My mother wasn't an educated person but one of her iron laws of wisdom was that celebrities generally make pretty piss-poor guides to the big questions in life.
You could be inspired by them, sure, and find their lives interesting and diverting but, come on already, she'd argue, they get paid for acting or singing or playing ball, and most of them were even dumber than her. She loved Gregory Peck, for instance, but rejected his politics (not because he was a lefty; she just rejected politics generally). She went to see Cary Grant on his farewell speaking tour across the country but refused to try LSD. She liked Joan Crawford but only drank Coke products. Go figure.
Which brings me to Jerry Lewis' fascinating, hour-long interview on EWTN's World Over program. For the past several decades—at least since his never-finished, much-discussed Holocaust picture The Day The Clown Cried shut down—Lewis has been a punchline, mostly for the wrong reasons.
As Brian Doherty and I wrote many years ago for the late, lamented Suck.com, when it comes to comedy and much more, we are all Jerry's Kids now. The 90-year-old Lewis wasn't simply a little bit great but a truly transformative cultural figure whose influence on Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, and countless other mirthmakers is obvious, enduring, and almost always unacknowledged.
And that only scratches the surface of his influence and creative genius:
An early dadaist in the straight entertainment world, the pre-Dino Lewis employed a self-designed advertising postcard featuring such phrases as "Platter pantopatter!" and "Naive Frank Sinatra imaginational imagery," like a man playing surrealist word games with himself and losing.
His films regularly broke the fourth wall, with the "real"Jerry entering the action and insisting that he was only acting (often badly), even when pitching cancer sticks (during his disastrous early-'60s ABC variety show, his cigarette pitch involved holding up a pack of L&M smokes and shrugging, "Here it is. You wanna smoke it? That's your business"). When ersatz tough guys like Joe Pesci and James Caan brag of mob connections, they are not impersonating Sinatra so much as ripping off Cinderfella, who helped usher in the age of Mob Chic every bit as much as Ol' Blue Eyes (Lewis performed asimilar trick for Jewish consciousness as well).
Indeed, Jerry has always puffed up with pride regarding his connections to La Cosa Nostra, bragging that goodfellas and goombahs galore give generously to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Need we point out that through his yearly self-immolation for the MDA, Jerry is the Australopithecus africanus from which all glory-hound,"altruistic" stars ultimately trace their ancestry?
He also created a video system for monitoring on-set filming that revolutionized moviemaking and is still in use.
On the EWTN show, though, Lewis is every bit as awful as the character he played in The King of Comedy. Lewis gives honest and self-important appraisals of contemporary comedians (Tina Fey's humor comes from her "brain"), late-night-show hosts (he loathes Colbert, likes Fallon), and his enduring popularlity in France. "When you show up in Cannes," says his fawning interviewer Raymond Arroyo, "Forget Angelina Jolie. It's Jerry Lewis everyone wants to see." "Pretty much," says Jerry.
He is a yuuge supporter of Trump, too, as Raw Story transcribes things:
"He's a showman, and we've never had a showman in the president's chair," Lewis said.
"You had Ronald Reagan — he was a bit of a showman," Arroyo noted.
"That's different. You can't make a comparison with Ronald Reagan," Lewis countered. "I can do three hours on him with just praise, he was so good."
And he is steadfast in keeping Syrian refugees out of the home of the brave and the land of the free. When Arroyo asks about "the refugees" and notes that "there's a humanitarian crisis" in the Middle East, Lewis interjects:
Refugees should stay where the hell they are!…
Hey, nobody has worked harder for the human condition than I have, but they're not part of the human condition….If 11 guys in that group of 10,000 are ISIS, how can I take the chance? I don't want to lose another Frenchman or another Englishman. That bothers me.
I'm sure it does, Jerry, I'm sure it does.
And mom, if you're looking down on all this, I just want to say: You were right all along about celebrities.
Click below to watch Lewis' comments about refugees and la condition humaine.
Hat Tip: Mediaite.