Jerry Lewis is a funny guy. This past weekend, he added to his comic legacy (which already includes such ha-ha classics as "The Disorderly Orderly," "Hardly Working" and "Slapstick of Another Kind") by referring to women as "producing machines" for babies.
Through the years, Lewis has told a lot of jokes. ("Hey, laaady!," anyone?) But this wasn't a joke.
What's worse, the offending and/or curious remark happened at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Colorado, an event that celebrates what's funny. And it happened in front of a crowd gathered to honor Lewis' work.
The incident went down Saturday night during a question-and-answer session with the audience. Lewis was speaking affectionately about Dean Martin and some of his other favorite comics. An audience member noticed that all the names Lewis rattled off were male and asked the star who his favorite female comics are.
"I don't like any female comedians," Lewis said.
Fair enough. We're not big Judy Tenuta fans, either. But then Martin Short, who was hosting the event (and who does a darn good Jerry Lewis impression), wouldn't let the matter rest. Short asked Lewis about Lucille Ball, saying, "you must have loved her."
OK, that's fine. Everyone's entitled to his or her own opinion. But Jerry then took his 73-year-old foot and stuck it in his 73-year-old mouth: "A woman doing comedy doesn't offend me but sets me back a bit. I, as a viewer, have trouble with it. I think of her as a producing machine that brings babies in the world," he said, according to an Associated Press report.
You can imagine the uneasy feeling in the room. One thousand spectators high up in the mountains of liberal-minded Aspen, waiting for Lewis to make everything OK with a "just kidding!" He didn't.
Such remarks might even fly if they came from the mouth of, say, a Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was the epitome of old-school cool, and if he used terms such as "dame" or "broad," well, he was a dinosaur from another era. Jerry Lewis has never been that cool. Just listen to "Jerry Lewis Just Sings," his music album (released in the 1960s), if you don't believe it. (And if you dare.)
Perhaps Jerry's just bitter. Jim Carrey stole his act and now makes $20-mil-plus per movie for making the same kind of funny faces; meanwhile, Lewis' annual Labor Day telethon for muscular dystrophy is running on fewer stations every year (yet, mysteriously, somehow manages to make more money each time out). Lewis is considered a genius in France but doesn't get the props he deserves in this country.
There's been no comment yet on the evening from Lewis' Las Vegas-based reps.
Maybe it's best not to speak of such things on Valentine's Day.