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What made you want to recreate such an important performance?
Since 2006 I've been working on this material. I was working with a writer named Kirk Lynn [of the Rude Mechanicals
]—the Foundry Theatre
approached us and put us together to make a show that was originally going to be a one-person show. It ultimately became Major Bang: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb
, which the Foundry produced at St. Ann's [in 2006]. In our initial development of that piece, we were exploring different ways of doing one-person performance and how it's been done.
Around that time I got a gift from my brother of the Lenny Bruce CD box set, Let the Buyer Beware
, which had just come out around that time. And I was like, this is amazing. I had a very vague, passing knowledge of who Lenny Bruce was—I knew about the movie [Lenny
, 1974, directed by Bob Fosse, starring Dustin Hoffman]. I just started listening to some of these recordings and I brought it into the rehearsal room with Kirk, who is a very facile writer and can adapt a lot of different stuff, and we really got into how Lenny would do these very long routines, doing a bunch of filmic characters. It was a very good model of a performer doing a very unique thing.
Ultimately there was a little two-minute bit that made it into [Major Bang
] that Kirk wrote in the style of Lenny Bruce—kind of like, what if Lenny Bruce came back from the dead to talk about the War on Terror? During that time it kind of just hooked into me and I started listening to all of his material and the relevance of it and the timelessness of it. For whatever creative or artistic reason, it just clicked with me and I continued to pursue it. After Major Bang
I began to present Lenny's actual material in different venues. A lot of people, afterwards, would ask me, how much of the material did you update, because it was very relevant. So it seemed like there was an interesting life to this material still.
Many critics and fans use the vernacular of jazz to describe Bruce's work. In the sense that he was a kind a jazz artist, do you feel like you're doing a cover of Lenny Bruce's Carnegie Hall Concert? Does that in any way capture how you feel creating this piece?
That's an interesting way of thinking about it. It's definitely a cover, but what's weird about it is that I'm not necessarily putting an interpretation on it. I am, just in the sense that it's being filtered through me as a performer—I can't help the differences and the odd things that come out.
Why only recreate this performance once? That's not typical of the theater world—to perform something only one time. Does it relate to the material? The anniversary?
This is just something that really turns me on and I really like doing it, and for some odd reason I really like to mark certain occasions. In 2002 I found myself on Westminster Bridge in London at six in the morning, as the sun was coming up, to mark the occasion of Wordsworth's poem, Composed Upon Westminster Bridge
, which was composed there on September 2, 1802. I was going to school there, I just thought it would be a nice thing to be there.
I have a weird thing about that—capturing the spirit of things. I mean, I've been spending so much time with Lenny Bruce, I definitely want to mark this occasion. I even looked into how you get a gig at Carnegie Hall. I was like, what's it cost to rent Carnegie Hall—oh, $30,000 for the night, 2,800 seats... (Laughs.
) Then I was like, well, I've done stuff at St. Ann's, so I talked to them and they went for the idea. But I was going to do something, even if it was on the street at midnight in front of Carnegie Hall, which, who knows, I may still show up there at midnight.