August 21st, 2017

RIP Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis has died at 91. You can read tributes to him here and here.

That first article calls him a “nonpareil genius of comedy.” I guess so, but his shtick—and slapstick in general—didn’t appeal to me. I do recall from my childhood that he and Dean Martin had a TV show I used to watch and must have enjoyed. But I remember nothing else about it except for a vague notion that it was the suave and slightly sleepy Martin I liked more than Lewis, who seemed to me at the time to be a grown man pretending for some strange reason to be a child. My preference in comedy teams was for Abbott and Costello, and especially Laurel and Hardy (whose movies I do remember).

But Lewis was indeed a giant, and lots of people the world over (yes, and in France) thought he was just great. He had a long and intense creative life and did a lot to raise money to fight muscular dystrophy. He was certainly a person who lived large. RIP.

13 Responses to “RIP Jerry Lewis”

  1. blert Says:

    I well remember raising $$$ for MD as a child — as one of Jerry’s kids.

    And that was 55 years ago.

    His M&L humor was not a factor for me.

  2. huxley Says:

    When I was young, I didn’t see much Jerry Lewis. Just “The Nutty Professor” and “Cinderfella.” I didn’t find him appealing, but I didn’t get the ridicule some people had for him.

    Years later I saw him in Scorcese’s “The King of Comedy” which I thought was brilliant, though uncomfortable to sit through. It also provided a glimpse of Lewis as a far more complex and angry person than his comedy persona and closer to the Lewis I read about in occasional articles and interviews.

    Weirdly, Lewis reminds me of Joni Mitchell. Both are unique, superb talents, well loved and celebrated by fans, yet seething with resentments. Somehow they manage to see their glass 5% empty instead of 95% full.

    Lewis was great fun as a guest star in a 1993 “Mad About You” episode playing an eccentric billionaire.

  3. John Guilfoyle Says:

    Neo – the other comedy duos you mention (and some you don’t like Hope & Crosby, Burns & Allen) will long outlive Lewis in memory…as will, IMO Dean Martin.

    Mr Lewis did great good in bringing MD to the eyes of the world, but as others have noted…seemed perpetually angry at someone & if a comic tried his schtick today there’d be accusations made that they were mocking the disabled.

    But it is fair enough to note the end of an era.

  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Slapstick does appeal to me but Lewis’ shtick lost its appeal fairly quickly for me. By my ‘preteens’ , comedically, I perceived him to be a one trick pony. It appeared to me that he played the same character over and over. Once you’d seen one of his movies, there was nothing new to be discovered in later ones.

    That impression lasted so strongly that later movies of his held no interest for me and perhaps from an adult perspective I’d have glimpsed what the French raved about.

    The anger sounds like work for a shrink.

    His work with the MD is to be deeply admired. Perhaps the two are connected, his love and generosity for disabled children denied a happy childhood might I suspect on a psychological level have strongly resonated with him.

    Despite my lack of interest in his comedy, the world is poorer for his passing. At least he tried to funnel his anger into laughter.

  5. M J R Says:

    So, how many neo-philes out there know that the same Jerry Lewis had a top-ten Billboard hit? (No, not Jerry Lee Lewis, but funnyman Jerry Lewis!) He played it completely straight in “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody”, which climbed all the way to #10 in 1956.

  6. parker Says:

    Never a fond of his public persona, but thought him a good person at heart. RIP.

  7. OlderandWheezier Says:

    Lewis did a lot of good, bless his soul.

    As for his comic persona, I don’t know that it was so much the slapstick, as it was his playing it out as an overgrown child desperately in need of Ritalin.

    Oliver and Hardy were very much masters of slapstick comedy. I still treasure their post-silent era short features. “Way Out West” and “The Music Box” seem to be the features that are most recognized these days. But there are (imo) even better gems, such as “Night Owls” and “Beau Hunks.”

  8. huxley Says:

    Followed up a bit more on Jerry Lewis and ran across this nugget of information:

    March 20 of 1965 I was closing at the Sands in Las Vegas and I did a flip off the piano, a wild thing that I shouldn’t have done. … And I landed on my spine and I did something to it … I’m laying out there, can’t move, paralyzed. … And I had to have two musicians carry me off the stage. … And for 37 years, I had pain every morning, every afternoon, every moment. Constant, unremitting pain.

    The end of his pain was one of those electronic pain blockers placed on his spine. Prior to that Lewis’s daughter caught him with a Beretta on his lap while Lewis was contemplating suicide.

    Constant pain is a bitch, as anyone who has suffered it will attest.

    I don’t know the full story of Jerry Lewis. I’m not surprised it is complicated.

  9. huxley Says:

    The other thing people forget is Jerry Lewis wasn’t just Jerry Lewis. He was a serious filmmaker who wrote and directed many of his films.

    Lewis approached it as a craft. He studied everyone’s job in making films. He knew the biz from top to bottom.

    Lewis even had a patent on a video setup which allowed him to view performances, including his own, on a monitor during the shoot.

  10. Sean Says:

    Hard to think of another major comedian whose popularity mystifies so many people… He always seemed a lot more interesting as a person than a comedian.

  11. Big Maq Says:

    By today’s standards much of the old comedy doesn’t seem much so.

    What has changed is the tone of comedy – snarky, cynical, political – which now passes for “funny”, even for so-called “family” movies.

    There is something refreshing about being able to enjoy a movie with the young ones that is maybe rather silly, but delivered well, and doesn’t alienate the audience, push an agenda.

    Lewis was one of many (e.g. Red Skelton) who made “silly” lighthearted comedy something of an art form.

    RIP Jerry!

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    Big Maq:

    I think Danny Kaye’s “The Court Jester” holds up very nicely. See this.

  13. huxley Says:

    Here’s a variation of the classic “Abott and Costello” routine, “Who’s on first?” done in 2012 on the Jimmy Fallon Show with Billy Crystal and Jerry Seinfeld.

    It sounds like the audience was enjoying it. Good to know some things hold up.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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