It is time again for the yearly festival of awkward, morbid, twisted fun that is the Jerry Lewis Telethon. I was sitting out back this afternoon having a beer with my neighbor, who happens to be about 25 years my junior, when I mentioned Jerry's name and was met with a puzzled stare and a repressed "huh?". I quickly recovered from the stunning fact that I am now 47 and should know better than to be expecting Gen Xers to know anything much about Jerry's bizarre annual ritual. and, being the Yoda that I now find myself to be, I sat the youngster down and treated him to some learning about Jerry. Jerry sans Dean Martin. Jerry united with Jerry's Kids. And our national obsession with his wonderful habit of slipping into the most politically incorrect of gaffes.
Jerry got started early this year. Appearing on ET the other night, Jerry decided to vent about how newfangled showfolk can't seem to get their lives together and straighten up. Referring specifically to the perpetually dysfunctional Lindsey Lowhan, Jerry prescribed a "smack in the mouth" followed by a firm spanking. Jerry didn't reveal his preference but long-time Jerry-watchers are betting on the latter.
Same goes for Paris Hilton. Jerry is indiscriminate in his desire to inflict fatherly justice on attractive young, screwed-up blond women. Or grandfatherly justice, as the case may be.
As I compose this I'm sitting here, perched on the edge of the couch, suspense-fueled anxiety driving my adrenal glands, waiting impatiently for Jerry to commit his first breach. Actually, I don't really have to pay close attention. Experience teaches that when Jerry commits a gaffe he goes cartwheeling over the edge at a gallop without so much as a glance behind him, leaving his audience to gasp in wonder at the profound depth of his misfortune The more lucid find the wits to mutter something like "Did he really just say that?". Jerry is the shock and awe of inappropriate. So it's generally not hard to separate a normal pause in the dialog from a catastrophe.
I shouldn't get my hopes up this early in the program, though. Jerry is known to steer clear of lapses until he has become thoroughly sleep-deprived and punchy. So I don't expect the real bombs to fall until sometime tomorrow afternoon and, by dinnertime, there will be smoking craters littering the stage.
Naturally the show's charm grows in direct proportion to the frequency and intensity of Jerry's misfortune. Pathetic, twisted soul that I am, the sight of Jerry wandering aimlessly around the stage, insulting production staff, audience, and guests with equal bumbling ferocity invokes a jolting, nerve-wracking happiness. It's like riding a rollercoaster with your eyes closed.
All of the festivities are for a good cause, of course. But I think Jerry has the wrong cause in mind. Muscular Dystrophy is a little far afield for him - perhaps Tourette Syndrome, that most wonderful of afflictions, is something that might do him some more personal good. I haven't heard of a telethon for Tourette, so it's not too late for Jerry to go looking for a cure. But perhaps a cure is the last thing he wants. After all, Tourette sufferers can say just about anything and get away with it. Some guy I knew when I was in high school was in the habit of proclaiming full-throated obscenities and insults in public places only to absolve himself with a loud "Tourette!". Worked every time, or so I'm told by a lawyer friend of mine.
Jersey Shoritis - A horrifying ailment that strikes young women before the age of 16 and never releases its grip. The condition is chronic and requires frequent visits to the Jersey Shore, preferably south of Seaside Heights on sunny, hot days. Sufferers exhibit a manic-depressive symptomology with bouts of extreme joy in the summer months followed by clinical depression on Labor Day. These people should not be left alone on Labor Day weekend but usually end up doing back-to-school shopping for the kids, which makes the weekend especially cruel.
Pretend It's June
Cranky Slumber Syndrome - A considerably less serious condition and perhaps not worthy of a telethon, but fun just the same. Sufferers are observed to behave normally during morning, during the day, and into the evening. Suddenly, without warning, the patient experiences a complete loss of emotional control exhibited by an extreme form of crankiness. Best to turn off the light and wait for morning, when sleepiness becomes an elixir.