The stream of consciousness was oddly familiar. So was the wicked irreverence. And even the performer, restlessly stalking the stage, a compact dark young man with a shadowy beard, stirred the memory.
"What could you do to build a girl singer?" he asked. "The chick that comes out that makes them all go, 'Look at that! Gown they've done, hairstyle they've done, voice they've done. What could you do?"
The words were those of the Titan philosopher-comic Lenny Bruce, working out, in his thoughtfully meandering, ungrammatical, quietly savage way, a facet of his obsession -- the hypocrisy of those who determine what is fit to be discussed in public.
On Wednesday night, though, the words were spoken by Dave Mazzeo, an actor who was a year old when Bruce, then 35, first uttered them at Carnegie Hall in the wee hours of Feb. 5, 1961.
"What would I do that would really make you all look up?" Mr. Mazzeo said, completing the routine in a Lenny-like mischievous growl. "Chick comes out in a gimmick. Hair under her arms. Think about it. Hair under her arms, man."
Mr. Mazzeo, jittery in the Brucian manner onstage and off, was one of 15 men who showed up at the Top of the Gate in Greenwich Village to audition for a one-man show that would recreate the Carnegie Hall performance, a highlight of Bruce's career and a legendary New York evening in danger of passing from memory.
That night, in spite of a 17-inch snowfall that had shut the city down, nearly 3,000 people showed up at Carnegie Hall at midnight to hear the charismatic and often scatological riffmeister perform. And Bruce, at his jazz-like, improvisatory best, rewarded them with two hours of scathing rumination and confrontational commentary on race relations, religion, sex. His biographer, Albert Goldman, wrote that it "may have been the finest all-round performance of his career."
Wednesday's audition, conducted in the dim, empty club, with chairs turned upside down on tabletops, was in a way ordinary, with underemployed actors vying for work, psyching themselves up before their five minutes on stage by pacing the back of room, mouthing speeches into the air. Mr. Mazzeo shadowboxed.
But dressed in Brucian hipster garb -- the sloppy elegance of a man with nice clothes who appeared not to give a damn -- and affecting the intensely probing and desperate air that made Bruce a renegade hero, the aspiring Lennys, who ranged in age from 23 to 46, were reminders of Bruce's lingering cult appeal.
"I used to do all of Lenny's routines when I was a kid," Mr. Mazzeo said in an interview.
Bruce, who became a drug addict and died of a morphine overdose in 1966, was a man both of his time and ahead of it. Mentioning hair under a woman's arms would no longer constitute stunning bravado, but that, of course, was part of Bruce's point -- how ridiculous it is that words, images and modes of behavior, mutable as they are, have such enslaving power. The point continues to resonate. Indeed, during the audition, one actor caught himself using the word "woman." He abruptly backtracked and changed it to "chick."
Like his contemporary, the equally short-lived saxophonist John Coltrane, Bruce had an influence on all who practiced his art after him. The scatology of George Carlin. The name-calling of Don Rickles. Richard Pryor's sendups of racial stereotypes. Jackie Mason's Jewish confessionals. Even the woman-baiting charade of Andrew Dice Clay was foreshadowed by Bruce, who was arrested three times for public obscenity. His originality and his tragic self-destruction have been paid tribute many times, most prominently in the 1974 film "Lenny."
"When I was really young, I saw the movie," said Adam Nelson, 23, who came up from Philadelphia to audition on Wednesday. "And he was saying the things I felt like saying but was saying them better."
Chances are Bruce, a Jewish boy from Mineola, L.I., never had a more glittering moment than the night at Carnegie. It was a performance that predated his worst periods of addiction, his arrests and his subsequent obsession with the law.
Alan Pepper, a founder of the Bottom Line, a nightclub a few blocks from the Top of the Gate, attended the show that night. Then a teen-age Bruce addict, he remembers leaving his Flatbush apartment three hours early because of the snow.
"I plowed from the subway to Carnegie Hall," he said, "and I couldn't believe that there were so many other crazies like me. It was an incredible show."
Don Friedman, who produced the 1961 performance, said he had the idea to recreate it two years ago and has been looking for a Lenny ever since. The show is scheduled for the Top of the Gate on Oct. 13, Lenny Bruce's 67th birthday.
"Somewhere in New York there's a guy who loves Lenny, knows Lenny and has the heart to be Lenny," Mr. Friedman said, looking hopefully skyward. "And if he shows up here . . ."