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How to Talk Dirty and Influence People Paperback – May 1, 1992

4.5 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1963, before the law and his drug habit brought the curtain down on the comedian, Hugh Hefner asked then-superstar Lenny Bruce to write his autobiography. Lenny hired writer Paul Krassner to help him edit the book, which appeared in Playboy over the next two years. Though it's uneven, and somewhat dated, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People deserves a look, if only to balance the movie Lenny, which many of the comedian's friends say missed the man entirely. The book is, simply, Lenny Bruce riffing on his life--from a drab childhood in Brooklyn, to stints in the navy and merchant marine, and finally to the nightclub circuit and eventual stardom. Of course, the veracity of any single anecdote is highly questionable, but How to Talk Dirty and Influence People rises above that, revealed as a fascinating expression of how this comedy icon wanted to be seen. Namely, as a rough-and-tumble kid from the streets, as a hustler and ladies' man, and, finally, as a fearless detonator of society's hypocrisy. (Notice that addict and dissolute don't make the list.)

In the movies ... Everett Sloane was a tycoon. He would get his gun off disillusioning Joel McCrea, who wanted to publish a newspaper that would make a statement, and telling him: "M'boy, you'll see when you get old that it's all a game." And I used to think, "No, it's not that way, this cynical old bastard is bullshitting, there are the Good Guys and the Bad Guys, the liars and the truth-tellers."

But Everett Sloane was right. There is only what is. The what-should-be never did exist, but people keep trying to live up to it. There is only what is.

How to Talk Dirty and Influence People doesn't catch Bruce's charisma and vaguely sinister electricity--no book could--but it is an interesting, lively read. Bruce was one of the first performers to usher in the new, more honest, more permissive, and more indulgent brand of American art. For anyone who wants to understand our comedy and culture, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People is well worth reading. --Michael Gerber

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Reprint edition (May 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671751085
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671751081
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,363 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
An excellent, if a little short, account of the life and times of the stand-up comic that helped changed the face of comedy forever.
Most of the book which starts with his childhood is presented in a stand-up format which makes for an entertaining read as you can almost imagine Lenny on stage orating this material.
In contrast, the two trial transcripts (thankfully truncated) are quite laborious to read, although that may well be the point. There is a nice piece following the section covering his second trial which describes the downfall of the arresting officer and the doctor who diagnosed him as a narcotics addict, despite significant evidence to the contrary. It gave this reader a suitably smug feeling, particularly considering the circumstances of this arrest and trial.
He is also refreshingly honest in the book, with frank descriptions of the scams that he participated in, whether it was posing as a priest to solicit money for a leper colony (from which he deducted 'operating expenses') or procuring guests for a popular TV show of the time. He also tells of some occasions where he was the victim of a scam, usually writing material for someone and not being paid for it, although he didn't name any names.
I have a fairly recent edition of this book and I'm only surprised that it hasn't had an 'executive editor' appointed to add italicised paragraphs here and there to complete his story along with a final chapter detailing the nature of his death and a suitable epitaph.
Anyone who likes honest stand-up comedy should read this book.
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Format: Paperback
Lenny Bruce may have been the greatest poet of mid-Twentieth Century America, 'though he never wrote a poem, because he did what poets ought to do--make you see, make you feel, make you realize that "the great" did things that they didn't want you to know about. He alienated President Kennedy so much that J. Edgar Hoover was unleashed to pressure local police to bird dog Bruce's nightclub act. The cops would lurk in the back, wait till Bruce said something vulgar, then bust him for obscenity. In court, the fuzz would do Bruce's act so badly that Bruce was convicted for their lack. He beat the rap, at the U. S. Supreme Court, but it took a lot out of his native optimism. He shot up on heroin till he overdosed--assuming it WAS suicide. Remember Marilyn Monroe? What's easier than knocking off a junkie with an overdose? With Oscar Levant and Alexander King, Bruce is one of the three great wits of America at mid-century. Worth your time, because he repays you with insight wrapped in laughter.
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Format: Paperback
I would recommend this book. The content of this book appeals to many people. Anyone interested in comedic history, a satire perspective, social empowerment and "toilet jokes", would get a kick out of this personal peek into secrets behind Lenny Bruce. I enjoyed this book for its humor and social analysis, as well as for the other interests listed previously.
This book is a lesson behind the acceptance and progression of comedic subject matter and language. The language used in this book could be described as crude or obscene, but I would describe as uncensored. Lenny reflects on culture and uses comedy as his outlet. Lenny wrote how he spoke. The text is a hilarious ramble of important events in his life. His commentary is as true and relevant now as it was forty years ago. It provides an education on the journey to become a stand-up comedian, promoting social empowerment and the struggle of being an individual at all costs. Lenny revolutionized stand up comedy, opening door for others in the comedic field. He wasn't afraid to talk about what no one else would, race, sexuality, religion, etc. Lenny didn't allow anybody else's standards determine the content of his performances.
How to Talk Dirty ... is a window into the past and the social standards of the time. When this book isn't making you think it will make you laugh. It contains bits that Lenny developed, some of his crazy scams, excerpts from his performances, as well as a transcript from a court trail against his use of obscenities, Lenny adds his humorous opinions in the text.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I really liked the first half of the book. It goes into funny situations and things this man has been through, for instance with a hooker dressed as a nun, and an older lady that was kind enough to supply him with fancy coats and orally delivered pleasure below.
As the book progresses after that it seems to go off into a direction where the man becomes more and more estranged from who he really was based on drug abuse. This to the extent that maybe he wasn't fully delusional, but he was far off from the critical questioning man, interested in the nature of language in itself in relation to the humor he conveyed.
It's both a good read about what made this man the great comedian that he was and the obvious demise, run ins with the law, and ultimate death of his character, unfortunately even before he actually died.
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Format: Paperback
This book will make almost any non-prude laugh out loud. It will also make you think quite a bit. I can't think of a better embodiment of the words of Lenny Bruce. The beauty of the book is that you find yourself in stitches for four or fives pages, and then-Wham!-he hits you right between the eyes with a vibrant piece of social commentary.
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