Monday, June 19, 2006
Jerry Lewis: Love Him or Hate Him
Jerry Lewis, it seems, has always been a "love him or hate him" kind of performer. He's been called painfully unfunny and a comic genius; a self-centered egotist, and a warm-hearted philanthropist. Lewis' recent health scare (a mild heart attack) at age 80, made me think of the reasons I love this man's work. Lewis will act as silly as possible just to make someone laugh. So what's wrong with that? Plus, his perseverance with his life-long charitable work for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (regardless of bypass surgery, prostate cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, and an addiction to the medicine prednisone - which, for a time, blew up his face and body like a balloon) earns my respect. Now, some may say that it's just his egotism driving his desire to put himself out there -- to elicit sympathy for himself. Lewis is a performer (at one time the most popular film star in the country), and all performers have strong egos and a desire to be liked. What else would drive The Rolling Stones to still tour in their 60s, or George Burns to entertain until he was 100? I tend to think of the films Lewis has given us -- The Nutty Professor, Cinderfella, Who's Minding the Store?, The Bellboy, The Errand Boy, The Disorderly Orderly, The Geisha Boy, The Ladies Man, Three on a Couch, The King of Comedy, and even his "comeback" film Hardly Working, high among them. These films make me laugh. When Lewis acts like a goofball, I laugh. It's that simple. So I ask again, what's so wrong with that? Sure he's silly, and no, his shtick doesn't always work, but he always goes down swinging. So, I'm happy to hear Lewis is on the mend and that he not only plans to once again host his annual telethon, but also direct a musical version of his film The Nutty Professor for Broadway. I saw Lewis on the Broadway stage in 1995 when he performed in Damned Yankees. He was magnificent. If you've never seen a Jerry Lewis film and have stayed away because others have said he's not funny, do yourself a favor and rent a few. Decide for yourself. Selecting from the list above might be a good start. If you watch them and decide for yourself he's not funny, that's okay too. Like I said, Jerry Lewis tends to be a "love him or hate him" kind of guy. And I love him.