Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

I'm Not a Comedian ... I'm Lenny Bruce
Mercury Theater
Review by Ruth Smerling

Also see Ruth's review of Eurydice

Ronnie Marmo
Photo by Doren Sorell
The jury is out on Lenny Bruce. Was he a visionary, a prophet, born way before his time? Or was he just a big mouth comedian with no respect for convention? Whatever feeling prevails, no one can dispute that had he become famous today, in this anything world, the shocking truths he dared to discuss on stage would really seem very calm. He would rant on about homosexuality, drugs, racism. Audiences, particularly rebellious young audiences, filled with young men fearing the draft and the Vietnam War, could not get enough of his daring banter. But his obscene use of language and graphic sexual descriptions cost him many dollars in legal battles, jail time, and ruin.

Ronnie Marmo is an actor and playwright who has taken it upon himself to preserve and protect the memory of Lenny Bruce with his 90-minute homage I'm Not a Comedian ... I'm Lenny Bruce. The show is produced in partnership with Lenny Bruce's daughter Kitty and directed by Chicago native, the award-winning Joe Mantegna. Mantegna has performed in many movies, TV shows and, early in his career, did some stage work right here in Chicago. He's become increasingly popular as FBI Agent David Rossi on the CBS hit show, "Criminal Minds."

Marmo says that Bruce's work is not only classic, but has had an impact on many great comedians, including George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Sarah Silverman, and Bill Maher. He says, "What drew me to him on a personal level, is that Lenny died for the very freedom of speech that so many are still struggling with today." He admires Bruce so deeply because, "Over 50 years later all of the issues Lenny was fighting for are still so relevant and even radical. In certain ways, we've progressed since Lenny was with us and in many we have regressed. He held a mirror up to society to expose hypocrisy and challenged us to think deeply and honestly."

Marmo looks a lot more like an elongated version of Al Pacino than Lenny Bruce, but he does a tremendous job of getting Bruce's point, or rather points, across while dimming the scandalous, irreverent behavior. Though he still reveals the drug addiction, the disdain for authority, and the seedy lifestyle that consumed him, Marmo sees beyond his weaknesses to the soul of a crusader who believed the human race is due a better world.

"I'm happy to report that with this show, Lenny is alive and well. And as the playwright and performer, I feel so blessed that I get to be a vessel for him, here, right now."

I'm Not a Comedian ... I'm Lenny Bruce is not recommended for audience members under age 16 due to obscene language. This is a grown-up play and, though it is the story of a questionably great comedian, his struggles were no joke. Viewers are likely to walk away from the show overcome with emotion.

I'm Not a Comedian ... I'm Lenny Bruce runs open-ended at the Mercury Theater, Venus Cabaret, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago IL. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday and 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. For information and tickets, visit