BEVERLY HILLS, CA--The amazing this about Jerry Lewis is that he's still here.
Dean's long gone. Sammy's gone, Frank's gone, almost all of those ring-a-ding-ding rat packers checked out years ago. Lewis, the subject of Encore's biographical documentary Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis (airing this fall), has had ticker problems for decades but endures. He's still raging, too, which may explain his longevity. At 85, he's too pissed off to shuffle off.
So getting to see the dude at press tour is a kick.
The laffs started even before we saw him. Starz/Encore boss Chris Albrecht got in an answer zone at the podium and Lewis was growing impatient. "Hey Chris," shouted Jerr from the wings, "I'm going to have to shave again!"
Most of the reporters covering press tour in 2011 weren't even born when Lewis stopped making his string of slapstick comedy hits of the '50s and '60s. Back when Abbott & Costello, Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Milton Berle and Groucho Marx all found new careers on television, young Lewis--together with Martin--was too big for the box.
That he's still making news 60 years later is news. Lewis didn't address it directly, but he is reportedly, after 45 years, being booted off the Labour Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. He told reporters he would hold "an international press conference" on Sept. 5--the day after the telethon--and will have plenty to say then about "what I think is important, and that's the future, not the past. Okay?"
Beyond that, Lewis joked, lectured, seized the room. Told the floor was open to questions from the audience he snarked, "Why don't we get one first?" A beat later: "I feel like I'm working to the Arabs for Christ's sake." At one point he gave his hotel room number to a female reporter. He did everything but ask for a C, a bouncy C.
Nobody took offense. The man is 85. He's Jerry Lewis, for Christ's sake.
Lewis praised Jim Carrey as the "most brilliant physical comic we've ever had." He says remakes of his glory day films--Cinderfella, The Bellboy, The Family Jewels--are in the works. (Rights to those films have reverted back to cagey Lewis in recent years.) He says there's not a day goes by he doesn't think of Dean.
He got pretty worked up over how "the industry has destroyed themselves." Doesn't sound like he's a fan of the iPad. "They put all their product on that goddam stupid phone. You're going to put Lawrence of Arabia on that stupid son of a bitch?"
He went right over the Irving Cohen bar on the subject of television. "I don't allow people in my family to use the term 'TV.' That's stupid. It's 'television.' It's a miracle. It's entitled to that respect." Sorta like Lewis.
Read more on Lewis as well as Rosie O'Donnell's knock out TCA appearance Friday here at toronto.com.