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Home > Reel Life >Reel Life May 1998 > Featured Interview

May, 1998

Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis, appearing in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Relaxed and casual, the consumate performer on stage and at a press conference, Jerry Lewis faces a small group of Australian journalists in a sunlit room beside Melbourne's Yarra River. He breaks the ice, making the press corps comfortable.

"It's like the Nuremberg trial", Jerry Lewis says facing the cameras. All press conferences, he explains, begin the same way: with a staring contest between the press and their subject.

Lewis is often thought of as the stooge from the years of his partnership with Dean Martin. His success in France has become a comedy cliche, however he is an able lecturer and writer on the subject of film as well as a successful writer, director and actor.

Jerry Lewis, he says is

"A certified wacko... But always remember behind the wacko beats the brain of someone who knows what they're doing."

"I think that the audience loves to know that you went to the wall to get something to work. I think an audience also knows ... I do it at home.

Comedy and film-making seem glamourous and rarified from the outside, the fans who buy glossy picture-laden magazines imagine a life of luxury and whim-satisfying flunkies, however "The work is always the ethic. We do jokes about "Well it's my financial pleasure be here" The truth is it's the work."

Like all true artists, Lewis understands that he can't just walk through the roles hoping for costumes and clever scripting to compensate for a shallow performance. To produce good work, he says, "you have to be satisfied with yourself. You see, the sad part about the creative process is

you don't really understand self until you're older. When you get to be around my age (72) you start recognising that self if vital. Protect it, look at the work, recognise that self is going to be in it, and protect self. When we're young we're so goddamn busy with ourselves that we forget self through selfishness, oddly enough. The work ethic is beaten down, not really examined because we're young anxious, we're really not cautious. The wonderful part about getting older is that you become very cautious."

for example, Jerry Seinfeld:

"Jerry is Jerry. What you see is what he is, and that's what makes him so wonderful. ... He's wonderful because he's Everyman, and because he's not really taking himself too seriously, which is part of the creative process - you mustn't do that. I made that mistake a number of times when I took myself too seriously. And then all of a sudden you find out that you've done damage where you've been trying to protect yourself."

Jerry Lewis on work:

(My dad told me) "You've got to go out and sweat. You're worth nothing unless you sweat.

What he wanted me to do was go out and entertain the people. And that was my credo and that's what I followed all my through life while trying desperately to maintain some degree of excellence in that art form."

Lewis' membership in the famed rat pack of entertainers was a period he remembers fondly. "We had an abandon and the secret of what we did was based on mischievousness and silliness. And I think that the world needs to get a little sillier now. They're getting too goddamn serious about everything.

Silly is wonderful. ..."

"I think we're an end of an era. I think that Dean (Martin) and Sammy (David Jnr) and Frank (Sinatra) and myself were in that

club of performers that loved to walk on stage and perform. That didn't know when it was pay day or not, we just loved to perform. I have stories where Frank, Dean, Sammy, myself would ask management in Las Vegas if we could do a third show on a Saturday night. We would go to management and say let's do a third one. You won't find that much anymore. That comes from a passion that I don't find easy to define."

After decades as entertainer, what does Jerry Lewis want from his performances? "To go out and see a live audience and then do your thing. It's wonderful."

Jerry Lewis was interview when he was appearing week (June 1-5, 1998) at the Crown Casino in Melbourne.

See also: June 1998 A Reel Life
Jerry Lewis science fiction movies: Visit to a Small Planet ; Way ... Way Out; The Nutty Professor

Click here for our interview with Peter Fonda

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