Thursday, September 9, 2010

Telethon 2010: Jerry and his dog show their love for each other on air

The Jerry Lewis telethon is over for another year and, besides raising money for a great charity, it also connects its viewers back to the heyday of TV variety shows, when the best of those programs threw everything *and* the kitchen sink at you, and there was little (if any) way to figure out what kind of act was going to come on next.

So, yeah, I watched a helluva lot of the telethon. And I was doing the closest equivalent to “live blogging” during it that I’m ever going to do, on Facebook (where you can join the annual fun and receive updates on this blog if you “friend” me). I give a hearty handclasp (Fields-speak) to FB friend Steve Stoliar (author of the great Raised Eyebrows), who kept passing on Jerry’s oddest grammatical constructions and coinages, including "We are human beings, the best species God ever created" and "And now, a man with whom I am in awe of."

Steve kept track of those odd, sprawling sentences which, I’ve often noted on the Funhouse TV show, resemble fragments of a strange, shtickier version of Finnegan’s Wake. Jerry had other utterances that were puzzling, in that they seemed to require a situating sentence after them — but there was none forthcoming. At one point, he discussed the ideal people in this country being “great Americans who are good” (as opposed to good Americans who are great — presumably not such a nice thing). He also at one point emphasized that he was doing the telethon, and continues to do it, for the healthy children and not for the ones who already have dystrophy. There clearly should have been a contextualizing sentence there, something in the realm of “I want the healthy children to stay healthy and never have to suffer as these children do…” But even with that add-on, it still seems like a very weird thing to say.

The coup de grace for the entire program, though, was his story about a young boy with MD who was lying in his hospital bed, and told Jerry in a cheery manner, “I’m glad I got MD, ’cause that’s how I got to meet you!” Now, surely, there was a sentence meant to come after that about how Jerry was saddened by this child’s cute but sad declaration, but instead, each time one of these supreme puzzlers was said, Jerry’s winding trail of verbiage would take him far, far away from the statement and send him further and further out on a grammatical limb. Thus, he told us about a kid who cheerfully informed him he was glad he had a debilitating fatal disease, because it meant he got to meet Jerry Lewis.

But then again (returning to the subject at hand), any variety show is only as good as its guests. And this year the telethon brought us some old familiar names: Charo, Norm Crosby (making most of us very, very sad, whether we had enjoyed him previously or not), Barry Manilow (whose face is a grotesque mask of plastic surgery), some young studly opera singer in a Members Only-style jacket who sang opera, numerous dance companies doing cheesy production numbers, Jack Jones (singing, natch, “The Love Boat Theme”), and Jerry himself once again singing a Jolson song.

In NYC, we had a very lively oldies party hosted by Tony Orlando, in which, at various times, Connie Francis (looking very… weathered), the Archies, Tommy James, and the terrific Ronnie Spector all contributed versions of their hits (well, Tommy James sorta did — he came out, but did not wanna sing, even when coaxed by Tony). Thus, the NY portion of the telethon was genuine in its intent and delivery. Tony is such a fan of his guests that his enthusiasm for their music is infectious. Even if all involved were singing a rather unusual-seeming cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” (yes, the Archies were singing Zep!), the NYC end of the telethon is truly a wonderment, and winds up being a delight.

And then there was the single most memorable moment of the telethon, this bit where Jerry brought out his “son,” his dog (which he calls a “Jew-huahua”). The dog showed its affection for Jer, and he returned the compliment. No comment is necessary, or possible:

He named the dog after Dean Martin. Jerry has been discussing his affection for Dean in great detail in the last few years, but this particular event adds an aspect to the brotherly hero-worship that we probably didn't need to know about....

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