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Film / Lenny

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Lenny is a 1974 film directed by Bob Fosse, adapted by Julian Barry from his 1971 play of the same name.

It is a biopic of legendary standup comedian Lenny Bruce. The film follows Bruce (Dustin Hoffman) from early in his standup career in 1951 through his death by opiate overdose in 1966. Bruce marries stripper Honey Harlow (Valerie Perrine) and they have a daughter, but their mutual issues lead to divorce. Meanwhile, Bruce starts out as an unexceptional hack comic, but after leaving celebrity impersonations behind he rises to superstardom as a social critic lampooning the hypocrisies of 1950s-60s America. His act draws the attention of Moral Guardians who start harassing him with obscenity charges, which only makes Bruce even more famous, but also negatively impact his career, reinforcing the paranoia and self-destructiveness that lead to his death.


  • Amicably Divorced: Honey and Lenny get along together extraordinarily well for a divorced couple, doing drugs together. In Real Life they fought a custody battle over their daughter, but in the movie she seems to be OK with Lenny having taken custody of Kitty.
  • Anachronic Order: The bulk of the narrative is a straighforward account of Bruce's comedy career, but it is also interspersed with interview segments from Honey and others who knew Bruce and who narrate his story. The film is also interspersed with bits from later in Bruce's standup career, ones that go with the narrative—the scene where Bruce picks up a sexy nurse at the hospital is introduced with a standup bit where Bruce talks about adultery.
  • Biopic: Omits Bruce's youth, World War II service, and early showbiz career, starting with Bruce as the emcee at the club where Honey works as a stripper.
  • Blah, Blah, Blah: There is a sequence in which Lenny (Dustin Hoffman) talks about oral sexnote  to an audience and even police officers. Due to the heavy censorship issues at the time, he told the audience that all profane words would be replaced by "blah-blah". He then continues:
    "Excuse me sir, have you ever had your blah-blahed? Is that your girlfriend? Has she ever blahed your blah?"
    • He then tells everyone that the show is over, apologizes for it and promises to be funny next time.
  • Conversation Cut: Bruce, challenging a judge in court, says "If you believe there is a God that made your body—", then there's a cut to him much later on a stage saying "—then why do you keep telling little children to cover up?"
  • Creator Cameo: Bob Fosse is the faceless interviewer who is asking questions of people close to Lenny, such as Honey, his mother, and his agent.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Shot in black-and-white to give a 1950s vibe to the movie.
  • Downer Ending: Bruce's health and career both go into precipitous decline due to his drug use before he overdoses at the age of 40.
  • Fanservice: Honey's extended stripper routine, other naked strippers, a sex scene between Honey and Lenny, Honey posing nude for Lenny as he arrives home.
  • Gilligan Cut: A rather reserved Time Magazine reporter interviews Bruce in his dressing room, saying "I find you very interesting." This is followed by a cut to Bruce onstage, angrily ranting about the reporter who described him as a "sick comic" in a negative article.
  • Lens Flare: The first scene with Lenny Bruce has him artfully framed onstage against a spotlight as he gives a performance. Other instances of lens flares are seen in other scenes where Bruce is onstage.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Discussed in a Lenny Bruce routine where he says "We all want for a wife a combination of Sunday school teacher and $500 a night hooker." This leads to a scene where Lenny, who married Honey the hot stripper, is expressing discomfort with her stripping and pressuring her to stop.
  • Match Cut: From the judge at Lenny's obscenity trial banging his gavel to the drummer at the nightclub tapping his cymbal with a drumstick.
  • Mononymous Biopic Title: Lenny
  • Moral Guardians: The bane of Lenny Bruce's existence. They make him into a cause celebre by prosecuting him for saying curse words in his stage, but they also make it difficult for him to find work. Lenny's agent notes that towards the end of his career he wasn't even doing jokes or comedy bits, instead reading from court transcripts and ranting about his legal difficulties.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Cigar-chomping, obnoxious, very famous comedian Sherman Hart is Milton Berle. The character's name was changed because Berle was still alive and producers were afraid he'd sue.
  • N-Word Privileges: Forcefully asserted by Lenny Bruce in a scene where he asks "Are there any niggers in the audience tonight?" After also canvassing the audience for "kikes" and "spics" and the like, he observes that the forbidden nature of the words is what gives them the power to hurt.
  • The Oner: The scene near the end where a drugged-out Lenny tries and fails to give a performance unfolds in a single unbroken 7-minute take.
  • Shiksa Goddess: The very Jewish Lenny Bruce uses this exact phrase to describe non-Jewish Honey in a scene where she surprises him by striking a provocative nude pose as he enters his apartment.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: Lenny strong-arms a reluctant Honey into having a threesome with another woman. Later, because he's a dick, he gets jealous and accuses her of enjoying it too much.
  • Unishment: Lenny Bruce's opinion of anti-sodomy laws targeted at homosexuals.
    Lenny: They put them in prison, with a lot of other men.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On: Valerie Perrine's first scene is at the strip club where Honey strips down to G-string and pasties. Later, Lenny is the emcee at a topless strip club.