I’m not sure people think of Jerry Lewis in the tradition of the great Jewish comedians, going back to Shecky Greene and Milton Berle in the Borscht Belt followed by Lenny Bruce, Mel Brooks, and Woody Allen. But he was.
“… Mr. Lewis’s most successful work was, in its own way, a fundamental part of the great story of Jewish comedy in America — a story that also functions as a microcosm of American Jewish life writ large. It was a metaphor for the successes, and the anxieties, of a generation of postwar American Jews of the 1950s: busily engaged, often extraordinarily successful, and trying to prove they were no different than everyone else. They wanted to believe they were the same, and yet their creative success, paradoxically, was borne of the tension that their very real difference created.”
I wasn’t a big Jerry Lewis fan, but I do love one of his later works, the very quirky 1995 film Funny Bones. At the real life age of 69, Lewis plays an aging and beloved comedian whose son, played by Oliver Platt, is struggling for comedic success. After Platt flames out in Las Vegas, he sneaks off to Blackpool, England, where his father got started, to try and figure out what’s funny. The result, in a dark humor sort of way, is hilarious. We are introduced to the great comic actor Lee Evans, who in my view is light years funnier than Lewis himself.
Lewis comes up with a great take on humor, which goes something like this:
“Some people talk funny. Some people are funny. Both are funny. But only one has funny bones.” Hence the name of the film. Milton Berle and George and Gracie Allen talked funny. Rosie O’Donnell, if you’ve ever seen her do stand-up, is funny. She’s a funny bones comedian.
The film is available through Google Play, and I’m sure various other sources. Whether or not you’re a Jerry Lewis fan, if you have a liking for dark humor — in one hilarious scene Platt and Evans steal a pair of unfortunately detached feet complete with toe tag from the local morgue — and if you can deal with a plot line that isn’t linear, give Funny Bones a try. There are also lovely performances by Leslie Caron, and the comedic icons who play the Parker Brothers.
Let me know how you like it. I’m practically a cult fan; I own the film, and watch it often.