Home > Entertainment, Good Stuff, Life > Jerry Lewis LIVE!

Jerry Lewis LIVE!

goodstuff1This post is partly a result of my procrastination about doing my taxes… but it is actually a tribute to a comedy legend.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not historically a Jerry Lewis fan (or probably wouldn’t admit it if I were) — but the other night I got to glimpse an extraordinary entertainer as he winds down his life and career, though one can hardly view the two separately.

I rolled my eyes when one of my pet sitting customers left me two tickets to see Mr. Lewis at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater this past weekend. JERRY LEWIS???? Why didn’t you just throw ’em out?? I took them home and thought, what the hell — I never go anywhere — so I told Mama N about them and she was thrilled.

nyc39625My impression of Jerry Lewis is of a slapstick, goofball comedian to Dean Martin’s straight man. Over the top, ridiculous — a cheap laugh junkie. I’ve never really seen any of his films, never watched a telethon for Muscular Dystrophy, yet I’ve always been aware of him, sort of like somehow I knew him.

So when he walked out on stage to a packed auditorium, I felt giddy (it might’ve just been the beer I had consumed earlier); I felt like it was my own dad walking out there. Lewis turned 83 in March and when he appeared on the Academy Awards recently to receive the “Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award“, he looked very shaky but gracefully accepted the award as we all thought to ourselves, this is probably his last appearance. It wasn’t until that night that I realized all he’s done through the gift of humor. 

During our show, they played clips of some of his best moments, including the show in 1973 when Frank Sinatra orchestrated a reunion of Lewis and Martin after the two had been estranged for 20 years. It was magical to watch.

jerry-lewis-photograph-c12141361He then invited people to step up to a microphone in the aisle for a Q&A period which turned into a tribute by devoted followers, and the children and grandchildren of his devotees. Damn, I couldn’t hold the tears back. One woman stepped up with her elderly widowed mother by her side and asked him if he’d consider going out on a date with her mom. With wonderful grace he told her he’d love to if he thought it would be okay with his wife. 

I ran into these two women after the show. Their seats were near the front and they told me that during the film clips when the stage was dark, the stage hands had Jerry sit down in a wheelchair and breathe through an oxygen mask for a couple of minutes. When the lights came up he was ready to go again.

I had another of my epiphanies that night… 

We live in a world today that is very sensitive to offensiveness. Most of us can’t get away with “humor” because it inevitably takes advantage of some minority group. A joke that Eddie Murphy can get away with can’t be repeated by, say, Michael Scott (Steve Carell) of “The Office”. 

As Lewis sat up there rattling off every kind of racially, ethnically, sexually offensive joke he could come up with, I laughed like a crazy woman, but meanwhile a truth was opening my heart.

I have been self-righteously critical of people of Jerry Lewis’ generation for their unrepentant use of “bigoted” language. They generally utter it without malice, but it rattles the eardrums just the same. I can’t seem to find the humor in their intent.

But I will make a leap to say that there was a time when this kind of talk was appropriate — in fact, it was even necessary. Our generation has gotten much more accustomed to an integrated world through all of our advancing technologies, but in their day things were quite different. There was the Great Depression, wars around the world, segregation, and a society that was changing its stripe every day. Serious stuff….

jerry_lewisIt was people like Jerry Lewis who took some of the sting away, who taught us to laugh at ourselves by laughing at him as he distracted the oh-so-serious Dean Martin by playing the fool. In a way, he helped us transition into a world that is not so different — just bigger. He reminds us that we’d better figure out how to start laughing about it or we’re gonna be in trouble.

Last Saturday night, that was not a fool up there on stage. That was a poised, reflective gentleman who, when asked by the audience for a juicy tidbit about his former colleagues, replied with an unexpected reverence about the people who fueled a generation of tabloids. This was a genius wrapping up his body of work and sharing its poignancy. The very idea that he can look back at such a time in history and still help us to find the humor is a testament to a trailblazer who is still sharing his message.

Categories: Entertainment, Good Stuff, Life
  1. April 7, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    I’ve always been a fan. Here’s the link to a video of my favorite thing I saw him do. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7ySmnxy29Q
    Everytime I watch it, it makes me smile.

  2. Mark Ebert
    April 8, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Now you know why so many people all over the world love him. I gladly count myself among them.

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