Slapstick and Genius, Jerry Lewis’ One-Man Show

Even at 86, he still commands a room.

Jerry Lewis at the Orleans.

Jerry Lewis conducts his orchestra, sings a song, and tells jokes within the first few minutes of his one-nighter at the Orleans Showroom in Las Vegas. There are cameras above, as PBS is shooting a special for his 87th birthday in March. A few hundred friends, family, and fans are treated to a one-of-a-kind evening.

Dressed in his signature tuxedo, but with a splash of his red shoes, the comedian extraordinaire shows that he does not plan on retiring anytime soon. A black and white caricature of the man of the hour is seen behind him.

You can hear “That Old Black Magic” from The Nutty Professor. By the ending, Lewis is shouting the lyrics. “Under that old black magic called looooove!”

The Nobel Peace Prize-nominee shows historic film clips and never-before-seen home movies, many with Dean Martin, the man Lewis calls his partner. (They starred in 16 films together.) The two goof around by pulling chairs from out beneath each other during movie breaks. (Lewis went on to star in two dozen more films.)

For us Jerry fans who grew up watching the MDA telethon, we’ll never forget when Martin is summoned by Sinatra in 1976. Lewis says, “We had not talked for 20 years before that night, and the stupidity of that is something I hope I will always forget.” They spoke daily from that day until Martin’s death on Christmas Day, 1995.

And then there’s more. He reprises his classic typewriter number in which he hits imaginary instrument keys to return to perfect time with the orchestra. He recites the complex “television announcer’s test” taught to him years ago by his late MDA sidekick Ed McMahon. This is a recitation of 10 sentences, each increasing in length and verbal difficulty, called off entirely from memory. It is topped by “ten lyrical, spherical diabolical denizens of the deep who haul stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivery, all at the same time.”

A Q&A follows. Whether the celebs were pre-chosen to ask questions is unknown. Cuba Gooding Jr., Steve Lawrence (escorted by his wife and singing partner, Eydie Gorme), and Tim Conway took the mike.

Lewis says that his The Nutty Professor musical is headed to Broadway, premiering at Marquis Theater on Feb. 25. Although no one asked him directly why he left the telethon two years ago, he mentioned he raised over 6.2 billion dollars for the Muscular Distrophy cause.

After being warned by managers and publicists that Lewis could be difficult in an interview, we spoke to him for USA Today and found it to be the furthest thing from the truth. Being Jersey brats, we bonded immediately. The rest was pure delight.

In the finale, Lewis sings “Somebody” from Cinderfella for his wife Sam, whom he says, “has kept me alive.”

Sue Facter owns a news agency that specializes in the luxury brand. Her work appears in USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Women’s Day Australia, as well as on broadcasts and the web.