Acoustic Sounds

Lenny Bruce

The Carnegie Hall Concert



Label: World Pacific

Produced By: Produced by: Don Friedman and Ken Joffe (original recordings), Michael Cuscuna (reissue producer)

By: Michael Fremer

February 4th, 2023





Originally Seen In:


World Pacific Reissues An Essential Lenny Bruce Recording

From the archives: On this recording, Lenny Bruce riffs off of set pieces, going wherever his mind leads

(This review originally appeared in Issue 7, Spring 1996.)

This 2CD set documenting comedian Lenny Bruce’s legendary February 4th, 1961 midnight concert at Carnegie Hall is a slightly expanded version of what was originally issued in 1972 as an attractively packaged 3LP set by United Artists (UAS 8900). The  concert took place the night after a gigantic blizzard had literally closed down New York City. Bruce almost didn’t make it into town, and when he did, he hardly expected anyone to show up during a snow emergency which kept New Yorkers out of their cars and off the streets. But they did, packing the hall, and filling it with laughter.

It was my bible for the next five years or so, affecting my politics, the way I reasoned and spoke, and the humor I attempted to create on the radio. The highest tribute I was paid during that period was when I received a phone call from a woman who was a fan of my all night radio show, and who said she was a friend of the late comedian and that I reminded her of him.

We met and she handed me a cassette copy of a tape Lenny Bruce had given her, made on his recorder of a live performance he’d given in Boston years before. It goes on until the tape runs out, and then it suddenly stops. It’s something I’ll always treasure, but not as much as this performance, which I hadn't played in many years, much to my detriment.

What’s on this CD isn’t “stand up,” and isn’t “shtick.” It also isn’t free association. Rather, it’s a bebop version of what Ken Nordine does: “word jazz.” Bruce riffs off of set pieces, going wherever his mind leads, thinking out loud, seemingly hitting stretches of incoherence, but they’re not.

Instead, they are verbalizations of the synaptic transfers which occur in all of our brains, in our internal thinking. Few dare to, or are even capable of bringing that process to the surface for others to see and hear—even intimates. Here, Bruce does it with ease in front of thousands of strangers.

You can listen to the politics and the philosophy and marvel at Bruce’s deadly accurate analysis of those post-Eisenhower, pre-Kennedy assassination times, or you can put it in context of today’s politics and realize we’re stuck suffering under the ignorance, stupidity, fear and repression of another generation of the same old shit elected by the same old uptight, hypocritical assholes. Yesterday they repealed the ban on assault weapons.

Look, this magazine is about music and I don’t want to turn it into a political forum. I don’t care what your politics are, this set will give you the willies and it’ll confuse you in places, and it’ll make you laugh your ass off, from a place few comedians today can get you to let loose. Bruce wouldn’t get time on a comedy club stage today: not enough punch lines, not the right punch lines, too many words, too much pontificating, too much “serious” humor.

But that’s okay, because what has to be said today by someone is being said right here by Bruce—about sexuality, culture, politics, you name it. So far ahead of his time, he had to be persecuted, he had to die, and he did. Did he put the hypodermic needle in his arm? Or did the police insert it after they found him dead of an overdose? It doesn’t matter. The police, the politicians, the arbiters of “good taste,” the issuers of “cabaret licenses” and the others, they all stuck it in there.

In life timing is everything. Now is the right time for this to be reissued. Now is the right time for you to listen.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: CDP 7243 8 34020 2 1


  • 2023-02-04 05:49:17 PM

    Michael Fremer wrote:

    I wrote this so long ago I don't recognize it as mine but damn fine writing IMO, whoever that earlier me was....

    • 2023-02-04 06:51:40 PM

      Sloan Lamb wrote:

      But the past 27 (or just 7) years would have made the comparison / contrast even bleaker!

  • 2023-02-07 03:55:04 PM

    Joe Taylor wrote:

    I have the three LP set from 1972. Amazing document of a great man in full command of his talent. I used to have the Curran Theater set. Not quite as good, but still worth having. Same with the Berkley Concert. When I watched CNN's series on comedy, the installment on Bruce and the comics he influenced concentrated on their use of profanity. Bruce, Carlin, Pryor, Gregory--it was about the subjects they addressed, not just the language. Plenty of comics swear now. Few have the bravery these guys or even someone like Joan Rivers had. Or Zappa.