Variety reports that Jerry Lewis is bringing his Labor Day Telethon back to his hometown of Las Vegas after ten years and a brush with death. Looks like God, whom Jerry once accused of having “goofed” when he created dystrophic kids, has spared him for another run in the desert.
Hooray for Jerry Lewis. Jerry, as we all agree, is the greatest comedian of our era, a wonderful film clown, and a great and influential filmmaker (read The Total Film-Maker if you think this is satire).
So it’s too bad that Jerry is not being welcomed back into the heart of the action on the Strip, but is actually bringing his telethon to a squaresville hotel on the edge of Las Vegas, far from the neon and big money, off the I-15 highway. Fans won't be wandering in off the Strip 24/7, but will have to be bused in to a new place called the South Coast, a joint with an equestrian center, bowling alley and Italian joint called Don Vito’s. It’s a long way from Caesars, where Tabloid Baby’s author worked on a Jerry Lewis Telethon close to two decades ago, having wangled his way into a weekend production gig just to be able to spend 48 hours awake with Jerry, Sammy, Tom Jones, Susan Anton and Mr. T, among others. Two years later, Jerry granted our man total access behind the scenes of his 1989 Telethon, for a special episode of A Current Affair (still being sold on videotape online).
The A Current Affair segment-- Jerry raw, verite, bleeped, no-holds-barred, warts and all-- caused a scandal among the MDA and Jerry Lewis’s staff, and though Jerry himself called to say he loved the show, would be the first and last time such access was given (read the entire story in Tabloid Baby, Chapter 6, “Lesbians, Cripples & Clowns”).
That said, it’s a shame someone in power in Vegas doesn’t step up and bring the Telethon to the heart of the Strip. And it’s too bad that a young superstar or group of stars don’t take the Telethon to a new generation of viewers.
Hey, we understand that no one in the Telethon universe can be of greater magnitude than Jerry— which is why each year brings us a reunion of Gary Lewis & The Playboys and not Pink Floyd, but surely at this point in the December of his years (he’s turning 80 on March 26), Jerry would realize that the comic pretenders to his throne are his lessers and only reflect in his brilliance.
Otherwise, the Telethon will die with him. Jann Carl and Tony Orlando aren’t the ones to carry on.
What’s needed is star power: Adam Sandler, David Spade and Rob Schneider. Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell. George Clooney and Rande Gerber and Matt Damon, with Zeta-Jones and Julia Roberts sitting in. Ben Stiller. The Hudson Brothers. Angelina and Brad. Tiny Fey and Jimmy Fallon.
Most every one of them in one combination or another have participated in telethon events, from Comic Relief to 9/11 benefits to the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” Katrina broadcasts. They showed that the telethon form is not necessarily a dinosaur, but with the right production, direction, talent and the kind of edge Jerry gave for so many years (especially when he was hooked on pills), it can be the most exciting television formats around— and with a DVD afterlife.
This new generation of Vegas lizard has the juice to grab the Maloofs to hand over the showroom in the Palms or collar Steve Wynn or borrow the Mandalay Bay for a weekend so Jerry Lewis can sit at his rightful place, under a tote-board in a classy showroom on the Strip. It's for the kids. It's for show biz.
In the meantime, download the script for The Day The Clown Cried here.