Cable TCA Summer Press Tour: Jerry Lewis On Reality TV, “American Idol” & Technology [Encore]

Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis Encore

This weekend at the TCA Cable Press Tour, The Inside Reel’s Tim Wassberg asked legendary comedian Jerry Lewis (who was there to promote the Encore original documentary Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis) to discuss the differences between the entertainment industry nowadays compared to back when the comedian was getting started. Tim’s question spurred a rant in which Lewis called television a “medium that’s running around knocking their brains out trying to see how we beat the fat lady at 375 pounds, and in four months she is going to be 240.” Lewis adds, “Who gives a shit?” He went on to refer to “American Idol” contestants as “McDonalds wipe-outs” and the motion picture industry as dead because “they put all of their product on the goddamn stupid phone.” Check out the full response below. It’s definitely worth the read.


TIM WASSBERG: My question is about making bones in the business and paying your dues. You obviously did. What does it take now versus then to pay dues in the business and become a great comedic actor and person like yourself?

JERRY LEWIS: You just have to be bad. The business is scrounging around for what to do. The first thing a good comic must do is let them know he hasn’t changed. He can bring that same veracity, and that same performance to a medium that’s running around knocking their brains out trying to see how we beat the fat lady at 375 pounds, and in four months she is going to be 240. Who gives a shit?

It’s ridiculous…ridiculous. And kids, they get on “American Idol”. They’re all McDonalds wipe-outs. They’ve all been dumped. They’ve worked there and now they’re doing that. And they all play guitar which takes the place of music.

We don’t have the soul in this industry that we had when I was working. The soul has been desperately deteriorated, only because you’ve got a guy who is running a network whose aunt died and left him some stock. So someone says: “Make me a malted.” And he says “Poof. You’re a malted.” He’s now an executive in charge of entertainment. Do I sound pessimistic?

I love my industry. I love what it does. I don’t allow the people in my family to use the term “TV”. That’s stupid. It’s “Television”. It’s a miracle. It’s entitled to that respect. And that’s the way I am about it. And when I watch it, I want it to grab me. I want it to be like I ran home and made sure to be there before goddamn “Law & Order” went on, and long before Jack Webb and the cop shows. We ran home to see [Milton] Berle on Tuesday night. Nobody wants to run home now and see anything. They run home and hope there’s something. And we got to fix that.

The industry has destroyed themselves. The motion picture industry is no longer as far as I’m concerned. And we can fix it. But it’s no longer because they put all of their product on the goddamn stupid phone. You’re going to put “Lawrence Of Arabia” on that stupid son-of-a-bitch [device].

That gets me crazy pal. That gets me crazy.

But you’ll see “Lawrence Of Arabia” on your television set because there won’t be a television set in three years. Why? Because Proctor & Gamble says “Are you nuts?” You want me to spend 1.6 million for that variety show when I can get that fat lady to lose weight for 62,000 bucks? Let’s go with that one. We’ll call it “reality”, And that that’s what they’ve done. Do you notice that in a dramatic part in a film, you don’t hear music…you hear a vocal. You hear someone singing a vocal that relates to the scene. Well the first thing you don’t do as a filmmaker is distract. The biggest danger in your work is distraction. And you’re putting the vocal at the top of the film’s big moment because they don’t want to spend it on an 80-piece orchestra to score. [Instead it’s] “Let’s do what they’re doing with the guitar. It will be fine”. Oh OK.

Method to the Madness of Jerry Lewis premieres on Encore this fall.