Jerry Lewis’ ouster prompts outcry among comics at Laugh Factory

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A dozen or so angry comedians gathered on the stage at the Laugh Factory comedy club in Hollywood for a news conference Friday afternoon in defense of Jerry Lewis.

The 85-year-old Lewis was abruptly, if a bit mysteriously, dismissed Wednesday night as the host and national chairman of the Muscular Dystrophy Assn.’s annual Labor Day Telethon -- an event he helped shape, and was the face of, for nearly 60 years.

Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada said he was ‘disgusted.’

‘He’s done so much for the telethon, and he raised over $2 1/2 billion for the telethon, and what they did to him is a shame,’ Masada said. ‘I can’t describe how hurt I am, how hurt every comedian is.’

Masada said the purpose of the news conference was to rally public support to protest the MDA. ‘What we’re trying to do is see if we can get Jerry Lewis back on the telethon again.’


Among those in attendance were Paul Rodriguez, Larry Miller, Tom Dreesen, French comedian Mustapha El Atrassi and 83-year-old Norm Crosby, who co-hosted the telethon with Lewis for more than 25 years.

Rodriguez said many of his fellow comedians had called and emailed from the road Friday to offer support, including Dave Chappelle and Kevin Pollak.

Crosby called the MDA’s actions ‘abrupt’ and ‘cruel.’

‘If it was time for him to leave, that’s debatable. If he was cranky and nasty and difficult, that’s possible too,’ Crosby said.'But it was all because of the passion he had for these kids and the money they raised and for the telethon. Certainly there could’ve been a much more pleasant, easier way for him to go.’

Jim Brown, the MDA’s vice president of public relations, said the organization declined to comment about Friday’s news conference.

‘We live with rejection. We know what rejection’s about. It’s part of our life,’ said comedian Tom Dreesen, who’s appeared on the telethon more than 20 times. ‘But if you … were a major star and hosted a telethon that raised $2.5 billion, you at least deserve to go out in a gracious way.’

The event was not without some bitter-laced humor. ‘We’re gonna host our own telethon,’ Rodriguez said. ‘We’re trying to find a cure for disrespect and ingratitude.’

The Laugh Factory is planning a fundraiser this Labor Day weekend from which all proceeds will be donated to research for muscular dystrophy.


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-- Deborah Vankin

Top photo: Paul Rodriguez takes the podium with Tom Dreesen, center, and Jamie Masada.