First of all: the legendary comedian Phyllis Diller is alive and well in L.A. Phyllis, New York misses you. Second, Phyllis showed up the other night for a tribute to Jerry Lewis put together by Starz channel President and CEO Chris Albrecht.The occasion was Gregg Barson’s documentary, “Jerry Lewis: Method to the Madness,” which premieres on Starz Encore on December 17th at 8pm. Good for someone for making a film about Jerry. And a good one. The revered comedian and filmmaker had to take it on the chin this fall when the Muscular Dystrophy Association turned on him. But Jerry Lewis is an icon. Our LEAH SYDNEY reports from LA that a bunch of stars turned out for Jerry including Diller, Woody Harrelson, John Landis, Richard Lewis, Norm Crosby, Carl Reiner, former David Letterman producer Bob “Morty” Morton, and Dane Cook.
After the film screened Jerry said, “Thank you for sharing my life with me. It’s amazing to sit there and to watch what you’ve done. I was introduced to this filmmaker almost four years ago. This film took 3 1/2 years to make. I usually take a lot of credit for the work I’ve done, but I can’t do that ,it’s Gregg’s deal and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. People used to go to a Jerry Lewis movie, adults didn’t understand it at the beginning. Then children helped them understand it ultimately. God bless children. Ok that’s it for the nice stuff. I’m going to Pink’s, have two hot dogs, go to the hotel, lie down and pray for Alka Seltzer.”
Featured in the film are Eddie Murphy, Steven Spielberg, Jerry Seinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Billy Crystal, Alec Baldwin, Chevy Chase, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Belzer, Richard Lewis, Carl Reiner, John Landis, Carol Burnett. At the event Albrecht introduced the film by saying, “Would anyone who is Jewish and involved in comedy please find a seat?” Then there was literally no one standing to the roar of the crowd. Jerry cracked up loudly.
So why doesn’t Jerry, who finally got an honorary Oscar, not have a Kennedy Center award? Director Barson told Leah: “It’s ridiculous. Jerry thinks it’s because he does lowbrow comedy. And they’re upper echelon and snobby. But if you think about it Jerry is highbrow. As Jerry Seinfeld said in the movie, ‘How does he come up with this stuff if you’re not highbrow? You have to be a genius, you have to be highbrow. ‘ As Seinfeld says, ‘Noel Coward and Jerry Lewis are equals.'”
Barson noted it’s ironic since Jerry was close friends with the Kennedys back in the Rat Pack days. His work with MDA and the Kennedy-Shriver family’s Special Olympics have a lot of overlaps. But the Kennedys don’t chose the Kennedy Center honorees. That’s up to producer George Stevens.
At the party, by the way, Jeff Goldblum entertained the crowd playing the piano, with Jerry scatting along and Woody Harrelson kneeling down to talk to Lewis. Woody–so good in the current “Rampart” that he may net an Oscar nomination– says in the film, “If you’re not a Jerry Lewis fan, I’m not interested in hanging with you.” Steven Spielberg says in the film, “I still pinch myself because Jerry knows who I am.”
MIA due to scheduling–Jim Carrey, whose debt to Jerry Lewis is like Prince’s to Sly Stone. Barson said he had a scheduling conflict.