"Lenny Bruce: Mask Man" by Jamé McCraw

This weekend Dallas Comedy House hosts the debut of Lenny Bruce is Back starring Joey Folsom. The play was written by Sam Bobrick and Julie Stein and directed by Nathan Autrey. There will be subsequent performances in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

More than 50 years have passed since the death of Lenny Bruce. He died of a drug overdose August 3, 1966. For many he is revered as an influential comedian and brilliant satirist. Yet, in his time he was reviled by mainstream society for openly critiquing flawed social constructs. He was arrested multiple times for obscenity.

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This week I stumbled upon a unique and totally unfamiliar animated short called Thank You Mask Man (1971). It was produced by John Magnuson based on Lenny Bruce’s routine of the same name. The audio was pieced together from previously recorded performances. It was completed in 1968 by an animator named Jeff Hale. His style is recognizable it gives you a safe warm feeling. He is responsible for the “typewriter guy” character and The Madrigal Alphabet from the early days of Sesame Street.

The Madrigal Alphabet

Isn’t that adorable?

Perhaps now is where I ought to insert some sort of NSFW warning:

Thank You Mask Man

The townsfolk are irked that The Lone Ranger will not give them the time of day. They want to know why he is so selfless. They want to offer him baked goods for his deeds. No one is truly inspired by these brave acts. They take for granted someone is going to come to the rescue.

They become aggravated and confront this “psychotic” masked dazzler at gunpoint. The Lone Ranger speculates his ego would become inflated from overwhelming gratitude that one day he would go to his letterbox and find it was empty because the messiah had returned making the world pure again. There would no longer be a need for men who “thrived upon the continuance of segregation, violence, and disease.” The scene ends with a flurry of hateful slurs uttered when The Lone Ranger expresses his desire to “perform an unnatural act” with Tonto... and possibly a horse.

So, I have been mulling it over. What exactly is this joke about? I think to find the answer to this question, it is worth considering what sort of audience Lenny Bruce was playing to. There were not a lot of comedy clubs during this time. He was performing in nightclubs to mixed audiences who may or may not, based on his reputation “have it in for him.” He manages to inject commentary on a number of themes within a single story utilizing a widely recognizable cultural icon. This cheap shot, about “unnatural acts” is what some people I spoke with remember most clearly from the entire routine. It really distracted me from the bigger picture. It is unbelievably clever to expose the symbiotic relationship between an exalted savior-type and the struggling masses.

A theme which is not entirely lost in our current political climate.

Be sure to check out Lenny Bruce is Back, starring Joey Folsom, at Dallas Comedy House this weekend. Paul Varghese opens the show.

8:00p.m. Friday, August 4

8:00p.m. Saturday, August 5

10:00p.m. Saturday, August 5

Tickets $10-$15

Jamé McCraw is a recent graduate of the DCH improv program and performs with Watermelon. She enjoys watching squirrels through the windows of her little old house while holding hands with her cat, Stanley.