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Richard Belzer, Jerry Lewis, LeRoy Neiman

David Brown and Jerry Lewis

Paul Shaffer, Richard Belzer and
Freddie Roman

Jerry Lewis with Nutty Professor poster

Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard,
Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese

He’s Not All French Fries
Nor Chopped Liver, Either

Story by Tim Boxer
Photos by Richard Lewin

ROVING 50 million Frenchmen can be wrong, members of the Friars Club and their myriad fans assembled at the New York Hilton to roast and toast Jerry Lewis.

Actually, they didn’t toast him. They turned him into toast.

You don’t call them Friars for nothing. They put you on the griddle and hoot as you sizzle.

It was brutal – which is the essence of a Friars lovefest where you skew him and rib him and leave him dangling to the cheerful satisfaction of his peers.

Jerry, who is 80 years old, loved it – he had no choice. He knew what he was in for when he jumped into the roasting pit for the fourth time. Previously he was fired with Dean Martin in 1955, then by himself in 1971 and 1986. The guy must be a masochist.

As the Friars are fond of saying, "We only roast the ones we love."

The dais was awesome. It extended from 53rd Street to 54th street from one end of the Grand Ballroom to the other. It was populated by members whose average age, as they say, was deceased.

I remember the Friars roasts of the ‘70s and ‘80s, long before females were finally allowed at these lascivious proceedings. Those were the days of Milton Berle, Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles and their ilk, when scatology was honed to an exquisite art form unsurpassed anywhere on this globe, even in the barracks of my Basic Training.

The hoary brotherhood of the Friars feared the end of life as they knew it when legal forces pried open the doors of the monastery on East 55th Street to admit the long-suffering ladies.

Fear not, boys. The roast audience may now include members of the opposite sex, but the obscene one-liners and offensive jokes spewing from the mouths of the performers, male and female alike these days, are as smutty and nasty as in the olden days.

In fact, Norm Crosby said he hadn’t heard language like this since Andrew Dice Clay did the eulogy for his mother-in-law.

The dean, Freddie Roman, introduced the dais. "Say hello to Big Pussy. No, not you Lisa Lampanelli. I mean Vincent Pastore of The Sopranos."

And so it went for the next four hours as the audience of 1200 men – with a pinch of women – guffawed uproariously.

The star-studded dais included Robert Klein, Gilbert Gottfried, Pat Cooper, Abe Vigoda, Steven Scott, Paul Shaffer, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Dick Cavett, Jim Dale, Dennis Farina, Don King, LeRoy Neiman, Joe Piscopo, Sally Jessy Raphael, Tony Roberts, Frank Sinatra Jr., Steven Van Zandt, Alan Zweibel, The Amazing Kreskin and more.

But Deana, Dean Martin’s gorgeous daughter, was disappointed: "They told me I’d be on the dais with the most important and influential people in our industry. I hope they show up soon."

Jeffrey Ross glanced left and right and concluded it’s like a reality show on the History Channel – Last Comic Breathing.

Jeffrey asked what agency Jerry’s with now – FEMA?

"The French gave us the Statue of Liberty, we gave them Jerry Lewis" Stewie Stone noted. "At least people pay to see the Statue of Liberty."

Nathan Lane was in a hurry. "Gotta go. Ice-T and I are going antiquing."

"If you Google Jerry Lewis you’ll find him on Craig’s List and Schindler’s List," Jeffrey Ross found. "This is such an honor – I’m a great fan of people who hate you."

Lisa Lampanelli said some people wished Dean was here to see this. "I’d settle for Jerry to be alive to see this."

"In my 75 professional years," Jerry replied, "I don’t remember such morale building."

Freddie Roman proudly announced that the post of abbot of the New York Friars Club, left vacant following the death of Alan King two years ago, will be filled by Jerry Lewis.

Jerry recalled a recent flight when he got a note from the cockpit: "Dear Jerry Lewis, Thank you, The Captain."

"That brief note touched me deeply," he said. "You take for granted everything in life. Today I don’t take anything for granted. The Supreme Being must have said, ‘Let’s take this putz and make something of him.’"

Raising his hand to the ceiling, Jerry concluded, "So with deepest respect, I say, thank you."

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