Jerry Lewis was on the subway one day, you see, and suddenly this kid gets on board with piercings and leather and tattoos and “shiny stuff” all over his body. And Lewis says he was staring at him, when the kid looked over and said, “What, old man, you’ve never done anything different in your life?”
Lewis responded, he said, “Yes, you see, 20 years ago I f***ed a parrot, and I thought you might be my son.”
Apocryphal? Of course, but the story got a hearty laugh at the Friar’s Club in New York on Thursday night where Lewis was being honored for his long — and still going — career, as well as launching the special 50th anniversary Blu-ray release of “The Nutty Professor,” complete with deleted scenes, a book, a CD of “phony phone calls,” and much more.
“I wanted to call a funeral parlor and ask if they had any empty boxes,” Lewis said of the CD, and added that the prank calls were part of his preparation to get onto the set and get ready to work. “A lot of the stuff in that box is very personal. I’m still calling Warner Brothers trying to figure out where they got it!”
Speaking to the press prior to the party, with legendary interviewer Larry King in tow, Lewis said that the “film is exactly how I shot it. I did not have any extraneous material. I shot exactly as I wrote it, and that’s what’s up there.” He added that it was amazing to see how the film has stood up 50 years later.
“The thing that is incredible for any film director is that if the work works, it usually stays up,” Lewis said. “I think when a film has all of the elements that make it a success, you leave it alone. you have to know when to back off. that’s much more important than knowing what to put in.”
When asked by King what the budget for the film was, Lewis said “Four million seven,” which was a high budget in 1962. “I went to the bank myself and took money out of my own account,” he said. And now he’s “made it back 100 times!”
Not only did he invest his own money, but Lewis wrote seven scripts for “The Nutty Professor,” before finally shooting the first one.
“I went back to the first because I couldn’t make it better,” he said. “It was a love affair with every scene.”
The story, well known to have been born out of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic horror tale “Jekyll and Hyde,” is what still resonates today, Lewis said, which is why there’s no need to update the source material.
“It’s everyone’s story, if you think about it,” he said. “We don’t’ happen to be very thrilled to show the dark side of us. We will show the happy side or the funny side, but we won’t go near the other. And we all have the dark side. Wait for a cab in the rain you’ll see the other side.”
And of course, Larry King chimed in, “all comedy is based on tragedy.”
“Of course!” Lewis bantered back. “What’s funnier than a guy tripping and dropping a suitcase and a bag of groceries?”
“I think Mel Brooks said, you fall down a manhole, it’s funny,” King said. “If I cut my finger, I run to the hospital.” The two shared a chuckle.
Lewis did say he was happy with the 1996 re-make by Eddie Murphy, mostly because “I made a fortune!”
Lewis also announced that a musical version of “Nutty Professor” will be hitting Broadway in November. Lewis already directed a version of the show in 2012 at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville. He refused to get into details about who would be in the cast.
Introducing him to the crowd at the Friar’s Club, Law & Order: SVU star Richard Belzer called Lewis “the greatest performer in the history of show business — in this building anyway — and that’s not hyperbole!” he said. “He has affected more people than anyone in the history of show business when you think about the philanthropic work and the number of comedians who are in the business because of Jerry Lewis.”
Actor Edward Norton, who attended the party with his wife Shauna Robertson, said that anyone who isn’t a fan of Jerry Lewis “has no taste.”
“Any chance to celebrate someone like Jerry Lewis, you should come out for,” Norton said “He’s one of the godfathers of the modern industry…half of what you see in modern goofball comedy comes from that movie [The Nutty Professor].”
“For people my age, the first movie I really loved was King of Comedy,” which Norton said came out when he was in his early teens. “It was a definitive movie for me, and then I wondered who Jerry Lewis was and went backwards from there.”
Director Brett Ratner also attended the party; along with comedian and TV personality Carrie Keagan, who said she met Lewis at the Friar’s Club roast of Jack Black when he threw her onstage and humped her in front of a few thousand people; entrepreneur Russell Simmons, who was one of the producers of the Blu-ray set; and “Sopranos” star Dominic Chianese, who met Lewis for the first time on Thursday night, and said that when the movie first came out he thought it was “comic genius.” “He reiterated for me the fact that as performers, we need to love our audience with all our hearts,” Chianese said.