Monday, August 28, 2017

Chock full o' Nuts

Two comedians that Baby Boomers grew up with recently died. Jerry Lewis was known for his madcap farcical humor and in particularly his facial expressions ("Jerry Lewis, Jester Both Silly and Stormy, Dies at 91,"NYT, 8/20/17). The Nutty Professor (1963) was the name of one of his famous movies. Dick Gregory was known for social satire and he would eventually turn his energies toward protest and social change, a metier that Senator Al Franken would pick up on after his own early success as a regular on SNL ("Dick Gregory, 84, Dies; Found Humor in the Civil Rights Struggle," NYT, 8/19/17).  Despite the different tenor of their comedy both became associated with causes. Jerry Lewis of course conducted the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon every Labor Day and Dick Gregory became a major figure in the Civil Rights movement. Interestingly enough Lewis became a darling of French cineastes and long after his star had waned in America, he was still lionized in the cinematheques of Paris. He was the lord of misrule and the perfect counterpart for American gangster mythology that also became a force in the Nouvelle Vague. But it was particularly moving to see the obits of Lewis and Gregory sharing the front page of The Times. Unlike the team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis,  Gregory and Lewis weren’t destined to appear together on the marquee in Las Vegas or anywhere else. But death is the great leveler and in an odd way their mutual passing was both an epitaph and post-mortem for the 60’s generation.

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