Dallas Comedy House, Dallas, Texas’ premier comedy venue, declares, “Humor is subjective and comedy is personal” on their website. Salacious sage/infamous stand up comic Lenny Bruce might agree with that, with the addition of a few choice expletives sure to make somebody’s granny blush. August 4 and 5 Dallas audiences get the chance to encounter Bruce at DCH, back from the dead and in rare form, when Texas-based Joey Folsom performs Sam Bobrick and Julie Stein’s solo show Lenny Bruce is Back, launching a national tour to both coasts and destinations in between.
It’s not the first time Dallas Comedy House (DCH) has stepped out of the traditional comedy box (an on-going relationship with theatre creator/ entrepreneur Matt Lyle flourishes). It’s the unique subject matter (a controversial stand-up icon in a scripted stage play) and the potential to build and expand crossover audiences that perked DCH owner Amanda Austin’s interest. DCH has earned adoration from comedy audiences since 2009. Focusing on improvisation, sketch comedy, stand up and story-telling, DCH presents more than 100 shows per month, which translates into c. 4000 people buying tickets to get entertained. Austin comments, “We have two types of audience members: those who follow comedy and know the genres and those who just walk up for a ticket to see something funny. What we don’t see are a lot of straight-ahead, scripted live theatre patrons. When Lenny Bruce Is Back producer Bren Rapp approached me with her crossover idea, I jumped at the opportunity. DCH audiences fall mostly into the 25-40 age bracket with an even split between men and women. They are out for a fun evening and will be open to a scripted stage show. With the publicity Rapp is generating for this play, we hope to draw in some traditional theater crowd, too, and inspire them to come back for more. Everybody wins and broadens their base for entertainment.”
It’s the sort of win-win dynamic co-producers Bren Rapp and Joey Folsom sought when they set out to develop their national tour and launch it from their Dallas base. Growing new audiences for performance art is integral to the mission of Dallas’ Upstart Productions, where Folsom is Artistic Director and Rapp is Managing Director. New audiences mean younger ones. Like the 4000 who regularly attend Dallas Comedy house shows. Folsom and Rapp believe the multigenerational appeal of this solo show about the “father of counterculture comedy” will accomplish a cross-pollination that could have lasting impact and set precedent for future bookings. “We must address and bridge what many theater companies show reluctance to face: the attendance gap between aging patrons and less eager young theatergoers. The young are crucial to the sustainability of live theatre, so let’s find them in alternative venues they frequent, “ points out Rapp. “This tour isn’t a vanity project for me as an actor, “ laughs Folsom. “It’s a responsibility. We are breaking ground with this for new local audiences. We also seek to lay groundwork for future co-productions with viable companies, artists and venues across the country. Lots of national show tours come through Dallas, but when did you last hear about a national tour originating from here? Let’s put Dallas and its artists on the national map as creators and producers of good work. With Lenny Bruce Is Back the pressure is on me to give a good performance and open that door.” It’s a big order for a little known solo show and one strong actor, but Rapp’s outreach to non-traditional venues has inspired a second Dallas venue to join forces with the Upstart production solo show, expanding the launch.
As part of its Dallas kickoff, Lenny Bruce Is Back will offer a topnotch immersive experience at Viva’s Lounge, a popular burlesque venue in the Dallas Design District with two shows at 8pm and 11pm on August 11. When Rapp contacted Shoshana Portnoy, manager of Viva’s Lounge, about a booking, she stepped right up. “Lenny Bruce is revered in the burlesque world. He performed at many burlesque clubs during his career and married a burlesque entertainer. The idea of us featuring a one man play built around Bruce’s ghost coming back for an evening of stand-up comedy is fabulous. “ Viva’s is a premium burlesque venue in a city recognized as one of the top three burlesque centers worldwide (behind London and New York City). Dress code is casual to upscale at this 300-seat cocktail table style venue (500+ for a standing crowd). Audiences range from age 30-40, and more women buy tickets than men, with a big draw from the LGBT crowd. Portnoy reflects, “ I’d say over 60% of our audiences and the burlesque community are very aware of Lenny Bruce and his impact on stand up and social commentary. We’re offering a specialty cocktail called The C***sucker in honor of Lenny Bruce for the evening. The burlesque entertainer Vivienne Vermuth opens as warm-up. Our audiences will love this show and leap right in to interact with the artist bringing him to life on stage.” Tickets to the Viva’s August 11 show are Pay-what-you-can (via Upstart Productions’ commitment to making performance affordable).
How does Equity actor Joey Folsom feel about stepping onto stages where the fourth wall may just evaporate before him and leave the script and blocking behind? He’s pumped. “I brought in a trusted friend from my college days, Nathan Autrey, to direct, who now directs in New York City. He knows my acting really well. Together we’re creating a show where I have a great deal of flexibility to take it where it needs to go. Every town, crowd and venue will be different. Lenny Bruce Is Back is written as a traditional scripted stage play, but I have the potential to improvise with the stand-up comedy performance elements woven through the show. I am doing some anonymous stand up around town to get me into that headset. An actor must always be ready to improvise if needed. I have studied Lenny Bruce for years and wanted to perform this play for about a decade, look forward to the challenge stepping into the club venues offers me. Lenny comes back from the dead for this one big fantasy show. He’s in his prime, feeling great about himself, with a definite perspective on modern life. It addresses the needs of the nostalgia folks, but he knows about life today so it’s totally relevant. Whether it’s a traditional stage performance or interactive with the crowd, Lenny Bruce Is Back will be alive for its audience. I promise that.”
In keeping with Upstart Production’s dedication to bringing socially relevant work to new and expanding audiences, Rapp and Folsom take this show on the road into nontraditional venues in Chicago and Los Angeles, as well. The tour will finish as part of The United Solo Festival in New York this October. Today’s political climate in America has again brought the issues surrounding free speech, comedy as civil disobedience and satire as a vehicle for social change to the forefront of our cultural conversation. Lenny Bruce’s story as counterculture comic and satirist achieves remarkable relevance, one of timely, ironic historical precedent. While primarily comedic in design, Lenny Bruce Is Back profiles one of stand up comedy’s most controversial figures that challenged the perceptions of comedy’s purpose. Considered by many as the satirical equivalent of a martyr, Bruce was jailed and vilified in life and sainted in death for the path he paved for comedians and individuals alike regarding the freedom of speech.
Upstart Production’s Joey Folsom — charismatic, intelligent, driven, passionate about his art — shares many similarities with Bruce in personality. Both explode with impatience at the status quo. Riffing off a famous Bruce quote, Folsom thinks the Dallas theatre scene could “use an enema” to change its national perceptions as an art destination and build new audiences. Maybe, just maybe, this tour of Lenny Bruce Is Back will inspire the desired colonic effect. (“If you can take the hot lead enema, then you can cast the first stone.”)
For more information: http://lennybruceisback.upstartproductions.org/
Upstart Productions presents LENNY BRUCE IS BACK by Sam Bobrick and Julie Stein
Produced by Bren Rapp and Joey Folsom for Upstart Productions
Directed by Nathan Autrey
Featuring Joey Folsom as Lenny Bruce
FOR ADULT AUDIENCES
Dallas Comedy House
8:00p.m. Friday, August 4
8:00p.m. Saturday, August 5
10:00p.m. Saturday, August 5
*Stand up comic opening for the show at each performance
*Tickets $10 general admission @www.dallascomedyhouse.com/shows https://www.dallascomedyhouse.com/shows
Upstart Productions takes over VIVA’S LOUNGE in the Design District:
8:00p.m. Friday, August 11
11:00p.m. Friday, August 11
*Burlesque pre-show before each performance designed by and featuring
* Pay what you want admission at the door or table/VIP reservations in advance via donation to Upstart @ http://lennybruceisback.brownpapertickets.com/
The Second City-The Beat Lounge
10:30p.m. Thursday, August 24
7:30p.m. Friday, August 25
7:30p.m. Saturday, August 26
*Stand up comic opening for the show at each performance
*Tickets $13 general admission @http://www.secondcity.com/venues/chicago/the-beat-lounge/
Los Angeles Dates:
The iO West Theater-The Main Stage
9:00p.m. Friday, October 6
*Tickets $10 general admission @http://ioimprov.com/west/show-schedule/category/the-main-stage/
New York Dates:
The United Solo Festival-Studio Theatre of Theatre Row, West 42nd St.
4:00p.m. Sunday, October 29
*Tickets $37.25-$70.00 @http://unitedsolo.org/us/ufest/