Monday, June 17, 2024

My 2015 Interview with Jerry Lewis “Colbert is Dull, He Should Work at Tiffany” and “I Listen to Dean all the Time”


from October 2015:


Jerry Lewis, Legend with a capital L, was interviewed for one hour by Oscar winning director Martin Scorsese at the wonderful Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. You know that Lewis starred in Scorsese’s “King of Comedy” in 1982, a modern classic. In the audience last night: Steve Buscemi, Emmy winning star of Scorsese’s HBO hit series “Boardwalk Empire.”

Scorsese and Lewis had a great discussion about film, and Lewis as a trailblazer director. I will post highlights a little later.

After the the one hour talk, I was backstage with Scorsese and Lewis, who will turn 90 in March 2016. Jerry is sharper than a tack, hilariously funny, and dead serious when he comes to filmmaking. We covered a lot of subjects in a short time, but two things stuck out.

One: does he listen to Dean Martin’s music at all? Does he have a favorite song? Martin and Lewis were one of the most famous comedy teams in history until they broke up in 1956. They didn’t speak for years but finally made up in 1989, a few years before Martin’s death in 1995.

Jerry jumped right in at the question: “All the time. Oh yeah.” A favorite song? “All of it. I hear it all. I have it on two Bose units in my home, in my car, in my office.” Does it make him feel good? “Yes, but it’s a tough feeling because I wish he was here.” I tell him what a fan of I was of Dean Martin. Jerry was emphatic: “You should be. Everyone was a fan of my partner’s.”

The other burning question for tonight: will he ever release “The Day the Clown Cried”? The answer, emphatically, is NO. “Why should I?” he asked rhetorically. The unreleased film is about a clown who is put to death by the Nazis with Jewish children.

“It’s bad work. The director did bad work,” Lewis said. meaning Lewis himself. When I told him that someone tried to release clips from it last year, he scoffed. “It’s never coming out,” he said. End of story. “I have the last 400 feet [of film] in a vault.”

He did tell me that he subbed for Johnny Carson for six weeks as host of the Tonight show back in 1962. “Johnny was out, getting a sex change,” Jerry said.

Part two

More from my hilarious interview with Jerry Lewis last week at the Museum of the Moving Image. Jerry had been interviewed earlier by his “The King of Comedy” director and old friend Martin Scorsese. Remember Jerry played Jerry Langford, a Johnny Carson-like talk show host in “The King of Comedy” who is kidnapped by Robert DeNiro and Sandra Bernhard.

Lewis, by the way, regularly guest hosted for Carson back in the day. He told me once did a six week stint for Johnny. When was that, I wondered?

“When Johnny went to have a sex change,” Lewis snapped back with glee. He is 89 and faster than you or I will ever be. Listening to him with Scorsese reminded me of the last time I saw Milton Berle perform– at Denise Rich’s famous original Angel Ball at the Sheraton circa 1999-2000. Berle was over 90, I think. I don’t know if anyone recorded it, but his 15 minutes at the podium were historic.

Lewis’s talk with Scorsese– which I hope will be available soon– was both insightful about filmmaking and wildly funny.

Backstage last week at MMI, I asked Jerry if he ever watches the new crop of late night talk show hosts.

Do you watch Jimmy Fallon?
He’s going to be very very strong.
I don’t watch Kimmel.
Letterman, I watched as much as I could
Do you miss Letterman?
No. No. [But] I liked him.
He should work at Tiffany’s.
Why, Jerry?
Because he’s dull.
Really? You don’t think Colbert is funny at all?
I think he’s very good. He’s very good. But you can’t take someone and place them in a spot that was excellence. He’s got a tough row to hoe, boy.
Is it fun being 90?
When I get there I’ll tell you.
When do you turn 90?
In March
Is it fun being 89?
Yeah! Everyday some thing new is broke!

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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