Lenny Bruce on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts – April 18, 1949 – CBS Radio/TV – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Something rare and unusual (and certainly historic) this weekend. What is probably one of the earliest, if not the earliest recording of Lenny Bruce doing one of his routines. As he appeared as a contestant on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts program, run simultaneously over CBS Radio and TV from April 18, 1949.
Anyone who has even a passing interest in comedy knows about Lenny Bruce; the icon, the legend, the stepping off place from where modern American standup comedy evolved.
That’s the Lenny Bruce of the 1950s, after years of shaping and developing his craft, countless gigs and rough audiences to becoming one of the most talked about artists of his generation.
But there was the earlier stuff – when Lenny Bruce was a mimic and did impressions, almost a decade before the transformation. But even in this 1949 appearance, you can hear flashes of the Lenny Bruce of later years.
It’s not a long bit, possibly five minutes; sandwiched between two singers and the almost endless an often syrupy folksiness of Godfrey. This was the state of the media in 1949 – a media which itself was undergoing a transformation but was still rooted in Radio.
I thought about bypassing the other contestants and just leaving the Lenny Bruce appearance by itself, but you have to get an idea of where it was Lenny Bruce came from – what was popular at the time; what did America listen to and respond to? The music, by today’s standards is cringeworthy at best – a song like Because, which was an enormous hit and almost a standard into the early 1950s would never be heard today – or something as blatantly corny as The Toy Piano Polka would just sound strange today. But you have to know the atmosphere, the state of our society and what we were listening to in the late 1940s. In that context you would realize just how fresh and unusual Lenny Bruce was, even early on, and just what kind of affect he had on audiences at the time and where we were as examples of our popular culture.
It’s about 16 minutes in if you want to skip the history lesson, but you might want to give the whole show a listen, if for nothing else, but to give you the flavor of the times, what a Post-World War 2/pre Korean War America was listening to and absorbing.
And what happened a few short years later could never be imagined at the time.