Lenny Bruce, one of the greatest forward-thinking comedians who ever lived, once paid his own special kind of tribute to George W. Trendle and Fran Striker‘s classic western of radio, television, and the big screen – The Lone Ranger – with a brilliant monologue about why the Ranger never sticks around to be thanked by those he rescues, and why those individuals are better off not knowing.
Two years after Bruce died at the young age of 40, an animated short film was produced based on his deconstruction of the Lone Ranger.
You can watch Thank You, Mask Man here below.
Directed by Jeff Hale, a former member of the National Film Board of Canada, and animated at the San Francisco-based company Imagination, Inc., Thank You, Mask Man had difficulty for years getting booked for screenings at theaters and film festivals. Rumor has it that long-simmering industry animosity towards the late Bruce was the root cause. Ultimately the short garnered an underground cult following when it played several gay film festivals. Thank You, Mask Man popped up for years on cable channels like HBO and Showtime and was granted an official home video release in November 2005 when it was included as an extra feature on the DVD release of The Lenny Bruce Performance Film, which was directed by Mask Man‘s producer John Magnuson
All of the voices in the short were provided by Bruce himself, taken from recordings of his stand-up performance. To avoid costly but understandable legal repercussions the Lone Ranger was renamed simply Mask Man. In the story, Mask Man is always riding off into the sunset on his trusted steed before the townspeople can thank him for saving their lives again. This makes them extremely irate because they really want to show their gratitude with praise and gifts. One time Mask Man decides to hold off on galloping away after another job well done to accept some of the common folk’s gratuities, but what he requests does not sit well with them. It involves Tonto, a horse, and an “unnatural act.”
Due to some salty language – Bruce wasn’t known for working clean – and a few politically incorrect slurs I would not consider this video safe for work, but it is funny as hell and possible a better use of your time than seeing Disney’s The Lone Ranger this weekend (if the early reviews and increasingly overblown ad campaign are any indication).