The Drug Rebel

During prohibition in the 1920s, the comedic performer who assumed a drunk posture was a popular nightclub, film, and campus entertainer. W. C. Fields was one of the first; then came others like Joe E. Lewis (who was the town drunk and he lived in Chicago!), and Robert Benchley. They frequently went on stage with drinks in their hands or would appear to borrow one from a ringside table.

Benchley once came out of the Waldorf Astoria hotel very loaded. He said to a man in uniform, "Call me a taxi." And the man said, "1 am not the doorman. I am an admiral." To which Benchley replied, "Okay, then call me a battleship."

When prohibition ended, so did fascination with alcoholic clowns. The drunk delivery frequently covered up a minor comedic talent; this technique has helped Dean Martin remain commercial as a singer for the past twenty years. The classic line is that he couldn't hear the heckling because of all the boos.

Today, the alcoholic character of twenty-five years ago has turned into the druggie. This eccentric counterculture weirdo is a delight to college students and a disgust to current knights of middle age.

Lenny Bruce was the guru of drug humor. Robert Klein says every modern comedian owes Bruce some debt of gratitude. Bruce claimed he entered the arena of sex and scatology to make a philosophical point. Don't believe it. He got in the smoking ring because it separated him from more erudite satirists, like Mort Sahl.

Typical of Bruce's humor were the following "social" comments to a judge:

Bruce: Your honor, it was my mother-in-law who broke up my marriage. One day my wife came home early and found us in bed together.

Judge: Don't you think that's perversion?

Bruce: Perversion? What perversion? It was her mother, not mine!

Judge: Mr. Bruce, the officer's report states that you used the word "cocksucker" on stage.

Bruce: That's right, your Honor.

Judge: He said it was the most disgusting show he ever saw.

Bruce: I don't know why, your honor. I said it. I wasn't doing it!

Bruce's legacy was picked up by George Carlin, a true counterculture comedian. "The population segment I appeal to is the one that feels there is no hope for the human race," he says. Carlin uses dazzling word play as he viciously ridicules all parts of the Establishment. His essential themes are drugs and rebellion, and he uses hardcore words and ideas to shock his stunned audience to attention. He is a favorite of college pupils. (The reason I call them pupils is because by ten in the morning their eyes are still dilating.)

Another drug humorist is Emo Philips, who spent nine years developing his spaced-out character and now looks like he hasn't eaten for five of those nine years.

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