The Cannes film festival was a couple of weeks ago and I was not invited for the 6oth consecutive year. They did, however, give Jerry Lewis some kind of award and an article in the New York Times had the obligatory quote from a French critic, miffed at America's failure to recognize his genius. France's love for Jerry Lewis is another stereotype for which I've yet to see much evidence. Months ago I saw a poster for Docteur Jerry et Mister Love ("The Nutty Professor") but this was in a movie memorabilia shop in Bordeaux so I'm not sure that counts. I've asked a couple of people here but their answers always fall a bit short of unbridled enthusiasm. In fact, they usually give you a look that says, "Why would you ask me this?"
Sometime in grade school I discovered an ability to make people laugh and so put some effort into being silly and stupid, like Jerry Lewis. It also came in handy once in a while on the recess bullies that brighten every schoolyard. My reasoning was that if I made these dickheads laugh, maybe they'd go easy on me. As it turned out, I still got my ass beat just as regularly but liked to think their hearts weren't always in it.
When I got older, and my sense of humor became a little more cerebral (at least that's what I tell myself) I found it effective to still keep a little slapstick in my repertoire and so turned again to Jerry Lewis. He used to do this shtick, and probably still does, where he put his mouth over the top of a drinking glass and I used it myself to disgust my sisters.After learning to drive, one of my favorite gags was to alternately floor it then slam on the brakes like I'd seen Jerry do in, I think, The Disorderly Orderly. In fact, I still use this to good effect on my nieces and nephews.
Two other factors mitigating for Jerry Lewis were that his movies once featured a woman trombonist (Lillian Briggs) and always featured the late Kathleen Freeman. You might remember her as the nun (The Penguin) in The Blues Brothers and I can still hear her in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show as she refers to her husband as, "stupid fool. Stupid, stupid fool." She could be the high point of a lot of not so hot movies like Dragnet, where she got my biggest laugh just by calling someone an "asswipe", but then we are talking about juvenile humor, aren't we? By the way, if anyone knows what I mean and where I can find that episode of Dick Van Dyke, I'd appreciate it.
But my favorite Jerry Lewis routine, by far, was from The Errand Boy, and seems to have spawned a cult of YouTube imitators and inspired a tribute on The Family Guy, which reminds me; my favorite Simpsons character has always been Professor Frink. Anyway, the scene I'm talking about here is a pantomime to a recording of Count Basie's band playing the shout chorus of Blues in Hoss' Flat and is in fact the genesis of my digging Basie to this day. As a kid I watched this so many times I could do it in my sleep but could never perform it publicly because I never knew the name of the recording until it was too late. A couple of years ago I did a few gigs with a band in St. Pete that played this chart but my offer to recreate the scene was foolishly rejected. But if you remind me the next time you're over, I can probably still nail it.