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.[need quotation to verify] Mainstream comic taste in the United States had favored more innocuous forms, such as the topical but (for the time) inoffensive 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.
As a guest at the first airing of the Playboy's Penthouse show in 1959, Lenny Bruce objected to a Time article indiscriminately grouping seven new comedians, labeling them as "sick comics". (These were Lenny Bruce, political satirist Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, Jonathan Winters, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, and Tom Lehrer.)
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."
- Luttazzi, Daniele (1995). "Preface". In Bruce, Lenny. Come parlare sporco e influenzare la gente [How to Talk Dirty and Influence People] (in Italian). Milano: Bompiani. ISBN 8845224457. Foreword to the 1995 Italian edition of Bruce's book.
- Bruce, Lenny (October 24, 1959). Lenny Bruce on Playboy's Penthouse (Part 3). Retrieved 24 September 2014. Also appears on the 2004 Bruce anthology Let The Buyer Beware, Disc One, last track Lenny On Playboy's Penthouse (with Hugh Hefner & Nat "King" Cole).)
- "The Sickniks". Time. July 13, 1959. Archived from the original on 25 September 2008. p.2 of 3 p.3 of 3