Thursday, May 29, 2014

INTERVIEW: Joe Piscopo on The 50th errr...51st Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis film THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963)

Fifty some years ago....Paramount Studios released the 1963 Jerry Lewis film THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. 

 Actor/Musician/Comedian Joe Piscopo talks about his love of Jerry Lewis, THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and working with Jerry Lewis on Saturday Night Live.

TV STORE ONLINE:   How did Jerry Lewis come to host Saturday Night Live in 1983?

PISCOPO:   Well, they were toying around on Saturday Night Live with having some comedy icons host the show.  It was Lorne Michaels and Dick Ebersol who were knocking around the idea.   They were suggesting names like Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Don Rickles and Jerry Lewis.  I was saying to myself, "You gotta get Jerry.  You gotta get Jerry..." For me, Jerry Lewis is the Charlie Chaplin of our time.   When the idea for Jerry came up to host the show I was hoping and praying.

I'll never forget, word had traveled around the studio that Jerry was on the elevator on his way up.  This was on a Wednesday afternoon.  Usually the guest host comes for a read through rehearsal on Saturday Night Live on Wednesday afternoon at about 3pm.  Once word hit that Jerry was coming up in the elevator someone said, "Hey, why don't you go and meet him at the elevator."  So I rounded the corner and as soon as I heard the elevator door open I said, [In Jerry's voice] "Jerry...Jerry."   Then I heard back from Jerry, "Joe... Oh Joe where are you?"  (Laughing)   It was like working with Charlie Chaplin for me.   I adored working with him, and at that time I was also working with Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live and Eddie adored Jerry as well.  Working with Jerry on the show was a total lovefest.

TV STORE ONLINE:   You were a fan of Jerry growing up as a kid?

PISCOPO:  Of course.  It was the only thing to do when you were a kid.  You would go and see the new Jerry Lewis movie when it would come out.   I loved THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963).   I went to see that over-and-over.   I loved THE GEISHA BOY (1959) too.   What was funny about Jerry to me, was that I had no idea that Jerry had been part of Martin & Lewis.  I had no clue about that for a long time when I was a kid, and I loved Dean Martin.   I couldn't believe it when I found out that they used to be partners.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Do you have a favorite scene in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963)?

PISCOPO:  It's got to be the end speech in the gym.  When he turns back from 'Buddy Love' to 'Julius Kelp'.   That is one of the truly great cinematic moments.   That transformation, and it's all done with hair and make-up.  That transformation is incredible.  Jerry directed the film and the way he shot that was just totally perfect.   Then Jerry cuts to that close-up of Stella Stevens in the crowd.  I think that scene in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR is the perfect example of how you can define Jerry Lewis.  There is a serious message in that film.  It really represents everything that is great about film.  He's one of the truly great directors.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Are you fan of Jerry's film CINDERFELLA (1960)?

PISCOPO:   I am.  All of Jerry's films are perfect.  I also loved VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET (1960) too.  I love that scene where the car elevates and goes over the traffic.  In CINDERFELLA, that scene with Jerry coming down the stairs is incredible.  It's such a smart film, and Jerry's so vulnerable.  The reveal of The Count Basie Orchestra was incredible.   CINDERFELLA has the great Ed Wynn in it.  It's just such a smart film.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How do you think Jerry Lewis influenced you in your comedy?

PISCOPO:  I think it's the execution of the comedy that has influenced me.   It's all about presence on the stage.  Jerry did that brilliantly.  Then the vulnerability factor.   I learned the patience required to take a beat.   To allow the audience to soak in that pathos.  That's what I learned from Jerry Lewis.  You can see Jerry Lewis in all of us, from Eddie Murphy to Billy Crystal.   There is a bit of Jerry Lewis is all of us.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What about Jerry's films THE ERRAND BOY (1961) and THE PATSY (1964)?  Both of those films sort of satirize the Hollywood studio system of that era...

PISCOPO:  You're right.  I think he was ahead of time in that respect.   Those were intelligent parodies I think.   Look at someone like Pee Wee Herman for example and how he did the same thing years later in PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE (1985).   

TV STORE ONLINE:  What are your thoughts on THE LADIES' MAN (1961)?

PISCOPO:  That's one of his most brilliant films.  That set was genius.   As a kid, seeing that for the first time you only noticed how vulnerable he was.   Years later, you return to THE LADIES' MAN over and over and you realize how extraordinary that film is and the concept of it.  I mean, it's like he built a studio inside of a studio.  He built a stage show on a film stage.   It satirizes Edward R. Murrow.  It is a completely brilliant film.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Jerry has done some wonderful dramatic roles over the course of his career....How difficult is it for a comedian to segway into dramatic performance?

PISCOPO:   It's easier actually.  Drama is easier than comedy I think.  I consider myself more of an entertainer on the stage than a comedian.   When Jerry did THE KING OF COMEDY (1982)  all of just went crazy for it. That was a brilliant performance by Jerry. The fact that drama is easier than comedy...That needs to be psycho analyzed.   For some reason it just feels easier to take the beats in drama.   

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
For more with Joe Piscopo please visit his official website HERE: