Jerry Lewis will not return to this year’s Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon in September, the organization said in a statement.
This was supposed to be 85-year-old Lewis’s last year on the telethon (as he announced in May), but on Wednesday night, the MDA said Lewis has “has completed his run” as chairman for the orgnaization.
Just last week at the Summer TV Press Tour, Lewis told reporters he would hold an “international press conference” on Sept. 5, the day after the telethon, to announce his future plans.
Every six months, when television critics come to Los Angeles to trudge heroically through another TV Press Tour, listening to hour after hour of patter about new shows, most of which are destined to become industry flotsam and jetsam, do not blame them if they play little games in order refresh themselves, as rain refreshes the parched earth.
One tour, the game might be Press Tour Bingo. Another tour, it could be a drinking game. But absent inspiration, there’s always the old fallback: Goad the Old Guy.
This year, Jerry Lewis came to Press Tour because Encore network will telecast the documentary, “Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis” in the fall.
“Hi folks. The war is over,” Lewis said, as he was brought out on stage, in re the lack of wild cheering and applause from the critics, who tend to refrain from such displays of enthusiasm. True, some of them had just come from that orgy of fangirl-and-boy-dom known as Comic con. But, with only rare exception, they know how to play serious journalists when the occasion calls for it.
“We’re going to take some questions from the audience,” Starz’s exec vp programming Stephan Shelanski says to kick off the Q&A.
“Why don’t we get one first?” Lewis snaps.
An electric thrill runs through the room. He’s old.
He’s fair game.
First question is about his invention, years ago, of some sort of gadget that helps directors watch playback, and is widely used in the industry.
“My children love it,” he says of the money he’s made off this gadget.
Mild laughter in the room.
“My grandchildren are going to love it even better.”
“I feel like I’m working to the Arabs, for Christ sake!” Lewis complains.
What does the name “Method to the Madness” mean to you, a critic asks Lewis.
“It means that any minute you could be in the home,” Lewis snaps. A handful of critics titter.
“I’m getting them! That was four!” Lewis screeches of the titterers. “Keep track – see? That was four! We got a contingent over there that looks like they’re ready for the funeral.”
Oh yeah. Game on!
One critic brings up Lewis’s Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon. MDA announced in May that this Labor Day would mark Lewis’s last year hosting the 24-hour orgy of fundraising for a good cause.
(Remember, last year, at a news conference on the eve of the annual telethon, Lewis had volunteered his prescription for straightening out Lindsay Lohan: “I would smack her in the mouth,” then added, more compassionately, that Lohan and others like her are “children . . . begging for help.”)
“Who told you that?” Lewis snaps.
“I read it somewhere,” the critic says.
“I never read it,” Lewis barks. “Do you remember when the New York Times printed ‘Dewey Wins?’ I rest my case, pal!”
Most of the critics appear to have no idea who this Dewey is, but the thing to focus on is that their arrow had hit its target. The Old Guy is getting goaded.
No turning back now.
Another critics asks Lewis to talk about his one-time partner Dean Martin – a sensitive subject, given that they had split on a sour note decades ago, though the two reportedly did later reconcile. He refuses, petulantly, to go there because, he says, “in order for me to talk about my partner, I would need some time, because he earned that.”
“What does it take now versus then, to pay dues in the business and become a great comedic actor and person, like yourself?” asks another critic. That always gets old guys going.
“You just have to be bad,” Lewis scoffs.
And, speaking of “bad,” the TV business is “running around knocking their brains out trying to see how we beat the fat lady at 375 pounds and in four months she’s going to be 240 [pounds]. Who gives a [--!!]!” Lewis rants, now on a roll.
“And the kids they get on ‘American Idol’! They’re all McDonald’s wipeouts! They’ve all been dumped. They’ve worked there and now they’re doing that! And, of course, they all play a guitar, which takes the place of music!”
So, how goaded was the old guy? Here’s what else Lewis had to say about TV:
“When I watch [television] I want it to grab me. I want it to be like I ran home and I made sure to be there. Before [---!!] ‘Law & Order’ went on, and long before the ‘Jack Web’ cop shows. Where we ran home to see [Milton] Berle on a Tuesday night. Nobody wants to run home now and see anything. They run home and hope there’s something on…They put all of their product on the [---!!!] stupid phone. You’re going to put ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on that stupid [---! ---!! ---!!!]? That gets me crazy!”
“There won’t be television in three years. Why? Because Proctor & Gamble says, ‘Are you nuts? You want me to spend a $1,600,000 for that variety show, when I can get the fat lady to lose weight for 62,000
From here on out, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel:
“I’m just curious – how do you feel about Twittering, Facebooking, iPadding?” one critic asks Lewis.
“It’s a wonderful technical advancement. [People] don’t need to be told by some celebrity, ‘Well, that’s a lot of crap.’ It’s not a lot of crap. If you want to load up your life with all of that stuff, it’s there for you. And use it to your own best interest. But we’re not going to have human beings in 20 years. That’s all.”
TV critics roared approval. This was maybe the best game of Goad the Old Guy – ever.
But you don’t get to goad Jerry Lewis for free. You have to sit through a Jerry Lewis exit-gag. It went like this:
“So I hadn’t been on the subway train in 35, 40 years. And I took my daughter to New York for her 19th birthday, and
we had a wonderful time. And I said, “Danielle, wouldn’t you like to see what the subway is like?”
“Yeah, Daddy, I’d like that.”
“So we get on subway train. And my daughter and I are sitting somewhat like this, and it stops at a stop, and a guy comes on with leather pants, rings from his nose, rings from the ears, tattoos this large over his neck and collar… and chains coming from every orifice. Now, his hair was spiked. It was yellow, green, red, purple. And I’m staring at him.
“So the young guy says to me, ‘What’s the matter, old man, didn’t you ever do something extraordinary in your life?
“I said, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact. Twenty-five years ago I had sex with a parrot. I thought you were my son’.”