the production elsewhere …
Though Bruce died in 1966, the play takes place in the present. According to drafts of the play reported on by two student publications at Brandeis, the play’s main character discovers old recordings of Bruce’s stand-up routine and makes plans to deliver a similar performance at Brandeis, which is met with university pushback and student protests.
Organizers opposing the play rallied around the play’s portrayal of the Black Lives Matter movement and its black characters. They also criticized its merits as a work of art, saying the play wasn’t well written.
Or maybe Lenny Bruce, despite all we’ve heard about his genius over the last half century, just isn’t funny? A running joke in director Bob Fosse’s autobiographical movie All That Jazz was what an ordeal it was to edit the Bruce monologues done by Dustin Hoffman in his biopic Lenny into something finally funny. And then the laughs are attributed by critics to the real life character’s natural hilariousness in contrast to the director’s contrived preciosity.
“Why would we want to elevate something like this? Why do we need to put time and resources into something like this?” Andrew Child, a Brandeis theater student who read a draft of the play and helped organize opposition to the production, told The Boston Globe.
… The irony of a play based on a provocateur being canceled for being too provocative was not lost on some.
“The notion that the staging of a play about comedian Lenny Bruce would be held up over incendiary content seems too ironic to be true,” Globe reporter Mark Arsenault wrote. “Or like the setup for a scorching joke Bruce would have told.” …
“Don’t think political correctness is a problem on campus? Try producing a play about it,” the author wrote.