Saturday, August 06, 2011
The program will also be shortened this year from twenty hours to a mere six. And I bet they still have trouble filling the bill. Good luck getting Tony Orlando this year.
Once upon the time the Jerry Lewis telethon was a highlight of the year. Twenty hours of the highest camp, schmaltziest schmaltz, cheesiest cheese, and glitziest entertainment ever assembled on one stage. And it was all live. Jaw-dropping moments were as common as a check of the tote board. I even wrote about it a couple of years ago.
Jerry created this faux Vegas main showroom format, which was already dated in 1966 when he first introduced it. Over the years it became a time piece. Singers still in tuxedos and formal gowns – at 7:00 AM. Wayne Newton -- the major headliner. Lounge comics trotting out material that I’m sure killed in 1955. Puppeteers. Bird acts.
And it was all held together by Jerry. No comedian has ever taken himself more seriously, and in an unintentional twisted way, that only made him funnier. One minute dripping sincerity, the next crossing his eyes and acting like a moron. Genius! Sheer genius!
Add to the mix the fatigue factor. Put someone like that on live television with major sleep deprivation and by hour 15 you’ve got real theater. Crying, badgering, doing rat pack racial slurs. You never knew what you were going to get… from moment to moment. And again, that was the brilliance of it all. That was the appeal. Once Jerry took his tie off you were on high alert for hilarity.
Plus, it was all for a really good cause.
Say what you will, Jerry raised millions and millions for MDA. His telethon became a part of American culture. He is 85. You knew it was just a matter of time. But to not let him go out in a dignified way, on his own terms, that’s unconscionable.
As far as I’m concerned there is no more MDA telethon. And it’s too bad because Nigel’s kids need the help just as much as Jerry’s.
Thanks again for everything, Jerry. I’ll never be able to hear Rockabye My Baby With a Dixie Melody ever again without crying… and laughing.
By Ken Levine at 5:59 AM