A Chat with Ronnie Marmo, Author and Performer of the Upcoming I’M NOT A COMEDIAN… I’M LENNY BRUCE

Next month for two likely sell out performances comes a one man show that has received consistent sell outs around the country. At the North Coast Repertory Theatre lucky attendees will see I’M NOT A COMEDIAN… I’M LENNY BRUCE, as directed by Joe Mantegna and starring critically-acclaimed actor Ronnie Marmo. Notably, the production comes with the blessings of both Kitty Bruce (daughter of the late Lenny Bruce) and the Lenny Bruce Foundation. 

The show unbundles the controversial life and death of a groundbreaking personality, who is insufficiently known to many people.

I had the chance to speak with the show’s star as he was heading out from eight sell out shows in Buffalo and Rochester. Marmo described how he first became aware of Bruce through an old school acquaintance who had written a play about Bruce’s life. Marmo performed a six month run of the play, and then he revisited it a year later. But the further Marmo got into Bruce’s story, the more Marmo wanted to include Bruce’s actual routines, so Marmo set out to write his own take.

“It took five years. It was a stretch of my boundaries, but in a good way.”

Marmo mounted his play at Theatre 68 in Los Angeles, hoping for a six week run, but it ran for 18 months. It then ran in NYC for 9 months. In Chicago it had two separate six month runs.

“I feel really blessed,” Marmo admitted.

I asked him how Joe Mantegna got involved. For an earlier production Marmo had a role in mind for Mantegna, so sent a letter to a PO box and three days later Mantegna called asking to have lunch. Marmo continued, “Joe is like a Dad. He has exactly the right, gentle hand for this production.” Knowing that directors don’t often visit once the production is underway, I asked how often does Mantegna come to the shows? “We have had 415 performances, he has been to 150,” Marmo marvelled.

Marmo pointed out that during the production there are gasps and audible reactions from the audience, which he likes. “I am so worried about cancel culture. Comedy clubs are a sacred place, we need a mirror to stand up to society.” We landed on the same historical precedent, that of the court jester, who would go unpunished for speaking his mind. Truth to power, indeed.

There have been various reworkings of Bruce’s place in history, including Dustin Hoffman’s eponymous turn in Bob Fosse’s film “Lenny.” Marmo admitted that he originally thought it was George Carlin who set the stage for frank discourse on the comedy stage, but Marmo loves the Bill Maher quotation that “Lenny planted the seeds and I get the shade.”

Marmo and I closed our chat inevitably about a recent Lenny Bruce portrayal, that by Luke Kirby in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Ronnie heaped praise on the performance and the show, “Kirby does a great job with what they give him, it’s her show not his. That show has been a blessing for us, it has sold thousands of tickets. I look out at the audience and half the audience is 30 years old. I feared when I set out with this show I would be limited to the blue haired crowd in Florida.”

With First Amendment issues becoming ever more present in the public’s radar, a look at a personality who took his free speech issues all the way to the Supreme Court will provide lucky ticket goers a thoughtful evening indeed.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.