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Comedians Pay Respect to Jerry Lewis

8 Feb, 2012 By: Chris Tribbey

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Film critic Leonard Maltin sat onstage with comedy icon Jerry Lewis Feb. 7, and first told him how great he looked.

“What’d you expect, a cadaver?” the 85-year-old Lewis replied.

Yeah, he’s still got it.

On a night the industry honored Lewis for his 80 years of work, and to mark the Feb. 7 DVD release of his 1959 TV remake of The Jazz Singer, some of the best comedy has to offer showed up to pay homage.

Comedians Dane Cook, Adam Sandler, Tom Arnold, Richard Lewis, Jeff Garlin and Martin Short all were on hand as Jerry Lewis talked about his film and TV work, his long-running personal and professional relationship with Dean Martin, and how he’s basically a 9-year-old trapped in a man’s body.

“I had the reputation of being difficult, but it was only because I never settled,” Lewis said. “I’ve been 9 all my life; 9 is innocent and 9 has a tremendous sense of humor.”

The Jazz Singer, which hasn’t seen the light of day since it broadcast on NBC in 1959, is just one of several Lewis titles Inception Media Group is working to release on DVD.

The Jazz Singer — a tribute to the 1927 Al Jolson film classic of the same name — follows the disappointment a father has when his son goes into comedy and jazz singing, instead of becoming a cantor in the synagogue, a five-generation-old tradition. The DVD includes a black-and-white broadcast transfer, and a rare video recording believed to be one of the earliest surviving examples of color TV.

The only reason the public gets to see it at all is because Lewis kept a copy of the tape.

“I realized that what we did was so formidable that we have to give it to our grandchildren, let them know what we created, how it worked,” he said.

“It’s one of those treasures,” said Inception co-founder David Borshell. “Jerry Lewis is the living embodiment of someone born with funny bones.”

And Lewis proved it, bantering back and forth with fellow comedians and providing laughs all night:

• Comedian Marty Ingles told Lewis his wife wanted to know why Lewis doesn’t have any wrinkles.

Lewis: “You want her to come back stage? I’ll show some to her.”

• Martin Short asked whether Lewis ever wanted to stop working.

Lewis: “No, I never had such a notion. That’s what you think at your funeral.”

Short: “But wouldn’t you have made a wonderful nurse?”

• Maltin: “Let’s start at the beginning …”

Lewis: “When my father jumped on my mother?”

• Richard Lewis wanted to know if Jerry Lewis ever sat back and said “I’m happy.”

Jerry Lewis: “I think it’s about a week away.”

• Lewis on Maltin: “Leonard probably knows the night my wife and I conceived a baby.”

• About George Burns, and why he didn’t go out with women his own age: “’There are no women my age!’”

Lewis kept the crowd entertained for nearly twice as long as he was scheduled to — with no complaints from those in attendance — and when organizers tried to hurry things along, he sprightly told everyone he wasn’t done yet. If he can handle eight decades of work, going over his allotted hour was peanuts.

“I want to hang out as long as I can,” Lewis said. “I don’t do anything that would disrupt my plan to live to 101.”

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