August 12, 2012
SPECIAL ETV SERIES: Jerry Lewis: The Devil’s Genius - Chapter One: NOBODY’S PATSY
A lot has been said about my life-changing experience in working with Jerry Lewis; and primarily by yours truly. Truth is, actions speak much louder than words. And no action speaks louder than sex. It was a lovely London Sunday morning. The last of the drunks had waddled home from the pub and were neatly tucked away into their own warm blankets of vomit hours earlier. A horse-drawn hearse clip-clopped across the cobble-stone by my Notting Hill multi-level flat, taking some lucky English soul to that big pub in the sky. The electric milk truck quietly spun its rounds, dropping off fresh milk and cream to my new neighbours, Madonna and her Brit-Gangster flick director husband, Guy Richie. My lovely girlfriend of five years, Emma, had just given me the greatest “wind-employment” since Hurricane Katrina herself, as a prelude for some foreboding news she was about to impart my way. Sitting down on the couch next to me, as if she was about to announce she was secretly pregnant with Prince Harry’s child, Emma let me know, in no uncertain terms, she was leaving me. The reason was Jerry Lewis. Emma was sick of hearing my Jerry Lewis story. She was sick of my talking about it, writing about it, performing a one-man show about it, and most of all: Emma was sick to death of hearing of a “film I was developing with an Oscar winning producer based on my historical life-changing misadventure with Jerry Lewis.” She could care less and thought my obsession with Jerry Lewis was well beyond the pale of normal comedian madness and suggested I immediately seek psychiatric help, which I did, but my psychiatrist then left me for the same reason (he was a Dean Martin fan), but there was no “wind-employment” there, and why should there be, that would be just wrong, let me continue. You see, for me it was all business. Jerry Lewis was the biggest thing to ever happen to my career. When Jerry Lewis collapsed at the London Palladium, September 8, 2002, it made international news. Go ahead, Google it. We’ll wait. Ladies and Gentlemen, while the skeptics can’t wait, let me thank you, my loyal readers, who will politely wait until I’m done. Oh, they’re back. Was I right? ‘Nuff said. When Jerry Lewis collapsed at the London Palladium it created a flurry of questions hurled at me from all ends of the comedy industries in London, New York and LA; all repeating the same mysterious and annoying mantra, as if I, a “still-trying-to-figure-it-all-out-comedian” had somehow possessed the answer to the meaning of life itself:
“Did Jerry Lewis fake his collapse?”
. Or the irrefutable fact that Jerry Lewis remains the only person to ever dominate both movies and television at the same time. Jim Carrey never did that. He was one, then the other. Jerry Lewis was number one in television and movies
at the same time
. Forget the Video-Assist. Jerry invented the Comedy-Assist. Jerry Lewis, for all his faults; for all his flaws: Vanity, compulsiveness, erratic and condescending behavior, are really only minor blips (if not indicators of) of one of the greatest comedic science minds of all time. If the Oscars had a comedy category, Jerry would dominate, but they don’t and Jerry would agree with me that the reason they don’t is that they don’t understand comedy and how it works. I got news for you all. Nobody does. Pure Comedy as a value unto itself sometimes gets lost in Hollywood, in the very same odd way the MDA spookily erased the patron saint of sick children Jerry Lewis from their future branding. What numbskulls. That’s just dumb business. The Tonight Show With Jay Leno is a completely different show than The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Johnny was the star. Jay is just “with”. Maybe that’s ‘cause Jay is more of a regular guy than Johnny and Jay’s tip of the hat to his hero. Be that as it may, beyond a doubt, Jerry Lewis is living proof, that just like nuclear power, you have to accept the bad with the good with everybody. Jerry just happens to be better at both than most. That’s his sin. My sin was yet to be revealed. As my friend and oft personal guru, Beano says, “I like people. It’s their behavior I sometimes have trouble with.” And Hitler was an excellent dancer.
……and so in closing, in honor of your great accomplishments in Comedy and Charity, I hereby invite you to come to London (First Class travel and accommodations) to perform at The London Palladium and receive the first ever High On Laughter Award. I thank you for your kind consideration and very much look forward to hearing from you.
As I drove down to meet my childhood hero, little did I know, I would be drafted and braced to go down in Show Biz History, as the man who inadvertently nearly killed Jerry Lewis.
September 8th, 2002
Sunday night at the London Palladium
The audience had been enthralled by twelve great comedians from the US and the UK, including Zach Galifiniakis, Bobcat Goldthwait, Emo Philips, Paul Provenza, Rick Overton, Boothby Graffoe, Earl Okin, Rick Right, Jim Gaffigan, Shelagh Martin, and the pretty-great yours truly. All of us went up on that great plank of wood still scuffed by the shoe tattoos of Laurel & Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Judy Garland; and of course, Martin & Lewis. This was my show now, not Budd Friedman’s or Mitzi Shore’s. I was the producer. The man in charge. Over eight months of prep-work, investing my life savings by re-mortgaging my Notting Hill multi-level flat along with the hardened experience of two previous years’ High On Laughter shows, made this show the biggest of my career. Career? Who was I kidding. I was a mid-forties comedy refuge and this was just another pathetic —albeit, very expensive—showcase. High on Laughter is a comedy-charity show I created that benefits Turning Point Scotland, a drug and alcohol charity launched by Princess Diana. I had gained a small buzz, doing my infamous “farewell performances only” stand-up act, where I told every audience I was “addicted to the laughter and had to quit” and every show was my last. I performed over 5,000 “farewell performances” in 16 years, and now I wanted to help real addicts as a poetic gesture of goodwill. Plus, the charity endorsed me. Peter Grahame, one of my best mates, who runs the oldest and best comedy club in London (Downstairs at The Kings Head) slowly makes his way over to me backstage that Sunday night of “The Palladium Incident.” I could see the look in his face. It wasn’t good.
The first story Jerry told me was about Steven Spielberg. How after E.T. premiered in Cannes, the Jaws-dropping director got an incredible standing-O, which just wouldn’t stop. Spielberg, as if he were merely an actor who had just performed Richard III for The Queen, directs the audience to a royal box and elegantly bows. King Jerry stands up and waves graciously to his loyal subjects. I snap out of it. Where’s this flippin’ lunch? Jerry asks me if I’d like another Popsicle. A what? Two-and-a-half hours of Jerry telling me this story and that story. How he got drunk with Peter Sellers, partied hard with Jack & Bobby Kennedy, Peter Lawford and, of course, Marilyn. He was handing me loose chapters of his upcoming book, “Dean and Me,” assistants were giving me more and more popsicles, so much so, that I had to excuse myself several times to pish, and once in his bathroom, I couldn’t help but notice the multitudes of antibacterial hand sanitizers. When I came back to the main cabin, Jerry does what Jerry does best. He takes over. Jerry Lewis listed – as if I was his Errand Boy – what he needed from me. Seven people traveling with him, First Class, Five-Star accommodations, 24-hour limo & security, a giant video screen, plus a 36-piece orchestra. On exit, I told him I was filming the entire thing. He said, “Fine! But I charge $150,000 for 12-month worldwide rights!” I was okay with that. I had Jerry Lewis. What was I worried about? I left in search of a burger and drove back to LA. The next morning, he calls me up, his voice all nasty-like.
“Steven Alan Green? This is Jerry Lewis.I’m not doing your show!
And without missing a beat, I said, “Good! Who the hell needsyou
Jerry laughed and we became instant friends. Scratch that…we became partners. Scratch that too. He became my boss. He’d be calling me up every day. I was going on Buffy auditions, the phone was ringing off the hook, I was praying it wasn’t Jerry Lewis. The High On Laughter Award? Jerry wanted me to call it The Charlie Chaplin Award, but when I checked with The Chaplin Estate in Paris, and they said “No way, nes pas?” Jerry harrumphed and said, “That’s Okay. We’ll call it The Jerry Lewis Award!” (“And the nominees are: Jerry Lewis…Jerry Lewis….Jerry Lewis…Jerry Lewis….and Myron Pickleman.”) I was actually giving Jerry Lewis, the first ever Jerry Lewis Award. (Can you see why my last psychiatrist actually fired me as a patient?) Meanwhile, my publicist in London never even heard of Jerry Lewis and thought I was bringing over Jerry LEE Lewis! And it turns out most of modern day Britain never heard of him either. After all, England is another world; they never even heard of Jay Leno or Dennis Miller. Why? They don’t get HBO or NBC over in England. I needed a film star. A legend. And because Jerry had reneged on his very important promise to give me two weeks for press interviews, to be there for me, even though he said: “Steven, nobody knows what it’s like to produce a big show like I do, I’m gonna be there every step of the way,” on the word of our publicist, just for insurance, I booked a gifted British comedian sight unseen, who had just won the prestigious Perrier Award up at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Daniel Kitson’s opening line, as Jerry had locked himself in the dressing room with my wife Tamsin, telling her he was upset with me for making the advertising say: “Starring Jerry Lewis” but he wanted “Honoring Jerry Lewis” (which he never told me) the two bodyguards in my employ were now telling me, “We work for Mr. Lewis now” and not allowing me access to my star…The British dysfunctional comedic genius Daniel Kitson’s opening line was: “It’s always been a dream of mine to play a third-full Palladium to people who’ve come to see a dying man
.” And indeed, it seemed as if that little joke was all about to sadly come true…
The stage was set. The 18-piece orchestra sat in front of a giant projected “High On Laughter” logo, instruments in their laps, no musical charts because someone in Jerry’s crew forgot them and when I asked Jerry about them at rehearsal, he screamed at me again, but this time in front of the entire crew: “I’ve been in Show Business for 50 years! I’ll give you a show and you’ll like it!” Bobcat Goldthwait (whose earlier set stole the show) returned to the stage to the mass approval of the audience. You could just feel the anticipation. Showing sincere appreciation for his chaotic comedic soul-mate, Bobcat introduced the clips, explaining that, “Jerry Lewis didn’t just pave the comedy road we’ve all conveniently travelled on; he pretty much invented it.” The giant video screen descends and my heart literally stopped, as I realized that this was a huge moment, not just for me, but for my friend Jerry. Black and White Buster Keaton Jerry, Vegas Nightclub Jerry, Telethon Jerry, Errand Boy Jerry, Cinderfella Jerry; all of them, sparkling like comedic Rushmore moments in time; Dean Martin mysteriously absent from them all. The live audience at the Palladium laughed alongside the relatively ancient audiences recorded in some of the video. I was seeing my dream come true. That I, Steven Alan Green, once considered the worst thing you could call a comedian: unfunny; having discovered the ugly duckling truth that another country – a much smarter and older country’s culture, would appreciate even a lowly wretch like me for what they saw as, “Brilliant!”—was now sharing my archeological find (the great British comedians and audiences) with the world. I believed that, indeed I was in fact resuscitating the fallen career of my childhood hero. Looking back at it now, I must’ve been crazy, and if you can add all that up and hold it in your mind’s breath for just a moment, then let the reality of the following situation become your exhale.
As I hid in the wings, watching the comedy genius who turned my childhood tears to laughter, stand on the opposite end of the Palladium stage, staring up at the video clips on the giant screen, of himself fifty years previous, thin, young and at the top of his game…then watching The King of Comedy wistfully look out at the less than sold-out house, and then…and then….heCOLLAPSES! Boom
! To the floor! I literally said out loud to myself: “I’ve just killed Jerry Lewis.” Oxygen (which he conveniently had demanded last minute before he’d get on the plane from Vegas) was rushed to his side. I had to go out on stage and announce that “Unfortunately, Jerry Lewis was taken ill and taken to hospital…pray for Jerry,” that announcement getting on the AP and reported worldwide. Jerry was stretchered out to an ambulance, briefly smiling while removing the oxygen mask, simply to whisper to his filmmaking friend Pierre Etaix (whom I flew in from Paris at Jerry’s request) “I’m okay, Pierre!” But, I wasn’t so sure my friend was okay.
The bodyguards (still on my payroll and yet mysteriously now in Jerry’s control) were now guarding the ambulance at the back of the Palladium as if it was a mobile Rat Pack wet-bar and I was Jack Carter. They wouldn’t let me near King Tut. The ambulance screeched off down Oxford Circus, slowly strobed by a pathetically small flutter of paparazzi flash, which magically seemed like Medieval fireflies as seen through the prism of light English drizzle. The official report from the London Ambulance service was, “a man whom we cannot name, was picked up at the stage door at the London Palladium on or about 11pm on the 8th of September, 2002, was treated on site for minor exhaustion and taken directly back to the Dorchester Hotel.” I can’t prove it, but my guess is that passenger was probably Jerry Lewis. My announcement made international news as The King of the Pratfalls flew back across the pond home the next day on my dime, without so much as a “would you like my autograph?” I later heard he told Gareth Valentine, the orchestra leader, moments before, “If I fall, just leave me there.” And the endless repeating question began, as every comedian, every comedy agent, and every club owner asked me the same exact goddam question. A question, which, to this day – nearly 10 years later – I still cannot begin to answer. “Did Jerry Lewis – the King of the Pratfalls – fake his collapse
?” My answer to everyone was always, “Jerry Lewis is the greatest comedian to have ever lived. Jerry Lewis is my friend,” and then I’d walk away wondering if they bought any of it. After all, although every contemporary comedian is completely fascinated with Jerry Lewis himself, few of them will ever admit he indeed is their secret comedy pleasure.
Enjoy the Veal,
Steven Alan Green
Part Two of “Jerry Lewis: The Devil’s Genius” to be published next month.
FACEBOOK TWEETS OF THE WEEK:
It’s Barton Fink hot!
Until this country accepts mental illness as a real illness and offers unabashed treatment for those who think they might be mentally ill, there will continue to be crazy public massacres, as well as Romney supporters.
Gun violence, over-medication, mental illness, financial strife, bitter politics…America. The greatest country on the planet! Well, at least we have Montel Williams. And some Olympic gold. And Betty White. And Burning Man. And Taco Bell. As I was saying, This is the greatest country on the planet!
I’m tired of all these so-called “Hate Groups” here in America. From the KKK to the Tea Party. How ‘bout a “Love Group”? We can organize and we can….You know what? Let’s just have Group Love.
Everything’s like midget porn out here in LA. Nobody wants to give an inch.
LATE BREAKING NEWS: The Mars Rover Curiosity has discovered Mitt Romney’s tax returns!
One of the primary missions of the Mars Observer is to see how dim Mitt Romney is from outer space.
THIS WEEK’S COMEDY RECOMMENDATIONS:
Beth Lapides’ Uncabaret upcoming shows:Sunday Aug 12: Mary Lynn Rajskub, Rick Overton, Christian Shirm, Karen Kilgariff, We Govern We, Sunday Aug 19: Casey Wilson, The Sklars, Rory Scovel, Selene Luna, Sunday Aug 26
: Mary Birsong, Michelle Lee, Carlos Kotkin
Perry Kurtz @ The LA Comedy Awards @ The Hard Rock Cafe,This Friday, August 17
. The Hard Rock Cafe, 6801 Hollywood Blvd #105, Hollywood. Red Carpet at 7pm. Showtime 10pm. No Cover. Parking: You’re on your own.
ODDZ ‘N ENZ:
Regarding Caleb Medley, the local Aurora, Colorado stand-up who was severely wounded in the so-called “Batman Massacre,” I’ve spoken with some of his friends and he’s hanging in there. Please, if you can, the Medley family has a huge hospital bill. Donate directly to the Caleb Medley fund set up by his family. Thank you.
To hire a comedy writer or to complain about anything: email@example.com