The Week (US)

The pioneering comedian who delighted in breaking sexual taboos



Rusty Warren went where few other women comedians dared in the 1950s and ’60s. While tame by current standards, her routines were sexually frank enough to get her banned from TV and radio. Yet seven of her 15 comedy albums, which bore titles such as Knockers Up! and Sin-sational, sold more than 500,000 copies each. Speaking and singing in a husky, knowing squawk, she lampooned the absurditie­s of pre–sexual revolution attitudes toward gender and sex years before Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller went mainstream. “I was talking about women who had sex and liked it,” Warren said. “But at that time, women weren’t supposed to like it.”

Adopted as an infant and raised in suburban Boston, Warren initially seemed destined for a career in music, said The New York Times.

A pianist trained at New England Conservato­ry of Music, she began “performing harmless fare” in nightclubs in the 1950s. As she interacted with audiences, her piano-and-patter act grew bolder and bawdier. The title track of 1960’s Knockers Up!—a live recording that remained on the Billboard chart for three years and sold an estimated 4 million copies—is a marchlike song in which Warren exhorts women to thrust out their chests in a display of female pride. “Warren’s career slowed in the 1970s,” said The Washington Post, and though she performed on LGBTQtheme­d cruises after coming out as a lesbian, “she had largely retired by the 1990s.” But fans remembered her. Years after Warren’s heyday, some would bring their grown children backstage to meet the comedian. “Sometimes the children will tell me about playing my records,” she said, “and that their parents hadn’t hidden the records well enough.”

Rusty Warren

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