HEY LADY! (ALSO, BUGS BUNNY IN A DRESS)
1) First a fan in 2006, clicking on a youtube clip of an old Colgate Comedy Hour routine, Martin & Lewis changing it up a bit, with Jer on singing duty (Because of you / There’s a song in my heart…) and with Dino conducting and interrupting. Uh, kinda fell in love: the performance, the partnership, the rapport. And especially the man: Jerry Lewis! The King of Comedy.
2) When Jerry sticks a flower in his straw hat and acts like a shy country girl of thirty – when Dean reacts to this – I get what Garth was talking about with Wayne, about Bugs Bunny wearing a dress and being a girl bunny. Also, R. Crumb, as a child, carrying around a cartoon cut-out of Bugs in his pocket, having his Mom iron it when it got wrinkled. These experiences located essentially in childhood: Of unnamed, powerful pleasures that suddenly overtake, like an inner capsule breaking & releasing. The polymorphous purity of sex beyond sex: Somewhere between the libido and the funny bone, something solid and liquid and slippery – that thing being tickled madly.
3) If Jerry Lewis is the (Jewish) Christ of Comedy – a Man of Sorrows, a blesser of children, etc. – the company of antichrists is, if not legion, then multiple. (One J. Carrey, chief among.) God, like comedy, is in the details. And certain laughing people and some professional laugh-makers have, as one online commenter said of Tom Cruise on the Oprah show some years ago, eyes that are “like two pits of hell.” Jerry Lewis, at his lowest moments, can’t help but to foreground the pain, to spotlight the debilitating tension, the crucible behind the clown’s act. That’s also what sometimes makes him a blowhard, “an asshole”, an ego-monster nonpareil. But even then, the eyes signify, rather, a purgatory of the soul. Pain, uncloaked. A cleansing trauma. And a provision for grace. So the stridency sometimes feels like desperation; but it never starts to feel, you know, satanic.
4) Jerry Lewis is love. Jerry Lewis loves, and loves too much. I can’t watch that scene in Rio Bravo, the one with Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson singing, duetting together in the jailhouse bunker, without also imagining Jerry in the movie audience, or in a private screening room, smiling, then seething, mourning, shrouding himself in a cover of curses, developing a tragic hernia. Do I project? Yes. But then look up some of the man’s own recollections and reflections, in interviews, speeches, memoirs. Take him at his own word, and wow… A Love Story, indeed!
5) Saint Irenaeus of Lyons says, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Might that include and permit this, then: The glory of God – and of comedy & romance, drama & tragedy – show business! – is Jerry Lewis fully alive? That’s how it’s seemed to me, since I first started tuning in. How about you? Have you looked again lately? Then say this, in your own favourite voice: “It’s MARVELOUS, really, something to behold.” And to sign off, this – say this straight from the heart: “Thank you very much. Thank you. Good night and God bless you.”
By the godlike ARTHUR YOO