On June 9, comedy legend Jerry Lewis was named abbot of the Friars Club and was honored in true Friar fashion — with a roast.
“You just got a lifetime contract at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas,” joked comedian Stewie Stone in one of the night’s many cracks about Lewis’s age, “and the over and under is Thursday.”
“How is it possible that Jerry looks worse than Dean [Martin, who died in 1995]?” comedian/filmmaker Jeffrey Ross asked. “Why are you so bloated?” he needled Lewis. “You look like you drowned four days ago. What agency are you with, FEMA?
“How do you roast a guy who’s older than laughter?” Ross continued. “Jerry is going to star in a new reality show on The History Channel called ‘Last Comic Breathing.’ He has the life expectancy of an Iraqi police officer.”
Lewis was flanked by a dais full of stars, including Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese (Lewis’s co-star and director, respectively, in the 1983 film “The King of Comedy”); the cast of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”; most of the cast of “The Sopranos,” living and dead; comedian Robert Klein, and the Friars Club president, Freddie Roman. The event was emceed by actor/comedian Richard Belzer (one of the stars of “Law & Order: SVU”), whose mantra for the evening was “We only roast the ones we love.”
“We make fun of Jerry Lewis, but what about the good things Jerry Lewis does?” Ross said. “What about the fact that just this past Labor Day, a 6-year-old boy got up out of his wheelchair and walked for the first time — to turn off the Jerry Lewis telethon.”
Paul Shaffer, David Letterman’s musician sidekick, said that “Jerry’s gift for improvisation influenced me at an early age: When I was 13, I wrote special lyrics to my haftorah.”
The roasters took shots at France, which awarded Lewis the Legion of Honor in 1984. “The French gave us the Statue of Liberty,” Stone said. “And we gave them Jerry Lewis.”
When the time came for Lewis to take the mic, he struck a more somber note. “I never didn’t remember to be thankful,” he said. “The pilot on the airplane coming to New York sent me a note that simply said ‘Thank you.’ It said more than an hour and a half from anyone else. It represents what makes a lifetime in this business an exceptional one.”