I guess I never really took note of the genius behind Jerry Lewis and his wide-mouthed antics until I finished a recent article in GQ's August comedy issue. A well placed sidebar, in a perfect symbiosis of web and print, lead to to what the editor deemed 'The Best of Jerry' on Youtube. A collage of trademark Lewis faces rested in ink on paper next to me as I navigated through 5 iconic videos on my laptop. One, in particular, stood out for its comedic precision and musical mellifluousness. Its simple pantomime has been spooling through my mind ever since.
We've all sat at our desks mutterings and mimicking management's hubris and authority, no? Those of us in the business world have experienced corporate schmucks polluting the office air with their pompous, toxic and often uninformed rhetoric. All their limp words an attempt to justify their bloated salaries or command some scrap of power to fill the void in their otherwise menial existence. Lewis, in this clip from the 1961 film The Errand Boy, brings laughter and style to the frustrations of the office through imitating the animated flailing of his boss commanding a board meeting. And to top it off, his go-to-hell repertoire is backed by some boss Basie beats.
Perfectly pitched in black & white, Lewis bellows Basie… nailed in one take:
Cue the Count belting out Blues in Hoss Flat - a calculated, energetic riff from his own 1958 Chairman of the Board album (how fitting). The song is like a temper rising in its erratic ups and downs. The bass rolls in soft only to be stabbed by sharp blasts and staccato surges. Piano keys jingle softly in the background as horns lead an escalating charge. Lewis, always the dapper (cinder) fella, is the epitome of classic 60's style sporting an oxford button down, crested cardigan sweater vest, the high and tight haircut and his seemingly ubiquitous pinky ring. He channels a refined version of Charlie Brown's teacher as a crescendo of punctuated tones burst from his mute, hollow mouth. The cigar fumes as does he in mocking hilarity; his hands waging war on those he faux berates. He evokes intolerance and displeasure with every exaggerated expression only to laugh it off as the beats calm into a jolly send off. The hotblooded executive cools and becomes human again - corporate schizophrenia at its finest.
The juxtaposition of comedy and cool is entrancing. I can't help but watch it on repeat.
And just for kicks - another classic from his Colgate Comedy Hour days with my man Dean. If actions speak louder than words, Lewis's comedic expressions scream from the hilltops:
Videos courtesy of igvmyslf1000pts and TbirdsOf1965 youtube channels