STEVE CUIFFO IS LENNY BRUCE
BY TYLER MONROE
Steve Cuiffo is a magician. Using sleight of hand, misdirection, card tricks, and imitation, Cuiffo (pronounced “Chiff-o”) is a master of illusion.
But perhaps the most astonishing magic trick up his sleeves is the way he channels the late comedian and social satirist Lenny Bruce in his solo performance Steve Cuiffo is Lenny Bruce. He does so with a mind-boggling precision that will leave your head spinning at the uncanny similarities between both performers. “For me, this show brings the great American satirist’s work to people who wouldn’t normally be exposed to it... the material is very much still alive.”
Cuiffo is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and began working after graduation as an intern at the Wooster Group, where he cut his teeth into the New York theater scene. From there he went on to perform all around New York at Radiohole, the Foundry Theatre, and with the Wooster Group.
In 2006, while working on a piece called Major Bang, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb, Cuiffo brought into rehearsal Let the Buyer Beware, a box set of Lenny Bruce tracks that his brother had given him. The hope was to use Bruce’s politically minded rants as inspiration for a section of his comedic, Dr. Strangelove - inspired investigation of the potential of nuclear annihilation. “I thought it might be a fun way to tell part of the story... Lenny Bruce coming back from the dead to talk about the war on terror.”
This gave Cuiffo his first in-depth exposure to the legendary satirist and resulted in his first staged imitation of Lenny Bruce. From there, Cuiffo’s fascination with Bruce’s pithy performance style and incendiary social commentary only grew.
“I don’t know why, but Lenny Bruce just hooked into me.” Cuiffo studied hours upon hours of recordings and began developing a kind of “performing pleasure” in mimicking Bruce’s intonation, rhythm, and timing. Eventually he had enough material to assemble Steve Cuiffo is Lenny Bruce.
Cuiffo has created what New York Magazine called an “eerily accurate” resurrection of several Lenny Bruce routines. He takes great care in preserving every stutter, aside, gesture, and vocal intonation that exist in Bruce’s recordings.
“Most people probably won’t catch it, but it’s gotten to the point where I actually get upset with myself if I miss an ‘uh’.”
In talking about why he would recreate a performance piece this way, Cuiffo explains, “I think you can only really grasp the meaning of Lenny Bruce if you’re sitting in a nightclub listening to him on a microphone in front of you.” In other words, Cuiffo is striving to get this cultural icon out of recordings and YouTube clips and onto a stage, right where Lenny Bruce belongs.
Tyler Monroe is a second-year dramaturgy student at the A.R.T./Moscow Art Theater School Institute for Advanced Theater Training at Harvard University.