We lost two people over the weekend who were referred to as comedians. Humor, it seems, is generational. People laughed at vaudeville, Laurel and Hardy, Ernie Kovacs, the Three Stooges, Lenny Bruce, and BETs Def Comedy Jam. Some people think holding up a bloody piece of meat that looks like the president’s head is rip-roaringly funny.
I never saw Dick Gregory’s live act. I did see him on Johnny Carson and a few other guest spots, mostly there to bash white people in the name of civil rights. I never found anything funny about black comics whose entire schtick was bashing white people. With the ingrained antipathy toward caucasians they have a ready-made audience. The same people who idolize rappers, drug use, and murdering police officers.
When Jerry Lewis, the son of vaudevillians, was paired with a handsome Italian crooner named Dean Martin, magic happened. They were perfect together. Martin, the straight man to Lewis, playing a zany lunatic. They made history together. After they split Martin went on to a successful career as a singer and Las Vegas icon. Lewis wrote, directed, acted, and produced one hit movie after another. He had total control because the studios knew anything he touched was box office gold.
Lewis had another burning passion, and that was children. Danny Thomas founded Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and Lewis raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the child-killing affliction of muscular dystrophy through his Labor Day Telethons that aired for years. In the early days, it was the only program that was on long after the other stations had signed off for the night.
The most emotional moment of the event for me was the time when, after decades apart, Dean Martin walked onstage and hugged his old friend. I also remember Lewis grousing about how his son, Gary, and his band, the Playboys, who had a hit in the 60’s called “This Diamond Ring,” would practice at his house and make such a racket he made them leave.
Dick Gregory will be remembered as a minor talent. Jerry Lewis will be remembered by those of us who grew up laughing along with a man who was blessed with a multitude of talents and did them all well.
Flynn: Jerry Lewis and Dick Gregory, Comic Geniuses If Only They Were Funny
Dick Gregory and Jerry Lewis passed away this weekend. Their deaths were no laughing matter to their many fans. Their lives were no laughing matter to their many critics.