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Risible Reincarnations
by Amanda Knoss

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Martin and Lewis: Fighting germ warfare for generations

Martin and Lewis: Fighting germ warfare for generations
Comedy, like the flashing brilliance of the movie screen at your favorite theatre, has many faces. There are plenty of different kinds of comedy, and with the oncoming of each new generation, our opinion of what is and is not "funny" changes.

Or does it?

In 1949, one of the world's most notable slapstick comedians took the screen for the first time with his best friend Dean Martin in the film MY FRIEND IRMA. This was the beginnings of what could be considered a 20-year limelight for New Jersey-born Jerry Lewis.

Most movie-goers are probably unfamiliar with this comedian today. They probably don't realize that he was the original Nutty Professor, or that Hank Azaria based his portrayal of Professor Frink in the Simpsons on him.

What movie fans are familiar with, however, is the comedic styling of Canadian-born Jim Carrey - arguably the comic reincarnation of Mr. Lewis.

There are many things that these two actors have in common, but let's start with the obvious.

If you thought that Carrey's loud, rambunctious slapstick style in the film ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE when it first came out was fresh and original, well, you were wrong.

Jerry Lewis has long been known as an eccentric funny-man with exaggerated physical acting and loud, goofy lines. The first movie that I ever saw him in was Paramount's CINDERFELLA, a humorous take on the classic fairytale "Cinderella." I had been flipping through the channels on the satellite when I came across a scene from and older movie with a man in a coat and slacks darting down the
Jerry and Jim: Finding faces hard to manage

Jerry and Jim: Finding faces hard to manage
hallway of an elaborate mansion after the screams of his evil stepmother.

What proceeded from there was the intriguing story of Fella, the obvious underdog who does the bidding of his step-family after the death of his father. He is petitioned by his fairy godfather to represent the unhappy husbands of the world. These men have been left with embittered wives that, after not getting their own Prince Charming like the very real Cinderella, are miserably stuck with second best. Now it's time for the husbands' revenge - if Fella can win the heart of his very own Princess Charming then the men of Earth can freely complain about their wives' flaws as well.

Despite my love of fairy tales, it wasn't the story of CINDERFELLA that drew me to the screen that rainy afternoon in my junior high years - it was the high-energy, wide-eyed and gyrating antics of Jerry Lewis. In this film alone he animatedly air-performs to a big band song, drops in a dead faint, dances exaggeratedly down a large flight of ballroom-esque stairs and trips and stumbles over almost every darn thing in the movie.

And yet, as annoying and obnoxious as his antics should have been, Mr. Lewis' acting was incredibly, well, charming so-to-speak.

I would compare the attractive goodness of his naïve character to that of Stanley Ipkiss in THE MASK. This was the first Jim Carrey movie that I ever laid eyes on, and I was also immediately drawn to his ability to be wild, weird and innocent all at once.

Both Lewis and Carrey made their careers out of oddball slapstick
The Original Nutty Professor

The Original Nutty Professor
comedy that required extreme physical acting. Do you remember the wild facial expressions of Carrey as Ace Ventura, or his prancing around BATMAN FOREVER? Well both attributes can be found in many of Lewis' films, such as THE DISORDERLY ORDERLY, or any episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour with his partner-in-crime Dean Martin.

Another notable likeness between the two comedians is their incessant desire to play roles that demand more than one personality of themselves.

In 1963's THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, Jerry Lewis plays Julius Kelp, a nerdy university professor who decides to create himself a potion to become more handsome and debonair. The effect is an amusing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality split - on one hand, Kelp is kind, quiet and humble. On the other hand, his alter-ego Buddy Love is suave, handsome and somewhat of a party animal.

Very similar is Jim Carrey's character in THE MASK. After Stanley Ipkiss slips on his newly-found ancient Norse mask, his elixir of sorts, he becomes the wonky, partying, cartoon-ish super-hero.

In fact, both actors have had other films with multiple-character roles in a single movie. Take Lewis' THE FAMILY JEWELS, for example, where he plays an entire cast of crazy family members; or the movie ME, MYSELF & IRENE where Jim Carrey plays a highway patrolman with "advanced delusionary schizophrenia with involuntary narcissistic rage."

The parallels do go on and their differences do too. Whereas Carrey has made himself a reputable dramatic actor as of late, Lewis, for the most part, stuck to what
The man of many faces.

The man of many faces.
he did best - clown-like humor.

I have never come across a source saying directly that Carrey was inspired by Jerry Lewis' comedic styling. And I am not claiming that Mr. Lewis didn't draw from other actors himself. The similarities are astounding, however. In fact, the Canadian comic even played a Jerry Lewis impersonator on an episode of television's "Buffalo Bill."

So if you're a fan of slap-stick, a fan of Jim Carrey, a fan of Professor Frink, a fan of THE NUTTY PROFESSOR remake or simply a fan of comedy, I recommend the films of Jerry Lewis to you.

Jerry Lewis has starred in approximately seventy films and television shows, directed nearly twenty flicks and even co-wrote the new NUTTY PROFESSOR movies. He has long been known for his charitable work for Muscular Dystrophy, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, won the Hubert H. Humphrey Humanitarian Award and in 1998 was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by The American Comedy Awards. And despite any controversy that has ever befell him, he will always charm the dickens out of me.

The term "master" is often thrown around and even more often with no merit. I do not claim that Jerry Lewis is a master of anything, for the subjectivity of such a matter is too substantial for me to back up. It is up to you to decide - whether his talents merit a dedicated column, whether he inspired future generations of slap-stick comedians…or perhaps even whether the man is, in fact, a master of his trade.

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Other Columns
Other columns by Amanda Knoss:

Secondaries: Part Two

Ub Iwerks: Engineering Creativity


Star Wars Cubicle Gear

Mano-a-Mano: The Travolta Role

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Amanda Knoss
If there's something Amanda can't commit to, it's a single taste in films. She believes that Walmart, Starbucks and a certain super-power government are going to clan together to take over the world. Either that, or she's over-caffeinated again.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Amanda Knoss by clicking here.

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