Kirkus Reviews QR Code
KING OF COMEDY by Shawn Levy

KING OF COMEDY

The Life and Art of Jerry Lewis

By Shawn Levy

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-312-13248-4
Publisher: St. Martin's

 Put your mitts together for this ``sock'' biography of one of the last of the great entertainers. Few entertainers have inspired such irrational excesses of bile and adoration as actor, director, occasional songster, and Muscular Dystrophy Association pitchman Jerry Lewis. On one hand, he is reviled as a crude, mean-spirited, one-trick putz. Yet in Europe he is feted as a misunderstood comic genius; the French even went so far as to make him a commander of their Legion of Honor. Levy, a film critic for The Oregonian, convincingly demonstrates that both sides are right. Like a dark variety show, Jerry certainly offers something for everyone to hate. He has lived a breathtaking Hollywood excess (traveling everywhere with 75 pieces of luggage, never wearing the same socks twice), and some of his 50-plus films are embarrassingly bad--mawkish, sentimental, often wildly unfunny. But he also has created a number of comic masterpieces, most notably The Nutty Professor and The Patsy. Even his worst films have their moments of redeeming comic brilliance. No wonder then that Jerry has influenced the very shape of modern comedy. Comedians from Robin Williams to Woody Allen to that vile epigone Jim Carrey have drawn inspiration from the free-form id- driven comic style Lewis created. He began his career in the dying days of vaudeville, playing in small venues to little notice until a chance double-bill with the almost equally unsuccessful Dean Martin. By his late 20s, despite a nasty split with Martin, Lewis was the most popular, best-paid entertainer in America. Twenty years later, he was a ridiculed has-been. Marred only by a lack of a bibliography and footnotes, this scrupulous, skillful, incessantly fair account should go a long way toward restoring Lewis to his proper place in the entertainment firmament. (32 pages b&w photos, not seen)