Friday, 8 January 2010

352: Lenny Bruce - Thank You, Mask Man

“Thank You, Mask Man”, 1968
Performed by Lenny Bruce,
Directed by Jeff Hale, animated by Imagination, Inc
(According to Albert Goldman’s doorstopping biography of Lenny Bruce, this routine dates back to 1962.)

“Masked man’s a fag!”

Unlike almost every other piece of the last month or so, in its subversion of childhood heroes this routine actually analyses the social consequences and impetuses of so-called heroism. Why are people “heroes”, and how are they perceived by the public? And what happens when they don’t fulfil the role we have set up for them? –i.e. not receive our gratitude with the appropriate social niceties, or lust after Tonto.
Like most Lenny Bruce routines this skit was semi-improvised and developed every night. This animation is therefore a recording of just one version, not necessarily even an optimum version. “The Essential Lenny Bruce” features a much longer version, which gets a lot of mileage out of making everybody heavily Yiddish. This version has a quick bit about syphilis instead. “The Essential Lenny Bruce” also has opening and closing sections which nicely frames Bruce’s reason for the whole routine, so I’ve included them in the transcript in brackets.

According to the cartoon’s producer John Magnuson, at early showings of this, gay audiences were upset by its apparent “fag-bashing”. And it’s true, part of the fun of the piece is just crying out “Masked man’s a fag”, scandalising and defacing the image of this all-American hero. But it’s within the larger context of Bruce’s analysis of heroism, and that the towns people reject the Masked Man is because of their prejudices, not because Bruce is asking us to endorse them.
Part of the reason why this is so successful and was worth animating is because Bruce has hit upon one of the modern myths. Modern youth may not be so au fait with the Lone Ranger in particular, but the single heroic cowboy who rides into save the day is a powerful icon. The cowboy is not merely the fodder of childhood games and entertainment (pow-pow, ptanng), but also inextricably binds American machismo with American history.

I do like the legally precise yet biologically evasive term “an unnatural sex act”. This cartoon was one of the joys of keeping the dial tuned to PBS stations so many years ago, the odd little films and cartoons used as fillers. I suppose all this stuff has migrated to Youtube now. But it’s not the same as having it unexpectedly blazon itself on your consciousness at 10.25 on a Wednesday school night.

Bruce testified in the Jazz Workshop trial in San Francisco about the Lone Ranger sketch. Prosecutor Ronald Ross had the following exchange with Bruce, as reported in THE TRIALS OF LENNY BRUCE: THE RISE AND FALL OF AN AMERICAN ICON.
Ross: Well, specifically, you are talking about...the unnatural act between Lone Ranger and Tonto...
Bruce: Yes...What's the most ridiculous thing that the Lone Ranger could do? We assume that it's completely incongruous...He wants the Indian...To perform an unnatural act. It is silly, you know...
Ross: In other words, you were not trying to say anything about the unnatural act, then? In other words, it was just for incongruity, then? Was it trying to raise a laugh from the audience? Was that its point?
Bruce: What do you want from me? Tell me—
Ross: Just your answers.
Bruce: I didn't--I didn't want to encourage anyone in the audience to be perverse or perform an unnatural act.


[There was only one guy – I just thought of a man now – Selflessness – a man who did it all for you, and wanted nothing in return. Ohhhh (sigh), what a good man, a man that never waited for “thank you”. Who was that good man? The Lone Ranger. He was truly that Corpus Christi image projected, a man that never waited for “thank you”. Cleaned up towns of five thousand people. Always did the same bit: The Silver Bullet; nod; and split – HHHHHYYYYYUU, SSLLLLLLVVVVVVAA....]

Redneck: Mask Man, what's your story, buddy? You know Mr. Di Angelo, he's hoppin' ass mad at you. His momma made all those hot pancakes and you run'd off. Run'd off and didn't wait for nuthin. How come you're so snobby you can't accept love or thank you from nobody?

Lone Ranger (noble tones): I'll explain - take your goddamn hands off me, you barbarians. The reason I never wait for thank you …see …ah...Supposing for once I wait for thank you?

Redneck: Thank you, Mask Man.

Lone Ranger: What's that?

Redneck: Thank you, Mask Man.

Lone Ranger: Thank you, Masked man!? Goddamn it, I like that! Let's hear it once again, son.

Redneck: Thank you, Mask Man.

Lone Ranger: Thank you, Masked Man. Ain't that sweet?

(In background) Mask man, help Mask Man, help we're being robbed, get the Mask Man!

Lone Ranger: Don’t break my balls now. I've helped you people a lot. I'm entitled to take one week off to get some “thank you”s. You're not gonna get nuthin' if you keep it up. All right, let's have it again.

Redneck: Thank you, Mask Man.

Lone Ranger: I'm gonna get a book, that's all, screw these people. I'll get a “Thank You Mask Man” book. I'll put it in the book. They'll say, "You in the shingle business?" I'll say, "You think I'm in the shingle business? - look at this: “Thank you, Masked Man. The people of Long Island.” Look at all the “Thank you, Masked Mans'"….I'm going down to the mailbox to see if the “Thank you, Mask Man” has been here today....Someone's been fooling with my mail, I know it. Someone is foolin' with my mail! Where is my 'Thank you, Masked Man?'

Preacher: There are no more 'Thank you, Mask Mans.' The Messiah returned during the night."

Lone Ranger: The Messiah? What has this to do with me?

Preacher: Well, you see men like yourself you thrived upon the continuance of segregation, violence and disease. Now that Messiah has returned all is pure. You're in the shit house.

Lone Ranger: Well then, I'll make trouble. Because I'm geared for it. And I must have a 'Thank you, Masked Man.' That's why I always ride off and never wait for 'thank you.'

Redneck: Man, you sure can talk some shit buddy! I got a goddamn headache. My head hurts me. What the hell you talking about -"Thank you, Mask Man--the people of Long Island"? Look, I work for the city. You know what I mean, buddy? I got a job to do. Now look, I'm here to see you accept a present, just one present. Do it for the kids and we'll get the hell out of here. What do you say?

Lone Ranger: Alright, for the children I'll do it. Give me…no ashtrays…Anything I like?

Redneck: Anything. Just take a whip, or a doll--any of them of things on the top shelf.

Lone Ranger: I tell you what…Anything? Give me that Indian over there.

Redneck: Who's that…Tanto?

Lone Ranger: Yes, Tanta…I want Tanta the Indian.

Redneck: What you talking about? You can't have Tanto.

Lone Ranger: Bullshit! You made the deal. That's what I want. I want Tanta the Indian.

Redneck: You gonna get your Tanta buddy. His name ain't Tanta it's Tant-o. What the hell you want Tanto for?

Lone Ranger: To perform an unnatural act.

Redneck: What!?

Lone Ranger: To perform an unnatural act.

Redneck: Oh, the Mask Man’s a fag. Bleagh! Blaargh! …Fag man! Bleargh, a dirty fag, you dang queer you. The Mask -fag man, ain't that a kick in the ass. Bet you got mascarry under that damn mask, ain't you? A dang queer, I never knew you a fag, Mask Man.

Lone Ranger: I'm not a fag, but I heard a lot about it and read “Expose” and I want to try it now to see how bad it is, just once. I like what they do with fags anyway. Their punishment is quite correct. They throw them in jail with a lot of men. Very clever, hmm-hmm! Wash him up and get him ready. Tell you what - give me the horse too.

Redneck: What the hell you want the horse for?

Lone Ranger: For the Act.

Redneck: Dang queer freak!

Growing reverberating chorus of disgust, cries of fag!

[I always wonder about the anonymous giver. Cause the anonymous giver truly is the egomaniac: “I’m so good – I’m not going to tell anybody.” That’s sick, man. I’m going to leave you with this, that the only anonymous giver is the guy that knocks up your daughter.]

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