A good comedian is more than the joke coming out of their mouth. A good comedian makes us laugh, brings people together, helps to create understandings and heal the wounds that hate and prejudice create.
Yesterday, we lost comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory. A few hours ago, Jerry Lewis passed away.
In the 1960’s, Dick Gregory was the face of black comedy in America. Breaking the color barrier, he used his platform to speak of the injustice that African-Americans faced. He use his celebrity to fight not just against prejudice and hatred that were part of daily life for African-Americans, but he also protested against the Vietnam War by going on a hunger strike.
He was 84.
Jerry Lewis is more than an actor/comedian/philanthropist. He is an icon. Pairing with Dean Martin in the 1950’s, Lewis was the goofball compared to Martin’s straight man. When they professionally parted ways, Lewis became a star in his own right. One of his most beloved movies (and my personal favorite) Jerry Lewis film is The Nutty Professor. While on the surface, it is slapstick comedy, there is a more subtle message about self-esteem, finding love and being brave enough to show the person who you love your real self.
He was 91.
As much as we may sometimes wish it, there is no magic elixir to give us what we want. It takes hard work to reach our goals.
But that does not mean that we can dream or that science (in the movies at least) can partially help us reach our goal.
In The Nutty Professor (1963), Professor Julius Kelp (Jerry Lewis) is a nerd with a capitol N. His social life and his social skills are non existent. To improve upon both and catch the attention of a student whom he’s attracted to, Julius invents a potion that turns him into Buddy Love. Buddy is suave, sexy and has no problem attracting attention, especially from women. But there is an unforeseen side effect: when Buddy turns back into Julius is unpredictable. Can Julius control when and where he changes into Buddy or will he be forever at the mercy of the change?
Jerry Lewis is without a doubt a comedy icon. What is interesting about this movie is that is asks a rather existential question: Is it better to be ourselves and hope that the rest of the world likes us or should we turn into someone that we think the world wants us to be.
Thirty three years later, another comedy icon decided to take a crack at The Nutty Professor. This time, Eddie Murphy is the book smart, but socially unintelligent Prof. Sherman Klump. But unlike Lewis’s take on the tale, Sherman’s physique is rather large. Taken by a fellow teacher, Carla Purty (Jada Pinkett Smith). Feeling like he is stuck in the friend zone with Carla, Sherman invents a potion that changes him into Buddy Love. But like the previous film, complications ensue when the potion’s after effects become rather obvious.
This film is the first of several films where Eddie Murphy plays more than one character who is on screen at the same time. What I like about both incarnations of the film is that it especially appeals to those who feel like they do not fit in. Whether it is because of the self titled “nerd” or because one is overweight, the story appeals to those who are wishing for a magic potion to make them feel like they fit in.
I recommend both.