Sick comedy

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This article is about a late-50s stand-up comedy style. For gross or sexual humor, see Off-color humor.

Sick comedy was a term originally used by mainstream news weeklies Time and Life to distinguish a style of comedy/satire that was becoming popular in the United States in the late 50s.[1] Mainstream comic taste in the United States had favored more innocuous forms, such as the one-liners in Bob Hope's routines. In contrast, the new comedy favored observational monologues, often with elements of cynicism, social criticism and political satire, which audiences at the time may have found controversial.[citation needed]

Lenny Bruce in 1959, guest at the first airing of the Playboy's Penthouse show, reported that Time made an article indiscriminately grouping seven new comedians, labeling them as "sick comics"; they were Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl (an author of political satire), Shelley Berman, Jonathan Winters, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and Tom Lehrer.[2]

Script doctor Daniele Luttazzi says: "the term sick comedy then ended up being used to encompass a bit of everything: the humor of the Mad magazine as Jules Feiffer, the cartoons by Charles Addams as the monologues by Mike Nichols and Elaine May, the traditional comedy by Shelley Berman and the hipster comedy of Dick Gregory."[1]

When Time magazine labeled Lenny Bruce as a "sick comic", he replied: "The kind of sickness I wish Time had written about, is that school teachers in Oklahoma get a top annual salary of $4000, while Sammy Davis Jr. gets $10,000 for a week in Vegas."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Luttazzi 2001
  2. ^ "The Sickniks". Time. July 13, 1959. Archived from the original on 25 September 2008.  p.2 of 3 p.3 of 3
  3. ^ Lenny Bruce The Tribunal