I’ve rescued this story from the rubble of my four months with Forbes.com. It appeared this past March 2012.
Jerry Lewis turned 86 yesterday and got quite a nice birthday party from the Friars Club. Richard Belzer interviewed him last night at the 92nd St. Y, Lewis did a lengthy and hilarious Q&A with the audience, and then Paul Shaffer played “Happy Birthday” to him on the piano with an audience singalong. Veteran comic and actor Jerry Stiller came and sat third row center and even asked a question: “Did you and Dean rehearse your act?”– and he seriously wanted an answer. Jerry joked a lot of his answers, and got lots of applause from an audience that included Robert Klein, David Steinberg, and writer-actor Robert Smigel (“Triumph the Comic Insult Dog”). The audience was full of showbiz people including producer Bonnie Timmermann, Rita Cosby, and director-producer Antonio Campos.
Lewis was brilliant, revelatory, and emotional–especially with a former MDA kid, now adult, who lives with Cerebral Palsy. When one audience member asked about Jerry getting fired from the MDA telethon, the comic was philosophical. (I’ll have more on that on Monday.) On the subject of former partner Dean Martin, Lewis said: “Dean Martin was without question the least appreciated performer in show business…For ten years my partner read reviews where his name wasn’t mentioned. And he dealt with it with such dignity and class…I called him Paul, his real name…I said, we have a magical combination. He said, I’m ok, Jerry. He was a great gentle man about it.”
PS Belzer put together a stunning film of birthday greeting clips from everyone connected to “Law and Order” as well as Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and Joe Piscopo, who was in the audience and also does a very cool Lewis imitation.