There’s a rule that prop comics are generally considered gimmicky hacks who use toys to hide their lack of talent. There’s also a rule that there’s an exception to every rule. Actually Lenny Schultz, whose birthday is today, is the exception to a lot of rules.
As a kid I knew who Lenny Schultz was. He was a comedian who sometimes appeared on the game show Make Me Laugh but mostly performed for kids. On a short-lived Saturday morning show called Drawing Power he played an animator—the show was a combination of live action set in an animation studio and educational animated shorts. And he did a series of public service announcements with the tag line “There’s a smart way to watch TV”, offering everything from how fight scenes are staged and why TV shows have commercials to suggestions that you should do your homework before you watch TV.
At least that’s who I thought he was. In the 1970’s Lenny Schultz was better known around his home town of Manhattan as a regular at the Improv who did outrageous, sometimes X-rated standup using props and costumes, encouraging the entire audience to say, “Go crazy, Lenny!” Some well-known comedians refused to go on after him because he could drain so much energy out of the crowd and yet many of them also admired his mugging and zaniness. He was respected as a high-concept performer and innovator and for his fearlessness. Once impersonating a lizard he ate a live moth.
And yet there was another layer to him under that. He was a successful comic who never quit his day job—a P.E. teacher at a New York public school. When he performed on school nights he’d usually leave the club early. And if you’ve never heard of him that’s because he mostly retired—occasionally performing at a few hotels near his home in the Catskills—in 1992. After years of “Go crazy, Lenny!” he went quiet, leaving the world to wonder who he really is.