It’s not so much the unimaginative and high-school-level questions that reporter Andy Lewis shuffled at Jerry Lewis that were the problem. It’s the fact that The Hollywood Reporter is taking some sort of gotcha glee in the whole fiasco that takes their reporter’s disrespect to the next level. Or, rather, it would’ve been a fiasco if it weren’t for Jerry Lewis’ genius ability on display while flipping the interview on its dull head and turning it into a brilliant performance piece. Andy Lewis and The Hollywood Reporter’s response proves that Jerry Lewis’ comedy sailed completely over their heads, though.
The Hollywood Reporter’s accompanying article brags about having hosted one of 2016’s most “painfully awkward” interviews. Placing the blame on Jerry Lewis, the article’s tagline claims “the famously difficult comedian made things tough for THR.”
Two things can be true at once. For example, yes, Jerry Lewis does have a history of being a difficult interviewee and he’s been known to lash out at audience members. And yes, The Hollywood Reporter is to blame for this one, and owes the comedy giant an apology. Regardless of his past, Jerry Lewis is not at fault this time. In fact, he lifted an embarrassingly bad interview into the realm of interesting and dryly funny performance art. The Hollywood Reporter may, in fact, owe the man a thank you.
Right off the bat, Andy Lewis signals that he’s not interested in learning anything from one of entertainment’s living legends; he shows little interest in interacting with Jerry Lewis on a level that the man deserves. His first line of poorly researched questions crossed into condescending ageism as he asked the funny man if he was contemplating retirement. Without missing a beat (and proving his gift for comedic timing) Jerry Lewis shot back, “Why?” In response, Andy Lewis verbally fumbled before simply rewording the original question. Knowing how to tee off on a comedic softball, whether the interviewer intended it to be a comedic softball or not, Jerry Lewis put just enough spice into his deadpan repeating of his first answer to clue everyone into the reality that he, and he alone, was going to rule this interview.
I’m not sure how Andy Lewis internally responded to Jerry Lewis’ second “Why?” but the die had already been cast. Unprepared and uninspired, I guess the reporter thought he had no other choice but to proceed with his disrespectful queries.
Sitting through a stumbling series of questions centered on his age and designed to reveal, well, nothing of interest, Jerry Lewis put on a master class in how to say a lot while saying almost nothing. With his eyes snapping and his voice dripping with his famed acerbic tone, Lewis put the verbal boots to the condescending and unprepared reporter. And he did it almost entirely with single-syllable words.
Jerry Lewis has accumulated several lifetimes’ worth of comedy and entertainment knowledge and experience. When provided the rich opportunity to sit down with such a Hollywood treasure, reporters should do their due diligence and find interview angles and questions that honor the interviewee while providing readers (or viewers) with a glimpse of the varied heartbeats of the artist. Instead, Andy Lewis came up with a series of questions that ping-ponged between questions that were improperly and, possibly worse, uninterestingly focused on Jerry Lewis’ advanced age and questions (favorite memories of his old pals, for example) with answers that can easily be found with a quick Google search.
On the one hand, The Hollywood Reporter’s interview of Jerry Lewis was a disrespectful waste of time. On the other hand, the interview provided us with a brilliant, comedic performance piece from a master of comedy. While texting about the interview with a filmmaker friend of mine I wrote, “Comedy teachers should have their students watch the THR interview to see comedic timing. Lewis never missed his beat.”
Outdoing their shamefully bad interview, The Hollywood Reporter failed to recognize the brilliance of Jerry Lewis and instead crafted it as an amusing story of a crotchety, washed-up artist being rude to their reporter. Thankfully, many who watch the interview will see that the joke was actually on The Hollywood Reporter and that Jerry Lewis is second to none when it comes to comedy.