three-sided asked: Hi Bruce, my name is Lacey and I just applied for the Copycat Academy. Hoping I'll get to work with you! You're amazing.
dsummertime asked: Love love love your work! Hope I'll have a chance to see your new film somehow since I live in Moscow. Two unrelated questions: How was it working with my fellow Russian Slava Mogutin back in the day and did you keep in touch? And would you consider writing something on Jerry Lewis? I've read how much you love him and it would be great to hear your thoughts on his work. xx
Hey! Yes, I’m still great friends with Slava! I just stayed with him for a visit in New York in January. Here is something I wrote once about Jerry Lewis for index magazine…
It was with great trepidation and with a little tremolo in my voice that I called up the Learning Annex to reserve three tickets for “Jerry Lewis on the Human Condition: Life, Laughter and Healing”. After all, Monsieur Lewis is one of my all-time idols; his book, “The Total Film-maker”, my Bible. It was like making a reservation to be seated in front of God Himself. Judgment day was at hand.
(For those of you in the don’t know, Jerry Lewis has achieved genius status - and no, not just in France - not once but three times in his career. Partnered with Dean Martin in the late forties and early fifties in nightclubs and on television, he revolutionized the popular entertainment industry by introducing risky improvisation and sophisticated, self-referential comedy to the medium, arguably making the duo the first real phenomenal superstars, in the Christ sense, of the century. In the early sixties, with such films as “The Bellboy” and “The Ladies Man”, he became a respected auteur, harkening back to the brilliance of the silent era and Chaplin with the former, and introducing with the latter advanced technical innovations such as video-assist which are still used today. And in 1983, his chilling, self-parodic dramatic role as talk show host Jerry Langford in “King of Comedy” should have won him an Oscar.)
Fortunately, I’ve always tended toward the Agnostic, and I’m a firm believer in killing your idols. It would still be daunting to sit at the feet of the Master - which would no doubt be encased in anachronistic white socks and shiny black pointed zipper boots from a bygone era - but as a rational human being, I figured I could keep it all in perspective. Little did I know that the experience would test the very foundations of my sanity.
I had a feeling this was no seminar for sissies, so I chose as companions my two oldest friends in Toronto, Candy and Kathleen, both good strong Jews, with whom I’d already shared numerous giddy New Years Eve Jerry Lewis marathons. It was, in fact, I who had turned them on to the genius of Jerry in the “Cahiers du Cinema” sense, although Candy, in that way that she has, took up the mantel with astonishing vigour, and now owns on video every Martin and Lewis and solo Lewis movie ever made, save for “You’re Never Too Young”, which isn’t available. Ironic, considering that it is that very movie which Fassbinder references in his great masterwork “In a Year of Thirteen Moons” (with Gottfried John hysterically imitating Lewis’ spastic walk), and indeed one of the reasons we’ve decided to attend the seminar tonight is that it falls squarely on the birthday of both Candy and Fassbinder (May 31st). Add to this the fact that several years ago we saw both Lewis’ one man show and his appearance in “Damn Yankees” in successive years on his birthday and perhaps you’ll begin to understand the extent of our twisted devotion.
When we show up for the seminar in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel, however, we realize that compared to his fan-base, composed of various wing-nut worshippers and zany zealots, we are as but mere neutral visitors from another planet. The thing that strikes me most about this seven hundred odd rag-tag group is how badly dressed and disheveled they appear: a sea of male pattern baldness and clothes of clashing colours, styles and eras. There’s a certain hysteria in any Jerry area, an air of desperation and nostalgia that chokes the atmosphere. Then it hits me: what I’m seeing is nothing less than a manifestation of the average human being, the lonely, grasping everyman who has come to seek absolution through humour. The Learning Annex itself tends to lure people in search of instant salvation - get rich quick schemes, psychic healing - but when you add an entertainment god like Jerry Lewis to the mix, the result is positively Evangelical.
Jerry’s solid, uninterrupted three hour sermon, honed over hundreds of such appearances, is composed largely of an enumeration of his own accolades (the only entertainer ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize! Tied for fifth place with the Pope as one of the world’s most recognizable faces!), a compendium of the pain and suffering that he has endured (“I’ve been in physical agony every day of my life for the past forty years”), and advice on such varied topics as child-rearing, success in the entertainment industry, and how to love your fellow man. Interspersed through the evening are clips from his movies and telethons, legendary show biz anecdotes, and tributes to both Henny Youngman and the Polish joke. The seventy-five year old vaudevillian knows how to hold an audience - nay, the whole world - in his hand, and his stamina is remarkable, stopping as he does only once to throw back a handful of Advils to ease his back pain (“I tried crack for a while but it wasn’t working”).
For those not familiar with what I call Mr. Lewis’ “Holo-caustic humour”, allow me to fill you in. On the subject of appearing with Arnold Swarzenegger at the London Royal Academy, the comedian quips, “A Nazi and a Jew on the same stage, it was terrific.” On the question of child-rearing, he opines, “Children should be seen and not heard? Where did that come from, Auschwitz? Why don’t you just cut their goddamn vocal chords?” The fixation that Lewis, arguably the world’s most famous Jewish entertainer, has with all things Nazi and Holocaustical is perhaps commonplace for people of his generation, but it’s his attempt to diffuse this horrifying historical era with humour that lends him a particularly harsh and sometimes terrifying edge. Indeed, one could argue that it was his pursuit of this obsession which led to his downfall as a film-maker. “Which Way to the Front?” (1970), a comedy about Hitler, is widely considered his worst, and “The Day the Clown Cried”, about a clown who leads children to the ovens in Auschwitz, which was supposed to follow it, was, famously, unreleasable.
Holocaust humour may seem oxymoronic, but Mr. Lewis himself acknowledges that he’s a “dichotomy”. It’s that same quality that allows him to call his eight year old daughter, whom he clearly loves above all else and talks about incessantly, “the little creep” and “a jerk”. He relates a story about trying to win over the affection of a bitter elderly woman who rejects his charms: “Forget her, she’s an old bitch anyway.” Is this part of the healing? Jerry explains: “How can I be such a humanitarian and a man who cares for people so much and hate someone so strongly at the same time? Because they’re screwing up what I want! I want them to be good and wonderful and everyone should share in the joy of them, and they’re screwing it all up! And it only takes one!”
Enter the one. Throughout the evening, a frightening young woman, ostensibly a stand-up comic, has been heckling Mr. Lewis - in an aggressively affectionate way - from her vantage point standing at the sidelines. Every time he tells a joke, she laughs hardest and longest of all, and at various points she even talks right back to him as if she and he are the only two in the room. It’s textbook “King of Comedy”, with the failed comedienne in the Sandra Bernhard role. Of course when the Q and A begins, she’s the first one at the mike. After blathering incoherently for a minute, she finally asks her question: “You’ve been quoted as saying that female comedians aren’t funny. I’m sure it was a misunderstanding. Could you clear that up?” Mr. Lewis corrects her, saying what he actually said was that he’s uncomfortable with female comedians. (The legendary story goes that at a tribute to Lewis, in front of several other comedy stars, he baldly stated that female comedians aren’t funny. “What about Lucy?” someone asked imploringly. “Nope!” Lewis replied, standing his ground.) Somewhat appeased, the kooky comedienne retreats and a truly bizarre assortment of broken, grasping people take the mike, like a line-up at Lourdes: failed stand-up comics, distraught Muscular Dystrophy Moms, a guy in a clown suit, a Chinese boy with a spinal injury just like Jerry’s, a flower child with a willowy voice who declares: “Mr. Lewis, you are the most amazing human being in the entire world.” One by one they come to worship him, and one by one he cuts them down to size, transforming into Jerry Langford before our very eyes, his arms crossed, a blank look of contempt on his face.
Until finally, full circle, the first girl reappears. She is clearly unbalanced, and rambles on for another few minutes about something inappropriately personal, and then meanders away from the mike. As she leaves, Jerry proclaims, “Now you know what happens when cousins marry.” The worm turns. “Excuse me,” the girl shouts, rushing the stage, “Your philosophy, Sir, is a little bit different than the way you’re acting right now. Which is it? Are you a humanitarian who speaks from the soul, or are you an asshole!” Several security people rush in and spirit the girl away while the crowd mumbles and boos. Mr. Lewis cuts off the Q and A quickly, but not before announcing, “What you people as an audience have done tonight is to make me want to do the Learning Annex again, and I thank you.”
My friends and I wander out of the hotel in a daze, feeling like the hippies walking home from Altamont at the end of “Gimme Shelter”. To us, everyone on the street seems psychotic, on the verge of exploding into an irrational rage. If there’s one thing we learned tonight at the Learning Annex, it’s how thin the line is between love and hate.
jaimegandarilla asked: How do we know you are, indeed, HIM? That's what I meant. I love you if you are.
It’s me, I promise!
Hustler White (1996)
jaimegandarilla asked: I wish Tumblr gave out confirmed accounts, that way we could know...
know what? xxx Blab