Jerry Lewis - FrancoEnigma
August 28, 2007 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Why is Jerry Lewis so popular with the French?
posted by Pecinpah to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For one, the guy who does his translated voice overs has a much drier and relaxed delivery.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:56 PM on August 28, 2007

posted by k8t at 1:57 PM on August 28, 2007

See Also. And see also.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:57 PM on August 28, 2007

posted by Pecinpah at 1:59 PM on August 28, 2007

What Burhanistan said; I can't find a cite but apparently when the guy who originally did the dubbed voice for his movies died and was replaced, the "new" Jerry Lewis didn't do as well.
posted by Challahtronix at 2:04 PM on August 28, 2007

The Bellboy is the funniest movie I have ever seen. Lewis as the bellboy, Stanley, doesn't speak a line until the last scene, but carries the entire movie. Lewis also appears in a speking role as the big star, Jerry Lewis.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 2:10 PM on August 28, 2007

listen, this is a red herring.

Jerry Lewis has been, for decades, one of America's hottest stars. With Dean Martin, then as a solo act, his movies have made a huge pile of cash for Paramount -- a huge one.

so, to get things straight, he is first and foremost somebody who has been huge in the US. In. The. US.

Having said that, his annoying persona in the US media, the corny telethons, a couple bombs at the box office have provoked his disappearing from the A-list, a list he has belonged to FOR DECADES, IN THE US.

then, having said all this, the French (thanks to a few critics/filmakers), the Germans, the Italians, still consider his old films masterpieces of comedy; reruns are popular; DVDs are still in print (at my local videostore they have about a dozen titles. More than, probably, Angelina Jolie. Certainly more than the number of Angelina Jolie's titles they'll carry five decades from now).

also, Lewis has every single union card in the business. he's too frail now, but if he were fit enough he could operate camera, edit film, place lights, rig sound equipment. He invented the video assist, now used by EVERYONE who ever worked on a movie/tv/ad set in the last 35 years.

very simply, the memory of his great Tashlin films, and of his own works, has been better kept abroad because for young Americans he's the cranky corny old asshole from the Telethons, and the guy whose Damn Yankees your parents seemed to dig a few years ago.

he's not a minor celebrity in America who's strangely famous abroad. he's been one of Hollywood's biggest stars in America. google his box office numbers from the 50s to the late 60s, they're amazing

and Hollywood is still making a shitload of cash off of the (inferior) remakes of his stuff

nevermind that he's in the class of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Peter Sellers, Tati and a few other giants of film comedy -- he's basically kept alive for 20 years a major US studio
posted by matteo at 2:24 PM on August 28, 2007 [15 favorites]

That perspective is a shot in the arm, matteo; thank you for the insight. I neither knew that he invented the video assist nor that he was the lifeblood of a studio.

I guess my main dissconnect is that having seen a few of his films, I find no redeaming quality to his comedy. It's (obviously) dated and crass and just flat-out unfunny (to me). In fact, I know not one single person who finds the man humorous. Maybe I hang out with haters, I dunno.

Anyway, the French seem to love him. I ran a hostel for a year and every French person who came through seemed to have a thing for him. I had no idea about the voice-overs (thank you Burhanistan), but even the physical stuff, which is drainingly unfunny to me, was a huge hit with the French people I spoke with. It always boggled me, thier love of the man, so I just thought I'd ask.

Thank you all for taking the time to answer.
posted by Pecinpah at 3:10 PM on August 28, 2007

I have to quote a Steve Taylor song about wayward televangelists:

So the audience grew and the praise did too
And a mailing list sent you money.
So they love Jerry Lewis in France
Does that make him funny?

I agree that he was, and remains HUGE in the U.S. as well. And although I don't know the exact "why" I do recall Lewis himself in an interview saying that he sometimes goes to France when he needs a boost, because he is so well-received there.

My own "why" theory is that we U.S. Americans tend to want to divorce ourselves from things we loved when we were younger. I remember years back, Letterman announced that "tomorrow night's guests" would include Peter Frampton. This was well past Frampton's height of fame, and the announcement was met with laughter, which genuinely surprised Letterman. There is something that makes us want to think we have outgrown our past. Until much later, when the things we say we have outgrown become "classic."

There was a similar response when Cher starred in the movie Suspect. When her name showed up in the trailer, the audience I was with laughed. Cher herself said she snuck into a showing of the trailer and saw the same response, and was hurt by it. We wanted to outgrow her, I guess, but instead she became more popular than ever.

This doesn't explain why France, particularly, has a fondness for Lewis, but I think it has something to do with why we Americans disparage his talents.

As for me, I LOVED Jerry Lewis when I was a kid, and watched all of his movies whenever they were on TV. Sure they are corny now, but watch The Nutty Professor and you'll see some incredible acting among the corniness.

Thanks for a great question.
posted by The Deej at 4:14 PM on August 28, 2007

The French also really seem to love an auteur- and Jerry Lewis is the definition. He had complete creative control over his films, and like matteo said, he could do it all.
posted by Shohn at 4:27 PM on August 28, 2007

One thing that was a surprise to me on our recent trip to Paris was how funny -- dry, flirty, ironic, whatever -- just funny the people we met were. Terrifically humorous. I think that many in the US think the Brits are the funniest people only because of the (somewhat) lack of a language barrier + PBS.

Plus also Jerry Lewis is hilarious.
posted by mimi at 5:07 PM on August 28, 2007

I always thought it was the same reason Nixon was popular in China -- if a person's a foreigner, you can't pick up certain subtleties of their personality.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 6:12 PM on August 28, 2007

For any Lewis haters, I must recommend The King of Comedy {Lewis,De Niro, Sandra Bernhardt, dir. Scorsese) with Lewis as a talk show host.

His performance is stunning, though it's De Niro's film.

And if you do still hate him, you get to see him tied up and gagged.
posted by hexatron at 6:14 PM on August 28, 2007

Also worth seeing: His unctuous, needy, corrupt performance in Funny Bones.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:03 PM on August 28, 2007

The gist:
Levy conjectures that French audiences took to Lewis in part because he exemplified the French notion of the auteur--the individual, typically the director, who imposes his artistic vision on the production, which Lewis definitely did. But it's probably equally true that the French, despite or maybe because of their devotion to art (you know, pushing the envelope and all that), were also suckers for low comedy. One recalls the legendary French stage performer Le Petomane, aka the Fartiste. Not that Jerrymania was strictly a French thing. Lewis was voted director of the year three times in France, but he won the same honor in Italy, Germany, Belgium, Spain, and the Netherlands.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:52 PM on August 28, 2007

Europeans tend to "remember" celebrity a lot longer. America is ruthless in this regard: either you're newsworthy *now* or you're a has-been.
posted by jedrek at 1:09 AM on August 29, 2007

I studied for a year with Jean-Louis Leutrat, who wrote the first book in French on Lewis, but I still don't get it much.
posted by Wolof at 6:23 AM on August 29, 2007

His humour doesn't rely on dialogue. The situations were understandable and we do love situation-based comical effects a lot. People were fond of Jerry Lewis (I was fond of him when I was a kid because his movies were aired once in a while and I found he was very funny) but he's not that famous right now.
posted by nicolin at 9:41 AM on March 28, 2008

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