Ten Things You Should Know About Jerry Lewis
By John Saleeby
Jerry Lewis - The greatest American comedian of the second half of the twentieth century. What? No, forget about Richard Pryor, Jerry Lewis is the greatest American comedian of the second half of the twentieth century. Sid Caesar? What, are you kidding me? Jerry Lewis is the . . . Woody Allen!?! Get outta here! Jerry Lewis is the greatest - Bob Hope? That guy couldn't have been more washed up after VJ Day if he was Emperor Hirohito! I'm tellin' ya, Jerry Lewis - Steve Martin!?! Will you people leave me alone!?! This is what I get for tryin' to get some writin' done in one of these cockamamie Starbucks! Gimmee a large coffee to go, I'm goin' home!
Hey, I don't care of you agree with me about Jerry Lewis or not, but before you write me off as a nut - here are ten things about Jerry Lewis you really oughta think about -
1 ) Jerry Lewis And Lenny Bruce Were Buddies
Huh!?! Lenny Bruce, the revolutionary junkie genius of underground hipster counter culture comedy, buddies with a hokey cornball like Jerry Lewis? But it's true, Jerry Lewis and Lenny Bruce were close friends throughout their lives (Well, throughout Lenny's life, anyway.) Just as there was a side to Jerry Lewis that liked to hang out with sleazy jazz musicians, smoke pot, and chase nasty women there was also a side to Lenny Bruce that wanted to make Hollywood movies, live in a gigantic mansion and have a hundred zillion dollars. But if Lenny Bruce was going to try that he would have been in competition with Jerry Lewis and he would have gotten his greasy ass kicked. So, instead of the Hollywood movie thing with the mansion and the hundred zillion dollars, Lenny had to come up with the "alternative" revolutionary junkie genius underground hipster counter culture comedy thing with the smelly hotel room and just enough cash to score some heroin and maybe a little speed. "Yeah! That Hollywood movie scene is Squaresville! I don't need that crap! This is where it's at, man! This is cool . . . this is happening . . . Oh God, I gotta ask Jerry to give me a job next time I see him! Oh God, my life sucks! I'm depressed . . ".
2 ) Jerry Lewis And John Kennedy Were Buddies
Oh yeah, The Rat Pack - Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Peter Lawford - were all over that candy ass Camelot singing and dancing and jumping around like a bunch of monkeys trying to get JFK's attention, but to Frank Sinatra's unending frustration all JFK ever had to say to him was "Hey, where's Jerry? Have you seen Jerry Lewis, lately? What a cool guy!" This drove Sinatra so batty that Peter Lawford was specifically assigned the job of keeping Jerry Lewis and JFK apart at any cost. There is in fact no such disease as Muscular Dystrophy and there was no such crisis as Soviet missiles in Cuba, Peter Lawford just made all that stuff up to keep Jerry Lewis and JFK apart so Sinatra could have Kennedy all to himself. How queer can you get? The worst moment of Frank Sinatra's life was when he got Marilyn Monroe to sing "Happy Birthday, Mister President" for JFK and Kennedy's immediate reaction was "Wow! That was great! Nobody does a funnier drag bit than Jerry Lewis! He is THE BEST! Hey, Sinatra! Don't just sit there! Go get My Man Jerry over here to hang out with me! Hey, Sammy Davis and Peter Lawford! Get the hell away from me and go get some Italian food for Jerry! Did you know that Jerry likes Italian food the most? God, he is sooo cool!"
3 ) Steven Spielberg Has Cited Jerry Lewis As The Most Influential Of All His Instructors At Film School
I bet Lewis taught Spielberg that the single most important thing for any movie to have is a zillion shots of people staring at something offscreen as if it were the most amazing thing they have ever seen. Of course in a Jerry Lewis movie it's always Jerry Lewis they're staring at while poor Spielberg has to resort to shots of people staring at such far less interesting things as gigantic sharks, UFO's and dinosaurs. Judging from the only comedy Spielberg has ever directed. "1941", Professor Lewis was too busy talking about lighting, composition, and editing to spend a lot of class time on how to make an audience laugh. I think Steve Allen musta taught that course.
4 ) Jerry Lewis Gave Norman Lear His First Job
Everybody knows Norman Lear, the sit com producer who brought social consciousness to television when he created "All In The Family," "Maude," "The Jeffersons," and "Good Times." But do you know who gave Lear his first big break in show business? Huh? Huh? Go on, guess. Let me give you a little hint - You are reading an article about him right now. That's right, Meathead - Norman Lear was discovered by . . . JERRY LEWIS!!! Think about that for a second - If it wasn't for . . . JERRY LEWIS there would be no Archie Bunker, no Dingbat, no Stretch! No Maude, no Arthur, no Adrienne Barbeau bouncing around like nobody's business! No George Jefferson running around in his deluxe apartment in the sky screaming at Weezie and making cheap jokes about that interracial couple and the stupid British guy! No J.J., no - Okay, we'd all be better off without that show. Yes, if Jerry Lewis had never given the young Norman Lear his big break Lear would be some poverty stricken loser sitting all alone in his squalid apartment writing comedy routines for the internet that he's not even getting paid for. Now I am depressed.
5 ) Woody Allen Wanted Jerry Lewis To Direct His Movies
When Woody Allen began making movies critics were soooo impressed that he directed his own movies. And then they'd make snotty remarks about the French being soooo impressed that Jerry Lewis directed his own movies. And then twenty years later it was revealed that Woody Allen only directed those movies because Jerry Lewis was too busy to direct em for him! So does this mean the French were right after all? It does if you think it's okay to run off with your wife's step daughter. But just close your eyes and imagine how different the world would be today if Jerry Lewis had directed Woody Allen in "Take The Money And Run" and "Bananas" . . . Ted Nugent would be President Of The United States, Jay Leno would be managing a car wash in Toledo, Doctor Laura and Ellen Degeneres would be doing a Las Vegas magic act with lions and tigers, I'd be producing the hit NBC sit com "Make Room For Furniture" starring Howard Stern . . . Now I'm really depressed.
6 ) Jerry Lewis Was Supposed To Direct Eddie Murphy's "Nutty Professor"
Although Jerry Lewis certainly would have done a better job (Just nod your head like you agree with me before I slap you.) than whoever Murphy finally got to do it, this idea was obviously doomed from the very beginning. Both Jerry Lewis and Eddie Murphy are the kind of raving Hollywood egomaniacs who are gonna give everyone shit and won't take any crap and with both of them giving the other one shit but neither one of them taking any crap that is way too much shit and crap flying around than anyone can stand to think about. Sorry this one had to be so distasteful, but by now you should be used to this kind of thing every time Eddie Murphy comes up in conversation. Let's move on before we get to the transvestite hookers. Sorry.
7 ) Jerry Lewis Fired Mel Brooks
In 1960 Mel Brooks was the hottest comedy writer in television. Jerry Lewis, however, was The Number One Top Dog Big Shot Superstar in the entire entertainment business and - Just to put the hottest comedy writer in his place - Jerry hired Brooks at three thousand dollars a week just to sit in a chair nodding his head and going "Yes, Jerry . . . Yes, Jerry . . . Yes, Jerry . . . " while Jerry shot his mouth off all day long. Jerry finally fired Brooks when he caught him on the phone with Carl Reiner working on bits for their "Two Thousand Year Old Man" album. Screw Carl Reiner, Jerry had every one of his meetings with Brooks recorded Nixon Oval Office style - that woulda made a real kick ass comedy album called "The Three Thousand Dollar A Week Yes Man". Carl Reiner! Huh!
8 ) Jerry Lewis Tried To Hire Stan Laurel
Any of you kids know who Stan Laurel was? He was half of The Golden Age O' Comedy team of Laurel And Hardy. Kind of a Depression Era Beavis And Butthead . . . What? Who are Beavis And Butthead? My God, maybe Steve Allen was right! . But anyway, anyway, anyway, Stan Laurel was one of Jerry Lewis' favorite comedians as a child and when he found out that Laurel was retired and living in poverty he immediately made a visit to Laurel's house to offer him a job. But Laurel knew that Lewis was only making the offer out of charity and politely sent Lewis on his way back to the millionaire's part of town. And then he went back inside and split a can of dog food with his wife.
9 ) Jerry Lewis Hired Dick Cavett
If you thought Chevy Chase's talk show in 1994 was a bomb you shoulda seen the one Jerry Lewis had on ABC thirty years earlier. My poor father escaped the nightmare of Vietnam only to have his brain liquefied by this cataclysm. One of the writers for this legendary dud was Dick Cavett, the highfalootin', intellectual Ivy League smarty pants who had his own talk show on ABC a few years later. (And now they've Ted Koppel and Bill Maher going up against Letterman and Leno. I betcha they almost dumped Koppel and Maher for Magic Johnson.) At this point in his life Jerry was so psychotic he was going around screaming about booking people like Winston Churchill and The Pope as guests on the show, so I'm sure Cavett, who would be known for having people like Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal as guests on his show, was assigned to write questions for Jerry to ask Winston Churchill like "When you first conceptualized the strategy to attack the Turks at Gallipoli during the First World War do you have even the faintest inkling at all what this operation's impact on your future career as a leader of the British people and are you thirsty, Mister Nice Prime Minister From England Person? ( Spill glass of water on Prime Minister Churchill. )" Jerry's talk show was cancelled after a very short time and Cavett's show was cancelled after what felt like five hundred and fifty eight million years.
10 ) Jerry Lewis Is A Technological Innovator
Even Jerry Lewis was the ultimate electronic gadget nut and the very first thing he did once he started directing movies was attach a video camera to the film camera so he could always tell what was being filmed just by looking at a portable television monitor. The studio had a technician named Bruce Denney write up an analysis of Jerry's invention but, even though Denney praised it as brilliant, it was decreed that no one but Jerry Lewis would be allowed to employ it. Strangely enough, the very first thing that happened once Jerry Lewis stopped making movies was every movie crew in Hollywood suddenly had a video camera attached to the film camera so the director could always tell what was being filmed just by looking at a portable television monitor. Jerry Lewis never made a dime off of any of this, although if you look up the patent to the stupid goddam gizmo I'll bet you dollars to donuts it has Bruce Denney's name on it.
Man, Jerry Lewis is Far Out. He even influenced the way younger comedians got messed up on drugs! First Jerry Lewis fell down trying to get a cheap laugh, hurt his back, and got hooked on Percodan. Then Chevy Chase fell down trying to get a cheap laugh, and got hooked on Percodan. Shit, I'm already hooked on Percodan, why should I bother falling down to get a cheap laugh outta you bastids?
Hey, get a loada this - Just this week the same guy who got locked up for stalking Jerry Lewis died in prison! I guess that musta been the same guy that kidnapped Jerry and wouldn't let him go until they let him do his stand up act on Jerry's TV show, huh? Too bad he died before he could get outta prison and have his own TV show, that autobiography of his was hysterical! (A little "King Of Comedy" humor for all you artsy Scorsese squareheads. Jesus, even "Three On A Couch" is a better movie than that piece of crap.)
And Remember - THINK PINK!
Want to read more of John's historical footnotes to the world of comedy? Check out Interesting Motherfuckers - Doug Kenney and Michael O'Donaghue, an article discussing the founders of National Lampoon!
John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer than he was when you met him earlier.
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