There was good news and blue news for Jerry Lewis on Friday.
The comedian-fundraiser was named abbot of the Friars Club, taking over the leadership position vacant since Alan King’s death two years ago. And then its members delivered a four-letter, foul-mouthed welcome to their new leader at one of the club’s infamous annual roasts.
“He’s been a great contributor to comedy, and I intend to rip him to shreds,” promised fellow comedian Robert Klein before the roast at the New York Hilton. “There should be a fair amount of scatology.”
Before the star-studded crowd headed into a hotel ballroom to skewer the 80-year-old Lewis, the veteran comic explained how he wound up as the honoree.
“Jerry Vale turned it down, and they already had ‘Jerry’ on the statue, and here I am,” said Lewis, who was taking his third turn wearing the bull’s-eye at a Friars’ roast.
Friars Club Dean Freddie Roman announced Lewis’ selection as abbot, a slot held previously by legendary club members like Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan. He then wasted little time in lobbing a cheap shot at Lewis, who was inducted into the French Legion of Honor earlier this year.
“We’re here to prove that 50 million Frenchmen can be wrong,” said Roman.
The Amazing Kreskin, the world’s self-proclaimed foremost mentalist, said he had a chance to read Lewis’ mind just before the roast began. “At this point, I’m in total confusion,” he said.
Lewis, before a phalanx of photographers, mugged it up repeatedly. He posed holding a glass in his mouth, and pulled a tablecloth over his head inside the ballroom. He accepted a kiss from Abe “I’m still alive” Vigoda.
The crowd was a typically strange mix: cast members from “The Sopranos” and “The Godfather.” Guys in shades, and guys with hearing aids. Ice-T, and Joe Franklin. Richard Belzer served as the roastmaster for those ready to rip into the man responsible for “The Nutty Professor.”
Lewis’ previous stints as roastee came in 1971 and 1986. It only seems like he was around when the club was founded in 1904.