There are a few jobs in the world which puts you directly in the spotlight. As invasive and performative jobs go, there are probably no three more perfectly suited than poet, singer and stand-up comedian. Leonard Cohen, as it turns out, has been all three during his time.
The poet may have started out his life as a pure writer, dedicated to novels and of course his poems, but soon enough Cohen gathered fame and applause for his songs. Yet few people will know of Cohen’s penchant for being a stand up comic. In the 1965 documentary Ladies and Gentlemen… Mr. Leonard Cohen, we get a taste of Cohen’s expertly dry wit.
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada, the short documentary about the poet, then 30 years old and not yet taking on the moniker of ‘singer’ with any real verve, offers a sparkling insight into the evolving mind of the artist. An immeasurable snapshot of the literary celebrity he was becoming. You can watch the entire documentary below.
As well as filming some of Cohen’s readings and general literary dealings, they also filmed his reaction to some of the scenes they had already filmed, including one of him asleep. “It’s a very privileged thing, to be able to see yourself sleeping,” he says when watching. “I think it’s an experience very few people have.” He watches himself wake up, “I look much more like a man than I thought,” he adds.
“In fact, I think I’ve had a very, very mistaken conception about what style of man I was. I think the whole thing is changing now.”
Aside from the tidbits of a Cohen on his full dry-witted charm offensive, which for any Cohen fan is an essential watch, there is also an extra scene which features Cohen doing his best stand-up comedy routine.
The word routine may be a little over the top. The soon-to-be-singer actually just delivers a series of desert-dry anecdotes, quick-witted punches and wordplay, delivered from behind a stand and without a single smirk or raised eyebrow from Cohen. A deadpan comic if ever you’ve seen one, Cohen’s performance is perfect.
It would be a similar candour that Cohen brought to his live singing shows, later on, often using the interludes between songs to play a soft riff and speak with his audience, sharing a joke and a wry smile.
We didn’t think this could get any better, seeing Leonard Cohen as a stand-up comedian. That is, until, YouTube user stickstickly9 added the iconic bass soundtrack from Seinfeld. Enjoy below.