Sunday, August 20, 2017

Jerry Lewis (1926-2017)

Jerry Lewis wasn't so much a comedian as a one-man demolition derby. His gift lay not in building a gag but in destroying it.

He arrived on the scene in the late 1940s, making his television debut with his partner Dean Martin on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town in 1948. At a time when the stresses of the post-war world had turned America into a nation of nervous conformists, Lewis took a maniacal delight in smashing conventions and expectations with broad physical humor and nonsensical gibberish.

Lewis and Martin were a marvelous team, especially in the early days working nightclubs together. Lewis was an anarchist, and Martin served himself up on a nightly basis as a straight man to be wrecked — the guitar to Lewis's Pete Townshend.

The movies tamed them to a degree then in 1956, split them apart. Lewis without Martin was a flywheel without a drive shaft. The Nutty Professor definitely had its moments, but the rest of his solo work was uneven at best. The telethons raised boatloads of money but boy, could they get maudlin.

As a teller of his own life story, Lewis was a consummate bullshit artist. His self-regard was legendary. But he was sui generis and his death is another light gone out.


Bellotoot said...

Well done, sir! I saw his movies with Dean Martin, his solo films directed by himself and others, his TV shows, his telethons, read his book on filmmaking; many hours of Jerry Lewis. Some of it was very good - some of it was awful. I wanted to see both. (Wish I'd seen the nightclub act with Martin - I suspect that was best.) I couldn't stop watching him; and I won't. RIP, Mr. Lewis.

Mythical Monkey said...

I'm really glad we went to see him when we had the chance. Even at the end there, you could see some of what made him what he was and I think I got more insight into his work in a couple of hours than I had watching him my whole life.

I came to Lewis backwards -- first the telethons, then his solo work, then the movies with Dean Martin, then finally that clip of them doing their thing in the nightclub. So for me, he improved as I aged, which is a neat trick I recommend to any great talent.

mister muleboy said...

With a bog cock on it!