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Arts Canadian Luke Kirby ‘stunned’ to nab Emmy nomination for playing Lenny Bruce

Luke Kirby attends the premiere of 'Glass' at the SVA Theatre on Jan. 15, 2019, in New York.

Evan Agostini/The Associated Press

It seems that playing envelope-pushing comic Lenny Bruce on “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is, well, just marvellous.

Hamilton-born actor Luke Kirby says he was “surprised” and “stunned” to have received his first Emmy Award nomination on Tuesday for his turn as the coarse New York stand-up in the late ‘50s.

The 41-year-old says playing a fictionalized version of the real-life provocateur has “been a dream,” noting he’s been a fan since high school.

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Kirby recalls discovering Bruce’s autobiography, “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People,” in his grandparents’ attic in London, Ont.

He’ll compete in a crowded category for best guest actor in a comedy series, facing rivals that include Adam Sandler, Matt Damon and Robert De Niro for their appearances on “Saturday Night Live.”

He also faces off against Rufus Sewell, another guest star on the Amazon Prime Video series. “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” leads the comedy pack with 20 nods.

“It’s insane, it’s so stupid – they should just have me come in with a broom and just sweep up the dust from under their shoes,” Kirby says of the seasoned competition he faces.

Kirby’s been around the block himself, logging nearly 20 years in the business since appearing in a New York production of “Troilus and Cressida” opposite Idris Elba in 2001.

Since then, his credits have included Canadian features “Take This Waltz” and “The Stone Angel,” HBO’s “Tell Me You Love Me,” Sundance TV’s “Rectify,” and NBC’s “Blindspot” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

More recently, Kirby’s been seen on HBO’s “The Deuce,” Netflix’s “Tales of the City” and “The Twilight Zone” reboot on Citytv.

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Kirby notes he’s been particularly busy in the past few years, and gushes over “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” role that has catapulted him to a new level of fame.

“It’s been a dream, it’s all been a bit of a dream,” Kirby said from his adopted home of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“The role has sort of always been close to me since Day 1. I was a Lenny Bruce fan from a pretty young age. The dream of playing him goes back to being in high school.”

Although he grew up in Guelph, Ont., Kirby says he comes by his New York accent honestly, noting his mother is from Brooklyn and that he’s been living in the borough for years.

He auditioned with a famous Bruce joke about sniffing airplane glue, studying the comic’s tics and delivery from an appearance on “The Steve Allen Show” in 1959 that was eventually replicated in the second season.

The role is a unique mix of historical references and wholly invented scenes with Bruce largely interacting with the fictional Midge Maisel, a housewife-turned stand-up played by Rachel Brosnahan. Kirby says he was wary of mimicking Bruce as he attempted to be true to the real-life figure, who died in 1966 at age 40 of a drug overdose.

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“I don’t know what the line is exactly because it’s a bit of a mystery to me. I think it’s kind of trying to keep the heart open during it all,” mused Kirby, who said the show is now halfway through filming the third season.

“It walks a fine line and my biggest fear going into it was knowing that Kitty Bruce was out there, his daughter. She might see it and I was just worried about doing that wrong in any way and she’s actually been very encouraging and supportive of the work.

“That has kind of made my life to know that.”

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