Thank You Mask Man
by Bob Schwartz
The release of the new Lone Ranger movie is an opportunity to introduce some readers to Lenny Bruce, very nearly the most significant comic of the modern comedy era.
In the 1950s and early sixties, there was nothing that Bruce wouldn’t talk about—in language that you could hear anywhere except on stage or screen, in attitude that was mercilessly satirical and uncomfortable for a lot of people. Most of all, it was funny. It wasn’t that he didn’t care and was only doing it to be sensational. He did it because he cared painfully about hypocrisy and self-righteousness that ended up hurting people deeply (just like today). He held up a mirror, and if what people saw looked ridiculous and less than complimentary, he was just the observer.
He has been called the Elvis of stand up, and that applies in a few ways. First, he was a groundbreaking talent who did what others had not done before and made it wildly popular. Second, his work was controversial and resulted in reaction. In the case of Bruce, it was not only social or media reaction; it was legal. Elvis was never busted for his hip shaking. Third, each of them had certain personal demons that contributed to a sad and untimely demise.
Lenny Bruce continued the long tradition of telling truth to power in a funny way. In his later years, after numerous busts for obscenity, a certain bitterness colored his attempts at comedy, “attempts” because to be honest much of it wasn’t funny. But at his height, there was a sweet honesty that made his arguments hard to resist.
Thank You Mask Man is a comedy bit about the Lone Ranger. In 1968, it was made into an animated short, with Bruce’s routine as the soundtrack. The premise of the bit is that the Lone Ranger never stops to accept “thank yous” from the people he helps. When he finally does agree to enjoy appreciation, it turns out to be something the townspeople don’t expect. Be aware and warned: Bruce manages to work small-mindedness, homosexuality, and even religion into the goofy mix (i.e., we won’t need the Lone Ranger after the Messiah returns).
Enjoy Lenny Bruce and a Lone Ranger you’ve never seen before.