Wednesday, January 30, 2008

CLASSIC BITS: "Religions, Inc." by Lenny Bruce

Today you can say basically anything you want in front of a microphone in the name of comedy. Sarah Silverman and other comics have torn down the last wall of taboos. We've run out of a diseases to poke fun of to the point that comics are going back to cured diseases like polio for fresh laughs.

But the late 50s and 60s were a different time. I'm not going to pretend that I knew what America was like then, but you couldn't go on a stage and just say anything. Lenny Bruce helped change that and it wasn't just his swearing and drug use. While it was what got him infamously arrested and led to his heroin overdose in 1966 (Phil Spector said he died "from an overdose of the police"), there was even more to him.

"Religions, Inc." was originally released on Bruce's second album, The Sick Humor of Lenny Bruce (1958, Fantasy). In 1991 it was re-released on CD in the The Lenny Bruce Originals vol. 1 collection with his first album Interviews of Our Times (Fantasy). And it was also included on the Let The Buyer Beware 6-CD set from 2004 (Shout Factory).

Richard Zoglin explains in his new book Comedy at the Edge:

Heard today, unfortunately, most of Bruce's best-known routines aren't great advertisements for this talent. "Religions, Inc.," his acid re-creation of a Madison Avenue-style meeting of evangelical leaders, was a brave piece of commentary, a swipe at commercialized religion that was years ahead of its time. But as comedy, the juvenile one-liners must have seemed ham-handed even then.

Some of the references are obscure today to the point that The Lenny Bruce Originals Vol. 1 includes a glossary. "Philly Joe" was Miles Davis' drummer and a friend of Bruce's known for his on stage impersonations of Bela Lugosi's Dracula. "C.C. Camps" were a string of work-camps nationwide inaugurated by FDR to combat unemployment during the Great Depression.

The middle can be confusing and it's not quite as "tight" by today's standards. Yet the voice and point-of-view are relevant even today. It's been over 50 years and it's not too often that we hear such a biting and relentless critique of a major institution of our society. Today, many jokes about religion today don't go beyond young boys and Catholic priests.


Anonymous said...

online drugstore cheap order tablets FREE Viagra Sample Before Buying .

Anonymous said...

buy Cialis Professional