Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Lenny Bruce was a little before my time and I discovered him through LP recordings and transcripts of his gigs;  he remains the funniest man I have ever heard, the most gracious and empathic, one of the connected ones, a warrior, as Joan Rivers described him in this interesting but superficial romp through US satire since the 'fifties.

An accidental  martyr to his drug addiction and to his persecution by the US  authorities, Bruce's last performances were convoluted rants against his legal tormentors, harrowing rather than entertaining but his body of work - Didn't Ya Ever Piss In The Sink, He Said Blah Blah?, Religions Inc. and the rest are comedic scripture.  There is not much videotaped  stuff and the 'seventies film Lenny, starring Dustin Hoffman is just a Dustin Hoffman film but there are a lot of gig recordings and books about Bruce on How To Talk Dirty And Influence People.

Mort Sahl and Bob Newhart, gentler although challenging voices figure, too, in what is, really a tepid review of the moral upheavals - racism, Vietnam, Chicago - chronicled and stage-lit by Bruce and his followers. Like the Rolling Stones ripping-off Ry Cooder,  successive generations  of  UK and American comics have built careers on Bruce's improvisations  and Make 'Em Laugh points to his influence, also, on his contemporaries, The Smothers Brothers and George Carlin, on  his  black successors, Richard Pryor and  the ghastly, fabulously successful  Chris Rock and his actually humourless  automatism of shock, motormouthing offence without light, grievance without remedy. The programme didn't venture across the Atlantic but had it done so it would have found that many among our legions of stand-uppers have eulogised Bruce as the Guvnor, whilst simultaneously betraying his Outsider legacy for a gig with Tesco, or a column with skymadeupnewsandfilth; and  in a company star-struck by David Mitchell and Steven Fry the rattle of Bruce's posthumous sniper fire is ever more muted.

Impressionist Mike Yarwood used to do, with a pipe,  or a pair of specs or a scrunched-up face, everything which Rory Bremner now achieves with prosthetics, make up, costume, overdubbing, editing and a brigade of researchers, technicians and assistants, Yarwood used,   also, to do it a good deal better. Bremner and his sidekicks, the Johns Fortune and Bird are doing a nightly show on Channel Four concentrating loosely on the election and consisting of  Rory  going out on the street after being comprehensively disguised as some arsehole politician - Hague or Snotty - and trying to  take the piss from politician and voter alike and Bird and Fortune doing that dismal dinner-party schtick, wherein two comfortable middle class couples sit around a table, pissed, ranting at each other about the shit state of things.  There are rants all over cyberspace sharper, funnier, more revealing and more timely than this awful drivel by the nation's favourite satirists.  And there, isn't it, is the rub; comfy-cosy are Bremner and these two lazy, clapped-out chumps, in the media-political nexus; I don't know if these three give and receive political or journalistic awards, like Private Eye and the Guardian and the Glasgow Herald, don't know if they play football with the politicos or attend each other's dinner parties but I wouldn't be surprised and I do know that I saw Bird doing this same old shit nearly thirty years ago in Anyone For Dennis? at the Birmingham Hippodrome. NoBusinessLikeShowBusiness.  At least Bruce Forsyth can sing and dance and play the fucking piano.

Bremner interviews the most vacuous of celebrities, gobby lawyer's moll, Kathy Lette,  and the unspeakable Kelvin McKunt of skymadeupnewsandfilth, just for instance, and does his usual routine of Paxman, Huw Welshman, Snotty and a couple of indistinguishables, appropriately - presumably - Dave Cameron and  Nick Suit and Haircut;  the format and the content is so old and stale you can almost smell it this side of the screen, rank and cloying, like piss in an old people's home.

And this, as the world is barracked and harangued, fettered and coralled, lectured, abused and short-changed by pinstripe, banker mafiosi is our ration,  white male millionaires, interviewing each other in deathly non-debate;  white male hacks scribbling to order for their whoremasters and  white male comics, like The Crazy Gang on valium, wanking away there, on telly, at their failed, limp, geriatric crotches, as funny as cancer.


A young Anglo-Irish catholic said...

You can't be edgy with a few mill in the bank, a couple of nice houses and a scottish toff fillie for a missus.

In fact, if you want to see real straight-faced ultra satire, try Harriet Harpie reading out her equality bill, while a three kids go to distant, selective schools and old Father Harman dodges his inheritance tax.

Yep, the old girl never flinches.

PT Barnum said...

It is hard to imagine how anyone, even Lenny Bruce, could truly satirize the current shoddy, amorphous bunch of middle managers masquerading as titans of the world, when they are already satires of themselves. And us.

Spitting Image remains,for me, the last great satirical British product. Their caricatures became truer than the truth. And there are still some of the songs, the poignant, angry, bitter ones, that I remember, with a shiver, two decades later. Next to that, the current crop of satirists and impressionists are stained and ragged chip paper.

call me ishmael said...

They are not even middle managers, mr ptb, what did Alan Milburn or Steven Byers ever manage; Hazel Blears, Alastair Darling and Geoff Hoon, all small-time solicitors; so many of them, these hijackers, slipped in from thinktanks and research projects. This has been the most unskilled, underqualified, ill-experienced government of modern times. Who the fuck, for instance, is Andy Burnham, who and what the fuck is David Milliband ? The trouble is, of course, that the so-called opposition, the other two cheeks, have modelled themselves on this Blairite confection, not a crafts- or tradesman among them; wankers, deadbeats and soundbiters; who the fuck is George Osborne?

PT Barnum said...

You are, of course, wholly correct. And I too have wondered what both Millibands are. They certainly aren't human in any functional sense.

My choice of 'middle managers' as a descriptor derives from my experience of such people in Higher Education rather than business. Such people are too incompetent and ignorant to be allowed near students and too stupid and disorganised to be allowed near any kind of real power. So they function as a time- and space-filling conduit between academic staff and remote senior managers, alienating and frustrating the former, while protecting the latter from remembering what the precise purpose of a University is.

How have we come to this pass? When mediocrity is the order of the day, talent, knowledge and skill are to be feared and scapegoated. NewLabour-loving friends (educated, professional types with social consciences who lived through Thatcherism) tell me Gordon Brown is a very intelligent man. And I am rather weary of this statement causing my jaw to dislocate yet again. How has he succeeded in maintaining that illusion? Perhaps by surrounding himself with even dimmer, even less articulate apparachiks.

mongoose said...

It's the politics. We are not fucking interested in a comedian's political views. Stick them up your backside, Mr Elton. We do not want to lectured to or educated, thank-you very much. Although education may turn up to the gig without a ticket. If you have something funny to say, please, do say it. And do not laugh. Only Tommy Cooper is allowed to laugh at his own jokes.

Bremner's earnest asides are the worst part of it. It's as if we may be too stupid to get the point and so he has to spell it out for us. If you have to explain a joke, Rory, old son, it is not funny. You'll never get any Golden Globe awards like that, or make it to Synanon.

lilith said...

The biggest laughs (apart from at/with friends and family!) I have had over the past four years have been from bloggers. Yes Mongoose, the comedians all shout at you as if that makes it funnier.