Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Is Jerry Lewis a dick?

There has been a lot of internet discussion about this recent interview of Jerry Lewis:

A guy who used to fill 21 hours of live television can’t give more than one word answers?

Jerry has his defenders who point to his body of work, which is indeed extensive and (in many cases) impressive. He has also raised a lot of money for Muscular Dystrophy. I will happily give him all that.

But he is also an insufferable crank. For God sakes, he’s done enough interviews to know what he did was asinine. For a brief time he HOSTED a talk show (very brief -- he was epicly bad). And it’s not his first rodeo. Having been interviewed before THOUSANDS of times I would submit he knows better.

He simply chose to be a prick.

That’s a lot different from someone who is just painfully shy in front of a microphone. I had one of those when I was broadcasting for the Baltimore Orioles.

Remember Harold Baines? Great hitter, outstanding ballplayer. Played mostly for the White Sox and A’s (but also Texas, Cleveland, and ironically, Baltimore). He was a six-time All-Star.

Anyway, he was playing for the A's when I was with the O's and when Oakland came to town I thought he’d be a terrific pre-game show guest. After all, he was from Maryland.

I approached him, he was very gracious, agreed to do the interview (although I could sense he was not wild about the idea). We sat down in the dugout, I turned on the recorder, began the interview, and every answer was one or two words. I usually prepared six or seven questions (for a four minute interview) and rarely got to them all. In this case I went through them in one minute. Oy. It was painful. But it was very clear to me that he was just ill at ease. He wasn’t just fucking with me (as some ballplayers will cheerfully do). I ultimately didn’t use the interview and knew better for the future. But my point is, I never held it against him. Facing a hundred mile an hour fastball wasn’t nearly as intimidating as a gawky nerd announcer with a microphone.

But that’s not Jerry. That’s not “Mr. Showbiz.” He obviously knew better. And for my money, I don’t care who you are, or how famous or important you are, there’s such a thing as simple human kindness and common courtesy. So I don’t care if he’s beloved by the French, or was a comedy God, or at one time was America’s most popular entertainer – when people ask me about Jerry Lewis:

Asshole.

(Hey, I was able to answer in one word.)  

42 comments :

Anonymous said...

It's the reason why I have never liked him. You can sense that he is an asshole. When he became Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor, I always felt that was the real Jerry.

He totaly deserves all of the accolades for his work with MD, but how much of a dick do you have to be for them to dump your ass?


Pam, St. Louis

YEKIMI said...

At least he didn't yell at the interviewer to "Stay off my lawn!" when he was done. I really wonder though if he isn't having some form of dementia beginning. When I was a paramedic for a while I'd have to handle some old people who were acting just like he is. The could be fine and dandy and giggling one second and then turn your back to get something and *BAM* turn around and they're a completely different person, surly, one word answers and cantankerous as hell. Or it could be as you said.....he was just being a prick.

Tammy said...

Hadn't heard of this so I just looked it up, and apparently a lot of comedians think it's hilarious. Blech. Thanks for sticking up for what's right, Ken (and I love the zinger at the end). Also, I only watched the first few seconds (I suffer from serious second hand embarassment) but it seems Lewis was angry at the guy just for asking questions, doesn't even seem to be about the content. So basically he was mad at the guy for what, doing his job? If you don't want to give too many interviews, be mad at your publicist for setting them up.

Pat Reeder said...

I'm not defending Jerry's assholery, but just as background: this was for a Hollywood Reporter article about still-active celebs over 90 (Carl Reiner, Betty White, etc.) They wanted to pair it with brief interviews with each of them, strictly on the subject of why they were still plugging away in their 90s. Some people theorize that Jerry was ticked because he thought the interviewer hadn't done enough homework to ask specific questions about his career, but that wasn't the idea. The questions were the same for everyone on purpose. Again, it doesn't excuse his rudeness, but if you're looking for a reason for why he seems so pissed, maybe that's it.

Pidge said...

While I don't disagree with anything you said, I'd like to point out that framing your questions so they can't be answered with a "yes" or "no" response could help. Also, if this was not going live to air, not being afraid to wait quietly for a fuller answer might have put Jerry on the spot. Dead gaps can be edited out. Stopping an interview to pretend to check for sound levels can also give the interviewer an opportunity to request fuller answers...to find out if anything is wrong. And of course, the interviewer could have shut the whole thing down rather than sending it out there, to embarrass a 90-year-old asshole.

roadgeek said...

And all alone, I'd wager.

Stephen Marks said...

Harold was the baines of your existence. To be fair to Jerry the interviewer was horrible. He started out with what should have been back end questions and wouldn't let go. Jerry's age, his health, his retirement, mentioning Jerry's dead friends, how he still performs at 90. Who wants to be reminded of all that? The guy wouldn't let it go even after Jerry gave him a not so subtle hint to move on. And then he asks Jerry if he uses a typewriter!
WTF? The guy invented that video assist thing that changed the way directors watch scenes being shot. Maybe even Ken has used it. Do you think a man like Lewis is going to sit around banging out shit on an old Underwood and not learn how to use a computer?

He may be an egotistical asshole at times but I'm giving him a pass on this one. I did notice though that the Arabs finally pumped the last of that oil out of his hair. Man that doo was slick for years. J'amie Jerry Lewis, vous etes formadable!

VP81955 said...

Whew! As a former Chisox fan from the years Washington didn't have a team -- and of course, the year baseball finally returned to D.C. (2005), the Sox at last ended their 88-year, often-overlooked "curse of the Comiskeys" -- I thought you were going to paint Baines, one of the most beloved players in South Side history, with a Jerry Lewis brush. As far as I know, Harold has never criticized female comedians.

Alan C said...

Jerry Lewis is a comic genius. And he knows it.

Pat Quinn said...

The interviewer should have assessed the situation and said, after half of his questions got one word answers, "Mr Lewis, because of time restraints as our crew here has to prepare for a very important interview with a Hollyood legend later today, could you answer the following dozen questions with simple one word answers?"

Mitchell Hundred said...

I saw a "Golden Age of TV Comedy" alignment chart a while back, and now Jerry Lewis' placement in the Chaotic Evil spot makes perfect sense.

P.S. For people who don't know about this system, it basically combines one's moral outlook on life with the methods one uses to put that outlook into practice. Superman would be an example of a Lawful Good character, The Joker would be Chaotic Evil, etc.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

At least he never became Ronald Reagan's VP.

Mike Barer said...

Really? He's just a bad interview. It's too bad, but the reporter should have known what he was in for.

RyderDA said...

A good interviewer listens and responds. Lewis' first answer ("Why?") was ignored, as was his second (Why/"). The interviewer was useless. Tack that onto a surly (at best) interviewee and it will go downhill fast. And it did. These two "wrongs" didn't make a "right". Lewis is, was, and always has been an unpleasant, nasty, snarky man. Anyone going into an interview with him thinking that he's not going to be combative and unresponsive -- and planning how to deal with it in advance -- is fooling themselves. THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER's report was a joke of a lightweight up against a monster. And that interview's what you get when that happens. A good editor would have sh#$-canned the interview, never run it, and reassigned the reporter to interview 20 yr old airheads for the rest of his natural born days.

MIKE BOTULA said...

I opted NOT to watch the aforementioned Jerry Lewis interview, because of the buzz, but it reminded me of a personal rule of "show biz behavior" that I attribute to longtime, legendary LA morning man Rick Dees. "If you treat a fan nicely, he or she will tell a hundred of their friends. But, if you act like an asshole, they'll tell a THOUSAND!" In the Jerry Lewis case, the word is being muttered by MILLIONS!

Frank Kuchno said...

He IS 90!!!! I am a mere 64.....and CAN be a prick. So I give him as pass.

Peter said...

Yes the reporter was a bit dimwitted and didn't handle it well, but for those defending Lewis, he could have simply refused to do the interview. Unless he gets some kick out of being a dick, there was no justification for him accepting the interview request and then behaving like a schmuck.

Glenn said...

Jerry is now in "old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn" mode.

Bob O'Brien said...

Maybe I was lucky, or maybe he just fed off my own energy and bubble, but my lone experience with Jerry Lewis was one of sheer delight. He couldn't possibly have been nicer, more animated, silly, generous, entertaining and kind. I even got him to do the longest "Layyyyyyyyyyyyydeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee" in the history of broadcasting. Funny thing is, three other people at the radio station turned down the interview because of Lewis' reputation. That made me want to interview him all the more, and it was truly one of the most fun experiences of my long radio career.

VP81955 said...

To be fair, my FB friend Francine York worked with Lewis on several films and adores him.

Rory Wohl said...

Hi Ken,

Your buddy, Mark Evanier, has a great take on this: http://www.newsfromme.com/2016/12/22/more-on-jerrygate/

For me, the money paragraphs are:

"Jerry was asked essentially the same questions that were asked of the others — Dick Van Dyke, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Cloris Leachman, et al — and none of them had any problem answering them. I believe the same interviewer did the one with Norman Lear, which went fine. Everyone else who agreed to sit for an interview about working at age 90+ had a good answer for the question, 'Have you ever thought of retiring?' At that age, you kind of have to."

"Only Jerry tried to turn the session into a dialogue with the interviewer — which was a problem since the format of these videos was to have the interviewer unheard in the final edit. I'm sure if you've ever been interviewed on camera more than a few times, you've done these. They always tell you up front that they need answers in complete sentences since the questions will be edited out."

"The interviewer's detractors say that he was ill-prepared to interview Jerry and that he didn't know what he was doing. I think he was prepared with all the same questions that everyone else was asked and that what he wasn't prepared for was the subject trying to turn the interview into a dialogue and not answering in sentences that would make sense once the questions were cut out."

Trevor said...

For those that don't know, the Jerry video "interview" is part of a feature that focuses on 90+ creators who are still working and passionate about their work -- Dick Van Dyke, Betty White, Carl Reiner, Cloris Leachman, Don Rickles, Marcia Nasatir, Norman Lear, Stan Lee, and Norman Lloyd. They all answered the same basic questions. Considering the circumstances, I think the Jerry interviewer did very well under pressure. http://features.hollywoodreporter.com/creative-until-you-die/

Johnny Walker said...

Is this such a surprise? He thinks he's amazing, and has no problem being an asshole. I don't think this has anything that do with age. He's always been this guy.

I'm pretty sure his performance in The King of Comedy is him.

Andy Rose said...

Jerry also recently cut short an interview with Marc Maron for his WTF podcast. It was supposed to be more than an hour (like almost all of Marc's interviews), but Jerry ended it after less than 30 minutes. And if you've ever listened to Maron, you know he's not a lightweight, predictable interviewer, so that excuse doesn't fly. Although Marc graciously acknowledges that his taping came at the end of a long day of junket interviews, so he allows that maybe Jerry was legitimately tired.

kingComedy said...

Having been interviewed hundreds of times myself I can tell you that anytime someone starts of a question with " what's it like". I turn off.

tb said...

There was a very similar "interview" with Joey Bishop that the LA Weekly attempted, I remember. He talked a bit more, but had the same attitude, 'this kid don't know nothin', so I knew Sinatra, big deal...' he was worried the guy had let his cat out

Aaron Hazouri said...

Jerry was a grade-A jerk. Did anyone watch Betty White or Don Rickles's interviews? Both of them were funny and engaging. Rickles of course told stories he's told a hundred times but somehow still managed to be funny. (Part of it is he knows how to interact with everyone on earth and have even the sound guy cracking up.)

Jerry is a weird guy. His movies were kind of funny but I guess I never "got it."

Jeff Maxwell said...

"And for my money, I don’t care who you are, or how famous or important you are, there’s such a thing as simple human kindness and common courtesy."

Jerry for President!

Buttermilk Sky said...

If you can get past the dicking, he has some interesting remarks, like the fact that he misses Dean Martin. That partnership was the brightest part of his career, before the French decided he was a genius. Even Orson Welles couldn't live up to that. But you're right, either make the effort or decline the interview. Who needs the cranky old man routine? I'll bet Carl Reiner and Dick Van Dyke were a lot more fun.

Brian Stanley said...

as a baseball fan who grew up in the Chicago area in the 1980's, I'd often wondered why Harold Baines isn't remembered more. With 2,800-plus hits I thought he was going to be the top non-Hall of Fame member before the PED controversies.
Never thought until now his shyness and inarticulation may have hurt his self-marketing. Thanks, Ken.

Dixon Steele said...

Perhaps, but I also felt there was something annoying, even amateurish, at times, about the interviewer. That didn't help.

Anonymous said...

The man was a genious in his time, I grew up with his comedy he's old now and very iratible,can you imagine thinking of things you used to do and can't psysicly do them anymore? people need to stop trying to advance their career through him.He's the last of the great comedians

goodman.dl said...

Baines was really, really good. I didn't know he was so shy - but I also never remember hearing him speak about anything - and that must have been why.

Mentally, I guess I just had him pegged as the "consummate professional hitter" - that he kind of just materialized out of the ether to hit and then disappeared after the game was over to go back to whatever else he did. Certainly, when he was with the Orioles, there were no shortage of talkers and personalities in that clubhouse.

It never occurred to me that there might be a reason he didn't do much media.

Anonymous said...



The questions were the same for everyone on purpose.

Imagine Terry Gross, or Dick Cavett, or Charlie Rose phoning it in that way.

Jon B. said...

My view is different than yours, Ken. Jerry Lewis may be asshole. From everything I've seen and heard before, I believed him to be one. BUT, COME ON! He's an old man! It isn't right to do this to him (or allow him to do it to himself).

Dayhew said...


Andy Rose...Regarding the Maron interview. Sure he cut it short, but that was a fantastic 30 minute interview. I really don't see it being relevant regarding this video, other than he does have the ability to be a sport when he chooses Even if that means it is for less time than a guy who usually does 90 minute interviews wants.

dapper dog said...

I think he is a senile old jerk. Never thought he was funny, Dean Martin carried the act.If he's so put out by the interview don't agree to do one ever again, no one would miss him.

dapper dog said...

The problem with the interview is Jerry Lewis thinks he a gift to mankind, which is he is not. He was very rude and condescending. I guarantee Betty White was gracious and kind, and I am sure she is a busier person than he is. No one in their right mind would want to work with him.

norm said...

And anyone is surprised by this?

Oh come on.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I have not watched the interview. I don't need to, I can visualize it in my head. Besides it's too painful. But that's Jerry from what I've seen and heard about in the past. My father-in-law was a firefighter and he was in Tahoe about 35 years ago and Jerry got on an elevator with him and a few other firemen at a casino. I won't go into detail, but the report was that Jerry was a real a-hole. But you know, I've also heard he can be charming and hilarious. I think it really depended on when you caught him and he is 90 after all. But the potential to be a jerk was always a part of his make up. Still, my time as a child was made all the more happy when watching him on screen. He's a great actor and an inventive director, but yes, difficult, and that's being nice...

Bryan Simmons

SUZAN LEWIS said...

Jerry Lewis Is My Father.I am Suzan Lewis.My Father has a very sarcastic sense of humor to the extreme.This makes him do interviews like that one.He has always believed that everyone understands his sarcasm but they don't expect it from him.It is old time Hollywood.He is just set in his ways with his straight faced serious sarcasm.
This link will explain the rest of our history together:
http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news/alleged-love-child-of-jerry-lewis-is-homeless-on-the/article_83f5d94a-dd92-11e6-816d-b74252549a18.html

Mark Cawdron said...

I really used to like Jerry Lewis I find it strange for him to act like that and I am very disappointed to find out the guy is really an ass hole oh well you live and learn.