LENNY BRUCE – HOW TO TALK DIRTY AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE
During the course of a career that began in the late 1940s, Lenny Bruce challenged the sanctity of organized religion and other societal and political conventions; he widened the boundaries of free speech. Critic Ralph Gleason said, “So many taboos have been lifted and so many comics have rushed through the doors Lenny opened. He utterly changed the world of comedy.”
Although Bruce died when he was only forty, his influence on the worlds of comedy, jazz, and satire are incalculable. How to Talk Dirty and Influence People remains a brilliant existential account of his life and the forces that made him the most important and controversial entertainer in history.
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“I read this book for the first time when I was twelve years old. It made me want to be in showbiz, have a lot of sex, and be Jewish. I’ve rethought that last one.”
“If there was a God, then he sent down Lenny Bruce to create the art form of modern stand-up comedy. He sought the truth fearlessly and hilariously until his tragically muffled First Amendment rights surely enabled his dying for our sins.”
“Outside every American comedy club, there ought to be a statue of Lenny Bruce—the type of big bronze statue that commemorates and immortalizes heroes…Bringing Bruce’s ideas and stories to a new generation might just be the next best thing to erecting those bronze statues.”
Frank Maya once said that he turned to comedy “as a way to make the world safe for me.” The first openly gay comedian to appear on MTV and all three major television networks, Maya’s candor and wit helped pave the way for greater acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream media. As ABC News noted in a 1993 introduction to Maya, “Until recently, comics who wanted to succeed in show business never ever admitted they were gay. And they certainly never used their homosexuality as a punchline.”
Maya was born in 1950 to a middle-class Catholic family in Long Island. His Irish and Colombian background later became fodder for much of his comic material. A gifted musician and vocalist, he found work playing in cabarets and folk clubs after graduating from Hofstra University. In the mid-1970s, he met director John Jesurun and began venturing into the alternative music scene, then dominated by the Talking Heads and post-punk New Wave.
Fronting a band called the Decals, Maya became known for satirical songs that combined Latin-infused pop with absurdist poetic patter. Several of his songs also used toy instruments, recorded sound, or found objects such as scissors or a jar full of pennies. In one song, the refrain consisted of Maya shouting, “Pancakes!” with a recorded voice responding, “They’re ready!” Impish and whimsical as his songs were, they also were biting commentaries on consumerism and the banality of everyday life. His lyrics also revealed a quirky way with rhymes, “When you’re home for the holidays do you realize your dog looks upset? Does he realize during dinner, he’s simply the household pet?” The New York Times praised him as “a wacky pop iconoclast with enough star quality to have earned comparisons to performers as dissimilar as Laurie Anderson, David Byrne and Peter Allen.”
Maya was part of Jesurun’s legendary serial theater piece, Chang in a Void Moon, when it premiered at the Pyramid Club in 1982. His music performances had always verged on theater with interludes of acerbic monologues he called rants. In the mid- 1980s, he began focusing more on his rants, joining a growing cadre of solo performers such as Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian, and Karen Finley, who were similarly examining American society through a personal lens.Pacing around the stage, he tackled pop culture, gender issues, and the mundanity of existence. Thirty years before the current outcry over the lack of minorities in mainstream media, Maya was commenting, “There’re a few movies like Cotton Club where they take all the black actors who’ve been out of work for ten years and put them in the same film… People say, ‘See we’re making progress.” His three-hour-long solo performances were performed at P.S. 122, La Mama, Dixon Place, the Kitchen, and Lincoln Center’s Serious Fun series. He also toured the mid-Atlantic states and performed in Germany.
During that time, Maya was known to paint his ears gold, perhaps to distinguish himself from other solo artists. He soon found a much more authentic way of differentiating himself. While Maya had made a few allusions to his sexual orientation in his music and his rants, he had never been completely overt about his homosexuality. His former partner Neil Greenberg believes that an anti-gay incident may have radicalized him. Whatever the cause, Maya began boldly declaring his homosexuality in 1989. At the same time, Maya was also realizing that he could achieve wider public attention by rebranding himself as a stand-up comic. “In New York they call me a performance artist…” he remarked in a 1989 Washington Post article, “But if you ask the Washington audience after my show, they’ll say, ‘He’s a stand-up comic.’ I always feel that my stuff is misinterpreted — it’s very funny, but it’s got serious points in it… But I’m not afraid of being considered a comedian as long as people like Lily Tomlin are considered comedians.”
Maya made his first openly gay appearance on HA! Comedy Network in 1990. His breakthrough to mainstream media happened at a pivotal time when the AIDS crisis was at its peak. Maya’s self-deprecating humor was a refreshing antidote to the widespread alarm in both the general population and the gay community. Here was a good-looking man without any effeminate traits, talking simply and naturally about being homosexual. “Comedy is about really being truthful,” he stated, “People are hoping the comic will tell them everything. So how can you hide your love life? It just seems impossible.” Though he joked about people in his audience who looked mortified, he said he rarely had hecklers and added, “”I guess people are still recovering from the fact that they can’t believe what I’m saying.”
Throughout the early 1990s, Maya appeared regularly at Caroline’s Comedy Club and MTV’s “Half-Hour Comedy Hour.” He also starred in his own half-hour special on Comedy Central. His last show Paying for the Pool ran at the Atlantic Theater for eight weeks. It was described as, “A one-man show in which Maya talks about his childhood and coming-out experiences.”
Maya was diagnosed with AIDs in 1995 but continued to perform. In The Queerest Art: Essays on Lesbian and Gay Theater, Carmelita Tropicana remembers him at a conference for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) four months before he died. Despite a high fever, he did his entire set and had to be persuaded to go home early. Although friends were tearful over his impending death, Tropicana recalls, “[Frank] hated the tender sweet image of white helium balloons flying up to the sky in memory of those who have died of AIDS. He was angry, he wanted something loud, an uzi, a bomb to explode.” An upfront iconoclast to the end, Frank Maya was 45 years old when he died.
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1986 Postcard for Frank’s performance at CBGB
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1986 Postcard for Franks Maya’s performance at LaMama Cabaret
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1990 Postcard for Frank Maya’s performance at The Kitchen.
Downtown is more than just a location, it’s an attitude–and in the 1970s and ’80s, that attitude forever changed the face of America. This book charts the intricate web of influences that shaped the generation of experimental and outsider artists working in Downtown New York during the crucial decade from 1974 to 1984. Published in conjunction with the first major exhibition of downtown art (organized by New York University’s Grey Art Gallery and Fales Library), The Downtown Book brings the Downtown art scene to life, exploring everything from Punk rock to performance art.
The book probes trends that arose in the 1970s and solidified New York’s reputation as arbiter of the postmodern American avant-garde. By 1974, the hippie euphoria of the previous decade, with its optimism, free love, and paeans to personal fulfillment, was over. In its place emerged a new kind of experimentation–in art, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The seven essays featured here examine from different perspectives how Downtown artists constantly pushed the limits of both traditional media and the art world. Art critic Carlo McCormick addresses the energy, power, drugs, and nonstop erotic motion that propelled the scene. Music historian Bernard Gendron explores how minimalism, loft jazz, and Punk all occupied the same Downtown spaces. RoseLee Goldberg, the noted scholar and critic of performance art, looks back at ten years of its ascendancy Downtown. English professor Robert Siegle casts a critical eye on the literature of the Downtown scene. Librarian and archivist Marvin J. Taylor surveys Downtown as both geography and metaphor, and grapples with the question of how best to organize and preserve materials that often challenge the very notion of the archive. The book also includes seminal essays on the critical theories underlying Downtown art, by Brian Wallis; and on Downtown film, by Matthew Yokobosky.
The essays are intercut with personal reminiscences by such renowned pioneers of the Downtown scene as Eric Bogosian, Richard Hell, Lydia Lunch, Ann Magnuson, Michael Musto, and Martha Wilson. More than 150 striking photographs feature Downtown denizens and galleries; works by Cindy Sherman, Keith Haring, and many other artists; and hotspots such as CBGBs and Club 57. Hip and provocative, The Downtown Book provides a rare glimpse into the cauldron of the New York artistic counterculture–and the colorful characters who inhabited it.
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“In the late 1970s, when Gregory Battcock and I were both writing art columns for the Soho Weekly News, he divided Manhattan into two kinds of people: the Downtown Slouches and the Uptown Swells. This is a book filled with facts and anecdotes, told by astute eyewitnesses and not detached scholars, about the Downtown Slouches–and the wonderful crazy things they did, and made, over a remarkable ten-year period. All of the contributing writers and artists emphasize one crucial issue: for everyone living and working below Fourteenth Street at that time, identity was synonymous with geography–urban space was our mental space. We were refugees from the America of the 1950s and 60s, outcasts of the suburbs and the shopping malls. We wrote, painted, performed and played music in grateful homage to our spiritual home–and our offerings have borne fruit, as this book makes abundantly clear, by illuminating the history of American art.”–Shelley Rice, New York University
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“After the Vietnam War we thought we could change the world with a cultural revolution. Read this book and find out how we did it: Art and more Art and lots of Art.”—
Karen Finley, Visiting Professor, Tisch School for the Arts, New York University
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“This is history still alive. More than memory, it is our identity. Did we know what we were doing? Yes. We were coming in on energy. And creating the ultimate conflagration. Some kind of end-times party. It’s all over because it’s all over everything we see, hear, and do now. These writings overflow with exquisite passion for a juiced time. Eventually, they swept the streets. But we were already out of there.”––
Below is Eric’s performance in 2010. You can see him NOW at this upcoming Benefit!
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Michael Smith is a performance artist/producer/performer and now a professor at a university. In the late 1980’s he hosted and performed in his MIKE’S TALENT SHOW. It was hosted at The Bottom Line and for a short time at Caroline’s at South Street Seaport.
During this time he had many amazing performers/writers/eccentric acts on his stage. Eric Bogosian was working on his show SEX DRUGS AND ROCK n’ ROLL. Here he is performing a segment titled ‘DIRT’. In my book IN/SIGHTS he wrote a few paragraphs(quite a few!) to accompany this photograph. Here is a brief excerpt.
“This is a picture of me performing a segment entitled “Dirt” of the new solo I’ve been working on called SEX, DRUGS, AND ROCK n’ ROLL,
With this work. like the other solos that I have done, I’m working in segments which I hope form a collage that becomes a meditation on a subject. In this case, the subject at hand is the phrase Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll and all it implies about a crazed over-the-top, high speed world that we live in and “what’s so desirable about that anyway?”