As you all know, Jerry Lewis passed away yesterday at the very respectable age of 91 - and while I wasn’t his biggest fan in the world, his influence cannot be denied. I can’t help but wonder how many of my several “sillier” stories would have been written had I never laughed out loud to so many of his movies as a kid and young adult. He even shows up in my story “Pictures of My Campaign” from the “Michelle” collection. So I thought it might be nice to share a distant-but-fond memory.
I actually saw him perform live many years ago somewhere around Boston. And at the time, I wondered what he could possibly do to still entertain me, and actually doubted that he would. After all, he’d become more known at this point as a rather earnest but somewhat long-winded telethon host, having not written or released new movies in years. But I had the opportunity and took advantage of it.
And he was great. Sure - there was an old-school show-biz vibe to the whole thing, with a big orchestra and tuxes and lights, etc. But in general, this was a true one-man show: he told stories, sang songs, showed clips of his movies (and that televised reunion with Dean Martin), and performed some physical comedy.
And he told several jokes, in a manner making you think he was spontaneously relying on a mental rolodex from the probably thousands he’d overheard in a lifetime onstage.
Yes - they were mostly PG-rated jokes, good for the whole family. But I NEVER remember jokes, which I’ve always found a bit strange, as comedy is such a big part of my stories and songs. So here we are - twenty, maybe thirty years later - and I can STILL recall TWO of the jokes from that performance.
And so, in tribute to one of the true pioneers of comedy, here are the two jokes I still remember. While I’m sure they’d be better heard live, this is the best I can do.
As part of his act, he’d lead the orchestra and cut them off briskly to turn to the audience, tell a fast-paced one-liner, and then instead of an immediate, old-time “rim shot”, he’d quickly start the music up again, only to stop them again for another corny - and almost always funny - joke. In my memory, although this can’t possibly be true, he must have stopped and started the band over thirty times.
Jerry stops the band. He turns to the audience. “There’s this Mexican firefighter with twin boys.” He stops to make sure we understand. “A MEXICAN FIREFIGHTER” he repeats, stressing both words, “with TWIN boys.” He nods. “The first one is named ‘José’.” He pauses a second. “The second one is named ‘Hose-B’.” He abruptly turns and starts the band up again.
Once again the band, in mid-swing, is stopped with one dramatic fling of the baton. “An elderly lady approaches a very elderly man. She says if he would let her touch and feel his private parts, she’d be able to tell him exactly how old he is. He thinks about her proposal, murmurs how, well - there’s nothing much else really going on, and he allows her to make an attempt. She puts her hand down the front of his pants and takes a leisurely and extremely thorough physical examination. Then suddenly she removes her hand and points directly at the old man. ‘You’re eighty-seven years old!’ she boldly declares. The man is stunned. ‘Oh, my God,’ he reacts, ‘how could you tell?’ ‘Oh,’ she answers with a wave of her same hand, as if it was no big thing. ‘You told me two days ago.’
Anyway - RIP Jerry Lewis. And check out the original “Nutty Professor” again one of these days.
And oh, yeah - new AND old music (with I’m sure just enough “silliness” to keep things interesting) is coming to michaelaba.com. Be on the lookout - and see you all next month!